Sunday, December 18, 2011

The simple pleasures

Well we all have our own journeys that lead us to making films or doing the job we wanted to do. Mine was simple - the joy of doing so. The obsession in shooting oneself, editing overnight and seeing if its looking right.

And sometimes when you are struggling to make the film, and you start breaking your head over it, meeting 5000 people, getting planning and schedule in place, our favourite Michel Gondry gives a gentle reminder.

The video there is good at so many levels. Primarily because it reminds one of the amount of joy a video gives to its creators.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Smooth stop motion - Hello World

So we spent the afternoon doing a cool stop motion.

The goal was simple - make a cup rotate but make it smooth - it should look like a video and not series of photographs.

 And in the process get all the software requirements in place (Remote camera clicking, animatorDV (with webcam - still ND), FCP settings etc).
I had some colorful sheets for BG. They were expensive and all the ideas that we had required them to be cut into pieces which I was vehemently against.
As a solution I found some clay. 3 years ago Zenish had given me some colored clay to play with. I still had it. So we thought we could use those to make letters. I made the W, the doughnut shaped Os and the purple D. Ofcourse it is not hard to guess that the black coffee was made by Zain and the coffee cup was actually Zenish's :).

In programming language - the first program one writes is printing "hello world". So well -this is our hello world in stop motion.

P.S 1: You require the remote clicking to make the animation totally jerk-free. If anyone who has lost their Cannon CD and wants to make use of it's suit use this link's video (cannon doesnot allow u to download from its site, u need to have an original dvd):
Here is the link to the update site at cannon: 
We couldn't find the animatorDV (nor could I successfully find the webcam).

P.S: Also we made sure we use royalty free music from here: The music is by Duke Ellington, “Louisiana”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Algorithm for Clothes Management - how to fit everything in 3 shelves

Someone once told me that there was a study that said - the way we arrange our data in our computer is exactly the way we arrange our clothes in our cupboard. My arrangements can be described by one word - haphazard.

The Story:
Any average or non average woman knows that it is impossible to fit ones clothes in 3 shelves. Look at the categories of dresses we have - shirts, t-shirts, home clothes, jeans, office pants, sports wear, salwar suits (Indian), sarees, skirts, frocks/dresses, extreme formals, extreme maintenance (shaadi type clothes), micro dresses (in hope that we will be slim enough to wear them someday) socks, scarves/stoles/shawls, belts etc etc.

Also: I hate giving away clothes. I have clothes from 10 years ago that I feel difficult to part with because of emotional reasons. Some bought from my first salary, other bought by my dad and was very expensive at that time, one my brother got from his trip to Bangalore, one saurabh got for me after winning a sodexo pass in a quiz contest, one was a lucky shirt for exams, one my mom bought - very old fashioned and I hated it but she absolutely loved it so well i got emotional..and so on. There is a story behind every cloth. But lately (under the influence of my mother and maybe alcohol) I have given away some of my clothes to a poor man with four daughters - reasoning that they will use them and probably will take good care of them (my clothes sentiments were exactly like Andy's toys in Toy story-3)

Last week we moved into a new place.

So I and Saurabh thought instead of constantly negotiating the closet space (which is almost akin to fighting for armrest space in a movie theatre) - lets divide the closet space exactly by half. I could anyways use the guest bedroom's closet to fit in all my clothes. This was an unfair demarcation because contrary to me, my husband is a man of fewer means. He has three kind of clothes - office clothes, casual clothes, gym clothes all in single digit cardinality. (his computer's are stateless, he has no data files, no pictures, no favourite movies. Hard disk crashing has no emotional impact on him - infact he has no harddisk). For him clothes are just clothes and not an abstract entity like sister's love or wife's tears.

But I went along with it as - I had the whole guest bedroom wardrobe for myself. (I didn't want to put all my clothes in the guest bedroom as I used the master bath and there was 5 min inconvenience in taking clothes from one room to another)

After giving him all the shelves and using up some of mine for other things like bedsheets, towels, socks - my share was around 3 shelves.

It was very obvious that I couldn't fit all my clothes in 3 shelves.

 But then I realized when I looked at my cupboard (mini-musuem) - that actually 80% of times, I only wore 20% of my clothes. (almost like 80% of time we use 20% of sites, or access 20% of files in our computer). 20% of my clothes could have been fitted in those 3 shelves easily.

But then how to choose that 20% from the variety of choices available to me. How many dresses, how many skirts, how many jeans etc etc.

So I thought I could let my own usage pattern decide that. And I came up with the following algorithm to select the top 20% of my most frequently used clothes.

