Stanley Kubrick and Authorship

"One of his films... is equivalent to ten of somebody else's"
 - Martin Scorsese 

stanley kubrick
Speaking of the Auteur theory, Sarris (Cited in Chapman, 2003: 114) stated that ‘the strong director imposes his own personality on a picture; the weak director allows the personalities of others to run rampant’. Film-making is undoubtedly the achievement of a group of people collaborating together, ‘the single most consistent truth about movie making is its division of responsibilities, to look at a film as the idea of one man is to overlook the mechanics of making a picture’ (Sultanik, 1986: 83). Despite this fact, Stanley Kubrick is an example of a director whose personality shines throughout his library of films, this contributes to many consistent thematic inclusions as well as cinematic techniques - some of which, such as symmetry have a bearing on both the narrative and cinematography.  

Bordwell and Thompson (2010: 70) state that a filmmaker does not create a film from scratch, ‘all films borrow ideas and storytelling strategies from other movies’, since a director is thus seemingly unable to create a text that is completely devoid of  influences from other filmmakers it puts into question whether their visions are truly unique. Indeed, Stoddard claims that the Cahiers writers ‘neglected the origins of film production’ (1995: pp. 40-41), but drawing on influences can be merely seen as an example of a director reflecting on their own personal preferences, since ‘the way a film looks should have some reflection on how a director thinks and feels’ (Sarris, 1962: 562). Robinson (2007: 192) points out that Kubrick held particular admiration for the works of the Soviet montage filmmakers; ‘finding the ideas of Eisenstein and Pudovkin on editing, particularly cogent’. Rhythmic editing that develops in unison with the music is utilised within both A Clockwork Orange and Dr Strangelove (1964). When Alex De Large (Malcolm McDowell) is in his room, a montage gives the audience various close-ups of the four statues of Jesus that move in time with Beethoven’s 9th, while at the end of Dr Strangelove, repeated nuclear explosions similarly occur in time with ‘We’ll Meet Again’. Even from early on, as the attack on the enemy cabin in Fear and Desire (1953) occurs, the way the stabbing is interspersed with the hands of the victims, cutting away before the audience sees the knife enter the soldiers is akin to the killing of the ‘Cat Lady’ (Miriam Karlin), when the impact of the phallic object is interrupted by various shots of her paintings. The way that violence is not actually shown in these scenes echoes Lolita (1962), which too uses an art piece to hide the actual impact of the bullet that kills Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers). These two instances of intertextuality are able to convey Alex’s admiration for art and the pain of the victims of the ambush without resorting to speech, Gilbert (2006: 35) argues that such a method of editing occurred because ‘Kubrick demanded so much from visual symbols and thus moved ever closer to the aesthetics of silent film’.

lolita kubrick authorshipSpeaking of his admiration for Orson Welles, Kolker (1988: 82) says that ‘the Wellesian cinema is a cinema of space and spacial relationships’, Alex is a lost and alienated individual when he leaves prison, shown through his positioning when he is eating at Frank Alexander’s (Patrick Magee) house, the setting overshadows him and he is evidently nervous about the prospect of the writer poisoning him. Likewise, in Lolita, Quilty is manipulating Humbert Humbert (James Mason) while on the hotel veranda and through the use of a large depth of field, Quilty’s dominance is shown through his position within the foreground of the frame, while Humbert is reduced to being placed in the background, unable to even see his tormentors face. Mather (2013: 243) states that high angle perspective establishes the location being filmed - ‘often one that dominates the characters’, while close ups of Alex’s face characterised the first third of A Clockwork Orange, the prison that he finds himself in is captured in an extreme high angle shot, the camera ‘reproduces the panoptic and impersonal gaze of the institution as it peers down on the grey stone prison’(Gehrkr, 2008:153). Similarly the chateau in Paths of Glory (1957) looms over the helpless soldiers during the trial scene, depth of field is reduced in order to create the opposite effect to that of Lolita, their isolation is captured in a telephoto lens which separates them from their environment. The placement of characters in their respective settings very often helps to reinforce the narrative, this is a trope that tracking also achieves. 

