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Kubrick and Co.: A LACMA Series Pairs the Filmmaker's Works With Others Like Them

Mr. Freedom
Mr. Freedom

As its monumental Stanley Kubrick exhibition draws to a close June 30 — catch it while you still can — the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will screen Kubrick films a final time, paired with movies by filmmakers Kubrick admired or with whom he shared affinities, curated by the museum's Bernardo Rondeau.

In an age of increasing digitalization, it's likely one of the last times Kubrick's most painterly and beautiful film, Barry Lyndon (1975), will be shown in its original 35mm format. Offering classics by Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, Max Ophuls and Samuel Fuller, the series also is notable for three rarely screened, savage satires. It's further proof that the reclusive Kubrick — rather than being an island unto himself — was a talent with kindred spirits.

Here are a few of the more intriguing pairings:

Teenage Taboos (June 1)

Lord Love a Duck (1966) is a gleeful evisceration of beach movies and other SoCal absurdities, but like Kubrick's Lolita, its underlying sense of tragedy makes its cuts bleed. Tuesday Weld shines as Barbara Ann, a high school beauty charmed by a mysterious valedictorian (an asexual Roddy McDowall) who makes her fantasies of love and fame come true while ensuring the unhappiness of everyone around her, particularly her age-denying, libertine mother (Lola Albright) and Beverly Hills groom-to-be (Martin West).

The film's writer-director, George Axelrod (who previously scripted satires such as The Seven Year Itch), emphasizes the sexual tensions between the adult and teen worlds, riffing on everything from lecherous school principals to exploitative movie producers. The film's funniest scene is also one of its most disturbing: On a spending spree, Barbara manipulates her estranged father into buying her a pile of cashmere sweaters ("Grape Yum Yum!" "Periwinkle Pussycat!" she squeals), seducing him in a rising fit of unbridled desire.

Political Idiocy (June 7)

Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove may be a beloved send-up of American military aggression, but it doesn't hold a candle to the creative flamboyance and surrealist bite of William Klein's sensational Mr. Freedom (1969). Like Kubrick, Klein was a noted New York street photographer and American expat, and his film abounds with Kubrickian echoes, including uncanny wide-angle lenses, modern decor and vivid colors (mostly reds, whites and blues).

Mr. Freedom (played by the towering actor John Abbey) is an American vigilante, dressed like a proto-RoboCop, who blusters his way through France, executes people at random and assembles gladiatorial fighters to protect the country from Swiss communists and other supervillains, including Red China Man, who resembles a huge, inflatable wind sock. Freedom's superior, played deliciously by Donald Pleasence, concedes that France may be "50 million mixed-up, sniveling crybabies who haven't stood up on their own two feet since Napoleon," but the country still needs their help.

Spouting democratic truisms, asking who's with him and who's against him, and denouncing "anti-freedomism," Mr. Freedom's dialogue might be said to presage the career of George W. Bush, but that would sadly underestimate the continued currency of such rhetoric in today's cultural climate and misunderstand why Klein's no-holds-barred satire remains as timely as ever.

Futuristic Dystopia (June 14)

British director Peter Watkins, the grandmaster of pseudo-documentaries, made his one and only Hollywood film, Privilege, in 1967. Like A Clockwork Orange, made a few years later, the film posits a totalitarian near-future in which the government creates a celebrity (in this case, pop singer Steven Shorter, played by Manfred Mann's Paul Jones) as an icon for public sentiment. Watkins utilizes documentary techniques (handheld shots, academic narration, candid interviews) to depict his protagonist's public and not-so-private life, and the assortment of handlers, managers and bankers who surround him.

By turns detached and engrossing, Privilege is an unusual and potent film that resembles a documentary from the future giving implicit warnings about cultural conformity, including a spot-on lampoon of Contemporary Christian Music a decade before its commercial explosion, and a nightmare vision of an evangelical makeover of government affairs. Shorter is the star of staged political rallies that are equal parts revival meeting and Triumph of the Will.

Married With Sex Fantasies (June 29)

The series' final double feature is one of its most compelling pairings — Kubrick's mesmerizing Eyes Wide Shut with Luis Buñuel's Belle de Jour (1967) — underscoring their shared surrealist construction, narrative thrust and moral concerns. Both films center on a comfortable but passionless marriage between a doctor and his wife, the unexpected attraction of the sexual underworld, and the emotional effects of the dalliance. The movies feel like a mixture of dreams and reality, even sharing clandestine rituals at ominous mansions.

Yet Buñuel's film was immediately hailed as a masterpiece (winning the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival) while Kubrick's — like many of his pictures — initially received mixed reviews and a lukewarm public. His stars, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, were Hollywood's most famous couple, and preconceptions were easily frustrated.

LACMA's exhibit has helped break down Kubrick's aura of mystery, and in the process clarified his methods and legacy. In similar fashion, this new film series compels and inspires audiences to reassess his work within the wider sweep of film history.

KUBRICK AND CO. | LACMA | May 31-June 29 | lacma.org

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