1) To begin with - my 3 shelves were empty. I would fetch the clothes from another room.
2) Whenever I wore something. I told my maid - after they dry not to put them in the closet of guest bedroom but in one of the 3 empty shelves of master bedroom.
3) Whenever I didn't want to wear what was available in those 3 shelves I would go and fetch it.
4)  In a week's time I realized that I had lesser need to go and fetch my clothes - as I had my comfortable choices of my favorite categories already in those three shelves.
5) Again if the shelves were over flowing - all I had to do was take the bottommost clothes and put it back in the guest cupboard (used this as a close approximation of least frequently used strategy).

This is a simple algorithm we use anyways for memory and cache management  of data. In my daily-cloth-retreival task it reduced my 5 mins of trip and crib. That came to 2 hours per month.

And I still have one shelf empty :) !

P.S: I am watching Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (Bollywood film) so I am right now only thinking of first world problems.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Fiction writers -

"Fiction writers as a species tend to be oglers. They tend to lurk and to stare. The minute fiction writers stop moving, they start lurking, and stare. They are born watchers. They are viewers. They are the ones on the subway about whose nonchalant stare there is something creepy, somehow. Almost predatory. This is because human situations are writers' food. Fiction writers watch other humans sort of the way gapers slow down for car wrecks: they covet a vision of themselves as witnesses.

But fiction writers as a species also tend to be terribly self-conscious. Even by U.S. standards. Devoting lots of productive time to studying closely how people come across to them, fiction writers also spend lots of less productive time wondering nervously how they come across to other people. How they appear, how they seem, whether their shirttail might be hanging out their fly, whether there's maybe lipstick on their teeth, whether the people they're ogling can maybe size them up as somehow creepy, lurkers and starers. "

Sunday, July 24, 2011


"....For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood or desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate with his capacity for wonder..... "- F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I will make my heroines look like this

see the vid

Monday, April 25, 2011

why movies will always cost if we continue to use traditional sources of distribution ?!

Earlier movie-making was expensive. So people made lesser movies or rather lesser people made movies. Hence the marketing cost was lower as we had lesser issues of differentiating our movies with other's movies. Or lesser work to establish our brand equity to attract eyeballs. Also you needed to be part of the system to make the movies.

Now since the digital technology has become cheaper, and more portable, people can use videos to shoot guerilla take new non-actors and substantially bring down the cost of making a film.
However the cost of making movie has gone low not just for you but for 1000 others. So they all will make movies. So now the problem is finding an avenue to showcase the film.

Now with low cost films, we neednot stick to traditional medium of distribution.  So the question is - are we ready for non-traditional mediums of movie distribution ? Online, DVD, TV ? But the original problem of having an initial critical mass is still there.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


When I was 10 years old I copied a painting and stuck (with fevicol) on the walls of our living room - much to everyone's horror. As I grew up, I later found out that I had reproduced one of the million reproductions of Matisse below.
I was later reintroduced to Matisse by Fareeda when I picked up a book that contained all Matisse paintings in the WWI library. I had taken that book and reissued it weeks after weeks looking at his paintings. The library guys later made it a reference book (wtf) and I had all my plans to steal it before I left college. I still haven't been able to buy that book (out of stock in amazon :( ) or for that matter steal it :).

Matisse had family business of textile industry. He grew up amidst bright colors. His earlier work had all the details of the contemporary painter but later he started making detail free clutter free images. Esp. after his tryst with death after a cancer operation, he became bolder with his art forms hardly cared about the critics and developed his inimitable style. He took the post impressionistic style of painting to another level and we still use his paintings, bright colors, color combinations and style in our day to day life.
Ipod and Matisse

Infact good example is ipod ads and various ipod colors themselves. Here on the left  is an image of ipod advertisement and on the right is one of the Matisse works (the read dot is his heart).
The olympic logos 2012 and 2016 Rio ones are inspired by matisse paintings.

On left are matisse paintings  (circle of Life and the Snail) and on right are olympic logos of 2016 and 2012.

Incidentally Matisse paintings were not well-received by critics. But he found his patron in a wealthy Russian textile magnet who bought most of his paintings. He had told matisse: "These people don't respect you, but the future is all yours".
Lots of contemporary prints, color combinations in textile industry are inspired by Matisse's choice of colors in his paintings.

