Last night an old friend reached out to me via the Internets with an unusual request: his son, now nearly 15, is a budding cinephile and could I please recommend a reasonable path for a young person being exposed for the first time to the films of Stanley Kubrick?
Setting aside my deep distaste for the idea that a guy with whom I went to college has a teenage son (I like to think I'm past that by now), I gave it some thought while watching G.I. Joe: Retaliation. (That review will be in tomorrow's Daily Messenger, by the way.) Here's what I came up with, verbatim – and if any of you are wondering about how to approach Kubrick, feel free to accept this unsolicited advice:
Hm. OK, Kubrick. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is his most consistently well received film, and probably the most accessible of his complex stuff. I'd start with that. (If he doesn't get the plot, he could even rent the terrible non-Kubrick sequel 2010 that explains everything, but I wouldn't recommend it.) If he's a cineaste, he's probably OK with black-and-white, so DR. STRANGELOVE would be next. SPARTACUS and THE KILLING are both good older choices, albeit without the same quirky style that made Kubrick's later films stand out. Only you will know if he's ready for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. After all those you can send him back to THE SHINING -- if he's already seen it, it would be interesting to see if he looks at it differently after having taken in other Kubrick movies. (Of course, if he’s not even 15 it would be nice to think he hasn't seen THE SHINING yet. I first saw it when I was 12, and it seriously messed me up.)
Kubrick’s enduring greatness ties back less to any one film than to the strong and varied opinions held by so many film lovers about his entire body of work. Some people think The Shining is crap, others think it’s a masterpiece. The same goes for Spartacus, and A Clockwork Orange, and almost everything he made: there are no easy opinions to draw from any of his films, which I’d like to think was an outcome he would have favored. If consensus weren’t boring, there’d only be vanilla ice cream.