The Kubrick Experience – Spartacus and Lolita

1 Mar

At just the age of 32, Stanley Kubrick would go on to direct the biggest epic since William Wyler’s highly religious “Ben Hur.” The film I am alluding to is the 1960 film “Spartacus.”

So far in Kubrick’s early career, this was the most difficult film that he had to make. Even to his dying day he completely disowned the film. A lot of this has to go with his relationship with Kirk Douglas during the making of  “Spartacus.” First off, Kubrick wasn’t even the original choice to direct this film. At first Anthony Mann was to direct,  but was soon either fired or resigned after a falling out with Douglas. Kubrick was hired and soon fired the cinematographer so that he could take over all the lighting work. This just goes to show the amount of power Kubrick wanted over his movies. Problem was, Kirk Douglas wanted power over this film because his production company was financing it. This strongly limited what Kubrick could and could not do, which heavily angered him. Many of the actors, including Tony Curtis and Jean Simmons, were not happy with the long and frustrating shoot which only complicated things more.

“Spartacus” is still truly a remarkable and enormous film that hurls the viewer into the conflict of the Third Servile War. Kirk Douglas gives the performance of a lifetime as the tragic hero, Spartacus, who gave up everything he loved for the freedom of his people way before Mel Gibson did in “Braveheart.”

Comparisons between “Spartacus” and “Ben Hur” are inevitable. They are both very similar indeed. In many ways, however, “Spartacus” succeeds more so than “Ben Hur.” Wyler’s film gets heavily bogged down in its second and third half with religion. I feel like this sort of propaganda and eventual deus ex machina cheapens the movie a little. This one ends with a much more realistic, instead of uplifting, ending. Violence, love, corruption, and even homosexuality are explored as themes in relation to this time period that could then be observed in this time period.

Kubrick has always been a director who enjoyed controversy. But in the year 1962 he would push it to a new level that made people ask: “How could they ever make a movie of ‘Lolita?'”

The censors had a field day with this one, and it probably didn’t help that the actress who played Lolita, Sue Lyon, was only 14 at the time of filming. Kubrick himself has said that if he had known how the censors were going to treat this, he probably wouldn’t have made the film. Sound familiar? He also complained about the lack of absolute power he had on the set of “Spartacus.”

This is a film about a man, Humbert Humbert, who falls for a 14 year old girl named Lolita and they run off and start a relationship together.  Peter Sellers’ character, Clare Quilty, complicates things more after he tries to steal Lolita from Humbert. This is a watered down version of the story so there are more plot points to the story than that.

Out of all of Kubrick’s films, this one is probably my least favorite. Sellers gives a fantastic performance as usual, but will soon top it in “Dr. Strangelove.”  This is a long movie that sometimes feels like it is dragging, but the story is interesting, controversial, and likely to to spark an interesting moral discussion. It’s still definitely worth a viewing if you have a free afternoon.

My next Kubrick Experience blog will be covering “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”


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