Mainar (1999:31) points out that tracking shots fulfil a specific task, ‘they establish a link between at least two elements within the shot’. A Clockwork Orange establishes Alex’s focus on sex in the opening at the Korova milk bar, when he is surrounded by naked mannequins while his love of music is encapsulated in a tracking shot that follows him walking around a record shop. In Paths of Glory, Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) is a ‘brave, principled’ (Perusek, 2006: 88) and resourceful man who is evidently respected by his soldiers that surround him as he walks through the trenches, again captured in a shot which follows him advancing forward. Unlike the objective camerawork that accompanied General Mireau (George Macready) through the same trenches earlier, this scene is combined with several point-of-view shots, as such it demonstrates how far removed Mireau is from the reality of war compared to Dax, he flinched at the explosions that went off around him while Dax is seemingly desensitised to them. In The Shining (1980), the fluid, long, steady cam sequences of Danny Torrence (Danny Lloyd) riding his tricycle through the winding corridors of the Overlook Hotel emphasise the maze-like nature of the setting, culminating in ‘an astonished gaze into an impossible world’ (Naremore, 2007 :191), which in this case makes Danny’s stare reminiscent of Dave Bowman’s (Keir Dullea) during the star gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In these instances the environments that surrounds the characters are used to reinforce their personality, demeanour and mentality.

the killing kubrick auteur theory While tracking shots, montage and the manipulation of the depth of field help to reinforce notions of power or a characters mental state, lighting too is another visual element which significantly contributes to the narrative.  Kubrick always strived to move away from arbitrary lighting, instead ‘it always had to appeal to the audiences emotional appetite for uncanny or menacing atmospheres’ (Kuberski, 2012: 72). Reminiscent of The Killing (1956) and Killer’s Kiss (1956), A Clockwork Orange contains a scene characteristic of the film noir movement, when Alex and his droogs come across the homeless man, the chiaroscuro lighting distorts the shadows of the teenagers, Spicer (2013: 319) argues that noir’s visual style is ‘informed by the themes of angst and anxiety’. Therefore, the scene in question uses a trope from the movement in order to portend to the violence that is about to take place, further evidence of the validity of Spicer’s view is that fact that the shadows of the menacing teenagers bears a relationship to the scene in Killer’s Kiss when Vincent Rapallo’s (Frank Silvera) henchmen corner and murder Davey’s manager. The heavily backlit war room of Dr Strangelove can thus be said to contribute to create a similar effect; the impending doom of nuclear war. In addition to the use of shadows, Powell (2005: 45) says that he used coloured light to ‘create extra layers of meaning’ - blue light appears from behind doorways and archways in A Clockwork Orange, Spartacus (1960) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), when Alex pleads to Mr. Alexander’s wife (Adrienne Corri) to let him in the house, after the bath scene in which Antoninus (Tony Curtis) decides to abandon Crassus’s (Laurence Olivier) service and when Alice (Nicole Kidman) admits her fantasy to Bill (Tom Cruise). In addition, the whole exterior of the Overlook Hotel is bathed in the colour blue during the chase scenes in the snow; betrayal, distrust and fear characterise the scenes explained, with the uniform lighting foreshadowing such. 

The idea of communication; or lack thereof is a trope that plays a large role in A Clockwork Orange, the use of Nadsat language, spoken only by the teenagers emphasises the division between the two generations of citizens within its dystopian world, the language is reminiscent of the military and sexual slang used by the troops in Full Metal Jacket (1987), which like the Nadsat ‘can’t always be deciphered’ (Wetta & Curley, 1992: 41) by the audience. Furthermore, during his interrogation in the police station, Mr Deltoid rather than ‘actively communicate with his pupil, merely mocks him (Alex) and spits in his face’ (Sperb, 2006 114); If the inability to communicate in this instance exacerbates Alex’s hostility, miscommunication in Dr Strangelove is what causes the destruction of earth. The Soviets failure to inform the Americans of their Doomsday device undermines the whole intention of a deterrent, an unnecessary call to Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) from his girlfriend interrupts his dealings in the war room and Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) is unable to potentially save the world since he has no change for the phone booth, Cooke (2007: 27) argues that such a scene ‘encapsulates the entire film’. Bar one of the calls in the picture, the audience is not shown and cannot hear who is on the other end of the phone; instead Tugidson has to be relayed messages from his secretary and Merkin has to first navigate a language barrier before he can talk to the Soviet Premier. The telephone serves a familiar role of both frustration and anxiety for Humbert in Lolita when the line goes dead before he is able to talk to her, Quiston (2013: 14) states that the phone is ‘another rude intervention’ between the two. The whole reason why Alex is able to enter the house of the writer and his wife is by convincing the two to let him use their telephone; the device appears to serve as both an unreliable, dangerous or undermined feature often causing physical or emotional harm to characters.

