Outside Mandel 303, a table full of cookies and various hot beverages welcomed me into a lecture titled “Kubrick’s Men’s Pictures.” The lecture discussed exactly what it claimed, the pictures of men that Stanley Kubrick took in his days before he was an Academy Award nominee.
Stanley Kubrick was a universally loved and critically acclaimed director of films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Dr. Strangelove,” so a look into his work as a photographer and a documentary filmmaker before his rise to fame was an interesting topic to discuss. The speaker, Richard Rambuss, is a professor of English at Brown University and specializes in Renaissance poetry, yet he seemed to have a lot of expertise on the topic of Kubrick’s films and their portrayal of masculinity. There were times that his tone became slightly monotonous, but the material was engaging enough for that distraction to be easily ignored.
Most of the lecture dealt with the portrayal of hyper-sexualized masculinity in the pictures Kubrick used to take during his time working as a photographer for a magazine in New York. Rambuss had a variety of pictures showing how Kubrick emphasized the male form while paying little to no attention to the feminine form in the same pictures. In most of the pictures that featured boxer Walter Cartier, he was shown in various stages of nudity while the other figures around him are completely clothed. In one photograph, the boxer rows a boat while not completely clothed with a modestly dressed woman behind him; the main subject of the photo is the boxer, while the woman is treated as a prop in the background. The use of light and camera angles also emphasize the masculine aspects of the photographs, which made for an interesting close reading into the mind of Kubrick as he honed his art for the next few years to come.
His first documentary, “The Day of the Fight” was a major source of discussion. The short documentary takes us into the life of Cartier for a day, right before his fight. This film had no female characters and the boxer spent most of the film without his shirt on. Rambuss spoke a little about the implied homoerotic undertones between the boxer and his twin brother who were shown to share a twin bed and dress completely alike throughout the film. Kubrick tried to show a domestic household between the twin brothers by adding a dog to the mix, showing a more wholesome family life. The scenes of the movie that were shown (after much technical difficulty) were usually met with laughter due to the antiquated style of music or the hilarity of the situations that became obvious after listening to Rambuss’ close reading of the symbols in the film.
One of my favorite aspects of the lecture was the comparison of the style and themes used by Kubrick in this film and how similar themes can be seen in his later films that were more popular. The use of masculinity and the male form, primarily in combat sports like boxing and battle, as a major symbol is something that is common in most of his future work, like “Spartacus.” He also emphasized the importance of male grooming in “The Day of the Fight,” exemplified in a scene where Cartier applies Vaseline to his face (something that most of us found extremely amusing), which has a direct correlation to scenes in “Spartacus” and “A Clockwork Orange.”
Professor Rambuss’ expertise on the subject became more evident in the wildly fascinating question and answer session, where the knowledgeable audience asked very thoughtful questions to him, and he responded to all of them coherently and cleverly by citing a large number of references. This was definitely one of the better interactive sessions I have experienced.
“The lecture held an interesting view of the pictures of Stanley Kubrick—dark, serious, engrossing and full of homoerotic desire. What more could you ask for?” said Gaby Yeshua ’17, and I have to agree. Although there were numerous technical difficulties and the lecture got a little tiresome at some points, the overall experience was definitely very rewarding. As a fan of movies and photographs in general, I was satisfied at the end of it.