Adventures in Cultural Consumption, Still Don't Like Stanley Kubrick Edition

Long-time blog readers are aware of my general policy regarding cultural items I don't particularly like: they should be revisited periodically in order to see if I have different feelings about them. Sometimes my opinions really do change, or I am aware of aspects that previously escaped my attention. This goes more emphatically for those things held in high regard: a good consumer of culture should be at least open to the idea of having missed something important.

Steven Soderbergh posted a new cut of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which seemed as good a moment as any to revisit the film, not least because the central feature of the cut is removing 50 or so minutes of runtime to bring the entire film under two hours. I am not a Kubrick fan. I've seen Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket, not an exhaustive list but a reasonable number from which to draw conclusions. Those conclusions: most of the movies are too long--far too long. If they contain any moral point, they hit that point over the head repeatedly and without any nuance--the only film that works for is Dr. Strangelove, as a satire. The slow pacing and the emphasis on composition rather than dialogue is the primary reason the films seem stretched. As a compositor of images, Kubrick may be without equal--every film has striking shots and takes, many of them memorable and justly celebrated*--but they come too infrequently. (I prefer lots of dialogue and emphasis on the interplay of the actors, unless the film is going into avant-garde art-film territory.)

On Soderbergh's edit: it was shorter, which is something. It contains all the iconic moments, also something. It makes better use of the eye topos as a theme connecting the disparate elements of the story, something this film needs quite desperately. But it also cuts out much of the dialogue. It is perhaps most worrisome that an hour can be removed from the film and I was unable to identify exactly what was missing, aside from expository dialogue. So we'll put Kubrick back on the shelf for a while longer.

*The problem with this reliance of image is that most of them work so long as you don't focus too much on the thing being symbolized. The ending sequence of 2001--the baby and the earth--is shocking and striking, and works as a general means of connecting the broader themes of the movie. But what is that broader theme? Perhaps something about the fragility of humanity, the contrast between the origins of man and what looks (or looked) like our fate, the contrast between the serenity of nature and our own capability for violence. Why is that represented by a fetus and a shot of earth from space? Well, it's a striking image. Don't think about it too much.

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