dr strangelove kubrick
Even in The Shining, after Danny successfully communicates with Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers); it ultimately leads to the murder of him upon his return to the Overlook Hotel. Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) also blocks Wendy (Shelly Duvall) from using the radio, emphasising the alienation that befalls her and Danny as they attempt to flee him. Disinterest characterises attempts at communication in 2001 and in Eyes Wide Shut, just as how Alex refuses to testify in the aforementioned scene in the police station, Dr Floyd’s daughter (Vivian Kubrick) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) appear to give little gratification or attention to those who video call them. Likewise; when Alice asks her husband how she looks, William replies “perfect” without even looking at her; Kuberski (2012: 11) states that ‘speech in Kubrick’s films achieves an opacity and a physicality that frustrates attempts at communication and understanding’, but it can be also argued that lack of speech serves an identical function. The theme may have been included by Kubrick because it served a large role within his own life; ‘on the most basic level, communication underpins the whole process of making a film, someone who makes it the central feature of their working life will easily extend it to the intellectual concept of their films’ (Walker, Taylor & Ruchti, 1999: 31). 

When talking about Spartacus, Baxter (1997: 137) explains that Crassus and Gracchus (Charles Laughton) illustrate Stanley Kubrick’s belief ‘in the abiding evil at the heart of all power’, similarly one of the overriding themes in A Clockwork Orange appears to be the criticism of authority and how the government abuses their overwhelming ability. Cox (2004: 28) states that Kubrick had ‘an obsession with paternal authority’, while a positive representation is evident between Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) and Antoninus, Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal) and his step-son Lord Bullingdon (Dominic Savage) share an incredibly tempestuous relationship, the lack of an omnipresent father figure for Lyndon himself ‘may explain his own shortcomings as a father’ (Hughes, 2000:188) which ultimately leads to his downfall after losing a duel with Bullingdon. Alex too appears to have little interaction with his own father and is depicted as a helpless child prior to his Ludovico treatment, asking whether his time spent watching films will be “like going to the pictures”, with the doctors coaxing him into a false sense of security. It establishes that the doctors in A Clockwork Orange become the mothers and fathers, ‘judging as necessary… where the world was once his playpen, Alex is now a pawn being manipulated by the sciences and the state’ (Gehrkr, 2008: 155-156). Private Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) in Full Metal Jacket is similarly humiliated and treated like a child when forced to walk behind the platoon sucking his thumb as a punishment; his character is the victim of the brainwashing from Sgt Hartman (R.Lee Ermey) which wipes clean his individuality while Alex is unable to exercise free will, thus removing his own personality too. 

As Gerhrkr suggests, this theme of human authority over others may have emerged out of the directors love of chess, LoBrutto (1999: 19) says that it was ‘more than a game to Stanley - it represented order and logic and embraced the young man’s fascination with war and the military.’ The battle scenes in Spartacus resemble such a pastime, as if a superior being is observing the events taking place from a vantage point, manipulating the arrangement of the Roman Army and is not dissimilar to how Jack oversees the model of the Overlook maze while his wife and son are in it themselves. While A Clockwork Orange depicts the government as an institution that chooses inhumane solutions to combat social problems, the generals in Paths of Glory punish the ‘cowardice’ of troops by murdering them, they are hypocritical figures who order men to certain death while viewing proceedings from a safe distance. Their indifference to the harrowing experiences that the troops have to undergo is almost identical to that of the Roman audience dis-interestingly observing the fight between Spartacus and Draba (Woody Strode).  Mireau observes the battle through binoculars, ‘emphasising war as a spectator sport for the high command’ (Walker, Taylor & Ruchti, 1999: 73) and it serves to highlight the juxtaposition between the privileged superiors compared to the soldiers confined to the claustrophobic suffering of the trenches. Visually, motifs of the game of chess repeatedly manifest themselves several times, the checkered floor of Mr Alexander’s hallway and the chateau in Paths of Glory can be seen at times when victims, or ‘pawns’ are at the mercy of other, more powerful individuals. 

