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Notes from the back row

The best of Stanley Kubrick

It seems like no matter where you go in contemporary society you’ll be hard pressed to find a dude who agrees 100 per cent with his mother-in-law. That’s a rule.

For instance, my mother-in-law hates Stanley Kubrick. He may be the most concise, versatile, and masterful film director of the last 50 years, but she isn’t buying it.

What better way to set her straight than with the new 10-disc, 6-movie DVD ­– Directors Series: Stanley Kubrick Collection box set .

Born in New York City in 1928, Kubrick spent his early years shooting still photos and playing chess. He made his first independent feature, Fear and Desire, in 1953 but wasn’t happy with the film, later buying up every print he could find to prevent people from seeing it. It was an early glimpse of the meticulous and reclusive character Kubrick would become.

Kubrick made a string of good-to-excellent films throughout the late ’50s and early ’60s — Killer’s Kiss , a boxing pic; The Killing, a noir-styled horse track robbery movie; as well as Paths of Glory and Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. He then moved to England, made Lolita with Peter Sellers, and became something of a recluse, staying in England for the rest of his life.   The satirical Dr. Strangelove was a great hit but the new box set showcases only his most popular films — starting with the 1968 classic sci-fi 2001-A Space Odyssey .

It plays almost like an art film but 2001 asks the big sci-fi questions — Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Groundbreaking both thematically and technically (especially with the re-mastered image and sound) 2001 also delivers an early version of artificial intelligence with Hal 9000, the infamous talking computer.

Next up, 1971’s A Clockwork Orange starring Malcolm McDowell as Alex, a cold-blooded ruffian with a penchant for Beethoven and “ultra-violence.” Initially given an X-rating and banned all over the place for its lewd acts and “glorified” violence, the film is actually a biting critique of the sort of nihilistic moral code that allows suffering and violence to become entertainment and the flawed society that fails to solve such issues. Themes perhaps even more relevant today.

In 1980 Kubrick directed Jack Nicholson in The Shining, one of the best horror films ever made and one of the first to showcase the then-new steadicam technology. (That scene with the kid riding his bigwheel was groundbreaking.) Perfectionist Stan apparently once required 140 takes of a single shot and Nicholson’s performance, while not subtle, has become legendary.

Kubrick then addressed the Vietnam war with 1987’s Full Metal Jacket and regardless whether you like this “duality of man” film or not you have to admit the first half, at Marine boot camp, is some of the finest movie making of our time. The film, according to Kubrick, was neither pro-war nor anti-war, just “the way things are.”

Before dying in his sleep in 1999 Stan finished only one more film, Eyes Wide Shut, also included in the set, a weird dream-like film touching issues of trust, fidelity, classicism, and what a dork Tom Cruise is. It watches more like a book of poems with a unifying theme than a regular movie, but all the poems are great.

Although Kubrick took years between films, and varied his themes and genres widely, this compilation is a fine cross-section of his best work. Toss in six discs worth of commentary tracks, bonus footage, and a full-length documentary and you have a DVD set that even a mother-in-law could love.

Of course, the good news is that my girlfriend’s mother lives in Indonesia. We’re visiting there right now and I can probably get her this Kubrick Collection for about 10 bucks.