As I type this, SBS is showing Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange."
Not having seen it before, I have watched about 45 minutes now. It is one seriously strange movie. That great movie critic Pauline Kael hated it. Even without seeing it all, I can tell that much of her assessment seems correct.
But the main comment that I wanted to make here is this: did Stanley Kubrick ever make a movie in which the actors seemed like real humans? (I haven't seen Barry Lyndon: maybe he made a breakthrough there.)
From his work that I have seen, their most distinctive characteristic is that he always seemed to be able to get the actors to make their character appear not quite human, rather as if they were robots acting as humans. In 2001, I thought that this was perhaps deliberate, since a certain blurring of the line between human and artificial intelligence played well into the subplot about HAL . Maybe Dr Strangelove, as a black satire, didn't need good acting either. As far as I can recall, Nicholson was pretty good at acting mad in The Shining , although I caught a little of it again the other night, and some of the supporting actors had the Kubrick "not quite there"-ness about them.
The same artifice was in Eyes Wide Shut and Full Metal Jacket, when they certainly could have benefited with more naturalist acting. (The former was eccentrically memorable, if far from realistic. The latter I thought a complete failure.)
It's actually a bit puzzling as to how he achieved the robotisation of his actors. Was it because of his famous willingness to shoot the same scene tens of times over, trying to achieve some kind of perfection in detail that only he could see? One can imagine that this would drain the actors ability to appear human.
Or was it just a certain clumsiness in his scripts?
Of course, the issue of artificial intelligence was again dealt with in the Spielberg collaboration "AI". It's another peculiar movie in many respects, but A Clockwork Orange certainly removes any doubt that its strangeness sprang from Kubrick, not Spielberg. But you can see from AI that Spielberg is like the reverse Kubrick: he can get actors playing robots appear very human!
Spielberg has said in interviews that Kubrick told him the project needed his (Spielberg's) touch, and if his goal was to have the audience sympathetic to the plight of robot intelligences, this was certainly true.
Kubrick was an interesting film maker, and for all of his deficiencies, 2001 was a remarkable achievement. It's just a pity that in his other films, he showed so little sign of being able to replicate convincing human behaviour on screen.