full metal jacket kubrickSymmetry and repetition permeates the work of Kubrick in terms of both in the mise-en-scene and the narrative; the corridors in The Shining, aboard the Discovery One in 2001, the barracks in Full Metal Jacket and the firing squad in Paths Of Glory are some of the examples of the visually balanced composition of shots throughout his work. The entire narrative of A Clockwork Orange revolves around such a theme, Kolker (1988: 134) describes the picture as a ‘dismally cyclic vision’, for Alex is forever going to be a sadistic individual who starts the picture in much the same way that he ends it.  Symmetry too pervades the introduction of Killer’s Kiss; the crosscutting editing that accompanies Davey (Jamie Smith) and Gloria (Irene Kane) as they prepare to leave their respective apartments shows them getting dressed and going down the stairs at the same time, which helps to establish the relationship between the two individuals before they have even met. Mamber (2006: 58) says that ‘the narrative repetition and circularity of Kubrick’s films have always emphasised the sense that playing games, repeating duels, fighting battles is all that people do’. Such a statement can also be applied to sex within Eyes Wide Shut, in which it is initially used by William in order for him to rid himself of his insecurity regarding his wife, Rasmussen (2001: 356) states that the last line of the picture ‘returns, very bluntly, to sex as a solution for problems arising out of jealousy’. The circular motif is expressed quite literally in A Clockwork Orange, the inmates exercise by walking in one, demonstrating the strict order and routine of the environment. This is not unlike the rotating Space Station V in 2001 or the way Mireau is led on a circular walk by Major Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) around the chateau, the last example perhaps pertaining to the endless nature of conflict. Very often Kubrick’s films end in a similar way to how they started, reinforcing the impression of an ‘overture built out of repetitions’ (Krohn, 2010: 24).

paths of glory kubrick auteur theory
A Clockwork Orange repeats Alex’s encounters with the homeless man, his droogs and the writer when he leaves prison, as Falsetto (2001: 12) argues the film is ‘structured around actions and their reversal’, it is similar to the uncanny repetition within Paths of Glory, in which Mireau meets the same troops that he will send to their deaths. In addition, the intro and outro shots of A Clockwork Orange are strikingly similar; in both Alex is in the middle of a corridor-like environment surrounded first by mannequins and then by two rows of observers watching him in the snow. In The Killing, the repetition of the horses is used to re-establish the passage of time, and it has been observed that the massacre that follows Sherry’s (Marie Windsor) ambush of her husband leads to the bodies to ‘litter the room like the discarded betting slips on the floor of the racetrack at the start of the film’ (Silver, Ursini & Duncan, 2004: 72). As with the use of the horses in The Killing, Dr Strangelove continuously establishes the return to the B-52 bombers through the use of the song ‘When Johnny Goes Marching Home’. Lolita repeats two key events, the first being Humbert’s entry into Quilty’s home and the second being the introduction, which shows a hand caressing and painting the toenails of a woman. In order to satisfy the censors, ‘Kubrick was forced to downplay the erotic nature of the relationship’ (Matereau, 2008: 205), in this instance this limitation is overcome by establishing the relationship between Humbert and Lolita (Shelley Winters) in the title sequence which did not actually show the faces of the two individuals, thus appeasing the censors. When this action is repeated later in the picture it is evident that it bears a relationship to what has come before it, despite the fact that the ‘eroticism’ has been minimised in comparison. Bernardoni (1991: 7) explains that as a concept of the auteur theory, ‘authorial vision refers to a directors communication of a distinctive point of view in spite of the restrictions of mainstream narrative filmmaking’. Kubrick was able to overcome the restraints that came with censorship rules in an early example of his implementation of repetition, one of his signature narrative themes that is integral to the structure of A Clockwork Orange. 

Helping to dismiss the notion of collaboration rendering the Auteur theory invalid, Kagan (1972: 82) notes that Dr Strangelove marked the film in which Stanley Kubrick attained his ‘creative freedom’. Yet even before this picture, it is evident that the depiction of the themes of communication and authority emerged out of the directors own life and thoughts, while technical elements from editing to cinematography were both consistent and stemmed out of what influenced him. Every picture within his overture bears some kind of similarity with one-another, yet at the same time his body of work remains versatile and still deals with an overwhelming diversity of topics.


Baxter, J., 1998. Stanley Kubrick: A Biography. London: Harper Collins Publishers. 

