Stanley Kubrick’s Images and Sounds: a POP legacy

Stanley Kubrick’s Images and sounds: a POP legacy.

« I think that one of the problems with twentieth-century art is its preoccupation with subjectivity and originality at the expense of everything else. This has been especially true in painting and music. Though initially stimulating, this soon impeded the full development of any particular style, and rewarded uninteresting and sterile originality. At the same time, it is very sad to say, films have had the opposite problem — they have consistently tried to formalize and repeat success, and they have clung to a form and style introduced in their infancy. The sure thing is what everyone wants, and originality is not a nice word in this context. This is true despite the repeated example that nothing is as dangerous as a sure thing. »

Kubrick On Innovation:

Table of Content

Are Kubrick’s films Elitist or Popular Culture?
Tributes to « The SHINING »
Music in « 2001 »
Music in « The Shining »
Music in « Barry Lyndon »
Music in « a Clockwork Orange »
References , Sources and Sountracks


The critics often splitted when Stanley Kubrick’s films where launched, but  most of these works finally found their audience. Moreover, some of them such as « The Shining » , « 2001, a space Odyssey », « Barry Lyndon » or « A clockwork Orange » include scenes or music that have become cult and are now a part of the English/American POP culture.
We will focus on the four films quoted above, produced in the middle of Stanley Kubrick’s carreer, between 1968 and 1980. Our statements will be largely illustrated by Kubrick’s enlightening comments on his work.

As a little reminder, let’s first give an exhaustive list of Kubrick’s Filmography as a Director(1).
(Where it is obviously confirmed that the ‘Master’ had explored all genres)

      • 1999, « Eyes Wide Shut »
      • 1987, « Full Metal Jacket »
      • 1980, « The Shining »
      • 1975, « Barry Lyndon »
      • 1971, « A Clockwork Orange »
      • 1968, « 2001: A Space Odyssey »
      • 1964, « Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb »
      • 1962, « Lolita »
      • 1960, « Spartacus »
      • 1957, « Paths of Glory »
      • 1956, « The Killing »
      • 1955, « Killer’s Kiss »
      • 1953, « Fear and Desire »

(1) as a Director he also issued 3 Documentary shorts: The Seafarers (1953), Day of the Fight (1951), Flying Padre (1951)

Are Kubrick’s films Elitist or Popular Culture?

Films such as « 2001 » or some scenes from « The Shining » or « A clockwork Orange’ might have seemed abstruse to the audience and dedicated to a certain elite. When asked to explain the inner meaning of his film « 2001: A Space Odyssey », Stanley Kubrick once deflected:
« How much would we appreciate La Gioconda today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: « This lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten teeth »…it would shut off the viewer’s appreciation and shackle him to a « reality » other than his own. »!
The Music scholar David Patterson once stated that « Some Kubrick’s films stands in many minds as the quintessence of the filmic Rorschach! »
Anyway, as we mentioned earlier, most of Kubrick’s masterpieces finally became more and more popular, and end praised by an important audience.

Interestingly, in (very) popular culture, tributes to Kubrick always put the score very explicitly on the foreground. SO not only cinema critics but artists and the ‘common’ audience pay particular attention to sounds and music in Kubrik’s works. A few emblematic examples can be found just below:

      • the SIMPSON’S PARODY including 2001, a Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full metal Jacket
      • The SPACE ODYSSEY Trailer for the 2014 new release  in the UK
      • the very smart and funny IKEA SINGAPORE ADVERTISING for night shopping / shining
      • or eventually  SIMPSON’s TRIBUTE more focused on a Clockwork Orange and Eyes wide shut

Film critics and Kubrick’s producer Jan Harlan, insisted on the enormous influence « The Shining » for instance, has had on popular culture. In an Interview with Movie Mundo, the latter was asked the following question: « And what do you think he would have thought of the film’s huge influence on popular culture? » and he answered:
« In retrospect Kubrick would have certainly been delighted. Unfortunately the response on first release was disappointing. It took a long time until The Shining found its audience. From a film-business point, this is regrettable. But this is the destiny of many artists – just think of the French Impressionists. »

Among many other additional examples, such fields as surprising as ‘cutting edge Technologies’ hasn’t been left aside. Here is for example, an Advertisement dated 2009  for an Internet search engine!

