Summer of Kubrick: A Personal Odyssey

Article by ben

Do works of art ever stagger us more than they do in our formative years?

Let me offer an example in a somewhat circuitous way: When I was younger and obsessed with movies, certain directorial choices would hit me with unexpected and inexplicable force. Nobody had taught me to respond to these particular cues, yet I did. Sometimes the music in a film would become discordant, or the camera would track Steadicam-style behind a character as s/he moved through a space, or the performances would go garish and over-the-top, or the story would end in a place of head-scratching ambiguity—and whenever one of these things happened, the world around me became fuzzy, my skin felt electric. (God forbid all these things happened at once—I wouldn’t be able to stand up.) Why was my reaction to these choices—a reaction nearly Pavlovian in its elemental and instinctive nature—so strong?

I was in grad school by the time I realized that all of this went back to one source: a viewing of The Shining when I was about eight. I had only seen the film once since then, and the weirdest thing about it was that I’d always remembered hating it. But there it was, haunting my viewing habits as undeniably as one of those spirits in the Overlook Hotel.

In talking to people about Summer of Kubrick—our ambitious partnership with Alamo Drafthouse, MFAH Films, Rice Cinema, and the Houston Film Critics Society—I realize that many people share these feelings about Kubrick’s films. Some people have strong memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey expanding their minds (maybe with the help of an illicit substance or two). Others remember A Clockwork Orange as their first truly transgressive viewing experience. Hell, one friend of mine credits a viewing of Dr. Strangelove as beginning his lifelong obsession with politics.

What about Kubrick’s films burrow so deep into our psyches?

Maybe this has something to do with it: when we watch one of Kubrick’s movies, we feel like we aren’t done with it yet—or maybe it’s the other way around? Maybe we feel like the film is watching us back, and that the film isn’t done with us.

The theorists in Room 237—Rodney Ascher’s documentary about Shining obsessives—ascribe God-like powers to Kubrick; he was all-knowing, they seem to believe—all-powerful. I wouldn’t go quite so far, but there’s certainly an intelligence in his films that goes beyond the usual. I’ve seen Kubrick’s films many times over the years, always thinking I understood them, only to have that understanding pulled away from me.

This summer, we’re putting Kubrick’s films in conversation with the source materials he based them on. All of his great films came from books; he was the world’s most literary director. Watching the movies again through this lens has given me an entirely new understanding and appreciation of his work. As Summer of Kubrick kicks off, I think other people will feel the same way.

As for The Shining? Twenty-two years after seeing it for the first time, it has become one of my favorite films—one to which I return three or four times a year. What can I say? It’s living under my skin now.

Maybe Kubrick really was all-powerful.

Summer of Kubrick kicks off Friday, June 17, 6:30pm, with a costume party at Brazos Bookstore. Come dressed as your favorite Stanley Kubrick character for 10% off your purchase.

On Thursday, June 23, 7pm, Joshua Starnes (president of the Houston Film Critics Society) will lead a book group discussion of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (the Vintage Park location) will screen 2001: A Space Odyssey on Sunday, June 26, 6pm. The screening is free, but purchase a $5 food and beverage voucher from Alamo to reserve your spot in advance.

Browse the full Summer of Kubrick schedule online!

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