Weekend Humor: Kubrick Bloopers!

I thought I’d celebrate the 40th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant A Clockwork Orange (Christ, I’m old) in completely inappropriate fashion – by finally doing another ‘Weekend Humor’ post in Mr. Kubrick’s honor. This humorous collage of animated Kubrick bloopers was created by Dan Meth – and features some fun “outtakes” from Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut – and of course, A Clockwork Orange. Kudos to Mr. Meth (who I do not know) for creating a funny bit here that I happened to stumble across on YouTube.

“Clockwork” certainly deserves a much more serious posting, praising its outstanding merits – and I will make sure to do that at some point soon. This will do for now. A Clockwork Orange remains, for me, one of the greatest films ever made – a shoe-in for my Top 20 of all-time. Click and enjoy — have a great weekend everyone!

15 Directors Meme

I got tagged. This time, by Sebastian over at Films from the Supermassive Black Hole, who was thoughtful enough to pass this Meme along to me. The task? Easy enough. Come up with 15 filmmakers that helped shape the way I look at motion pictures. These are the directors that go to the top of my list – prolific directors who have made, in my estimation, some of the most profound, thought-provoking, and entertaining films in the history of cinema. They are, in no particular order:

 

1. Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather trilogy)
2. Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront)
3. Sidney Lumet (Network)
4. Stanley Kubrick (A Clockwork Orange)
5. John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence)
6. Vittorio De Sica (Umberto D.)
7. Charles Chaplin (Limelight)
8. Ingmar Bergman (Scenes from A Marriage)
      my blog’s name is in homage to him so he better be on this list!
9. Woody Allen (Crimes and Misdemeanors)
10. David Lynch (Blue Velvet)
11. Joel and Ethan Coen (Barton Fink)
12. Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull)
13. Oliver Stone (JFK)
14. Billy Wilder (Witness for the Prosecution)
15. Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven)

And now to do some tagging of my own (pinky finger to my lips accompanied by a deep, menacing laugh). I will try and select some of my favorite film bloggers who I don’t think have participated just yet. All awesome blogs that I frequent quite often. Time to give these thoughtful film gurus some homework…Plus, I’d love to see what directors are on their personal lists.

Weekend Humor: “The Shining” as a Rom-Com???

Oh, my God…when I saw this, I could not help feeling that the legendary Stanley Kubrick was turning over in his grave!!! I think his 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining remains one of the scariest movies ever made — and I think many would agree with this (except, of course, Mr. King). Those twin girls, Grady the butler, that wicked woman in room 237, the eerie bartender, and of course, a demented Jack chasing his lovely wife up the stairs with a baseball bat…it all makes for a terrific horror movie, right?

Now, how many of you have watched this frightening film and wondered, “Hmm…this would have made an even better romantic comedy”? Most all of you, am I right? Well, here is a trailer to give you a good idea of what The Shining would have been like as a traditional rom-com. It is great stuff — and very, very funny. The use of music here (especially the Peter Gabriel track) is very clever, the editing is nicely done and the narration hits the mark as far as capturing the lame/trite goofiness that often accompanies these type of films.

Thanks so much to Nora who was sweet enough to send this my way!!!

“Films That Defined Us!” Blog Event

Marc — who writes for one of my favorite film blogs Go, See, Talk! — is hosting a Blog Event that will post on his site this Friday, August 13th and he was kind enough to invite me to participate. The event is called Films That Defined Us and film writers from all over are taking part to list those movies that we saw at a relatively young age and helped to define our movie tastes. These are movies that, to quote Marc, really “set the bar” for us and made a lasting impression in our lives.

I came up with my own personal list of 5 films (in no particular order here) that have surely been essential works of art for me as a movie lover and have certainly been proud staples of any movie collection I have ever had. For those who know me, I’m afraid none of these will come as much of a surprise to you. For my film blogging amigos, hopefully this will achieve Marc’s objective in letting us see what makes each of us tick. After much thought and deliberation, here are 5 Movies That Surely Have Defined Me:

#1. Annie Hall (dir. Woody Allen)

I didn’t get into Woody Allen until later on…around high school. Then I began to devour all of his prose with friends at a local diner, see all of his movies, read film analysis on him. In doing so, this film sadly became my life’s anthem, through no fault of my own. Whenever someone needs to “understand me” better, I tell them to just watch this classic dramedy and they always come back lamentably with, “Oh…now I get it.” This is the consummate Woody Allen film — the colossal turning point for him as a filmmaker. It features Diane Keaton who is heavenly in this movie; she created one of film’s most memorable characters here. It is a profound movie in terms of how it addresses relationships – it makes you laugh out loud one moment and feel sadness the next. I have seen this movie more times than I care to admit over the past 20 years and it never gets dull for me. As far as comedies go, this one stands the test of time and truly set the bar for all of the newer comedies being released this past decade — all films that pale in comparison to Woody when he was at his peak.

