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New Left Review I/26, July-August 1964

Lee Russell

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick, by his meteoric rise to the top of the industry, has so far managed to outpace critical appraisal. At first he was greeted as the regenerator of the thriller; suddenly he turned to good causes and social content. And then no sooner had he won new friends with Paths of Glory than he strained their allegiance to the limit by choosing to make a blockbuster, Spartacus. Next, Lolita confirmed Andrew Sarris in the dark view he had taken of Kubrick, but was welcomed by Jean-Luc Godard in the pages of Cahiers du Cinema as ‘simple and lucid’, a ‘surprise’. Finally, Dr Strange-love split the more orthodox critics as unexpectedly as Lolita had split Sarris and Godard. To some it seemed a deeply serious film, courageous and progressive; to others, sick and nihilistic. By and large, two broad currents of opinion seem to have formed. One the one hand, Kubrick can be seen as trying bravely—and more or less successfully—to make ‘serious’, non-conformist films which, at the same time, reach a mass audience and benefit from all the resources usually available only to the mere ‘spectacular’. Or, on the other hand, Kubrick can be seen as stretching his powers too far, as dissipating his talent in grandiose projects and ‘big ideas’, attractive for their scope, but which he can mark with his own personality only in quirks and fragments. But either way, uneasy doubts remain.

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