Altered states, altered spaces : architecture, space and landscape in the film and television of Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell

Melia, Matthew (2017) Altered states, altered spaces : architecture, space and landscape in the film and television of Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell. Cinergie : Il Cinema e le Altre Arti, 12, pp. 139-152. ISSN (print) 2280-9481


Altered States, Altered Spaces: Architecture, Landscape and Space in the work of Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell. Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell, at first, seem like unlikely bedfellows for a critical comparison: the combined Baroque, Mannerist, frequently excessive and romantic nature of Russell’s screen standing in apparent contrast to the structure, order, organisation, Brutalism and spatial complexity of Kubrick’s. In an online blogpost1 (2007) Russell biographer Paul Sutton suggests that there is an intimate cross-fertilisation between Kubrick’s major works from 1962 and the bio-documentaries and arts films Ken Russell made for the BBC between 1958 and 1966. Drawing on a range of archived material, my essay will expand the breadth of this argument by including a wider range of film and television texts by both, suggesting less that Kubrick ‘borrowed’ from Russell (as Sutton does) but that their work shares a set of key spatial, architectural and visually linguistic concerns. As well as highlighting a shared set of imagery, I will present their oeuvres as an extended cinematic conversation which lasted from the late 1950s through to the late 1990s. I will, for example, draw a close analysis of both Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Russell’s Altered States (1980): two films which enter into debate over the polysemic nature of space, offering similar images of spatial expansion and ( Beckettian) corporeal restriction. The essay will consider the work of Powell and Pressburger as a model for the work of Kubrick and Russell and the composition of their screens. The essay will make critical comment (with recourse to archived imagery) and observe the shared use of Brutalist architecture and set design in Russell’s The Devils (1971) and Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1972) Other than Sutton’s brief blogpost, there has been little to no critical attention paid to Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell as contemporary auteurs with shared spatial concerns apposite to the cultural climate of the era. This essay aims to redress this by drawing on a range of key, archived, material at the University of the Arts, the BBC and the BFI.

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