Colors: For matisse colors were emotions and he felt that colors should be depicted in a harmony. They should be used the way notes are used in music - create a visual orchestra. He was called a "Fauve" - a wild beast as he used extremely bright colors and not used the color from the real world. For him his paintings were his emotional response of a real-life visual. His choice of colors were lavish- brighter and shinier than any colors seen before his time. He always worked with a color wheel  - started off with Yellow Blue and moved around the wheel - choosing simple  combinations all right opposite each other or combination of 3 that forms isosceles traingle to more complex ones. Anyone who knows basic color theory today knows that these opposite colors (in right proportion)  cancel eachother in a way that their net effect on the eyes is of "grey". The grey color is soothing to the eyes and hence eyes can stay on them for longer. Hence all the matisse paintings had that stay. He himself said that sometimes to balance the painting totally he would externally use "white and black" that would balance his colors if they themselves did't balance each other. Matisse also used lots of secondary and tertiary colors apart from primary colors.
Color wheel RGB
One of my fav matisse painting

Patterns: Matisse was well travelled and took influences from various traditional art forms - he  was greatly influenced by Russian folk-art forms and  Islamic art forms (spending time in Morocco).

 He also started having interest in human figures and the space they are set in.

Matisse loved the  bright clutter of overtly furnished rooms, patterns in the room created a parallel complete world in each of his paintings.                                                   
Also gradually he started forsaking the idea of 3-dimensionality and treated his painting like flattened space replete with decorative objects.
Matisse Scissors

In my house I have two replicas of matisse paintings. Apart from that I have reproduced two of his paintings. One I have given to my brother and other is with me.
Reproduction with Asim
Reproduction with me

Implications in production design:
Matisse paintings have a richness of their own. And they come from choice of colors, color combinations and patterns used within the painting. We can use them as reference while choosing and designing our production design elements. Use tested combinations and gradually learn to start expementing on our own.
The other thing is the "matisse finish" on walls. A block of red wall will always look jarring to the eyes but if the finish is  like that of Matisse's walls - it is captured beautifully on camera (for example in above painting - the red of the floor has a different finish - he uses multiple adjoining colors to have that finish).
I sometime call it the "choona finish" that they have in walls.
However to have our films look like Matisse if we need to have massive production design and other controls on the environment we are shooting in. Sometimes this translates into higher budget.  So if we are going too indie - we cannot use that 100% control but we can still choose some of the elements like costume colors etc that helps us give our products a "little better than reality" finish (that is if one wants).
Below are some of the  frames of the 3 short films I have made and one can clearly see the matisse influence I had. Amongst all our biggest challenge was Uss Paar as we didn't have the control on the color of the station. But we tried to play with yellow(essentially brown) blue.

Shiva is the ultimate yellow blue God
An extra detailing on curtain and the candles adds details to the frame

The red (instead of white) boat on greenish water looks better
The classical red green frame. Added blue to decrease red
The yellow uniform - imagine if it was blue

Notice the matisse finish on the walls and Tina's dress color. Also a block of red just to offset too much green on the frame

We had specific colors for sarees too but couldn't manage them in timehowever a little color in the form of balloons adds the playfullness.

Purple and red hue to make the place look sensual

Inspite of being a painter, his last work was a chapel where he did lots of  glasswork and it is in Venice. I went to Venice and didn't know about the chapel  and hence didn't visit it. So you know how much angry with myself I am! Here is the glass work - "Tree of life" by matisse.

Matisse was an atheist but he still made the chapel for his nurse who had turned a nun. 
He had once famously said - "I believe in God only when I do my work !" 

Henri Matisse

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Academics versus real life

I think our educational system stresses a lot on individual success. Pitching each person against another. The whole ranking system rewards individuals. Most of the time even preps for exams are done individually. This orients us differently as compared to what is required  at the real world. The real world favors team players more. It is important that team wins. Personal goals are subset of team goals.  Except sports period nothing else in school gives basic teaching of working in a group.

Just a thought off my head.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Top moment of the day

I was contacted by a publisher who wants to add my IIT thesis on computational grids (which was published in an IEEE journal)  in his book :)

So my film Uss Paar was shown at Ahmedabad too!! And the great feeling is that so many messages in my facebook inbox after that from the students!!! Some people asking about film and others about "wrestling woods" (they misspelled whistling woods) :).

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


I just have huge respect for directors who manage to create mood successfully. For me - WKW will remain the master of mood creators with his original frames and beautiful moments. Grandeur and beauty. The power of cinema. Infact whatever I know of mood creation I have learnt from him. He is my guru. It's a shame they dont cover him in film school classes. Anyone who has seen Reflections  (my 16 mm short fiction) would easily tell my WKW influence.

