Self-portrait of Stanley Kubrick.
|Date of birth:||July 26, 1928|
|Birth location:||Manhattan, New York City, New York|
|Date of death:||March 7 1999 (aged 70)|
|Death location:||Harpenden, Hertfordshire, England|
|Academy Awards:||Best Effects, Special Visual Effects
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey
Nominated: Best Director
|Spouse:||Toba Metz (1948–1951)
Ruth Sobotka (1954–1957)
Christiane Kubrick (1958–1999)
Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928 – March 7, 1999) was an influential and acclaimed American film director and producer. He also won an Academy Award for Special Effects. He was the director of a number of critically lauded and commercially successful films, including Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Stanley Kubrick is often described both as one of the most inventive and ingenious film directors of the twentieth Century, and also as a reclusive hermit whose meticulous control as a director posed a difficult challenge for his actors.
Kubrick's cinematic style was very distinctive and influenced many other films and film makers. He established a technique as an auteur that was recognizably his own, and frequently spurred diverse opinions and interpretations in viewers and critics. Many of Kubrick's films just as frequently generated political, philosophical, and aesthetic debate and social controversy. All of his work exhibited a suspicion of any "ism," whether political, philosophical, or religious. His films show that he was aware of human foibles and how they are not consonant with the ideologies and beliefs.
Stanley Kubrick was born on July 26, 1928, to a Jewish family at the Lying-In Hospital in Manhattan, the first of two children born to Jacques Leonard Kubrick (1901–1985) and his wife Gertrude (née Perveler; 1903–1985); his sister, Barbara, was born in 1934. Jacques Kubrick, whose parents were Jewish immigrants of Austro-Romanian and Polish origin, was a doctor.
Kubrick's father taught him chess at age twelve; the game remained a life-long obsession. When Stanley was thirteen-years-old, Jacques Kubrick bought him a Graflex camera, triggering Kubrick's fascination with still photography. He spent many hours in the family dark room and was also encouraged by his parents to make home movies. He also was then interested in jazz, attempting a brief career as a drummer.
Kubrick was raised in The Bronx and attended William Howard Taft High School, 1941–1945. He was a poor student with a meager 67 grade average. On graduation from high school in 1945, when soldiers returning from the Second World War crowded colleges, his poor grades eliminated hopes of higher education. Later in life, Kubrick spoke disdainfully of his education and of education in general, maintaining that nothing about school interested him.
In high school, he was chosen official school photographer for a year. Eventually, he sought jobs on his own, and by graduation time had sold a photographic series to Look magazine, selling his first unsolicited photo at the age of 16. Kubrick supplemented his income playing "chess for quarters" in Washington Square Park and in various Manhattan chess clubs. He registered for night school at the City College to improve his grade-point average. He worked as a freelance photographer for Look, becoming an apprentice photographer in 1946, and later a full-time staff photographer.
During his Look magazine years, on May 29, 1948, Kubrick married Toba Metz (b. 1930) and they lived in Greenwich Village, divorcing in 1951. It was then that Kubrick began frequenting film screenings at the Museum of Modern Art and in the cinemas of New York City. He was particularly inspired by the complex, fluid camera movement of Max Ophüls, whose films influenced Kubrick's later visual style.
In 1951, Kubrick's friend, Alex Singer, persuaded him to start making short documentaries for the March of Time, a provider of cinema-distributed newsreels. Three films—Day of the Fight, Flying Padre, and The Seafarers—constitute Kubrick's only surviving work in the documentary genre (he was involved in other similar shorts which have been lost). None of these shorts have ever been officially released, though they are widely bootlegged, and clips are used in the documentary, Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.
Kubrick's focus on narrative feature films began with Fear and Desire (1953), a story about a team of soldiers behind enemy lines in a fictional war. In the finale, the men see that the faces of their enemy are identical to their own (the same cast play all the characters). Kubrick and wife Toba Metz were the only crew on the film, which was written by Kubrick's friend Howard Sackler, later a successful playwright. Fear and Desire garnered respectable reviews, but failed commercially. In later life, Kubrick was embarrassed by the film, dismissing it as amateur, refusing Fear and Desire's projection in retrospectives and public screenings.
