"Stanley Kubrick: A Biography," by Vincent LoBrutto. Donald L. Fine Books.640 pages. $29.95.
The world's appetite for American sportswear, records and films is growing. Each year it seems whole forests are sacrificed to print books about the stars at the center of our expanding entertainment universe. Yet few if any of these works provide an understanding of why today's American popular culture is as influential as the automobile or the electric light. Unfortunately, with "Stanley Kubrick: A Biography," Vincent LoBrutto, the author of a number of books on film and a professional film editor, has forfeited an excellent opportunity to break the trend.
The director of such seminal films as "The Killing," "Paths of Glory," "Dr. Strangelove," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "A Clockwork Orange," Stanley Kubrick should provoke an especially compelling inquiry into the influence of movies on contemporary life.
Consider "2001: A Space Odyssey," one of the most successful films in history. With its mesmerizing sequence of human evolution from apeman to astronaut, breathtaking images of the solar system, and prescient depiction both of space travel and the development of artificial intelligence (complete with the evil computer Hal), "2001: A Space Odyssey" was the quintessential "Oh, Wow" experience of the psychedelic era. Indeed, according to Kubrick, "On the deepest psychological level, the film's plot symbolized the search for God."
It is one of those New Age genies, like yoga and aroma therapy, whose influence continues to be felt 30 years after its release into the general culture. Without "2001," there might well have been no "Star Wars," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Blade Runner" or a host of other science fiction films that became box office hits.
Similarly, Kubrick's film version of "A Clockwork Orange," a brilliant and disturbingly funny vision of teen culture at the end of the 20th century, simultaneously captured and helped to form a dark and cynical moment in the post-1960s Zeitgeist Its hero, Alex, and his gang of cod-piece-costumed "droogs," their Russian-English argot, and the gleeful malevolence of their "ultra-violence" were unforgettable and often imitated. "A Clockwork Orange" not only pre-figured punk rockers, skinheads and gangsta-rappers, it prompted so many copy-cat crimes that Kubrick himself pulled it back from distribution.
Nonetheless, it paved the way for such sarcastically violent -and hugely popular - movies as "Goodfellas," and "Pulp Fiction."
Vincent LoBrutto informs us of Kubrick's prodigious research into his film subjects, of the technical expertise he brings to the director's chair and of his obsessive micro-management of contracts and public relations strategies.
Readers interested in the deployment of experimental camera lenses and the like may get the most out of what LoBrutto offers. We are told, for example, that "The nature of photography itself - light, depth, space composition, and seizing the reality perceived through the eye of the photographer - throbs at the heart of every Stanley Kubrick film." Only occasionally does LoBrutto explain what he means by these claims, and in truth not very well. More disappointing is his failure to explain what makes Kubrick tick, why his remarkable films are so important to the history of film, or, more profoundly, what their significance is to America's strangely influential and often unsettling popular culture.
Jonathan R. Cohen is the publisher of Commentary. Before earning his law degree in 1989, he was a broadcast and print journalist in New York.
! Pub Date: 4/06/97