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Kubrick’s mentor

March 30, 2010

Everyone has some kind of mentor — acknowledged or not. A person we look up to, admire, or from whom we copy ideas. Even masters have mentors. Braque had his Cezanne, Montana had his Dan Devine, Cheney has his Lucifer.

For Stanley Kubrick it was Max Ophuls. Kubrick named Ophuls as one of his major influences. At one point early in his career he reportedly called Ophul’s Le Plaisir his favorite film.

Born in Germany, Ophuls directed several films in Germany. But as a Jew, Ophuls saw the danger of Hitler and wisely left Germany after the Nazis took power. Ophuls directed films in Italy, the Netherlands  and France before he had to once again flee when the Germans conquered France in 1940. He landed in Hollywood, but it took him seven years before directed an American feature. Only four movies later, Ophuls was back in France, where he made four more films and then died at age 57 in 1954.

Ophuls was famous both for his luxurious mise en scene and for his tracking and boom shots. James Mason, who was directed by Ophuls in two American films in the late 40’s, wrote a little poem about Ophuls love of elaborate camera work.

A shot that does not call for tracks
Is agony for poor old Max,
Who, separated from his dolly,
Is wrapped in deepest melancholy.
Once, when they took away his crane,
I thought he’d never smile again.
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