Bell-Matereau, R. 2008. The Three Faces of Lolita: Or How I Leaned to Stop Worrying and Love the Adaptation. In J. Boozer ed. 2008. Authorship in Film Adaptation. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 203-229.

Bernardoni, J., 1991. The New Hollywood: What the Movies Did with the New Freedoms of the Seventies. Jefferson: McFarland Company. 

Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K., 2010. Film Art: An Introduction. New York: McGraw Hill.  

Chapman, J., 2003. Cinemas of the World: Film and Society from 1895 to the Present. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.

Cooke, E., 2007. Understanding the Enemy: The Dialogue of Fear in Fear and Desire and Dr Strangelove. In J. Abrams ed. 2007. The Philosophy of Stanley Kubrick. Lexington: University 
Press of Kentucky. pp. 9-33.

Cox, G., 2004. The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History, & the Holocaust. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Falsetto, M., 2001. Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic Analysis. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Gehrkr, P., 2006. Deviant subjects in Foucault and A Clockwork Orange. In G. Cocks, J Diedrick and G. Peruesed eds. 2006. Depth of Field: Stanley Kubrick, Film and the Uses of History. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 146- 164

Gilbert, J., 2006. Auteur with A Capital A. In R. Kolker ed. 2006. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey: New Essays. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Hughes, D., 2000. The Complete Kubrick. London: Virgin Publishing Ltd.

Kagan, N., 1972. The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick. London: Continuum Publishing Inc. 

Kolker, R., 1988. A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Scorcese, Spielberg, Altman. New York: Oxford University Press.

Krohn, B., 2010. Masters of Cinema: Stanley Kubrick. Paris: Phaidon Press. 

Kuberski, P., 2012. Kubrick's Total Cinema: Philosophical Themes and Formal Qualities. London: Continuum Publishing Company.

LoBrutto, V., 1999. Stanley Kubrick: A Biography. New York: Perseus Books. 

Mamber, S., 2006. ‘Kubrick in Space’. In R. Kolker ed. 2006. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey: New Essays. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Mather, P., 2013. Stanley Kubrick at Look Magazine: Authorship and Genre in Photojournalism and Film. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McQuiston, K., 2013. We’ll Meet Again: Musical Design in the Films of Stanley Kubrick. New York: Oxford University Press.

Naremore, J., 2007. On Kubrick. London: British Film Institute Publishing.

Perusek, G., 2006. Kubrick’s Armies: Strategy, Hierarchy and Motive in the War Films of Stanley Kubrick. In G. Cocks, J. Diedrick and G. Perusek eds. 2006. Depth of Field: Stanley Kubrick: Film and The Uses of History. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. pp.77- 100

Powell, A., 2005. Deleuze and Horror Film. Edinburgh: Cromwell Press. 

Rasmussen, R., 2001. Stanley Kubrick: Seven Films Analysed. Jefferson: McFarland Company. 

Robinson, H., 2007. Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood's Russians: Biography of an Image. New England: University of New England Press. 

Sarris, A., 1962. Notes on the Auteur Theory. In L. Braudy and M. Cohen eds. 2004. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 561-564.

Silver, A., Ursini, J. and Duncan, P., 2012. Film Noir. Los Angles: Taschen Publishing.

Spicer, A. and Hanson, H., 2013. A Companion to Film Noir. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 

Stoddart, H., 1995. Auteurism and Film Authorship Theory. In J. Hollows and M. Jancovich eds.1995. Approaches To Popular Film. New York: Palgrave. pp. 37-59.

Sultanik, A., 1986. Film: A Modern Art. London: Cornwall Books.

Sperb, J., 2006. The Kubrick Facade: Faces and Voices in the Films of Stanley Kubrick. Oxford: Scarecrow Press. 

Spicer, A. and Hanson, H., 2013. A Companion to Film Noir. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 

Walker, W., Taylor, S. and Ruchti. 1999. Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis. London: Orion Publishing Group.

Wetta, F. and Curley, S., 1992. Celluloid Wars: A Guide to Film and the American Experience of War. Westport: Greenwood Press. 


  1. I found this while searching for Transcription Service In Pakistan and I got so invested in this article. Stanley Kubrick is a legend. I have watched all of his films and all of them are exceptional. My favorites are Lolita and A Clockwork Orange. You have defined all movies and their attributes perfectly.


Post a Comment