#2. The Godfather (dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

My family never really raised me on movies or got me into watching films, though I wish they had. But one film that I do remember watching with my parents when I was younger was Coppola’s seminal tour de force whenever it would play on TV. I come from an Italian-American family, so I think that certainly played a part in their excitement in watching this film and explaining it to me when I was too young to actually absorb it all. To this day, so many years later, the first two Godfather films are my two favorite films of all-time and I think my early memories of watching them with my parents play a small part in that. To me, this is a perfect film with unbelievable performances across the board. Knowing all of the background information on how Coppola set out to make this masterpiece and his many battles with Paramount make it all the more inspiring for me. As a result of watching this film at a young age, Marlon Brando quickly became my favorite actor (still is). Watching his towering performance here, I made sure to watch every one of his films as often as I could (even the many stinkers) and research as much as I could on the complex man. Throughout the trilogy, the character of Michael Corleone, I think, is one of the very best ever put on film and I can envision no one better to do it than Al Pacino. I just watched it a few weeks ago and it brought back a few memories for me from years ago — and I was still in awe with each passing scene.

#3. Rocky (dir. John G. Avildsen)

The original “Best Picture” winner, as well as the subsequent Rocky II and Rocky III (both directed by Sylvester Stallone). I was 5-years old when the first film came out and did not see the film in the theatres, but I do remember playing the old vinyl record that my parents bought and loving the entire soundtrack. Bill Conti’s score is truly one for the ages. I listened to it often back then, and a few years later was hooked on Rocky Balboa. To me, this is the quintessential underdog story — in more ways than just sports — though it is, for me, the very best of all the sports movies. He came from nowhere…and rose from the ghetto streets of Philly to become the heavyweight champion of the world! Again, I think the whole Italian thing comes into play here…fuggedaboutit! Isn’t it a law that every Italian guy has to love Rocky? Perhaps every Italian guy secretly wants to be Rocky. I know I did when I was a kid. I do recall seeing Rocky II a few years later and then my parents took me to see the third one in a drive-in movie theatre. Rocky Balboa was an inspirational figure to me then and still is today. He is a hero and positive role model that always does the right thing; he has a strict moral compass, he loves his woman, he has tremendous heart and fortitude — and he even ended the Cold war single-handedly in the dismal Rocky IV. Thankfully, he rebounded nicely in the last installment, but those first three films for me always get my heart pounding and my blood racing.

#4. A Clockwork Orange (dir. Stanley Kubrick)

I remember seeing this flick and the profound effect it had on me as a kid when I first watched it. In many ways, Kubrick’s ultra-violent futuristic film was the catalyst for me looking to re-define what my taste in movies was. I wanted to see more films like this one! I hadn’t seen many like it at all and looked into more works from this maverick filmmaker and others like him. I sought out films from other auteurs such as Malick, Forman, Cassavetes, Polanski, and Altman. I even remember having A Clockwork Orange T-shirt in my younger days. At the time, I didn’t consider myself much of a film buff, but I believe this film started that journey for me as I realized what film, as an art form, can do…the weighty impact it can make on a viewer. This film haunted me in the very best of ways and I loved Burgess’ overall message in the “rehabilitation” of the classic character, Alex DeLarge (wonderfully portrayed by Malcolm McDowell). When I think of movies that helped to sculpt my more refined palette in my latter teen years, this is the one that always comes to mind first.