Amongst his various films, I have really enjoyed 2046. Also watching this movie was my first meeting with WKW. And somewhere I feel a strange deep connect with his movies. Lots of my current colleagues don't seem to agree with me when I go absolutely ga-ga over WKW stuff. Since his movies are not very obviously plot driven, lots of people face difficulties in engaging in them. 2046 and "In the Mood for Love" should be seen together to understand them. Infact if I ever do a screening of reference movies with my cinematographer before we dive into shot breakdown - one of WKW's movies is always on the list regardless of the subject  :).

I clearly remember  2008/or early 2009 where almost for an entire week, I was in full trance because i had seen 2046. I haven't seen it since then because my inability to get out of it and reengage in the real world was frustrating me. I had locked myself in home and just kept playing this movie all week. (I was also doing the shot breakdown of my film Reflections in that week.) I was just heart broken that I might never be able to make a movie like this and this had pushed me in some sort of depression. Even my zombie husband would wonder what's wrong with me. So I had to shun it.

But today, just as one remembers an old friend, I randomly remembered this movie again.

Here is it's horrible quality trailer that i got on youtube. Still the trailer worth watching. This movie is my ultimate inspiration.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Some Mornings

I feel I have the energy to fire the whole  cosmos !

Why would anyone put money in your film ?

I have been trying to ask and answer those questions. I have with me - a list of items that need to be brought to any pitching meeting table. But those are the secondary reasons for anyone to shell out the money. What are the primary reasons ?

To get a solution I turned the table - and asked myself - why would I fund - put crores of my hard-earned money on xyz's film ? What do I have in store. My answers were the following two mandatory things:
1) I get a sense of pride associated with the material.
2) I get my money back (atleast! - even if I don't make millions - there is no freaking way I want to lose money)

And essentially in that order. I really had no more reasons. Just these two.

For 1 - The more clarity on the film the better. The ideal case is the person putting money sees the film. But since we are short of money, we can't give that luxury to him/her. So the best is to provide the best possible approximation of the film - idea of the moments, moods, tight scenes, jokes, look and music of the film. Basically find out elements that represents your film well. Provide past work to give confidence that you can execute what you are talking about well.

For 2 - Again we have to use some data mining -find the best and worst movies of similar genre and try to see - if your film is rightly priced for fail safety. This requires work and research on the cost and recovery breakdown of other movies.

And I guess - in all the pitching meetings concentrate in these two.

It's one thing to make the movie, it is another to sell it.

Random aside 1: There is a counterfeit 50 rupee note in my wallet. And I can't place where I got it from. Patel stores or Subway. Dunno. But I am stuck with it. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Five things that I like in any movie

1) Alone unspoken, undiscussed moments - These could be anything-  the first thoughts when you wake up in the morning, or eye contact with a stranger, or a forced smile,  a person suddenly at loss of words and his initial stammering or  a sudden blackout on a crowded train. I like such  moments because on such moments both our subconscious and conscious flood us with so many thoughts that even words fail to describe them. I just feel that capturing those moments is the real power of cinema. I instantly connect with the character. Also contrary to popular belief, I had been a quiet person for the most part of my life. And all my life I have had people with whom I had silent relationships- no real conversations - but a deep sense of understnading.

2) Using associative memory: It is for example if for today if  I say japan - you think of tsunami and a sense of grief, dignity and seriousness dawn upon you. Care has to be taken that it is not very context specific. I like how lots of directors tap into the collective subconscious, use associative memory - of colors, of objects, of events to guide us emotionally. And I really admire that. I was initially a big fan of symbolism. Now I always evaluate a symbol for its entertainment value and context. The biggest high for any filmmaker is when a viewer "gets it". Using symbols from personal memory mostly come in the way of the viewer enjoying it. I have realized the importance of not having subjectivism or not making things too self-important. Atleast for the kind of mise-en-scenes I have, I play a lot with contrasts. Happy moments suddenly becoming sad moments, sad moments bringing smiles. Lots of my friends do get confused as to why am I shying away from holding onto the emotion. One reason is that a single emotion runs out for me after a while. I feel the need to keep audience glued, on their toes.  Prob also because these days I see movies in Gaity, Galaxy with audience reaction. And with girls giggling, popcorn munching, baby crying audience I feel that we have a really big challenge to engage that audience.

3) Chemistry between characters - Chemistry is all that is unspoken - or the manner in which the dialogues are spoken - almost similar to point 1 but also involves interpersonal relationships. You can see a couple and tell them they are a couple. You see two extras walking- they will look like two extras walking unless the director or a smart AD has made efforts to make them look like a couple. Every chemistry has to be build and I am a big fan of any director who manages that because I have faltered on this a couple of times.

