Owning Kubrick: The Criterion Collection and the Ghost in the Auteur Machine
AbstractFew directors have had their work as incessantly packaged and repackaged on home video as Stanley Kubrick, whose oeuvre seems to get a new box set re-release every few. Critical analyses of the DVD format have overwhelmingly argued that film’s remediation onto home video has a profound impact on acts of spectatorship and interpretation, not least because of added paratextual content like commentaries, making-of docs, etc. As Brookey and Westerfelhaus establish, such paratexts don’t merely encourage preferred readings but can also discourage others. Extending this line of thinking, Grant has argued that DVDs function as “auteur machines” (borrowing the term from Klinger) insofar as they emphasize directorial intentionality as the central aspect of the DVD’s commodity, connoisseur, and cinephilic value. Even with physical media sales on the wane in favour of streaming services, cinephiles and collectors continue to prioritize ownership and quality over bang-for-buck, as they have since the era of laserdiscs. In this context, it makes sense that The Criterion Collection – a company that has always courted a collector- and cinephile-centric market with their curated selection, high quality presentations, and academic supplemental features – would continue to thrive. Almost half of Kubrick’s features have received “the Criterion treatment” (either on laserdisc or DVD/Blu-ray), buttressing these films’ canonical status. This article analyses the discursive choices made in two of Criterion’s Kubrick discs (Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove) in order to determine how Kubrick’s authorship is framed paratextually. While DVDs typically fuel the “auteur machine” in ways consistent with Hollywood’s interest in commodifying and branding key filmmakers, Criterion positions Kubrick as a more ambivalent and historically-specific figure in terms of authorship. Rather than eliminating contradictions and ambiguities in service of constructing or reinforcing Kubrick’s status as auteur, Criterion emphasizes moments of uncertainty and interpretive difficulty, encourageing viewers to think for themselves instead of deferring to the authority of the author.
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