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Martin Scorsese on the mammoth influence of Stanley Kubrick

“(Sic) One of his films were equivalent to ten of anybody else’s.” – Martin Scorsese 

In the history of cinema, or even popular culture, for that matter, few artists have had as much of an impact as Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. They are both behemoths of filmmaking who have inspired a myriad of contemporaries while remaining not only commercially viable but sure-fire box office hits. Their approach to film is both singular and yet entirely considered. If it can be said that good artists borrow and great artists steal, then these two masters assimilated all the cinema they could and unspooled inspiration in such a way that even a cinematic sniffer-dog couldn’t catch the scent of their tracks directly. 

With the two luminaries sharing so much in common, it is no surprise that they held each other in high esteem. The main difference in their mutual praise rests on the fact that when Kubrick’s first full-length feature, Fear and Desire, was released in 1953, Scorsese was still just an 11-year-old boy falling in love with the art form. Therefore, Kubrick’s influence on him was seminal. 

In this rarely seen footage of the director speaking to Charlie Rose, Scorsese eulogised the late director and his influence. “You go to the movies to be involved in the picture,” Scorsese explained, later adding, “They make you look at being human in a different way.” In many ways, this quote illuminates Kubrick’s power as a provocateur; whether you love Kubrick’s movies or loathe them, there is simply no way that you will be left unmoved by his banality-eviscerating pictures. As Scorsese explains, this ability to perturb, disturb and enthral, simply comes down to his ability as a “storyteller.” 

“As a filmmaker, you have to tell a story to the audience,” Scorsese expounds, “you have to translate that through an image.” It is a rather simple message, but one that can often be lost. Both Scorsese and Kubrick are very much shot-based storytellers; the visuals are not simply an extension of the narrative, they are the vehicle through which the story is told. In Kubrick’s movies, this can be anything from the hallucinatory carpet in The Shining to the bleached-out hue of Paths of Glory. Likewise, Scorsese has reflected this in his own work; the violent burial scene in Goodfellas is backlit by the embalming red of the brake lights, something that renders the scene with an underworld overtone. 

In Kubrick’s case, the inner narrative of visuals was already in place from his early work as a still photographer. Scorsese regarded this ability to find a story in a single image as something that permeated his filmmaking and showed that Kubrick was “a person with a very strong, powerful, storytelling ability.” Whether it is the tracking shots in Paths of Glory or the slow pans of The Shining, Kubrick’s ability to find story and drama in a single image is indicative of his photographic view of the world. 

However, Scorsese goes on to explain that it is not only through visuals that Kubrick changed cinema but also with his unique approach to “logic and continuity” which Marty claims ran counter to the times he was working in and proved revolutionary. 2001: A Space Odyssey, for instance, “changed the way you would normally experience time,” Scorsese tells Rose, “[it] forced you to react with great authority.”

This visionary approach to cinema singled Kubrick out as a true original and this singularity garnered him a legion of artiste fans, not just Scorsese, but also David Bowie, Mick Jagger and more.

Scorsese elucidates that Kubrick simply told stories differently, describing the Hal “murder scene” as a case in point: the scene defied convention because the victim was a machine, but for all intents and purposes it was very reflective of a Hitchcockian murder scene and this “immersed you in the drama.”

When asked which films stirred him most from Kubrick’s back catalogue, Scorsese squirmed but declared, “It’s hard to choose one. I have very strong feelings about Barry Lyndon and about 2001.” He later seems to champion 2001: A Space Odyssey as his favourite stating: “It is a strange thing. The religious side of me found an extraordinary comfort in the end of the film, a very beautiful moment.”