Ever wondered what makes a Stanley Kubrick film look like a Stanley Kubrick film?

 

What a stupid title. As if I’m going to be able to give you the answer to that . However, I can give a reasonable crack at it thanks to this video I found through those clever chaps at Empire Magazine.

This video calls it “One Point Perspective”, elsewhere I’ve heard it called “deep space”- one of four distinct types, deep, flat, limited and ambiguous. As this video shows, Kubrick was an ardent fan of deep-space cinematography- where the patterns are expanded into the distance as a means of building visual momentum and lending a very particular kind of gravitas to a shot.

Kubrick’s use of one point perspective is particularly interesting because it is heavily stylised in its symmetry; pushing the boundary of deep-space photography to the point where all the pattern converge as a sort of virtual focal point. Its an extremely unsettling effect, cinematically speaking. The eye does not like to look directly at the centre point of an object, as the majority of the colour-sensitive apparatus of the eye is actually further out from the centre of the pupil- hence the old trick that I was once told, when looking at far away objects that are difficult to define, looking very slightly to the left or the right of them can help define them a little better. Try it when looking at the moon- or Kubrick’s photography. The most vivid colour and detail can often tend towards the edges of the frame, such as any of the shots from 2001: starkly symmetrical details on either side of the frame contrast against peculiarly plain central points, such as the monolith or the running track in the revolving space-dorm.

The flipside of this is that at the very centre of the eye are the chromatic bits and pieces that pick out edges and help to define depth perspective; part of the reason you suffer from tunnel vision in the dark, especially when moving at speed. (I get the feeling from mountain biking after sunset, any drivers among you will probably know the sensation- its pretty unnerving!). As a result, watching these clips really unsettles the way you are accustomed to seeing, especially within a filmic context. The steadicam shots from The Shining (themselves revolutionary at the time) are a case in point- following the tricycle through the corridors, details of the house on either side assert themselves more strongly than the plain blue z-axis, so when those creepy little girls show up, blocking the middle of the hallway, the effect is all the more shocking and chilling, because you’d been tricked into not looking for them.

Whilst I wouldn’t claim that this is the sole reason Stanley Kubrick is such a vividly recognisable filmmaker, this clip highlights its use throughout some of the most important elements of his work. The effect is magnified somewhat with the Clint Mansell score (From Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, another film famous for its trippy colours and composition) and the rather intense cross-cutting between films, but hell, it’s effective, and it highlights an element of Kubrick’s style that really makes his resound as a landmark filmmaker.

I’m becoming worryingly sycophantic now. I feel like I should give something a bad review, just to balance it out.

 

I’ve got plans to expand the blog soon, with more regular posts. We’ll see how it goes with studenty stuff and work and whatnot. Stay tuned.

By the way, if I’ve got any of my theory on visual stimulus wrong, please do correct me- although I’m hoping for an empty inbox on this one…

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