Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" // New Linc

How Stanley Kubrick amplifies the impact of close-ups

Kubrick's use of close-ups reveals a filmmaker who has mastered restraint.

Filmmaker spotlight:
Stanley Kubrick
Video essay by:
The Discarded Image
Julian Palmer

Stanley Kubrick‘s close-ups are a filmmaking masterclass unto themselves. Look through them with keen eyes and you’ll uncover a master puppeteer astutely pulling the strings.

In this video from The Discarded Image, Kubrick’s masterful use of close-ups is explored; how each is placed scrupulously, held with a powerful grip, and ultimately, enlisted to amplify a scene’s impact.

You can watch the full essay below.

As narrator Julian Palmer puts it: “Kubrick made films for the big screen and understood how powerful the close-up can be when it towers above you. And as a great tactician, he knew this power would be magnified when deployed with patience and restraint.”

He’s not wrong. The scene from 1956’s The Killing, for instance, shows how Kubrick likes to work: precise, in fact almost clinical, and therefore always succinct.

Here’s a few TL;DW points:

  • Close-ups, as is the same with other tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal, can be used to frame the audience within the same mindset of a character.
  • In order to magnify a close-up’s impact, filmmakers should learn when not to use it.
  • The now-immortal “Kubrick stare” is borne out of Kubrick’s masterful use of close-ups.
  • Close-ups pair well when used to juxtapose imagery. The essay points to the jumpcut from a bone to a gigantic spacecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Subscribe to the fine folks at The Discarded Image.