Spartacus, 1960. Stanley Kubrick.

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It’s taken me longer than expected to really start looking at Stanley Kubrick’s films. Alas, the journey has now begun. I’m already learning so much about the director, some people class as the greatest ever, now including me. The film I’m looking at today is Spartacus, the elephant in the room so to speak. It was only a few weeks ago that I learnt that Stanley Kubrick directed this film and I was really quite surprised.  Funnily enough, I was less surprised that Stanley had distanced himself from it throughout his career. Why wasn’t I surprised though,  I hadn’t even seen the film yet? I think it’s because I have watched a lot of his later films and they are so unique in his own style that it’s hard to comprehend him making a glossy blockbuster like this. Anyway, I didn’t dig too deep on this one and know there is a strong story regarding Kubrick not having full creative control but I just want to discuss the film and what I thought Kubrick had added to this piece of work.   

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I would like to talk about the story. First of all, I can tell Kubrick had no control in the main romance between Spartacus Kirk Douglas and Varinia Jean Simmons because it’s just too nice and clinical. I think Kubrick would have a far more realistic relationship on screen. A little bit of tangent but it very much reminded me of a flash in the pan storyline used in Star Trek between Kirk and whatever women he had met that day, even the music was similar. That vision of love is something that always annoys me about some films. I did enjoy the message of the atrocities that happened those slaves, but the same thing was also happening in the 1960s and is still happening today. I do enjoy a film that reminds people of that. I also found the Romans to be a real representation of men, just doing what men seem to do best. There is a very well written scene that did remind me of something Kubrick would have come up with, but I can’t really find anything to confirm this. The scene features Crassus asking his slave Antoninus does he like Snakes or Oysters? And later Crassus announces that he likes both of those choices. All in all, I enjoyed the plot to a certain point, it’s just not really my style and is somewhat too cosy and I felt happy later when I realised that Kubrick himself thought the same thing.  Also, it wouldn’t be Spartacus if I didn’t mention the “I’m Spartacus” scene, and having never seen it before, I know feel part of the club, I’m probably the last one to see it, to be honest.

You know what? I really like Technicolor. I guess it’s some romantic notion that it reminds me of a time that I did not exist on this Earth, I do really think it looks amazing in the film though. I think this film is wonderfully shot and manages to feel epic, but also extremely intimate when needed. I’m pretty sure that’s Stanley Kubrick creating that vision. The Roman Courtyards blew my mind and I wanted nothing more but to have a swim in one of those pools, the set design blew my mind for a production in the 1960s.

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There is also the scene when Spartacus attacks a Roman Camp and it is burnt down, the fire is used so wonderfully as the camera pans throughout the shot and makes use of every shade and flicker of light that is available. Talking about light, I find it to be most enjoyable in the smaller scenes. I’m only just learning about how lighting works to create atmosphere and it felt like it did to me. Especially in the earlier scenes that featured Spartacus and Varinia.   

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Did I enjoy this film? Well as far as the story goes it was pretty great, but again it was just too Hollywood for me and I guess the real story would be far more brutal. That brutality and realism would have been looked at more in-depth if Kubrick would have had creative control of the film I believe. All in all, to me it’s in that library of films that you watch on public holidays when you need to sit down, digest your food and maybe take a nap halfway through. The world needs those films though and the next bank holiday I have, I may revisit it again. Like I said at the start of my post, I didn’t really want to dig deep on this one as it’s not a complete Stanley Kubrick film.  Thank you for reading and have a great day.

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Stanley Kubrick The Film Collection.

One thought on “Spartacus, 1960. Stanley Kubrick.

  1. Stan had very little control here and managed to piss everyone off. At the end, Kirk Douglas said “Stanley is a genius. But Stanley is a shit.” To Kirk, this was a personal vanity project, and started off with a different director and was 2 whole weeks into filming when, in an emergency, he had to replace his director. Kirk had just worked with Stan on Paths of Glory (in one of his best performances), and asked Stan to come in and take over. Actors, script, sets were already in place. Kirk got so mad at Kubrick that at one point he hit him over the head with a chair. (I guess it was a breakaway prop?) During the big battle scene Kirk, on horseback, purposely brushed against Stan, on foot. Stan wanted a much more realistic film about the slave rebellion, not the romanticized version that Kirk wanted. Stan hated that “I am Spartacus” scene. The film, ultimately, IS a more intelligent blockbuster than usual, and Stan was happy to get the experience to work on a big budget. But this proved to him why he had to become his own producer so he could control his own vision.

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