Tributes to « The SHINING »

« The Shining » and series

A lot of TV series (the paradigm of popular Art?)n as well have acknowledged the popular success of Shining in paying a tribute to the film in one or more episodes. It includes::

      • « Its always sunny in Philadelphia » (2010)
      • « The Office » (2008)
        Quoting the famous sentences “All work and no play makes Jakes (here Michael the Boss!) a dull boy.
      • « Family Guy » (2009)
        An episode is paired with its film counterpart, but with one little twist. Stewie appears to be both Danny and Jack
      • Get Him to the Greek (2010)
        Where one of the characters shouts “It’s Kubrickian!” — while being chased through Shining-like  never-ending hallways.

Even the world of gamers has also been influenced by Kubrick, namely with an avatar of the ‘shoot them up’ game Duke Nukem 3D (released in 2004). In this version, players could virtually explore the grounds of the Overlook Hotel without limitations

To echo the Simpson’s animated tribute, a very funny (BUNNY?) remake. A kind of challenge because  re enacted by bunnies and including all the major scenes of the film…WITHIN 30 seconds.

Popular Music (as well)

There are many ways to make a music become popular and sentimentally attached to a film. Kubrick mainly used two strategies. First he associated moving music with images with a strong emotional content: as for instance very esthetic picture (as in the famous and smartlygolden-ratio proportioned landscape  displayed in the first image of Barry Lyndon


or very violent image, such as in ‘A clockwork Orange’ or ‘frightening one as in ‘Shining’…

The other (and complementary) option is to use well known, easily remembered and already emotionally ‘weighted’ tunes such as praised requiem or symphonies for example, composed by no less praised artists (Beethoven, Strauss and consorts)

Kubrick said  in one of his interview: « Unless you want a pop score, I don’t see any reason not to avail yourself of the great orchestral music of the past and present. This music may be used in its correct form or synthesized, as was done with the Beethoven for some scenes in A Clockwork Orange. But there doesn’t seem to be much point in hiring a composer who, however good he may be, is not a Mozart or a Beethoven, when you have such a vast choice of existing orchestral music which includes contemporary and avant-garde work. Doing it this way gives you the opportunity to experiment with the music early in the editing phase, and in some instances to cut the scene to the music. This is not something you can easily do in the normal sequence of events »

On the Music in « 2001 »

2001 is famous for using Strauss’ pieces. First, as soon as in the opening. one from Richard Strauss: ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ and  from Johann Strauss: ‘On the Beautiful Blue Danube’ Waltz, during the long lunar space station traveling scenes. It’s amusing to note that against all expectations THEY are not the same Strauss and that they are not even related…
The last scene (musically) echoing the first scene. After more than one minute of almost total silence, the Strauss’ tune restart echoing the first Apes’ scene.
In addition to the very solemn and pompous character of the music, the title has been smartly chosen to match the enlightment of first apes, discovering tools, about to speak (a couple of millenium later) and why not to philosophy…

2001 ending echoing the 1st scene. Strauss’ music is even more emphasized at the end because the scene remains almost silent during more than one minute.

As Professor Stephen Deutsch put it in « The Soundtrack: Putting Music in its Place »:
« The opening music, was composed as an encomium to Friedrich Nietzsche. In his eponym work  Nietzsche  said: What is ape to man? A laughing stock, an object of shame and pity. Thus is man to Superman.
Evolution is emphesized by the occurence of music at strategic moment in the film; especially when apes became men, men evolve into the the Nietzschean « superman », the embryo like flying above above us »

On the Music in « The SHINING »

The music in « The Shining » and more generally, a very oppressive sound score play an important part in the stress conveyed by the film (Quoted by no less than Martin Scorcese, one of the most frightening horror film ever »…
Stanley Kubrick was Interviewed by the French critic Michel Clement, and concerning specifically the Music, they had the following exchange:

« What type of music did you use? »

« The title music was based on the Dies Irae theme which has been used by many composers since the Middle Ages. It was re-orchestrated for synthesizer and voices by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, who did most of the synthesizer music for A Clockwork Orange. Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was used for several other scenes. One composition by Ligeti was used. But most of the music in the film came from the Polish composer Krystof Penderecki. One work titled Jakob’s Dream was used in the scene when Jack wakes up from his nightmare, a strange coincidence. Actually there were a number of other coincidences, particularly with names. The character that Jack Nicholson plays is called Jack in the novel. His son is called Danny in the novel and is played by Danny Lloyd. The ghost bartender in the book is called Lloyd. »

The Opening scene

The Music composed by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind-Tour loosely inspired by medieval and Gregorian songs

