Saturday, March 26, 2011

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 (


lallopallo said...

Very impressive post! I study Kubrick all the time. Just wondering..what was your reference for this post..a book or some course material? Or it was all your own original analysis?
I wrote a post on Kubrick long time might wanna check out here.

lallopallo said...

Very impressive post! I study Kubrick all the time. Just wondering..what was your reference for this post..a book or some course material? Or it was all your own original analysis?
I wrote a post on Kubrick long time might wanna check out here.

arati kadav said...

Thank you. I had studied kubrick intently and we had it in our course. So more or less it was my own interpretations.

lallopallo said...

Cool. Kubrick was a complete artist. I like what Spielberg once said of him- Kubrick was like a painter who first paints with broad strokes and later fills in the canvass with small details. Kubrick was a rare film director in the history of Cinema in that his films connected with same intensity to people coming from myriad sensibilities - a feat accomplished by very few.
I'm not sure though that he used architecture or other symbolism deliberately. Guess it was a sub conscious outlet like many other artists. Anyways, nice to find your blog. Good luck with your film projects.
P.S. Btw, for some strange reason when I'm commenting on your blog its giving some old user id/link of mine and not allowing me to comment using my current wordpress account. My current blog is here,