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PHILIP KUBERSKI Plumbing the Abyss: Stanley Kubrick's Bathrooms The last formal interview Stanley Kubrick gave was in London in 1987 as part of the publicity campaign for Full Metal Jacket. Tim Cahill ofRolling Stone reports that Kubrick had trouble finding the "executive suite" at Pinewood Studios and was 20 minutes late, but also unpretentious, casually-attired, and apologetic: "What is this place?" Kubrick asked. "It's called the executive suite," I said, "I think they put big shots up here. Kubrick looked around at the dark wood-paneled walls, the chandeliers, the leather couches and chairs. "Is there a bathroom?" he asked with some urgency. "Across the hall," I said. (Phillips 190) The scene could well be from one of Kubrick's films: the impersonal setting, the tentative meeting of strangers, the prospect of stilted conversation—and then the comic yet poignant intrusion of the body's ineluctable demands. Beneath the veneer of social pretense lies the intractable problem oforganic finitude; within such an ordinary, human, and filmable encounter lie the elements of philosophical inquiry. Alexander Walker points to intellectual coherence as one of Kubrick's distinctive characteristics: "Only a few film directors possess a conceptual talent—that is, a talent to crystalize every film into a cinematic concept" (7). Walker pinpoints this conceptual focus: "a persistent interest in the symbolic analysis of society through its enduring myths and fables" (15). According to Mario Falsetto, Kubrick's films can be understood with respect to a series of conceptual polarities: "Subjective/objective, classical/modernist, rational/irrational, Arizona Quarterly Volume 60, Number 4, Winter 2004 Copyright © 2004 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1610 140 Philip Kuberski empathy/distance, clarity/ambiguity, order/chaos, symmetry/asymmetry, conventional/subversive, surface/depth, what we know, and what remains hidden" (xxii). Kubrick's cinematic "analysis" of such polarities leads, in Thomas Allen Nelson's view, to Kubrick's recognition of "contingency" as a dominant feature of life: For Kubrick, contingency has provided both a stimulus for filmic expression and a perspective on a wide range ofpotential "content" embodied in human history and imagination within a variety offorms and ritual activities, visual and abstract structures , the shapes of societies and histories, the struggles of individual consciousness and articulation. (17-18) Such philosophical concerns are ofcourse rare in afilmmaker, especially a filmmaker who was able to command many millions of dollars for his budgets, almost unlimited shooting schedules, and unprecedented control over production. Kubrick's philosophical themes are necessarily and thoroughly embodied in his work. As Michel Ciment points out, "Kubrick has no interest in theories and, like all American directors, gives prominence to his actors. Shooting a film is the natural extension of writing it and actors are the essential means by which a director can give flesh to his vision" (38). The fleshliness of his films has consistently been a cause of concern for liberal and conservative viewers alike, but this carnality has always been exhibited with respect to Kubrick's fundamental concerns as an artist. Nudity in A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), for instance, registers in no uncertain terms the power of the body and its fragility, its powers to control and be controlled. Few directors have shown so thoroughly the powers of the body and its organization by ideological apparatuses such as science, technology, the church, the state, and the military. The embodiedness of Kubrick's conceptual thematics is exhibited in an oblique way in his films by a curious attention to bathrooms. Luis M. Garcia Mainar has noted that "settings are an obvious source ofrepetitions , which, in turn, suggest contrasts" (198). The bathroom is a key setting in his films and its semiotic or symbolic value develops, evolves, and ramifies as the repetitions mount from film to film. For Nelson a "Kubrickian bathroom" emerges throughout the canon, operating in symbolic polarity with the bedroom. The two form "comic and tragic modalities of a psychological/sexual content" the effect of which he Plumbing the Abyss 141 calls a "primal irony" (73-75)· Within the bathroom's eerie or banal spaces we can see the essential tension between what Ciment calls Kubrick's "meticulous realism and willfully flamboyant expressionism...


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