Some ‘more’ Original versions of this theme can be found either here  or (a closer one)  here

Stanley Kubrick was especially found of already popular existing music even if adapted to his purpose. As professor Deutch put it (ibid): « Another type of cognitive device available to film is the use of music referentially to infer concepts and issues outside the film’s diegesis. The predominant way this such reference achieved is through the use of music previously composed for another purpose: concert music, popular songs, scores for other films being the most common sources. Stanley Kubrick was most knowing and skilled at using music in this way. The opening electro-acoustic trombone which accompanies the yellow Volkswagen on its way to the lonely Colorado hotel in The Shining (1980), plays the Gregorian plainchant Dies Irae.

A loose translation of the text, quoted below, foreshadows the final drama:

« Day of wrath day of terror !
Heaven and earth to ash consumed,
David’s word and Sibyl’s truth foredoomed!

On the Music in « BARRY LYNDON »

Kubrick’s penchant for classical music is undisputable, and the film score uses pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach (Concerto for violin and oboe), Antonio Vivaldi (Cello Concerto, Cello Sonata in E Minor), Paisiello, Mozart, and Schuber. The piece present in every mind and deeply associated with the film, is the main title music: Handel’s Sarabande. Originally written for harpsichord only, the releases for the main and end titles have been added orchestral strings plus timpanis. It is used at many occasions throughout the film to emphesize the power of fate.

Again Kubrick was more confident in ancient composers…as he explains below in an Interview with Michel Clement:

« Exclude a pop music score from what I am about to say. However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time? When you’re editing a film, it’s very helpful to be able to try out different pieces of music to see how they work with the scene. This is not at all an uncommon practice. Well, with a little more care and thought, these temporary music tracks can become the final score. »
I decided on Schubert’s Trio while we were editing. Initially, I thought it was right to use only eighteenth-century music. But sometimes you can make ground-rules for yourself which prove unnecessary and counter-productive. I think I must have listened to every LP you can buy of eighteenth-century music. One of the problems which soon became apparent is that there are no tragic love-themes in eighteenth-century music. So eventually I decided to use Schubert’s Trio in E Flat, Opus 100, written in 1828. It’s a magnificent piece of music and it has just the right restrained balance between the tragic and the romantic without getting into the headier stuff of later Romanticism.

Barry Lyndon’s Opening scene

The unforgettable George Friderich Haendel’s Sarabande from the Suite in D minor as a backdrop of the opening scene

And the much less moving original composition discarded by Kubrick


Barry Lyndon’s final scene:

The final moments of the film are underscored by the insistently piano trio.
This scene is quite the quintessence of Kubrick’s Art concerning our Thesis. This scene is ‘limited’ (but in such a remarkably aesthetic way) to sounds, backdrop and lights. Not a single word is uttered leaving the music filling the space and the spectator’s brain… As Kubrick once stated:  » the most memorable scenes in the best films are those which are built predominantly of images and music. « 

Trio de Schubert

On the Music in « a Clockwork Orange »

In a Clockwork Orange, Music is both the punishment and the redemption of Alex. It is used to underscore his best moments (that is to say the worst moments for his victims) and also as a Shock treatment. Along with Beethoven and Rossini classics, a lot of composition from Carlos have been used. What is particularly noticeable in the film is the quasi constant use of the music both in a diegetic or a non diegetic background, but also one of the most striking shift between the images we actually witness (mainly scenes of rather extreme violence) and the beauty / lightness of the music.
Which in my opinion makes  ‘American Psycho’ a pale copy of the process.

Kubrick confesses that especially for A Clockwork Orange, the use of existing music instead of having it specifically composed for the film had practical reasons, especially in the timing of events during the film making.He could make test earlier, incorporate the material earlier in the editing process as well.

It has to be noticed that in his previous film, he quite inelegantly got rid of the contemporary composer North’s (to whom a special command had yet been asked) to finally use another composer’s existing work (2)

(2) Ligetti, who by the way, was never credited…

Stanley Kubrick, though constantly renewing his work, in trying new genres from one film to another. Though he was sometimes (often?)  shooting dreamlike (if not abstruse) scenes, succeeded in obtaining popular favor. Far from being elitist his films are now universally praised. His mastery of the Art of Cinema has made his images and sound a part of our artistic heritage.


