A few years after his death, the widow of Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) asks Jon Ronson to look through the contents of about 1,000 boxes of meticulously sorted materials Kubrick left. Ronson finds that most contain materials reflecting work Kubrick did after the release of “Barry Lyndon ” in 1975, when Kubrick’s film output slowed down. Ronson finds audition tapes for “Full Metal Jacket,” photographs to find the right hat for “Clockwork Orange” or the right doorway for “Eyes Wide Shut” — thousands of details that went into Kubrick’s meticulous approach. Ronson believes that the boxes show “the rhythm of genius.” Interviews with family, staff, and friends are included. (source)
Some say that you can understand a lot about someone by what they choose to collect. For example, my partner chooses to collect different editions of James Bond books, and I choose to collect different types of coffee and tea. According to this short but sweet documentary, genius director Stanley Kubrick collected and meticulously documented the research for his later films, the scouting photographs, newspaper clippings of reviews and advertisements, notepads with a plethora of notes scribbled inside, brand new stationery, fan letters, and much more. Journalist Jon Ronson had a most rare and excellent opportunity to explore this huge collection, and the film that he has made of his discoveries and investigations is truly brilliant.
The visuals alone in this film are inspired, with stunning panning shots of the massive amount of boxes and items within, filing mechanisms, labels, and letters. The editing was one of my favourite things about Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes. There are sharp, snappy cuts that both allow the viewer to comprehend the sheer mass of stuff in the thousand-plus boxes, but also sufficiently take in the information, such as brief snippets of letters and the labels on certain boxes. There is just so much information to take in that it can at times seem overwhelming. How could someone even begin to approach an understanding of such a huge catalog of significant random items? Luckily, as a journalist by trade, Ronson is trained to ensure that the focus of our attention is relevant and interesting at all times.
One of my favourite scenes was where Ronson and Kubrick’s assistant are going through some old fan mail written to Kubrick, which was filed into separate categories – fan, negative, and crank. “Crank” referred to the more crazy, out there letters, which may have seemed a little bit weird to Kubrick at the time. Ronson takes the time to seek out one of the writers of a specific “crank” letter, to provide a backstory to why he wrote the letter, to reflect upon why he wrote it and whether it served any real purpose. I loved this scene because it doesn’t seem like something another director might do in the same circumstance. It takes guts to take the attention away from Kubrick and the boxes, but Ronson does so in order to further flesh out the story and give it further dimension.
Really, the one fault I can find in this film is that it’s too short. This is way too fascinating of a subject for the film to have just a 48-minute runtime. However, by the same token, the 48-minute runtime is genius as it reflects Jon Ronson’s keen skill in editing and making sure that the story stays on point for the totality of its duration. There is no fat to cut from this film. It does feel perfectly filled, and the story arc is soundly communicated, with interesting twists and turns. But I do wish there was more of it!
This short documentary is, above all, extremely interesting. Even if you’re not a fan of Kubrick’s groundbreaking works of cinema, then you may be interested in the exploration of one facet of a genius mind, where an obsessive method of collecting and cataloguing information clearly worked to his benefit. One may think that such a documentary has the potential to get a bit pedantic, and it does; for example, one scene where a type of specially designed cardboard box is described as “like the 2001: A Space Odyssey of boxes”. I loved Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, and if there was an opportunity to see an extended version of it, I would relish the opportunity to know more about Kubrick’s collected genius.
Watch the trailer here.