“Stanley Kubrick’s Shit Happens” – Review by Joseph P. O’Brien


Only in FLAPPERHOUSE could you read a review of Stanley Kubrick’s least-famous Lost Film, “Stanley Kubrick’s Shit Happens.” Hey look up there: Stanley Kubrick took selfies.

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IT’S EASY TO FORGET THAT STANLEY KUBRICK, the pensive, punctilious director of 2001 and The Shining, was also the cheeky, impish ringmaster behind wickedly funny films like Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket.  Read any critique of Kubrick’s work– even a favorable one– and chances are you’ll find words like “clinical” and “icy-balls.”

Perhaps that’s because so few have ever seen (or even heard of) this esteemed filmmaker’s least-famous Lost Film.

SHITHAPPENSLegend has it that after wrapping up The Shining in 1980, Kubrick was, as you might expect, hungry for a more jocular project.  One night he rents a stack of videotapes, comedy movies he’s been meaning to watch for a personal film festival. About 20 minutes into the first film there’s a loud, plasticky smash. Kubrick’s daughter hears it from all the way up in her bedroom, and she runs to her father’s screening room to see what’s the matter. “I’m fine,” he tells her, standing over shards of shattered videocassette. “Just  disposing of some dreadfully boring cinema. Don’t be alarmed if you hear it again later.”

Sure enough, Kubrick’s daughter hears the smash of VHS-versus-wall roughly every 20 minutes for the next couple hours. Until she hears laughter. Ecstatic, soul-saving laughter, like she’s never heard her father laugh before.

He’s watching  Airplane!

The following day, Kubrick enlists his Dr. Strangelove collaborator Terry Southern to write comic sketches for their own feature-length spoof.  And a mere three years later– “mere” in Kubrick Time– they’ve got a 165-minute motion picture which, much to Warner Brothers’ chagrin, they insist on titling Stanley Kubrick’s Shit Happens.

It’s an apt title for a film with such brazen attitude, Dada style, and giddy affection for Murphy’s Law.  One of the film’s best segments is actually titled “Murphy’s Law,” where an Air Force pilot tests g-forces by repeatedly strapping himself to a rocket-powered sled.  Each test is shot in Kubrick’s beloved long, wide takes, and concludes with a calamitous but non-fatal crash.  Sometimes you can’t imagine how the stuntman walked away in one piece, and sometimes it’s blatantly obvious they’re using a dummy.  But it’s always a riotous display of brutal, exquisitely choreographed slapstick, a missing link between Wile E. Coyote and Johnny Knoxville.

Another highlight is “The Librarian Of Babel,” a spoof of Borges’ “Library Of Babel” that imagines what hilarious hell one might endure while working in an infinite house of gibberish.  Steve Martin acts brilliantly against himself, playing both an irritable, intellectual librarian and an indecisive, idiot patron (“Got any books with more W’s in them?  I really like W’s!“).  Any viewer with customer service experience would have to laugh to keep from crying– especially when the librarian snaps and throws himself down one of the library’s endless spiral staircases.

Occasionally, the film’s lust for absurdity gets a little skeevy.  The most egregious example is “Cut Cut Cut,” which starts like a porno flick, only to be interrupted a sliver away from coitus.  The fussy director (Dom DeLuise) yells cut, berates his starlet (a then-unknown Nina Hartley) for her “atrociously false” acting, and makes her do take after take for nearly 20 minutes, with no resolution or punchline.  The scene initially amuses on a cerebral level, since it’s obviously Kubrick’s self-deprecating jab at his own notorious actor-directing techniques.  Yet the laughs fade by take four, and by take ten, the whole thing’s simply maddening.

Pity how so many may never experience Stanley Kubrick’s Shit Happens even once, as it remains locked away, available only to Hollywood’s most elite Illuminati.  (If I told you how I finagled my screening, Steven Soderbergh will assassinate me. Personally. I hear he uses spiral-notebook wire.)  Even the film’s most unpleasantly baffling moments contribute to what is overall a fascinating, utterly Kubrickian entity that vaporizes boundaries of spoof comedy the way 2001 did to sci-fi.

Unfortunately, Kubrick’s final word on Shit— that it’s not good enough to release– is what his family has sworn to uphold.  “I’ve watched this thing 23 times now,” Kubrick wrote Terry Southern in 1984, “and I just don’t know if it’s funny anymore.  And as Ambrose Bierce said, ‘When you doubt, abstain.'”

Voltaire, another famous satirist, once said that “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Fitting, then, that when Kubrick plunged into absurdity’s frisky abyss, he emerged less certain than ever before.

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1512822_10201712276501813_1169698832_nJOSEPH P. O’BRIEN is a contributing editor at FLAPPERHOUSE. He once watched Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining on repeat for like half a day, which might’ve done something weird to him.

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