Director Stanley Kubrick died March 7, 1999, a few months before the release of his thirteenth and final feature film, Eyes Wide Shut. Over the course of his career, the legendary filmmaker made iconic movies across genres that garnered legions of devoted fans to him and his work. Starting with Lolita, Kubrick made his films in England, in part to avoid the meddling of studio executives.
Now available on Digital | VOD platforms, director Gregory Monro’s Kubrick by Kubrick is an engaging documentary that allows viewers to hear Kubrick speak about his films through audio recordings from four interviews with critic Michel Ciment, editor-in-chief of the monthly French film magazine Positif since 1966 and author of Kubrick: The Definitive Edition. To no surprise considering the themes his films dealt, Kubrick comes across as a thoughtful, intelligent man when it comes to talking about films and humanity.
The documentary is filled with archival interviews of actors and others Kubrick worked with behind the scenes. He rarely worked with the same actors a second time but the relationships forged on his sets come across as intense. Familiar faces include Kirk Douglas (a rare exception but after Paths of Glory Kubrick was brought onto Spartacus after producer/star Douglas fired director Anthony Mann at the end of the first week of shooting), Sterling Hayden, Marisa Berenson, Malcolm McDowell, Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, R. Lee Ermy, Tom Cruise, and Nicole Kidman. Lesser-known speakers include Ken Adam, production designer on Dr. Strangelove and Barry Lyndon; Arthur C. Clarke, co-writer of 2001; Leonard Rosenman, who conducted the score for Barry Lyndon for which he won Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and/or Adaptation Oscar; and Garrett Brown, inventor of the Steadicam camera stabilizer which was used in The Shining.
Most of the actors praise Kubrick and working with him, but Hayden talks of the difficulties dealing with so many takes as he was able to understand and deliver what Kubrick wanted. Rosenman talks about his frustrations dealing with Kubrick’s “perfectionism” in the recording studio. Nicholson saw a method in Kubrick’s madness, but unfortunately, the documentary ignores the abuse his Shining co-star Duvall suffered.
It’s wonderful to hear Kubrick in conversation with Ciment, but at 62 minutes, Kubrick by Kubrick feels more like an episode of a Masters of Cinema series or an extended special feature for a home video release. Especially when there are other documentaries such as Jan Harlan’s Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001), which runs over two hours. An enjoyable documentary that will likely elicit multiple viewings by Kubrick aficionados, but its brevity will also leave them wanting more.