When it comes to film festivals there's always that divisive moment. Terrence Malick tends to do the honors- on the rare occasion he releases something- but in his absence there's usually one film which garners boos and cheers in equal measure. Of course, any piece of Art which can get people both rapturous and enraged is certainly worth having around. At Venice last year that film was Under the Skin.
The Guardian called it the festival's Marmite Moment. Their critic proclaimied it an "extraordinary piece of outsider art". Others were not so pleased; "Torpid and silly" Variety sighed; "A very dark dead-end alley" said THR. The film's remarkable trailer, which dropped earlier this year to some serious fanfare, is an evocative flow of sex, fear and peculiarities, interspersed with the usual hyperbolic quotes. The first of these comments comes from LA Weekly. It's timed and placed to hit you like a ton of bricks and it does just that.
A genuine revelation. We may finally have an heir to Kubrick
A sweeping statement if ever there was one but, perhaps, there is something to it. The term Kubrickian might get tossed about a little too much but there was plenty of reason so many attributed it to director Jonathan Glazer's last film, the equally divisive Birth. So what is it that links these two auteurs? What sets them apart? Can anyone even attempt to hold a candle to a director who gave us so much?
We'll begin by taking a look back.
Both directors, unsurprisingly, share career paths in the visual arts.
Kubrick spent five years taking photographs for Look, an early photographic lifestyle magazine which would eventually lose out to the more popular Life. He made a living off observing human beings at a distance. He played chess from an early age and took the meticulous perfectionism of the game to his photography as he would again to his imagery on the big screen.
Glazer worked as an ad man for almost 10 year before he started making films. A year before his debut, Sexy Beast, the director would sweep advertising awards ceremonies the world over with his pulsating, Leftfield driven Surfer ad for Guinness. The ad still tops many best of... lists today.
Chess. Lifestyle photography. Advertisements. Two men primed to get inside your head.
Both are regarded as trailblazers for their use of music.
Kubrick is attributed with having changed the way people thought about movie soundtracks, he might have even done it twice. Many attribute Wendy Carlos' bizarre counterpointed soundtrack for Clockwork Orange as being the first ever album to be 100% electronically produced. Kubrick also famously scrapped Alex North's original score for 2001 when he watched the film in post production with a standard album of guide music. That "guide music" is now a pop culture entity all its own.
Glazer was one of the most respected music video directors of the nineties, the decade when music videos actually mattered, so he knows a wee bit about mixing sound and imagery too.
It all adds up to a matter of style. Both are keen advocates of one point perspective and both have worked fluidly with maverick DPs but it's the precise, granite feeling of their imagery which really connects them. This is a criticism of Kubrick in some circles; a perceived coldness or lack of humanity in his work. His films are dazzling, monolithic spectacles, but spectacles none the less. The characters within are impenetrable people. He observes them at a distance like he did with his photography. Not as voyeur but more a man with a butterfly collection.
With Glazer you could certainly say the same. Ben Kingsley's frightening Don Logan in Sexy Beast is just as fascinating a character as Alex DeLarge or Jack Torrence but he's just as alien too. Glazer's new film is all about an Alien. To get the required effect- and capture the double-taking public's reaction- he shot one of the most glamorous women in the world with hidden cameras as she wandered through a rainy overcast Glasgow. An innovative trick or a comment on celebrity, whatever the case we see the cold alienating world through her eyes.
Many of the great directors who we've seen since Kubrick have spoken about what it felt like to go and see one of his films. A sense when entering the cinema that you were about to see something entirely new. Glazer might be on the verge of commanding that sort of feeling in a way no other director today can do. We know now that an original Christopher Nolan film will leave us ecstatically scratching our heads but it is still in the knowledge that with a few more viewings, and perhaps a pen and paper, we can get to the guts of what exactly is going on.
Nolan operates with an enormous degree of control, the forces of his films are measurable, mathematical; those which move Glazer and Kubrick are not. There's something elemental, almost mythological about their work. As if their stories play out in a parallel universe where different rules apply. Familiar and yet not.
But the truth is there will never be a successor as such. Kubrick might have found a kindred spirit in this maverick Londoner but the movie world is just a different place today. Following a string of early successes, the studios gave Kubrick unprecedented total creative control. Later on, as he grew in stature, they basically granted him carte blanche. Eyes Wide Shut shot for a record 400 days. Warner Bros. were more interested in the prestige of a Kubrick film, a concept which seems to grow dustier and dustier every time a member of the Hollywood old guard kicks the bucket.
His is a career which will surely never be repeated but if there is one director who can leave us with that same brand of confusion and catharsis; Jonathon Glazer might just be it.
Under the Skin is in cinemas now