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The surprising comedy film that Stanley Kubrick loved

Stanley Kubrick is remembered by many as one of the most transgressive filmmakers in the history of cinema. An artist who constantly strived towards greater achievements and a re-conceptualisation of the cinematic medium, Kubrick was uncompromising when it came to his artistic vision which resulted in a spectacular filmography.

During his formative years, Kubrick learned the craft of filmmaking by watching the masters while simultaneously working as a photographer. Learning from the films of Max Ophüls and Elia Kazan, Kubrick developed his own eye and eventually went on to establish a unique aesthetic framework for film art.

Throughout his life, the master auteur advised aspiring artists to devote their time to watching as many films as they can. He often championed American directors as well as foreign filmmakers, including the likes of Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky even though the latter famously attacked 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While Kubrick enjoyed experimental works like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, he was also an admirer of more commercial ventures and he even cited a surprising Steve Martin comedy film as one of his favourites. Titled The Jerk, it featured Martin in his first feature film starring role as an idiot whose journey through life is difficult to say the least.

In an interview, screenwriter Michael Elias looked back on the initial impact of the film: “It all came together. And I think the thing is, I’m not sure about the business, but it had a good opening and everything. And the reviews were mixed. Some people got it, some people didn’t. But it just continued to grow and grow and grow.”

According to anecdotes from Kubrick’s friends and family, he loved The Jerk and often quoted lines from the film to the cast and crew during his own productions. Although Kubrick’s associate Jan Harlan claimed the director’s love for The Jerk was exaggerated, he did end up inviting Steve Martin for a game of chess.

This news of Kubrick’s admiration reached Elias and it delighted him to know that the director of Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange was a fan of The Jerk. Elias said: “Steve told me, ‘Stanley Kubrick really loved the movie.’ I don’t know anyone who didn’t like it, but to have Stanley Kubrick like a movie that I wrote? That’s great!”

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