A BRIEF PRIMER ON STANLEY KUBRICK'S COUNTING OF SHOTS IN HIS FILMS
Go to Table of Contents of the analysis (which has also a statement on purpose and manner of analysis and a disclaimer as to caveat emptor and my knowing anything authoritatively, which I do not, but I do try to not know earnestly, with some discretion, and considerable thought).
Kubrick, in his films, does count shots and sometimes manipulates shot counts as if to comment on the action. This isn't conspiracy theory analysis on my part--instead the realization comes of exacting cross-analysis of the films in Kubrick's oeuvre. When I started researching Kubrick's films many years ago, the counting shots was not something I anticipated, and only happened upon. It wasn't something I was seeking out and is not my primary concern in analysis of his films. The viewer is, of course, unaware of Kubrick's supplying subtext with is counting shots, and I can only hazard that he did so according to his own ideas of supplying/imposing an additional component of creative structure. I don't want to give an overwhelming number of examples that concretely show he did count shots, so I provide below a choice few, including one that comments as well on his use of CRM-114.
One of the best examples that an uninitiated viewer might accept is had at the end of Killer's Kiss, Kubrick's second feature, Fear and Desire being his first. In shots 488 and 489, Davey is at Penn Station waiting for Gloria, who had promised to go with him to Washington state. We hear a voiceover of a station announcer say, "...494, 493, 492. 491 and 490. The Pathfinder for Chicago and Seattle, leaving..." This voiceover cuts off at the end of shot 489, for shot 490 is outside the station, showing Gloria, the girlfriend, arriving by taxi, just when it seemed that Davey had given up hope of seeing her again. The final shot of the film is shot 494. This is not coincidental. Not happenstance. Shots 490 through 494 have been announced by the station announcer voiceover that ends in shot 489, and with 494 being the highest number given, 494 is thus anticipated as the final shot of the film. Kubrick designed the ending shots so they interacted with this voiceover, but the audience would never know it, this added nothing to their viewing experience.
Why is 494 the end shot of the film? Kubrick supplies subtext to how he often plots his films so that at the end they recycle around to the beginning. We see this in the opening and closing shots of Fear and Desire being the same, and Kubrick's beginning and ending Lolita with Quilty's mansion. Also, Killer's Kiss begins with Penn Station and ends with Penn Station. What we see in 494 is a cycle. The number revolves on itself. Forwards and backwards it reads the same. Kubrick employees this many times elsewhere, and with particular emphasis in 2001 so that we even have subtext commentary on the monolith. Shot 55 is when we first view the labyrinth and shot 595 is when we have our dramatic end zoom-in on the labyrinth so that it wholly consumes the screen. This symmetry should stand out to those who are interested in the visual symmetry in Kubrick's films. He sometimes supplied the same via counting shots. For a greater elaboration on this in 2001 see Examining Kubrick's Single Horizontal Flip of a Front Screen Projection Landscape in the Dawn of Man Section in 2001 and the Meaning of That Flip in Relation to the Final View of the Monolith in the Film.
Another example of that internal numbering structure is observed in 2001 and relates to Lolita and The Shining. The first part of the 2001 is 360 shots. Which gives us a full circle. The second part of the film is 237 shots, the number of the famous hotel room in The Shining, and it is also the number of a very important shot in Lolita, the action of which connects with the waterlogged corpse in room 237 of the Overlook. It is during shot 237, in Lolita, that Charlotte, having learned of Humbert's obsession for Lolita, flees the house while he is mixing drinks for them in the kitchen, is hit by a car in the pouring rain, and dies. Charlotte's actions are all off-screen and transpire in an impossibly short period of time. Humbert learns what has happened via a phone call at the end of shot 237, about 64 seconds having elapsed since he entered the kitchen. From 1:04:01 to 1:05:05 he's mixing drinks while Charlotte has put on her shoes and coat and fled out the house, run down the street, has been hit by a car, the police and ambulance have arrived, and someone calls Humbert to let him know he is widowed. No wonder Humbert is incredulous when he answers the phone and is told she is lying in the street.