References and sources

Shining’s soundtrack

      • Music for strings, percussion and Celesta (Movement III) Music by Béla Bartók
      • Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) inspired by Berlioz 
      • Rocky Mountains Written and Performed by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind
      • Lontano Written by György Ligeti
      • The Awakening of Jakob (uncredited) Written by Krzysztof Penderecki
      • Utrenja – Ewangelia (uncredited) Music by Krzysztof Penderecki
      • Utrenja – Kanon Paschy Music by Krzysztof Penderecki
      • de Natura Sonoris No.1 and no 2 Music by Krzysztof Penderecki
      • Polymorphia Music by Krzysztof Penderecki
      • Masquerade Music by John Jacob Loeb
      • Midnight, the Stars and You   Written by Jimmy Campbell, Reginald Connelly, Harry M. Woods
      • It’s All Forgotten Now Written by Ray Noble
      • Home (When Shadows Fall)   Written by Peter Van Steeden, Geoffrey Clarkson and Harry Clarkson
      • Kanon for 52 string orchestra and tape Music by Krzysztof Penderecki

Barry Lyndon’s Soundtrack

  • PIANO TRIO IN E-FLAT, OP 100 (second movement)  Composed by Franz Schubert
  • GERMAN DANCE No.1 IN C-MAJOR Composed by Franz Schubert
  • CELLO CONCERTO IN E-MINOR (3rd. movement) Composed by Antonio Vivaldi
  • CONCERTO FOR 2 HARPSICHORDS AND ORCHESTRA IN C-MINOR (adagio) Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach
  • THE BARBER OF SEVILLE (cavatina) Composed by Giovanni Paisiello
  • IDOMENEO (march) Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • HOHENFRIEDBERGER MARCH Composed by Frederick The Great
  • TIN WHISTLES Composed by Sean O’Riada
  • WOMEN OF IRELAND Composed by Sean O’Riada
  • PIPER’S MAGGOT JIG Traditional
  • THE SEA MAIDEN Traditional
  • BRITISH GRENADIERS (fife and drum) Traditional
  • LILLIBURLERO (fife and drums) Traditional
  • Sarabande Written by George Frideric Handel (as Georg Friedrich Händel)
    From the Suite for Harpsichord No. 4 in d minor, HWV 437 – Arranged for orchestra

Clockwork Orange’s soundtrack

  • Symphony No.9 in D Minor, Opus 125 Written by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • The Thieving Magpie (Overture) by Gioachino Rossini
  • Molly Malone (1883) aka « Cockles and Mussels »
  • William Tell (Overture) by Gioachino Rossini
  • I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper composed and performed by Erika Eigen
  • Singin’ In the Rain by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown
  • March from ‘Funeral Music for Queen Mary’ (uncredited) Written by Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
  • Pomp and Circumstance Marches No.1 and 4 by Edward Elgar
  • Orange Minuet Composed by Wendy Carlos
  • The Sea And Sinbad’s Ship From « Scheherazade » (Bible Fantasy Scene)
  • Biblical Daydreams composed by Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind
  • Timesteps Composed by Wendy Carlos (as Walter Carlos)
  • Country Lane Composed by Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind

2001’s Soundtrack

  • Gayaneh Ballet Suite (1941-2) Music by Aram Khachaturyan
  • Atmospheres (1961) Music by György Ligeti
  • Lux Aeterna (1966) Music by György Ligeti
  • Requiem (1963) (« Requiem, for Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, 2 Mixed Choirs & Orchestra »)
    Music by György Ligeti
  • The Blue Danube (1866) Music by Johann Strauß (as Johann Strauss)
  • Also Sprach Zarathustra Music by Richard Strauss
  • Adventures (1962) (uncredited) Music by György Ligeti
  • Happy Birthday to You (1893) (uncredited)
  • Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built for Two) (1893) (uncredited)
  • Off Beats Mood by Sidney Torch

Une réflexion au sujet de « Stanley Kubrick’s Images and Sounds: a POP legacy »

  1. Alain GRANCHER

    Un peu de nouvelles de métropole, parce que j’ai du mal à t’appeler sur SKYPE.
    Il me faudrait des dates de disponibilité et horaires ?

    Ton blog est sympa et bien fait.

    Je serai sur Marseille toute la semaine du 5 au 10 Octobre, je participe le 7 à une régate dans la baie autour des iles du Frioul, loge au Pullman Beach Hotel sur une expo

    A bientot,


Laisser un commentaire

Votre adresse de messagerie ne sera pas publiée. Les champs obligatoires sont indiqués avec *