A vivid, ever evolving association with Stanley Kubrick’s cinema may not always stem from an authoritative, ingenious work of acting. Filmmakers of Kubrick’s kin believe more in exploring ideas and intuitions based on evidences more imagined than analysed. The culture has long since accepted their accomplishments to be more in discovering newfangled means of subconscious transportation to destinations widely unplumbed than in indulging in iconographic, voluble recitals of banal schmaltz. Famously quipping, “Cinema is not photographing reality, it’s photographing the photograph of reality.”, Kubrick’s contentiously diverse oeuvre appears to unfledged eyes as deliberate alienation with a disturbing regularity.
What one may make of the use of music, or the playfully many-leveled, lissom editing in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ contrasting crisply with the sluggish, nearly sedate one in ‘Barry Lyndon’, both exhilarating atmospheric contrivances, or even of the anesthetizing visual ostentation, is at first unbeknownst to one’s own self. Time is of great assistance with cinema of this breed and memory perhaps the most reliable auxiliary. Float the images in your head and a lasting faculty of impressions is found to be at work.
Kubrick didn’t possess a marked propinquity towards most of his actors. It is evident from his stately precipitation of complete, unqualified hegemony exercised by him in nearly all the films he made. The man famously drove Shelley Duvall to frequent instances of ill-health during the protracted production, a feature common to nearly all his films post ‘Dr. Strangelove’. Malcolm McDowell once shared exuberantly his recollections from his time on ‘A Clockwork Orange’, but offered in conclusion an absurd detail: Kubrick refused to take his calls when the film was in the can, dismissing the friendship as if it hadn’t transpired in the first place.
But then how did he manage to draw out some of the most memorable performances in cinematic history? The man who didn’t put requisite stock in narrative or character as he did in procuring that right alloy of sound and image nevertheless ordained in the most opulent of cinematic voices that his actors’ legacy would be inextricably intertwined with his masterpieces. So electing the most magnificent performances from his filmography didn’t prove to be as much of a quest as ranking them did, purely for the fact that they all work for varying reasons and are part of such varying films.
So with that, these are the 10 greatest film performances in the films of Stanley Kubrick, ranked in order of their success in being the tools at his disposal, because frankly, they should’ve never hoped to be anything more.
10. Peter Sellers, ‘Lolita’