4) Multiple forces in a scene - Truffaut says there should be 5 thoughts packed in a given scene at a given time. I have kept the minimum rule to 3 - always 5 can be difficult sometimes. Actually some scenes should have 0 thought - a shot/scene between two intense shots - so that audience can absorb the intensity. Also the best is if these things come naturally and organically to you. When you plant it too much - there is a risk of planting something that might be detected. Worst thing is when someone watching a movie feels that he is reading the final draft. Actually I felt that in 3 idiots when I could see all the plants and pay off. But unlike lot of people I am a big fan of revising the scripts. I am also glad that successful humble film makers in India - like Raj Kumar Hirani - also vouch for it (their scripts going upto 20 drafts). I think revision gives you an opportunity to fit the script in mind space and also gives a clearer idea of rhythm and direction of the script. Also it eliminates cliches, brings richness in scenes, de-sharpens the edges of planted thoughts and infact helps make the script more organic.

5) Give orgasm to audience - I like the idea of giving orgasms to audience. And by that I dont mean a sex scene but just the amalgamation of perfect audio and visual that grabs their attention, shake their body and make them prepared for the film. Actually audio plays a very important role - hence the importance of music and sound design should never ever be under-estimated. I have tried to understand why certain scenes give people that feeling (a seperate blog entry for that). I guess that's because these scene present a new unseen image and so when one comes face to face with absolute creativity - all cells in his/her body resonate with it. Even if we achieve it once in our film, we know we have provided atleast one unique moment they would carry it forever with them. Those scenes are our windows to immortality. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Excerpts from my 3 part article on Stanley Kubrick - Kubrickism part 1- The mind

It is generally said about Kubrick that all his films deal with such diverse subjects that it is hard to believe that it is made by the same person. After having watched 10 of his 13 movies, almost all more than once, I feel that all his films are manifestations of intense philosophical and psychological realizations of Kubrick resulting from long nursing of his stories and plots.
In this 3 part essay I would try to formulate my synthesis with the forewarning that my experience, understanding of human psyche and of the film as an art form is infinitely small in front of the phenomenon I term “Kubrickism”. The initial part deals with the philosophy and the latter part takes about his crafts and technicalities that enabled him realize the above philosophies and create masterpieces.
  1. The emotions and the unconscious: One the reasons his movies (some made around 50 years ago for American audience) still continue to strike the chord with 20 year old audience sitting in India  is his understanding of the faculties of human emotions and the unconscious. He once said that a Beatles song is enjoyed alike by a Harvard Graduate and a truck driver even when they hugely differ in their intellect.

Kubrick constructed his mise-en-scenes such that they produced immediate emotional response but at the same time had unconscious bearing that would be revealed on further contemplation. The scenes had very thoughtful and crafty layering and hence most of his movies stood apart.  His movies were quite like the process of individuation proposed by Carl Jung where a bridge was made between the realities of conscious mind and the desires of unconscious mind. He chose stories were the characters were confronted with their unconscious desires coming true.
At the same time he ensured that a conscious autonomy of the scenes were maintained (I found the end of 2001 A Space Odyssey the only place where was lost for some of the audience (including me) who refused to slip into the unconscious world that Kubrick constructed).
Amongst popular Indian filmmakers and film industries there is always a divided opinion about the purpose of cinema. Some says it is a medium that provides escapism where one can forget the daily life and enjoy while others say that cinema should mirror the society to awaken them.  I feel both of the schools should watch Kubrick’s movies because he has a way of absorbing you into a fictitious world and still provide insights that are universal and relevant to the society. He has sometimes used unrealistic – past or future or fictitious settings to convey universal emotions that are very relevant to day to day life. It is remarkable how he has used surrealism (unseen places in physicality) to convey something extremely real.
  1. Man is imperfect: And hence all his constructions and inventions are. And this doesn’t limit to computers and machines like HAL (2001 Space Odyssey) but also extend to the constructions of societies and the formation of nations.   

