KUBRICK’S MITTELEUROPA: The Central European imaginary in the films of Stanley Kubrick 

Nathan Abrams's picture
Type: 
Call for Papers
Date: 
October 31, 2019
Subject Fields: 
Film and Film History, German History / Studies, Jewish History / Studies, Modern European History / Studies

KUBRICK’S MITTELEUROPA 

 
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.  

 Possible topics might include any of the following, but feel free to send us your own suggestions: 

_ approaches to the reception of Kubrick's films in the Eastern bloc and in the post-communist era 

_ the influence of Kubrick's films on contemporary Central and Eastern European artists 

_ relevant traits of Mitteleuropa culture running through Kubrick's oeuvre 

_ Kubrick and Viennese culture 

_Kubrick and the Hapsburgs 

_ Kubrick and Jügendstil   

_ the influence of Max Ophüls 

_ Kubrick and György Ligeti; and Krzysztof Penderecki; Bela Bartok, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt, but also Dmitri Shostakovich 

_ Kubrick and silent/Expressionist cinema 

_ Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, and other German writers in Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' 

_Schnitzler and/or Zweig in Kubrick 

_ Schulz and/or Kafka in Kubrick 

_ Critical reception of Kubrick's films in the two Germanies; in Communist Poland; in Communist Czechoslovakia... 

_ Kubrick and the Danube: from the Viennese waltz to enmeshed traits of Romanian and Jewish irony 

_ Polish posters of Kubrick's films 

_Kubrick in Central European translation 

_Kubrick and Polanski 

_Kubrick and mitteleuropean Jewishness 

_Kubrick and the fin-de-siècle 

_Kubrick and Viennese history, Peter Gay, Carl E. Schorske. 

 

About the editors: 
Nathan Abrams is Professor in Film at Bangor University in Wales, UK. He is the author of, most recently, Stanley Kubrick: New York Jewish Intellectual (Rutgers UP, 2018), Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film (with Robert Kolker; Oxford UP, 2019), and The Bloomsbury Companion to Stanley Kubrick (Bloomsbury, forthcoming). 

Jeremi Szaniawski is Amesbury Professor of Polish Language, Film, Literature and Culture at UMass Amherst. He has published extensively on Eastern European cinema and is the editor of After Kubrick: a Filmmaker’s Legacy (Bloomsbury, 2020). 
 
Please send your abstract (no more than 400 words) and short bio by October 31st, 2019, to both n.abrams@bangor.ac.uk and jszaniawski@umass.edu.  

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. 
 
Direct and general queries to Jeremi Szaniawski at jszaniawski@umass.edu