The earliest example of Kubrick numbering shots is in his very first film short, Day of the Fight and has to do with the number 64, the number of squares on a chess board, and Kubrick was an avid chess player. There were two productions of Day of the Fight, the original Kubrick one and then the Bonafield production one. Excepting the 4 title card shots in the Kubrick production of the film, there are 101 shots. I would usually count the title cards, but my rationale behind leaving out the 4 title card shots in his first short is this. At shot 30 in the Kubrick production of the film, the voice-over notes that it's 4 o'clock and Walter has 6 hours until he enters the ring. It is with shot 64 that Walter is shown ring-side. So, first it is said that at 4 Walter has 6 hours until his fight, then we have Walter approach the ring in shot 64. Also, shot 6 is at 6 a.m.
Now, what happens to this with the appended introduction of the Bonafield production that provides commentary on the sport of boxing? Of course, Kubrick's initial shot count is thrown off. Walter no longer appears ring-side in shot 64. How is Kubrick to preserve the association of the number 64 and the boxing ring? How about in the appended introduction? What if he transfers the number 64 to that, which it seems is the idea he came up with, for the shot count in that introduction is 64.
The 64, as I've said, must have to do with Kubrick's love of chess, 64 alternating black and white checks being the number of spaces on the chess board, and he transferred from chess to film certain ideas of strategic and symbolic organization. Also, if Kubrick knew the I-Ching then he would have been aware of 64 being the number of the hexagrams and that the 64th and final one signifies "before completion", the importance of what happens between then and completion in defining success or failure.
By the way, 64 shots in that introductory 4 minutes is a lot for Kubrick. With Fear and Desire he had a much higher than normal count shot count for his films, but the original 12 or so minutes of Day of the Fight has only 101 shots in comparison to the 64 shots in that 4 minute introduction. That also suggests to me that he did what he could to beef up the shot count to reach 64 in the introduction.
A very fun example of counting shots is after the introductory portion of Lolita. Kubrick was a chess player and so I pay attention with shot 64 being the demarcation that moves us from the "present" to the "past". It's all "past" of course, but Humbert has just shot Quilty to death in his mansion, which is accomplished in 63 shots, then we see in shot 64 "4 YEARS EARLIER". As I've already discussed, in Day of the Fight in the original production Kubrick had the boxer, Walter Cartier, approach the boxing ring in shot 64, and had anticipated this in shot 30 with the statement, "It's 4. 6 hours before he enters the ring." In the 2nd, Bonafield Production, as an intro was added, it threw off the numbering of the shots, so it seems that the young Kubrick, to preserve the use of 64, edited the introduction so it was composed of 64 shots. That placed what was shot 30 in the original production at shot 94. If we go to shot 94 in Lolita we happen to have the one section in which Charlotte and Humbert play chess, and as it happens that is the only shot in that section, so the entire segment devoted to the chess game is fulfilled in that single shot. Kubrick manages to preserve 64 in the shot count in 2001 when HAL plays chess with Frank. The entirety of the game occurs in shot 264.
You may think--oh, but that is purely coincidence that if we advance 30 shots we have Humbert and Charlotte playing chess, as if this would refer to shot 30 in Day of the Fight. So, how can we be confident that Kubrick is referring to shot 30 in Day of the Fight which became shot 94 due the 64 shots added in the introduction? Because in shot 95, in Lolita, Kubrick moves to Lolita playing with her hula hoop, counting off her number of twirls, and Kubrick has her begin with the number 31.
Another great example in Lolita is shot 411, when we first see Humbert and Lolita being followed in what I've been able to concretely identify as Scenic, South Dakota, in the Bad Lands, and this brings us into the realm of CRM-114.