#5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (dir. Steven Spielberg)

I was 10 years old when this film was released (when movies actually played for months at a time in the theatres) and remember coming home thinking I just watched the most awesome movie ever! I mean, really…what kid didn’t flip out over this movie?! To me, it seemed to have everything — amazing action sequences, terrific special effects, a love story, an intelligent and valiant hero, a malevolent villain, and humorous one-liners. I couldn’t wait to see it again. It was pure entertainment. For my money, it is still one of the very best blockbuster films ever made. Nowadays, with CGI and more high-tech special effects, everything seems possible and it takes away from the experience a bit. Of course, there are special effects in “Raiders”, but it’s not so unbelievable here where it removes you from the emotion of the scene. The hat, the whip, the classic gun scene, the snakes….it is all classic Spielberg in one of his finest efforts as a filmmaker. Sadly, the franchise has taken terrible blows in the years that followed (aliens — really??!!) with three sub-par sequels; none even come close to sniffing the boots of the original and I think its writer, Lawrence Kasdan, has a lot to do with that. This one always takes me back to 10 years old and the excitement I felt when I came home that day — the testament to a timeless movie.

Stanley Kubrick: Launching Full Metal Jacket

SOME BACKGROUND

Like Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket pierces into the military mentality and highlights the futility and inevitability of war. In essence, the film is told in two distinct, yet comparable parts. The first section of the film is Parris Island, South Carolina – boot camp. It is a terrifying and lifelike look at the creation of turning young, naïve American men into absolute killing machines. The second section is the inescapable aftermath. Always drawn to the dark side of the human experience, Kubrick used the war genre to explore the basic evil inherent in man. In fact, images of the violent nature in man spanned over five decades of work of the unrivaled Stanley Kubrick, from 2001 to A Clockwork Orange to Barry Lyndon.

There are surely other spectacular movies made about the war experience (Coming Home, The Green Berets, Apocalypse Now, et al), but Full Metal Jacket is unlike any of them. Not to say it’s a better film…it’s just, well Kubrickian. It is what Kubrick’s very personal perception of war in general symbolizes. Unlike other Vietnam films, Full Metal Jacket was not made in direct response to the war. I always thought also that Kubrick’s film suffered unfair comparisons to Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Platoon. Platoon had come out only one year earlier and had won four Oscars just months before the release of Full Metal Jacket. But Platoon is a more traditional war film. Kubrick himself had publicly expressed his respect for Stone’s movie, but thought that it catered to its audience too much. “I liked Platoon,” Kubrick said. “I think Platoon tried to ingratiate itself a little more with the audience. But then, I have enough faith in the audience to think that they are able to appreciate something which doesn’t do that. At least you’re not bored.”

Full Metal Jacket was Stanley Kubrick’s 12th motion picture. Released in 1987, it took in a respectable $46 million domestic at the box-office, and did very well overseas. The film completed his own war trilogy (following Fear and Desire and Paths of Glory) that spanned over 35 years. Shooting began in the summer of 1985 and ended September 1986. This is not a review of the film – though I find it to be an important, haunting, and brilliant film – but rather the story behind the making of what is one of cinema’s grandest achievements in the genre of war films.

IN SEARCH OF A PROJECT

After the release and commercial success that followed The Shining in 1980, iconic film director Stanley Kubrick wasted no time in trying to find out what his next film would be. He had no idea what the subject matter would be, but he spent time doing research, screening material, and reading in hopes that he would soon be inspired. During that time, Arthur C. Clarke had written a sequel to his 2001 novel, 2010: Odyssey Two. MGM had acquired the rights and asked Kubrick if he had any desire to direct the movie; an offer that Kubrick turned down and personally gave his seal of approval to Peter Hyams to forge ahead with the project. Kubrick considered a film about war. Not unfamiliar terrain to him. Not surprisingly, Kubrick wanted to make a certain type of war movie, but had not yet found the ideal story to adapt. In 1980, he decided to reach out to Michael Herr.

Herr was a foreign correspondent for Esquire during the Vietnam War (1967-68) and the author of Dispatches, chronicling his experiences in Indochina. In addition, Herr wrote all of the voice-over narration spoken by Martin Sheen in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Kubrick and Herr spoke endlessly about war, film and countless other subjects. Herr once said that it was “one phone call lasting three years with interruptions.”

In 1982, Kubrick stumbled upon a book by Gustav Hasford called The Short-Timers, which he was instantly attracted to. He loved its stylistic approach (“…written in a very, very almost poetically spare way,” Kubrick said). Hasford was a former Marine who served in Vietnam at the height of the war. The novel took him seven years to write and another three to get published (1977). While working as a security guard and living in his car, Hasford discovered that Stanley Kubrick now owned the rights to his book.