If it was not so, we would not be suffering from threats of nuclear war and global warming. At a more molecular level prostitution, swim suit round in Miss Universe contest and WWF would not be existing. These are legalized outlets of the feelings that cannot be totally eliminated in the process of domestication. What exists in the man, exists in the society too.
There are invented virtues like non-violence, loyalty, patriotism that makes our societies function so that a man-made institution or concept (for example marriage, nation, society) and is higher than any individual man. I have found Kubrick in many of his movies questioning that. Kubrick tries to bring these marginalized issues in the forefront and brings it at the loggerheads with a completely domesticated society. For me the most outrageous parts Lolita is Humbert who is a civilized English professor (and enjoys the subtleties of any poem and) is in love with the daughter of the woman he has married, contemplates killing the mother. These feelings exist but are never verbalized.  Lots of times Kubrick brings to forefront the desires that exist but not allowed to be voiced in the society.
There is a power structure that exists in the society and majority of the films confirm to it. It provides validation to our belief system.  Anjum Rajabali in one of his classes said that we see movies even when we know there is a happy ending because we find reassurance in the moral values imparted to us where good happens to good people and bad happens to bad people. Similarly there are exalted concepts like police, soldier, religion, nation and our faith on them has to be constantly reinstated. Kubrick tries to challenge this faith and these concepts.
  1. Dichotomy/dual nature of man: So what is a better choice: die trying to fight slavery or live as a slave(Spartacus), stay apparently faithful and mentally stray or stray, (Eyes Wide Shit), fight and kill or advocate for peace (Full Metal Jacket). Man is guided both by instinct and intellect. I feel that instinct deals with an event in isolation while the intellect deals with the context of the milieu one is in. Kubrick places his characters in a situation where they are trying to walk the thin line between the two, sometimes stepping here, sometimes stepping there. He focuses their innate human frailties.

Kubrickism - part 2 - architecture

The craft
Kubrick’s films were known for their bold, flawless, impeccable scenes. Below are certain things that stood out.
  1. Architecture: Kubrick used architecture in such a way that elements like window, columns, corridors and staircases acquired symbolic and narrative functions in his movie.

Following is the table that talks about some of his architectural pre-occupations. Color would be dealt separately.




Battle place, militaryFull Metal Jacket, Paths of Glory,  War scenes of Barry Lyndon, maze in The ShiningStraight lines - columns, uniform, simple functional architecture almost like drawn with scale, no decoration.  Military has been associated with precision. Any space is actually container of action and there is no room for frills.
Large groups of men as architectural elementFull Metal Jacket, Spartacus, Paths of Glory, The killerLong shots of large amount of men arranged in various shapes (like in Triumph of the Will documentary of Hitler)In Spartacus, he has used large collection of humans (soldiers) as an architectural element. Similarly in Paths of Glory, in the execution scene he has used large amount of men.

Similarly in Full Metal Jacket, all men are arranged like columns when inside the room and as group when on the field.

In the climax scenes of The Killer (low budget film), in the fighting scene with axe, Kubrick used lots of mannequins and their body parts to add to the drama.
Levels, progression, GrandeurLolita, The Shining, Barry Lyndon,  Eyes Wide ShutThe large staircases and the direction in which the protagonists climb them has been used  very effectively  by Kubrick. In Lolita – the first time she is shown climbing is the first time we see Humbert’s and her interaction, In The Shining the first time they climb is when Jack’s wife understands Jack going crazy. Staircase is also used to effectively show the grandeur of the architecture (like Raj Kapoor).
Going from one space to anotherAll moviesLong corridorsCorridors have no function. One cannot live in there or sit in there. The function is of connecting different spaces . Kubrick uses thin corridors effectively, almost like a tunnel which puts audience in a position of discovering what should be at the end of the tunnel.  The instinct to discover it, claimed by lots of psychologist is similar to the instinct of getting born  - through a tunnel.
Material used for the architectureThe Shining, Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, 2001 A space OdysseyEach material lends itself to a different feel. Kubrick tries to exploit it by using sound design.The Shining: Wooden floor (and carpets) and walls (with a reverb when the ball is hit). The maze is made up of green plants and not concrete.
The clockwork orange: The writer has clear wooden floor, the cat lady has carpet, Alex’s own home has a toy/plastic feel to it.
2001 A Space Odyssey:  It has spic and span white floors of undecipherable material, in the end, the floors have light emanating from them.
Barry Lyndon: When the kid brother wears the elder brother’s shoes, he clomps on the wooden floor for it to sound more irritating and obstrusive.

