I suppose you could consider it a twisted sort of valentine: The Museum of Fine Arts is using February to mount a career retrospective of Stanley Kubrick, the most revered and enigmatic director of his generation and an artist whose vision was both rigorously controlled and unyieldingly bleak. Starting Friday and running through Feb. 24, “The Films of Stanley Kubrick” series covers all the features, from 1953’s “Fear and Desire” to 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” skipping only a handful of early shorts. (Individual playdates can be found on the MFA’s website, www.mfa.org/programs/film.) This is the place to introduce yourself to the director’s work on the big screen — which matters with Kubrick — or to revisit favorite touchstones, or simply to come to terms with a filmmaker so encrusted with controversy and adoration that it can be difficult to see him straight.
It’s the latter chance that intrigues this film critic, who has — horrors — always been a Kubrick agnostic. As a movie lover who came of age in the late 1970s, after the dogfights over “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) had been fought in theater lobbies and in the writings of such critics as Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, I remained unconvinced. In part that was because my micro-generation ended up with “Barry Lyndon” (1975) and “The Shining” (1980), works that were hailed as masterpieces without the weight (it seemed to me then) to back them up. “Full Metal Jacket,” in 1987, looked like a Vietnam movie made in a hermetic tube, blithely unconcerned with critical realities of time and place. Was it me, or was it Kubrick?