To no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of Stanley Kubrick, his approach to the Vietnam War would be vastly different than any other. He wanted to target the military establishment. As he did in Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick focused his concentration on the powers that lay lurking behind the military structure. “Vietnam was such a phony war, in terms of the hawkish technocrats fine-tuning the facts like an ad agency,” he said. In 1985, after writing out a fully detailed treatment, Kubrick asked Herr to work on the screenplay. While leafing through a gun catalog and stumbling on the phrase “full metal jacket,” Kubrick decided to change the title, since The Short-Timers did not have the universal recognition that The Shining or A Clockwork Orange had anyway. The term described a lead bullet encased in a copper jacket. When Herr finished his first draft of the screenplay, Kubrick would re-work it and, as he always did, would be re-writing the script even during days of shooting the film. As for Gustav Hasford, he had only met with Kubrick one time, though the two would speak at length over the phone about the screen adaptation. Kubrick embraced technology and preferred to communicate through telephone and fax during collaboration.

CASTING HIS PLATOON

With a working script in hand, Kubrick was set out to continue pre-production and cast his war film. Through Warner Brothers, he advertised a national search in America, encouraging unknown young actors to audition. He asked actors to send in videos dressed in a T-shirt, speaking about anything at all pertaining to the subject matter of war. Kubrick would receive over 3,000 tapes at his quarters in England and would personally view over 800. What Kubrick was looking for was his own platoon of young actors to serve in his own tour of duty known as Full Metal Jacket. He wanted to cast actors that would function as exact and precise as any military unit. And they certainly did just that, waking up at dawn, taking bus rides to the location, and developing a solid camaraderie in the process.

In the lead role of Private Joker (fittingly, we never know his real name), an up-and-coming Matthew Modine was cast, no stranger to the military, having 3 brothers and a sister who served in Vietnam. “It was something I grew up with,” Modine said. Modine was well aware of all the unflattering myths concerning the auteur director and, like so many other actors who spoke to this, he was quick to set the record straight: “He’s probably the most heartfelt person I ever met.” All the other actors associated with the film would echo this same sentiment.

Vincent D’Onofrio learned about the auditions from Modine. He sent in his own homemade audition tape and got the integral part of Private Pyle. At the time, the Brooklyn-born 6’ 3” actor was fit and athletic-looking. Kubrick had asked the unknown actor to gain 70 pounds for the role (to reach 280 lbs.) in order to physically suit the part of the misfit, country-bumpkin soldier. Kubrick later said, “Pyle was the hardest part to cast…I wanted to find new faces. We received about three or four thousand videotapes.”

On his character, D’Onofrio stated, “I don’t think he was insane. What they did to Leonard was they made him into a very efficient killing machine.” And those familiar with the film can certainly not forget that sullen, haunting image of Private Pyle sitting in the latrine giving what D’Onofrio referred to as the “Crazy Kubrick Stare”; a stare not unlike Nicholson’s in The Shining or McDowell’s in A Clockwork Orange.

The rest of the squad of soldiers was cast with relative unknowns: Adam Baldwin (Animal Mother), the theatrically trained Arliss Howard (Cowboy), Dorian Harewood (Eightball), Ed O’Ross (Lt. Touchdown), and Kevyn Major Howard as the innocent photographer, Rafterman. In a very shrewd and wise directorial decision, none of the actors were allowed to rehearse with the man who was cast in the pivotal role of the man who breaks them all down in the first half of the film, Sergeant Hartman.

Lee Ermey was no stranger to combat and no stranger to the motion picture industry. A Kansas farm boy, Ermey enlisted in the Marines in 1961, served for 2 ½ years as a drill instructor during the Vietnam War, and served 11 years in total before being injured by an exploding rocket in 1969. Ermey met Coppola in 1976 and served as technical advisor on Apocalypse Now, Purple Hearts, and The Boys in Company C (where he also played a drill sergeant). At first, Kubrick thought Ermey to be too gentle to play Sgt. Hartman, but after watching him audition, the director quickly changed his tune. In fact, Kubrick would videotape Ermey breaking down British soldiers, hurling insults left and right. “I was struck by his extraordinary ability as an actor, “Kubrick said. “Lee lined them up like recruits who had just come off the bus and let go with a barrage of intimidation and insults.” From these sessions, Kubrick had over 250 pages of transcript just from Ermey’s improvisations and began inserting choice lines into the screenplay. In the end, about 50% of Ermey’s lines came from these initial improvisations. “Kubrick said I’m a superior intimidator,” Ermey told The New York Post — the perfect reason why he was kept away from the young actors who would play his subordinates. When he finally did start shooting scenes with his co-stars, Ermey came as quite a shock to them all. “It was terrifying to those actors,” Ermey told the New York Times. “My objective was intimidation. The first time I came up to Vincent, all he had to say was ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir’ and he was so shocked he blew his lines three or four times.” Ermey’s Sgt. Hartman dominates the entire first part of Full Metal Jacket and as such, was under orders by his director to set the tone and create a strict boot camp-like atmosphere on set.

