What, when & where
The Central European imaginary in the films of Stanley Kubrick
edited by Nathan Abrams and Jeremi Szaniawski
Stanley Kubrick was arguably the most important American director of the post WWII era. He was born to a secular Jewish family and was never bar mitzva’d. However, his Jewish heritage is of great importance to the understanding of his oeuvre, and his was specifically a Central European Jewish background. As Kubrick told Michel Ciment, his parents had Romanian, Polish, and Austro-Hungarian backgrounds. Accordingly, while Jewishness runs throughout Kubrick’s oeuvre—albeit on a subsurface level—so does a Central European sensibility occupy a strong position in it. Kubrick married a German woman, Christiane, adopted her daughter, and Christiane’s brother Jan was his executive producer for over twenty years.
Like most American intellectuals of his time, Kubrick was exposed to the writings of Sigmund Freud, Stefan Zweig, Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Hermann Hesse. The director was a keen admirer of Max Ophüls, whose adaptations of Arthur Schnitzler he adored. Fittingly, Kubrick ended his life and career by adapting Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle.
Kubrick’s work with Hungarian and Polish composers Bela Bartok, György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki, made their challenging work, informed by war and the Holocaust (in the case of Ligeti and Penderecki), world famous. They infuse his films with a sense of dread and the sublime that are outright unlike anything the Western musical or cinematic canon was able to summon.
Kubrick even brought touches of Mitteleuropa to outer space: the Viennese waltzes of Johann Strauss, Jr. and the vibrant harmonies of Richard Strauss are forever and indelibly linked with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Franz Liszt’s ‘Grey Clouds’ hover, beautiful and ominous, over the morgue scene of Eyes Wide Shut. The music of Franz Schubert is forever associated with the most moving scenes of Barry Lyndon. Stretching the borders of Mitteleuropa ever so slightly, Kubrick also used the music of Haendel for the film’s main title (the ‘sarabande’ in its re-orchestrations courtesy of Leonard Rosenman), adored Prokofiev’s score to Alexander Nevsky, and used the music of Beethoven and Shostakovich in equally unforgettable ways for A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut.
The look of Kubrick’s films, particularly Eyes Wide Shut, was influenced by the art of Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and other central European artists.
While Kubrick never set his films in Central Europe (although his Napoleon and Wartime Lies unrealized projects would have been located there), the area looms large in his oeuvre, and parts of Barry Lyndon and Paths of Glory were shot in Germany.
This collection seeks to elicit the ‘Mitteleuropa’ sensitivity in Kubrick, but also invites commentary from scholars about the reception and understanding of Kubrick in countries such as Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Romania.
It will be our role also to determine differences between Mitteleuropa and Eastern European Jewishness and treatments of Jewish people (i.e. the way Jews were treated in Prussia, in Austro-Hungary, and in the Russian Empire), the presence of Mitteleuropa (delis, shops, music, theater, etc.) in New York during Kubrick’s childhood, i.e. the presence of German and Polish alongside Central and Eastern European Jewish émigrés at the time.
Deadline & how to apply
Please send your abstract (no more than 400 words) and short bio by October 31st, 2019, to both firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Submissions in German, Polish, Russian, Czech or Hungarian – to be translated into English – will also be considered. However, we ask that the initial abstract be sent in English.