Here I want to talk about certain movies in particular and evaluate the key points in architecture.
  1. 2001 A Space Odyssey : Any fantasy movie should have that illusion of reality maintained and any break or error will totally spoil the effect of the movie. It will break the illusion. Kubrick achieves this in constructing immaculate production design. He also tries to bend our mind by showing architectures one wouldn’t envision with conscious mind but can have unconscious effect on us. Some key aspects of these are:
    1. Circular corridors that defy gravity – To see the airhostess or the pilot  go all around in any direction is a feature of a gravity-free environment. But it could be a square one too. He uses circular structure that lends itself to lots of subconscious and mythological impact. Circle also means endlessness, rounded/elliptical structures are more natural in terms of caves and more organic. Perfect squares are too manmade a structure. Eastern philosophies have the circular concept of time (kaal-chakra) where we eternally go round in time. I am not sure how aware Kubrick was (being a profoundly well-read person, I am inclined to believe so),  but it did have that particular effect on me. Also circular corridors lend themselves to smooth passage, where you cannot distinguish one spot from another.  

    1. Shape of the spaceship similar to body’s vertebrae: Never before and never later has someone shown design of a spaceship with an immediately recognizable structure. Currently science is trying to take inspiration from human and animal bodies (Eagles for fighter planes, neural networks for artificial intelligence), it is likely that Kubrick extrapolated that to give spaceship the design of human body. But at the same time, giving it relatable structure draws me more to it.

    1. HAL designed as one-eyed monster present in Homer’s odyssey.

    1. Speed of the spaceship: The doesn’t zoom past. It moves at a relaxed pace.
  1. The Shining
    1. Maze : The maze is a structure also not frequently seen. It is an inhabitable piece of architecture. Once the person is in it, he wants to get out. There is this fear of being lost forever – not knowing whether every turn is  leading one closer or farther away from the exit. This architecture attacks our primal instincts of security, of having the need to fathom our surroundings, of breaking away from any sense of claustrophobia. Kubrick, tries to compare this maze with the hotel (using various dissolves when the maze is first shown) and tries to bring parallelism between the hotel as a maze (mental) and the outside garden maze as a physical maze. In the climax shots Jack tries to follow his son in this maze while his wife is hallucinating in the hotel’s man-made maze.
    2. The hotel: The hotel itself with its long corridors and great sound design employed in mundane acts (ball hitting), cycle over the wooden floor is akin to a maze but is most importantly presented as an unfathomable structure. We are also given a tour (when the manager takes Jack around), but still we do not understand the map of  entire hotel. Also he chose 4:3 aspect ratio for his movie that made those columns of the hotel room more prominent.
    3. Element of snow as architecture: When it snows, one wants to be indoors and safe. But what if there is a killer inside and vast expanse of snow outside. Kubrick effectively plays with that tension. Foot prints on the snow is used by Danny at the end to confuse Jack.

  1. Lolita
    1. Dream world:  The opening shot is shown more as a mental space. There are times when we dream, a person we went to school with is with the person we met randomly on the train. The space time limitations are broken. When Humbert comes to kill Quilty the production design has these elements – packing and unpacking, table tennis in the living room, same paintings in more than one locations.

  1. Clockwork Orange
    1. The decaying society: The milkbar itself has traces of underwater decadence. The locality of Alex and the paintings on his wall also imparts that feeling.
    2. Prison as uniform with shelfs stacked with boxes and series of bathtub and with a line drawn for prisoners
    3. Cats as architectural element
    4. Paintings in cat lady’s house to inform about the upper class orientation towards art  
    5. Hospital where he gets his Ludvico treatment is more like a cold military setting. The setting of the actual treatment is quite similar to Plato’s cave (

Kubrickism Part 3: Sound design and other elements

  1. Sound  design to manipulate emotions:

Kubrick is one of the pioneers in sound design from which lots of post modern cinema like of Tarentino’s takes inspiration from.  He not only made intelligent use of digetic sound to convey various meanings but also very interesting used non-digetic sound and pioneered the use of music.
  1. Use of digetic sound:  Kubrick picked and chose the relevant digetic sounds to highlight the narrative. I mentioned above in case of showing the expanse and material of the architecture how he cleverly used the sound design in The Shining. In other places he used it to create mood – like the suicide of Bomer Pyle in Full Metal Jacket where one hear a periodic metallic sound, the sound of shields cutting the air in Spartacus. Infact the tune of the songs sung by the prisoners in Full Metal Jacket resonated in my ears for the following two days, such was the impact of the song without music and sung in the same tune.

