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A mindbending legacy

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

There's a brilliant transition in 2001: A Space Odyssey, where a shot of a spinning bone, tossed up by an ape, cuts to the shot of an elongated orbital station, weightless in its orbital free fall.

If anything, this forward-thrusting motion, crossing temporal, thematic, and visual boundaries, can be taken to represent what Stanley Kubrick did to the art of cinema.

The director of such modern classics as Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001, and Clockwork Orange died last Sunday at his home in England at the age of seventy, having just completed his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, to be released this summer. His legacy is mindbending.

From the delicious nuclear black comedy of Dr. Strangelove to the soundless outer space of 2001 to the bloody corridors of the hotel in The Shining, Kubrick consistently redefined cinema, fusing the old elements in unexpected combinations and introducing the new ones. His work as a special effects designer on 2001 is still one of the towering achievements in the field; his dialogue still makes Strangelove compulsively quotable. His violent, jarring juxtapositions of classical music and violence in Clockwork Orange create the least appealing protagonist -- and then put us, the viewers, squarely into his head.

Kubrick didn’t seem to invent the cinema; he seemed to be discovering it, revealing something that was there all along, and he was just the first one to see it, with the clear, sober, and unsentimental eye. A single toss of that bone -- just one moment in the career of a director who took notoriously long to finish each of his films -- has advanced the art as much as the whole careers of lesser directors.

Even when stripped clear from the barnacles of commerce, it’s anybody’s guess if the art of cinema will soar, or if it will crash and burn. Nobody knows where it is going. Kubrick, it seems, did.