beautiful trauma
don't know what this means

revisiting spartacus (stanley kubrick, 1960)

I don't usually include my ratings in my posts anymore ... I still give them, I just don't post them. But in this case, I think my ratings are illuminating. Here are all the Stanley Kubrick movies for which I have assigned a rating:

1956: The Killing 9/10

1957: Paths of Glory 10/10

1960: Spartacus 10/10

1964: Dr. Strangelove 10/10

1968: 2001: A Space Odyssey 7/10

1971: A Clockwork Orange 5/10

1975: Barry Lyndon 5/10

1980: The Shining 6/10

1987: Full Metal Jacket 6/10

1999: Eyes Wide Shut 4/10

I don't have a lot to add to what I have written before, so I'll indulge again in cut-and-paste. I mentioned:

[T]he quality of the acting [in The Killing], with a fine cast of B-level actors like the reliable Elisha Cook ... Marie Windsor, the ever-oddball Timothy Carey, and Vince “Ben Casey” Edwards. Not to mention Sterling Hayden in the lead. At some point (around the time Hal became the most interesting character in 2001), Kubrick seemed to lose interest in actors. Malcolm McDowell was good in Clockwork Orange because he was right for the part, but Jack Nicholson in The Shining was not his finest hour (and Kubrick had no idea what to do with Shelley Duvall), and the stars in Kubrick’s movies varied between extreme overacting and sleepy underacting, with no one resembling an actual human being. None of this was true in Kubrick’s early movies.

On 2001:

Kubrick’s disdain for actors is evident. Actors like Kirk Douglas and Peter Sellers had such strong screen presences that they couldn’t be held down, and Malcolm McDowell dominated A Clockwork Orange. (One reason for that is that the other actors were awful.) In 2001, the most interesting actors are the guy who does the voice of a computer, and the ones who play apes. I understand that Kubrick is emphasizing the banal ... I suppose Keir Dullea is the perfect actor, in that case. The performances we remember most from later Kubrick are the ones where the director allowed the actor to do whatever he wanted ... McDowell, Jack Nicholson in The Shining, R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. There isn’t a lot of subtle acting in Kubrick movies, which may matter more to me than to others.

Kubrick disavowed Spartacus, the only movie he made without full control (he took over for the original director with a script that had already been written). There are things he clearly put himself into ... the mass movement of the Roman armies in the final battle scene are powerfully impressive.

But I can't help thinking the reason there are so many interesting characters in Spartacus is because Howard Fast, who wrote the novel, and Dalton Trumbo, who wrote the screenplay, had already created them before Kubrick got his hands on them. And, as with The Killing and Paths of Glory, the whole cast delivers. Special mention goes to Peter Ustinov, who won a Supporting Actor Oscar, the only person in a Kubrick movie to ever receive an acting Oscar (Peter Sellers was the only other person to even get nominated). Kubrick wasn't done making great movies, but before the end of the decade, the fall had begun. And yes, I am aware that this is a personal preference, that Kubrick is considered one of the all-time greatest film directors, and that many of the movies I didn't like are some people's favorites.

The film's IMDB trivia page includes these items:

  • The movie's line "I am Spartacus" was voted as the #64 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
  • When Kirk Douglas asked Stanley Kubrick his opinion of the "I am Spartacus" scene, Kubrick (in front of cast and crew) called it "a stupid idea". Douglas promptly chewed Kubrick out.

It's the most famous scene in the entire movie. And Kubrick thought it was stupid. He made sure he never again had to let someone else's stupid idea into one of his movies.


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