Altered States, Altered Spaces: Architecture, Space and Landscape in the Film and Television of Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell


  • Matthew Melia Kingston University



Altered States, Stanley Kubrick, Ken Russell, architecture, space


Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell, at first, seem like unlikely bedfellows for a critical comparative discussion, the Baroque, excessive and romantic nature of Russell’s screen standing in apparent contrast to the structure, order, organisation, brutalism and spatial complexity of Kubrick’s. Drawing on a range of archived material, I will suggest less that Kubrick borrowed from Russell (as Russell biographer Paul Sutton does) than that their work shares a set of key spatial, architectural, iconographic and visually linguistic concerns. Russell and Kubrick are two key directors – auteurs –of the post-war and counter-cultural era who share a distinct, unique and idiosyncratic style which has previously gone largely unrecognised. As well as highlighting a shared set of imagery and iconography, I will present their oeuvres as an extended cinematic conversation which lasted from the late 1950s. I will, for example, draw a close analysis of both Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Russell’s Altered States (1980), two films which enter into debate over the polysemic nature of space, offering similar images of spatial expansion and (Beckettian) corporeal restriction. The essay will consider the shared use of vertical and horizontal spatial screen organisation, suggesting how both directors create screens which are self-contained canvases whose contours form a contested space. Here the essay will make critical comment (with recourse to archived imagery) and observe the shared use of Brutalist architecture and set design in Russell’s The Devils (1971) and Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1972). There has been little to no critical attention paid to Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell as contemporary auteurs with shared spatial concerns apposite to the cultural climate of the era, I will suggest that they are bound by a concern for presenting ‘Altered’ spaces, landscapes and states and in this respect find common ground in the work of the British film-making partnership of Powell and Pressburger. This essay draws on a range of key archived material at the University of the Arts, the BBC and the BFI




How to Cite

Melia, M. (2017). Altered States, Altered Spaces: Architecture, Space and Landscape in the Film and Television of Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell. Cinergie – Il Cinema E Le Altre Arti, 6(12), 139–152.