Noah's Beat Box

Watching Kubrick on My Phone

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #172. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Now this.


After what seemed like too many years of knowing about this podcast, having it sitting on my favorites list on my phone, and doing nothing, I finally started listening to Blank Check with Griffin and David, a movie podcast hosted by actor/film nerd Griffin Newman and film critic David Sims. The essential premise is that the two hosts (often alongside a guest) will watch a director’s entire oeuvre and spend far too long dissecting the movies. They have done, among many others, Sam Raimi, Nora Ephron, Hayao Miyazaki . . . the list goes on.

I knew I wanted to tune into this podcast one day because I really liked Griffin Newman as Arthur on Amazon’s version of The Tick and I thought it would be fun. My suspicions were confirmed as I quickly blasted my way through their seasons on Christopher Nolan and Sam Raimi. As I perused their list of directors, one name suddenly stuck out, as it often does in so many lists of directors: Mr. Stanley Kubrick. I thought, why not revisit some classics with the side commentary from my two parasocial buddies.

The one trick of the whole ordeal – I was going to watch them all on my phone.

Now, I also recognized when I started this endeavor, I was wading into a bit of a clusterfuck – Scorsese vs. Marvel and all that. In order to allay these fears, I’ll assure you all that at the start of the pandemic, I watched all of Marvel through Endgame on my phone too. All is fair in love and infinity war.

But I won’t get distracted by nonsense internet discourse. This is about Kubrick. To be fair, I have never seen a Kubrick movie in theaters, so this entire thing may be flawed from the get-go. But I do own the majority of his films on DVD and have seen a lot of them often, including The Shining, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket more times than I can count. When I began my “research,” I had seen nine out of thirteen of Kubrick’s films. I was missing Fear and Desire, Killer’s Kiss, Lolita, and Barry Lyndon, the last of which I thoroughly regret having slept on until now (although I will cop to enjoying Lolita).

A scene from Barry Lyndon shows the titular character conversing with several other bewigged men at a candlelit table.

The Kubrick I had watched, however, has always been on a living room TV with a DVD, or on cable, or on a computer monitor of some sort, downloaded very “legally.” In comparison with these methods, sitting in a dark room, with my familiar device in my hands (the one on which I am currently writing in fact), watching and rewatching Kubrick felt intimate. I was enveloped by 2001’s psychedelic last act; the war room from Strangelove never felt bigger; I’m not sure the yawning emptiness of the Overlook Hotel ever felt so despairing.

While the cinematography certainly felt more stunning than watching Kubrick on TV, the audio was incomparable. Having a solid set of headphones on for these films offered a glimpse into Kubrick’s sense of audio production I had never considered before. The clicking of Danny’s tricycle down the hallway, as he shifts from carpet to hardwood to carpet to hardwood, became hypnotic. It changed the whole dynamic of these sequences, taking me more into the growing insanity built by the movie. Likewise, in Eyes Wide Shut, the creepy score over the iconic cult ritual scene never struck me much before, but this time dominated my viewing, maybe because there’s no dialogue or even facial expressions, but also because it is a vitally unsettling component for the scene. Not to say too much, but I think, as someone at least a quarter deaf in one ear, audio via headphones is better than audio in nearly every other capacity. I am focused, mesmerized and confounded by Kubrick’s masterful work in the medium.

Now, I would be remiss to dismiss all of the criticism of watching a masterful auteur on my phone. Obviously, a true cinematic depiction of Barry Lyndon would have offered full-bodied cornucopia of luscious visuals. Who would I be to dispute that? I mean, the movie is a painting come to life. And aspects of plot can become dissembled when I get up for a bowl of ice cream at the drop of a hat, or the little man I live with decides to wake me up at a surprising hour, or, God forbid, I click over a screen and browse social stupid fucking media for half a second. That may sound flippant, but I caught myself doing just that so many times, it became an obvious distraction.

But of all the distractions I experienced watching Kubrick on my phone, none was worse than the ads. Fuckin capitalism, am I right? I mean, I didn’t have ads on all the films, but they really destroyed the tension in The Shining. Clearly someone had chosen the potentially right place to insert a break, but also, there is never a good place for a break in that film. It is crafted to build tension scene over scene and random ads for dating apps really killed that impending sense of dread.

Masked and robed onlookers observe a ritualistic ceremony in a scene from Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.

And to that point, I do feel like I lost the plot thread fairly often because of these various distractions. This wasn’t terrible in the movies I had seen often, but for some of the ones I had only seen once (or never) the distractions certainly made me lose various threads. I mean, even with an intermission, am I really not going to take another break during Spartacus’s 197-minute runtime? Barry Lyndon is surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly) watchable, but it straight up took me a week to get through it. What can I say, I’m in my late 30s and generally can’t start a movie before 9pm. I get sleepy.

Finally, (I promise I will wrap soon) I also get distracted by taking notes. Now, it’s possible I would take notes on a film in a theater, but if I were to, it wouldn’t be on the same interface on which I am watching the movie. I won’t go to the lengths of showing you my notes on Kubrick’s oeuvre, but I won’t deny having a lengthy Google Doc devoted to Kubrick. Having (or maybe getting) to pause the movie to take my notes was certainly valuable, as was being able to run the film back 10 minutes, if necessary, but it also was a clear distraction. I don’t really need to Google every side character actor that appears in The Killing, but I want to dammit. I swear I missed half of the details in Killer’s Kiss, and I am still unclear about why Nicole Kidman doesn’t give a shit at the end of Eyes Wide Shut. Whether that lack of clarity is due to me being distracted or a failure on Kubrick’s part I am unsure. Maybe I’ll have to try finding his filmography in the theaters to figure that one out.

I am truly jealous of Griffin and David who have the opportunity to watch these movies in theaters. NYC does seem like a cool place sometimes. Watching Kubrick on my phone couldn’t top watching its original run in theaters, or even reruns. Nevertheless, I truly felt as enraptured by the warm phone glow 12 inches from my face, and the deep sound offered by my sweet, sweet Sennheisers as I do in a theater. I caught nuances in films I had never caught the dozens I’ve seen dozens of times before. And obviously, theaters offer something a phone cannot, but watching Kubrick on my phone beats watching him on my TV any day.


Noah Springer is a writer and editor based in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @noahjspringer.


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