The novel Red Alert, that Dr. Strangelove was based on, was published in 1958. The NYT published in 1962 that at that time Kubrick and Peter Bryant, the author, had been for two years working on a treatment, which means that Kubric was working on it while also working on Lolita. Let's take a look at the scene in Lolita that takes place in the Bad Lands of Scenic, South Dakota, which was likely filmed in 1961. It is shot 411, our first shot of the desert on their western trip. At the very beginning of shot 411 we see Humbert and Lolita at the junction of Railway Street/1st Street and Bombing Range Road, Bombing Range Road there turning into Main Street. They pull onto Main Street, where it has merged with Bombing Range Road. It is in this shot that we first see the two-toned car pull out from a side road and follow them.
Kubrick played with permutations of numbers, and I think we have here the well-known CRM-114 which in Dr. Strangelove is the radio equipment that is destroyed on the bomber. Because of its destruction the crew doesn't receive the recall code, OPE (a permutation of POE, Peace on Earth, Purity of Essence), that would stop their dropping the atomic bomb on Russia.
Below is a range of the action in shot 411, showing Bombing Range Road. The red path is the one that Humbert and Lolita's car takes. The blue is the path of the car that follows them. I place this here so you can get a visual of Bombing Range Road, so called because of the govt confiscating 500 square miles of Oglala Sioux land during WWII for bombing practice, an area that is still being cleaned up, where live bombs are still occasionally found.
Shot 412 in Lolita then shows Lolita playing at being the harem girl, covering her face. A brief few bars of Hollywood style Middle Eastern music accompanies to confirm she is portraying herself as a harem girl. They are driving through the Black Hills. I've been in the area and the scenery looks identical to what one starts getting near Mount Rushmore. Mountain goats roam the steep sides of the hills.
I've pointed out in my analysis of A Clockwork Orange that we see CRM-114 not only in the serum used to inject Alex, but we see its permutation in shot 380 with the parachutists leaping from the Nazi plane numbered 0141. It's my belief that, in conjunction with the Beethoven, this ends up programming Alex for his leap out of the window. CRM, for Kubrick, may represent the Hebrew charem/cherem, or ChRM. ChRM means "chosen", and in A Clockwork Orange, when we are shown the vial of CRM-114, Dr. Branom tells Alex, "You're a very lucky boy to have been chosen." Another definition, which has everything to do with the chosen status, is "physical (as shutting in) a net...doomed object" also devoted/consecrated to religous purposes, especially destruction. I'm talking about an overall idea that suits well Dr. Strangelove's CRM-114 that isolated the jet by blocking any transmissions not prefixed by a set 3 letter code, and ultimately the jet is blocked completely by the destruction of the receiver. This isolation is the key aspect and is important in The Shining as well, the Torrances cut off by the winter storm. Lolita, as well, is isolated from society by Humbert.
Harem, as in a harem of women, derives from the same.
1630s, from Turkish harem, from Arabic haram "wives and concubines," originally "women's quarters," literally "something forbidden or kept safe," from root of harama "he guarded, forbade."
Online Etymology Dictionary
Then this from Wikipedia:
The word has been recorded in the English language since 1634, via Turkish harem, from Arabic ḥaram "forbidden because sacred/important", originally implying "women's quarters", literally "something forbidden or kept safe", from the root of ḥarama "to be forbidden; to exclude". The triliteral Ḥ-R-M is common to Arabic words denoting forbidden. The word is a cognate of Hebrew ḥerem, rendered in Greek as haremi (ha-re-mi) when it applies to excommunication pronounced by the Jewish Sanhedrin court; all these words mean that an object is "sacred" or "accursed".
In shot 411 we have the bombing range. In shot 412 we have the harem (ChRM) girl. Thus do we have a variation on CRM-114 in Lolita.
Kubrick punctuates Lolita's relationship to the bomb in a production still from Dr. Strangelove.
I've no idea if it's purely coincidental that heart, in Hebrew, LB, has a gematria of 32. As we have two hearts with the glasses we thus have, again, 64.
But these last few fun examples may seem too involved. If so, please return to the beginning of the post and review how Kubrick clearly signals that he's counting shots in Killer's Kiss and Day of the Fight.
As I have already stated, counting shots in this way for subtext is not my concern with analysis and only occasionally do I note something that leaps out at me. The reason I count shots is because it supplies a very orderly way to keep track of shots for discussion in analysis.