In Spartacus, in the battle scene, the cuts are around the sound of trumpet and the drums.  Something like this is later seen in Lord of the Rings.
In 2001 A space Odyssey, he used the sound of the astronaut breathing inside the helmet to highlight the point of him being suffocated to death later when the tube of oxygen supply tune is broken. Note that the sound effect contains no sound except him breathing. Similarly in Full Metal Jacket when the men are charging towards the sniper, the sound is only of their footsteps, all the ambience sound was brought down to zero. Another example is in Clockwork Orange where we hear the sound of the cat lady hitting Alex but not Alex hitting the cat lady.
  1. Use of non-digetic sound effects: In Paths of Glory, one noticed the sound of Lion’s roar when the hero walks in through the trench, and the sound of military march when the General walks in, the scary piano keys in Eyes Wide Shut when Tom Cruise is caught during the orgy scene and is in the verge of being caught later. The sound design of the shining leading to a high point and then cutting to a slide showing Tuesday, not giving a moment of relief.

  1. Pioneering use of music: In later movies, Kubrick increasingly became mood centric rather than plot centric. He felt that a movie should be succession of mood and minimized the use of dialogues for it to have more universal appeal. He started believing that movie is more a medium of visual story-telling and less dialogue based.  In here I will point out two unparalled use of sound till that date.  

The first is in ClockWork Orange where he manipulates us to see violence from Alex point of you. Since it is an enjoyable experience for him, it should be an enjoyable experience for us too. So the violence happens in slow-motion with music going on in the background. Ofcourse lots of people have now taken inspiration from it but this was the first time something like this was done. Using almost contrasting soothing music to show violence.
The second is in 2001 A Space Odyssey where the space ships were shown. Lots of Hollywood flicks shows it zooming right across but no one celebrates it with music, the way Kubrick does. The spaceship experience with that music feels like a mundane experience.
  1. Language and accent as product of the environment and narrative device

In every Kubrick’s movie, the language/accent with which the characters spoke was product of the environment they were in. It lent itself to the authenticity of the characters. Following are the examples:
  1. Full metal jacket – the abusive, firm language of the instructor
  2. Clockwork orange – the invented language of Alex and his gang
  3. 2001, A Space Odyssey   - The precise Brit accent of HAL computer
  4. Lolita – Humbert was from European (Paris) and from his accent itself he was different from the Americans. It gave him a distinct characteristic and set him apart from everyone else.

  1. Accuracy of details

Accuracy of small details helped in building up the reliability. As mentioned earlier Kubrick nursed ideas for long periods. Right from the various elements put in the military packet in Dr. Strangelove,  food in 2001 A Space Odessey, pieces of brains being blown out in Full Metal Jacket . His attention and thoughts given to every detail was exemplary.  Because of this, his story telling was more realistic, and less stereotype.

The attention was not just limited to the production design element but also gestures like Humbert applying nail polish on the foot of Lolita after placing cotton to separate the fingers. These new images that we saw were the ones that stayed with us long after the movie was seen. These details added the repeatability of the movie.

His characters were nuanced, none completely black and completely white. A little unpredictable.

Even at the script level, there were layers talking about various things, like violence as integral part of infantile nature of man in Clockwork Orange, the history of violence (esp against Red Indians) in The Shining, having a tender love for the person whom you are betraying in Eyes Wide Shut. These details did not exhaust the movie in the first viewing. Every viewing infact provided something new. Also we knew that apart from the entertainment the movie provided, there were treasures tucked in the movie which kept bringing us back to the movie.
This gave his movie his unique fingerprint and repeatability and an aftertaste that lingered on.

  1. Use of colors:  Every color has a psychological impact on us. It is difficult to state but is certainly felt. The colors like bright red unsettles us and the colors like blue gives us some calmness. Kubrick plays a lot with those colors and their use is clearly seen in all his movies.  I particularly like The Shining where he used warm red tones and well-lighted corridors. A departure from lots of horror movies where the ghosts are found in the dark. In lot of places he used warm and cold lights together in the same frame – e.g. bathroom scene of eyes wide shut.  

Kubrick used a narrator in most of his movies, in Clockwork Orange, it was Alex himself and in some like Barry Lyndon it was a third narrator. There are various other features of Kubrick’s work like use of bold shots – he never did anything small, great casting (The Shining is a good example), and maintaining a narrative tension – in none of his movies at no point one felt that there is nothing to be discovered.
Some might debate that Kubrick’s movies though flawless left them cold, really didn’t move them emotionally.  Kubrick really never gave a happy chocolate ending, except for Paths of Glory where the soldiers hummed to the tune. Lot many times he left audience with an unsettled feeling. For me “Eyes Wide Shut” had the most disappointing ending in that Nicole Kidman says “Fuck”. Interestingly, this movie was released after Kubrick’s death and that remains the last word we heard from him.