Thursday, 7 July 2011

"Structured formally as a kind of duplication of sexual intercourse"

In amongst the mounds of stuff at the - actually quite disappointing, all things considered - Kubrick exhibition at the Cinématheque Francaise, a letter from a fan. Shortly after the release of Dr Strangelove, Kubrick received an admiring letter from a Cornell art historian called LeGrace G. Benson, otherwise notable, it would seem, largely for an essay entitled 'The Washington Scene' about the evolution of the arts in D.C., for a 1969 issue of Art International.

Benson's letter, dated March 20th, 1964 compared Kubrick's film favourably to the then still fairly new Pop Art movement, "In both paintings and movie there is the competent use of a developed artistic vocabulary, and knowledge and undisguised use of commercial techniques and processes, the deliberate manipulation of those cliched images near and dear to the hearts of our countrymen, the apparent use of the ostensible subject matter concealing the actual meaning. It is interesting to see that the paintings and the movie have both been received by some critics as "attacks" on various aspects of "Columbia, Happy Land." Some of us see not an attack but a deliberately detached and sensitive description."

Benson goes on to quote Wittgenstein's, "What is done cannot be said" which he claims the film illustrates, and goes on to compliment the film for "having been structured formally as a kind of duplication of sexual intercourse, which is entirely appropriate to the iconological content."

Kubrick, evidently flattered, replied on April 6th, thanking his correspondent for such an astute and well-thought out analysis, "Seriously, you are the first one who seems to have noticed the sexual framework from intromission to the last splash." And he promptly invites Benson out for a drink, during his forthcoming trip to New York.

It is not, apparently, known - or at least not made clear in the exhibition - whether messers Kubrick and Benson did in fact meet that spring in New York. But we do know why Kubrick was going. Not for that year's World's Fair, at which Raymond Scott's 'Futurama' and 'Space Mystery' will provide the soundtrack for a General Motors-sponsored vision of the future of urbanism. It was in New York that summer, just across town from the World's Fair, that Kubrick met up with Arthur C. Clarke for the first discussions towards what would eventually become 2001: A Space Odyssey, but at that time was still being called "How The Solar System Was Won".