Stanley Kubrick was an auteur in every sense of the word. After he released his first short film in 1951, he would embark on an audio-visual journey that would give modern cinema some of its most defining moments. Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Shining are just a handful of the pioneering works he gave to the world. Every aspect of Kubrick’s creations were composed with a level of care you would associate with any of the historical masters of the arts. Deeply thought out and cerebral, there can be no doubting his place as one of the finest filmmakers of all time.
Like all great directors, Kubrick was, before all else, a lover of films. He started his career as a photographer, and this vital component would inform all of his works. Picturesque to a fault. One only has to note the gorgeous vistas of Barry Lyndon to heed this. Combined with the way that Kubrick was entranced by cinema’s emotive impact, he would go on to craft films that had a crucial message at the centre. A modern-day Aesop, if you will.
No matter how big his celebrity became, or how many blockbusters he achieved, or the legions of admiring fans he gained, Kubrick always stayed true to himself. He never lost sense of the great impact cinema had on him as a child. This is why, when asked by countless interviewers over the years, Kubrick always offered a wide selection of his favourite films. It’s also why, when asked, that list seemed to vary with every passing day.
The vast array of suggested titles is to be expected. After all, ask any true cinephile what their favourite film is, and they will likely blurt out ten or twenty different answers. Ask them again the following week, and we’ll bet that the list is almost entirely different. Today, we’re looking back at Stanley Kubrick‘s favourite films of the 1960s. Whittled down from the definitive list of 93 that is widely hailed as his favourite, we have assembled a list of Kubrick’s films from the ‘Swinging Sixties’. Given that it was Kubrick, there is some classics and of course, some more obscure titles.
When asked in 1963 by the American magazine Cinema what his top ten favourite films were, Kubrick revealed that La Notte by Michaelangelo Antonioni was one of his top ten favourite films of all time. Given that the Milan-based drama is a subtle, atmospheric piece, it is one of the most influential films of all time. Coupled with Kubrick’s statement “the director must always be the arbiter of esthetic taste”, it should come as no surprise that it became one of Kubrick’s favourite ever.
Second on the list is avant-garde filmmaker Arthur Lipsett’s 1961 outing Very Nice, Very Nice. Kubrick was so taken aback by the seven-minute collage film that he wrote to Lipsett in the hope of securing him as the director for Dr. Strangelove‘s trailer. In an article published in 1986 in Cinema Canada magazine, filmmaker Lois Siegel told an interesting story: “After his Academy Award nomination, (Lipsett) received a letter from British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The typewritten letter said, ‘I’m interested in having a trailer done for Dr. Strangelove.’ Kubrick regarded Lipsett’s work as a landmark in cinema – a breakthrough. He was interested in involving Lipsett. This didn’t happen, but the actual trailer did reflect Lipsett’s style in Very Nice, Very Nice.”
Additionally, in the archives of the Cinémathèque québécoise, there exists a letter dated May 31, 1962. In it, Kubrick says that Lipsett’s film is “one of the most imaginative and brilliant uses of the movie screen and soundtrack that I have ever seen.” This definitive take on the short film, sums up the films indelible impact on Kubrick’s modus operandi.
Carrying on, it is well known that Kubrick was critical of Disney’s youthful movies: “Children’s films are an area that should not just be left to the Disney Studios, who I don’t think really make very good children’s films,” he commented. However, shortly after the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick shocked us all by showing his love for Mary Poppins. He admitted: “I saw Mary Poppins three times, because of my children, and I like Julie Andrews so much that I enjoyed seeing it three times. I thought it was a charming film.”
Heading down the list to The Battle of Algiers, Kubrick once gave it some of the highest praise possible. Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1966 historical war film addresses Algeria’s bloody struggle for independence from France in the ’50s. Referring back to the point that Hitchcock was acutely aware of the emotive impact of cinema, he claimed that one “couldn’t really understand what cinema was capable of” without witnessing the film.
In 1980, Kubrick revealed the effect Saura’s Peppermint Frappé had on him. In an overall discussion of Spanish cinema, he explained: “I first encountered Saura’s work by chance and in a rather strange way one day when I got home quite late and turned on the television; a film in Spanish with subtitles, that I knew absolutely nothing about, and besides, I’d missed the first half-hour. It was hard for me to follow and understand but, at the same time, I was convinced it was the film of a great director.”
He continued: “I watched the rest of the film glued to the TV set and when it was over I picked up a newspaper and saw that it was Peppermint Frappé by Carlos Saura. Later I found a copy of the film, which of course I watched from the beginning and with great enthusiasm, and since then all of Saura’s films that I’ve seen have confirmed the high quality of his work. He is an extremely brilliant director, and what strikes me, in particular, is the marvellous use he makes of his actors.”
Kubrick also had huge respect for The Anderson Platoon. Made by Pierre Schoendoerffer during the Vietnam war, when he was examining the daily life of the US Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, this entry is a brilliant example of the french movement of ‘cinéma vérité’ (truth cinema). Schoendoerffer was himself a veteran of the First Indochina War, and his film carries in it the central idea that the Vietnam war was an American successor to the French one. It is said that Kubrick’s iconic use of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin” in Full Metal Jacket was a direct tribute to Schoendoerffer’s documentary.
No list of ’60s movies would be complete without the inclusion of a Sergio Leone flick. However, this entry didn’t come from the mouth of Kubrick himself, rather from Leone himself. In Sir Christopher Frayling’s biography, Sergio Leone: Something to do with Death, he recounts a hilarious interchange between the two auteurs. Concerning Kubrick’s love for Once Upon a Time in the West, Frayling sets the anecdote up with: “Kubrick admired the film as well. So much so, according to Leone, that he selected the music for Barry Lyndon before shooting the film in order to attempt a similar fusion of music and image.”
Frayling explained: “While he was preparing the film, he phoned Leone, who later recalled: ‘Stanley Kubrick said to me, ‘I’ve got all Ennio Morricone’s albums. Can you explain to me why I only seem to like the music he composed for your films?’ To which I replied, ‘Don’t worry, I didn’t think much of Richard Strauss until I saw 2001!'”
It comes as little surprise, then, that some of Kubrick‘s favourite films of the ’60s are also some our own. With nods to Leone, Atonioni and even Mary Poppins, the list is as diverse as the aesthetic universes Kubrick created.
See the full list, below.
Stanley Kubrick’s favourite films of the 1960s:
- La Notte – Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961.
- Very Nice, Very Nice – Arthur Lipsett, 1961.
- Mary Poppins – Robert Stevenson, 1964.
- The Siege of Manchester – Herbert Wise, 1965.
- Closely Watched Trains – Jiří Menzel, 1966.
- The Battle of Algiers – Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966.
- Peppermint Frappé – Carlos Saura, 1967.
- The Anderson Platoon – Pierre Schoendoerffer, 1967.
- The Fireman’s Ball – Miloš Forman, 1967.
- If… – Lindsay Anderson, 1968.
- Once Upon a Time in the West – Sergio Leone, 1968.
- Rosemary’s Baby – Roman Polanski, 1968.
- Ådalen 31 – Bo Widerberg, 1969.