Check this video out. It’s a scene of the Sergeant introducing himself (that’s a kind way of putting it) to his unit. Check out how authentic all of the dialogue sounds, how authoritarian Ermey is as he fires one offensive slur after another, how the privates all react to this despot. Notice the monster-like look on Modine’s face as he shows the Sergeant his “war face” —  overwhelming and powerful. And even with the severity of the situation, the scene is awfully funny at times, in the darkest of ways (“I bet you’re the kind of guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. I’ll be watching you!”). Most of all, watch the rapport between Ermey and D’Onofrio here — and contrast it to their final confrontation in the latrine – the arc of this battle is terrifying. A perfectly choreographed scene.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

Unlike Apocalypse Now or Platoon, which were shot in the Philippines because of the jungle terrain, Kubrick sent his location scouts to all areas of London as his film had no need for the jungle. “When you think of Vietnam, it’s natural to imagine jungles. But this story is about urban warfare,” Adam Baldwin had said. Kubrick needed locations to resemble Parris Island and Hue, Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. Three separate sites in northeast London were found and secured. Usually, a strict perfectionist for capturing realism, Kubrick would sometimes sacrifice this in favor of the more dramatic. For instance, he did not particularly care for the look of the latrine in Parris Island, so he had one built on a studio stage in London. The latrine scene is one of the movie’s most enduring images and Kubrick went for a more expressionistic interpretation of the setting to heighten the drama.

For the street scenes in the second half of the film, Kubrick brought in 5,000 Vietnamese immigrants living in London to inhabit the area to resemble Da Nang, 1968. For the rest of the Marines unit, he cast members of Britain’s Territorial Army. For palm trees, he hired some woman at a local nursery to track down the precise trees he wanted. Eventually, Kubrick would have around 200 palm trees personally found by Anne Edwards in Spain shipped to England. Everything on camera was personally chosen by him and given his stamp of approval…as always, he left nothing to chance and did not overlook a single detail.

WRAP UP

Matthew Modine told American Film magazine, “Everything that happens in Full Metal Jacket exists. The boot camp sequence is probably the most realistic portrayal of boot camp in the Marines that’s ever been put on film, with the exception of a Parris Island training film. It’s not pleasant. You’re not allowed to escape. The reason Stanley’s stories are so shocking is because they are so truthful. He doesn’t try to create some sympathy because he wants to win the audience over. It’s not pleasant to see somebody get killed. And it’s not pleasant to die.”

It’s hard to watch Full Metal Jacket and not have a strong, visceral response to its characters, plot devices, brutal images (remember the female sniper?), and Kubrick’s overall interpretation of the war experience. But like all of his films, you feel strongly in one direction or another. Kubrick did have a tendency of alienating his audience and here, he deliberately creates a movie that distances itself from the audience. Also, his longtime love of the silent movies is clearly evident here in his directorial approach, as the film communicates to us on a much more visual level than its sparse dialogue. I have heard many tell me that they absolutely love the first part of the film, but not the second half so much…that the film trails off at that point. To those people, I would suggest giving Full Metal Jacket a new screening and try to see exactly what Kubrick was doing by editing it as such. Though surely difficult to watch at times, it has some vintage Kubrick humor (a.k.a. ‘dark’) sprinkled throughout (usually at Private Pyle’s expense) and has a definitive Kubrick-like feel from start to finish. Just take a look at the beautifully filmed shot below (see video) of the soldiers singing the “Mickey Mouse Theme” with guns in their hands as fire blazes around them. Why would they be singing such a song at this particular time?  The absurdity and humor placed in this dark context works brilliantly. It’s a masterful work of art by one of cinema’s greatest all-time filmmakers and certainly more than holds its own in the great canon of work that is Stanley Kubrick.

%d bloggers like this: