Bangor Academic Wins Major Award to Research Stanley Kubrick

The life and works of legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick are to come under scrutiny in a new research project at Bangor University’s School of Creative Studies and Media. Dr Nathan Abrams, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies, has won £76,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to research Stanley Kubrick’s work from a consideration of his Jewish heritage and intellectual background.

Stanley Kubrick’s work covered many genres and topics and many films broke new ground in cinematic style. His films have been popular with both the public and the critics, and are open to interpretation as to their messages and can be both analysed and enjoyed on a number of levels.

“Despite the volume of research on Kubrick – and Kubrick is possibly the most written about film director after Alfred Hitchcock – little of it is based on original research into his own archives, nor have his intellectual status and ethnicity been considered to any great extent,” said Dr Abrams.

Dr Abrams hopes to offer up a new angle with which to interpret Stanley Kubrick’s films.  He says:

“I hope to redress this by basing my research on extensive archival material. I will also be taking full consideration of the New York intellectual cultural community of which Kubrick was a member, and the impact of his Jewish cultural background on his work.”

Although Kubrick was not a practicing Jew and the Jewish references and viewpoint are not explicit or obvious in his films, Nathan Abrams argues that once you consider his films from the standpoint of his ethnicity, and his cultural milieu, then some resonant themes emerge. For example, Abrams interprets his contribution to the horror film genre, his 1980 film, The Shining, as dealing with the very Jewish theme of the sacrifice of the son by the father.  This is a new interpretation of a film that’s been much watched and discussed.

“Kubrick’s films never offer up anything easy or obvious,” says Abrams. “He made few statements about his films.  He spent a long time working on his films, he was an obsessive and paid great attention to detail. He was extremely cultured and cultivated and certainly had views that he wanted to share- but I suspect, looked for the least obvious ways of getting his messages over to the viewer, who he wanted to make work to understand his deeper messages.

“I cannot prove beyond doubt that Kubrick intended his films to be understood the way that I perceive them, and a visual medium such as film is always open to interpretation, but neither can I believe that a director who thought so deeply about his work would allow us to misinterpret his films”.

Abrams also hopes to argue that Kubrick’s films provide a lens through which we can view the major events of the 20th century: the two world wars, the Holocaust, McCarthyism and the Cold War, the arms and space race and the Vietnam War, as well as the development of US and European society from 1951-1999, and an opportunity to explore the key themes of science, technology, history, race, violence, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion and war and how these impact on questions of ethnicity and intellectual vocation.

Dr. Abrams said, “I am delighted to win this award. It will give me nine months to really delve into this enigmatic and frustratingly elliptical filmmaker’s work. As the AHRC Fellowship award is extremely competitive, it really showcases the Film and Jewish Studies research that we’re doing here at Bangor.”

Publication date: 17 January 2012