Auteur Theory and Stanley Kubrick’s Powerful Signature on Film

The easiest way I started to understand the Auteur Theory was when I compared it to authors writing novels. Just as an author has nearly all the reigns when it comes to writing a novel, the director of a film has a similar power. But when it comes to making movies there are more hands-on deck. To be proclaimed an “auteur director” means that when watching a film made by said director, the viewers would know based on the film’s personality. Film critics use Auteur Theory as a way to analyze a director’s stylistic approaches, and whilst analyzing Stanley Kubrick’s filmmaking career he developed an approach to film that was unlike any other director at the time. I did (and have done) a lot of research about Kubrick’s life prior to filmmaking; so it’s fun when I learn about his auteurism and relate it to his earlier life. It makes sense that Kubrick makes the methodical and aesthetically pleasing films that he does, considering the fact that Stan was an avid chess player and photographer before making films.

He was an extremely thought-provoking director; everything shown or mentioned in his films was put intentionally. Kubrick uses simple ideas in his films, but often uses a “radical approach to movies by adding substance and choosing quantity over quality.” He has a remarkable eye; he simply has an aesthetic that “entices and unsettles” an audience. When further researched I realized he used a number of techniques that really nailed him down as being an auteur. When looking at Stanley Kubrick’s movie history he is collaboratively approaching his adaptations of novels with a large team, compared to the one author that wrote the novel. Since Kubrick isn’t a genre director per say, his films have more “constantly tried to push boundaries, look for new concepts and explore possibilities.” It’s definitely noteworthy to state that all but two of Kubrick's films were adaptations from books; he turns writings into his own works of art. Kubrick had a remarkable talent for uniquely approaching cinema. I find that his way of adapting the nuances of the novels was very existential. Many of his films leave the audience fearful, confused, and questioning reality.

As viewers, when we decipher Kubrick’s films, we can come to terms with the fact that he has a consistent use of visual design elements, such as Mise-en-scene and cinematography. Take The Shining for example. Kubrick’s use of Mise-en-scene in that film was out of control. There is Mise-en-scene in terms of location, narrative, lighting, objects, and color. His use of color was extremely telling in that movie, and the cinematography as well. Not to mention The Shinning was one of the first films to ever use a Steadicam; let’s just say directors lost a lot less sleep after that. The Steadicam became important for Kubrick in later films because he was able to use his hands-on interaction with the camera without the issue of having a really shaky shot. Kubrick even once stated that he uses the Steadicam “as it was intended to be used, as a tool which can help get the lens where it’s wanted in space and time without the classical limitation of the dolly and crane.”

Below I inserted some images of Stanley’s early photo work. It is unavoidable to compare his photography to his filmography.

I delved into some of his photography work, from before he specifically made films and I was pleased to see the similarities between his photos and films. His love for symmetry and contrast are very apparent in both practices. From personal experience I know that by studying photography they engrave the concept of framing a photo into you. . . until it’s just second nature. Every single one of Kubrick’s shots could be paused to make a beautiful photograph, and I find that pleasing as all hell.

Kubrick's use of cinematography was remarkable in film history; he breached the use of cinematic space in many films. Such as his use of zoom-in effects to distort the viewer’s perception of reality. The depth that he creates is referred to in a writing as the “panoptic gaze,” describing his use of wide-angle, symmetrical, and all-showing shots. The panoptic gaze that Kubrick does so often can be described as so: “it maintain[s] the subject of its observation in a perfectly-framed shot, it can anticipate the movement of characters. This spatial ‘awareness’ marks a significant development on previous camera movements, which are conventionally used to support the story through a character’s point-of-view.”

Kubrick is easily one of the most influential directors in cinematic history. Contemporary directors strive to approach a film the way Kubrick had, they long for his understanding of film. His voice and vision as a filmmaker was apparent after his very first film. He then boiled down his language over the years into a compressive body of films that put him on the map as an “Avant-guard auteur director.” Kubrick is not your typical auteur director, oh no, he revolutionized the idea of an auteur director.

By Mia Modafferi


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