Kubrick's marriage to high school sweetheart Toba ended during the making of Fear and Desire. He met his second wife, Austrian-born dancer and theatrical designer, Ruth Sobotka, in 1952. They lived together in the East Village from 1952–1955 until their marriage on January 15, 1955; the couple later moved to Hollywood during the summer of 1955. Sobotka, who made a cameo appearance in Kubrick's next film, Killer's Kiss (1954), also served as art director on The Killing (1956). Like Fear and Desire, Killer's Kiss is a short feature film, with a running time of slightly more than an hour, of limited commercial and critical success. The film is about a young, heavyweight boxer at the end of his career who is involved with organized crime. Both Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss were privately funded by Kubrick's family and friends.
Alex Singer introduced Kubrick to a producer named James B. Harris, and the two became lifelong friends. Their business partnership, Harris-Kubrick Productions, financed Kubrick's next three films. They bought the rights to the Lionel White novel Clean Break, which Kubrick and co-screenwriter Jim Thompson turned into a story about a race track robbery gone wrong: The Killing. Starring Sterling Hayden, The Killing was Kubrick's first film with a professional cast and crew. The film made impressive use of non-linear time, unusual in 1950s cinema, and, though financially unsuccessful, was Kubrick's first critically successful film. The widespread admiration for The Killing brought Harris-Kubrick Productions to the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The studio offered them its massive collection of copyrighted stories from which to choose their next project.
The World War I story, based on Humphrey Cobb's novel Paths of Glory (1935), is about three innocent French soldiers charged with cowardice by their superior officers as an example to the other soldiers. Kirk Douglas was cast as Colonel Dax, a humanitarian officer trying to prevent the soldiers' execution. Paths of Glory (1957) was Stanley Kubrick's first significant commercial and critical success, establishing him as an up-and-coming cineaste. Critics praised the unvarnished combat scenes, and Kubrick's cinematography: Colonel Dax's march through his soldiers' trench in a single, unbroken reverse-tracking shot has become a classic cinematic trope cited in film classes. Steven Spielberg named this as his favorite Kubrick film.
Paths of Glory was filmed in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. During its production, Kubrick met and romanced the young German actress Christiane Harlan (credited by her stage name "Susanne Christian"), who played the only woman speaking part in the film. Kubrick divorced his second wife Ruth Sobotka in 1957. Christiane Susanne Harlan (b. 1932 in Germany) belonged to a theatrical family, and had trained as an actress. She and Kubrick married in 1958 and remained together until his death in 1999.
Based upon the true story of a doomed uprising of Roman slaves, Spartacus established Stanley Kubrick as a major director. The production, however, was difficult; creative differences arose between Kubrick and Douglas, the star and producer of the film. Frustrated by lack of creative control, Kubrick later largely disowned its authorship. The Douglas-Kubrick creative control battles destroyed their work relationship from Paths of Glory. Spartacus was a major critical and commercial success, but its embattled production convinced Kubrick to find ways of working with Hollywood financing while remaining independent of its production system. Kubrick referred to Hollywood production as "film by fiat, film by frenzy," leading Kubrick to move to England in 1962.
In 1962, Kubrick moved to England to film Lolita, and resided there for the rest of his life. Unsurprisingly, Lolita was Kubrick's first major controversy. The book by Vladimir Nabokov, dealing with an affair between a middle-aged pedophile and a twelve-year-old girl, already was notorious when Kubrick embarked on the project, however it was also steadily achieving popularity; eventually, the difficult subject matter was mocked in the film's tagline, perhaps to gain attention: "How did they ever make a film of Lolita?" Nabokov wrote a three-hundred page screenplay for Kubrick, which the director abandoned; a second draft by Nabokov, roughly half the length of its first, was revamped by Kubrick into the final screenplay. (Nabokov estimated that 20 percent of his material made it into the film.)
Despite changing Lolita's age from twelve years to fourteen years, which was a more acceptable age for commercial appeal at the time, several scenes in the final film had to be re-edited to allow the film's release. The resulting film toned down what were considered the novel's more perverse aspects, leaving much to the viewer's imagination, some viewers have even wondered whether Humbert and Lolita actually embarked on a sexual affair, as most of their sexual relationship is implied and suggested. Later, Kubrick commented that, had he known the severity of the censorship, he probably would not have made the film.
Lolita also was the first time Kubrick worked with British comic Peter Sellers, a collaboration which proved one of the most successful of his early career, most notable for Dr. Strangelove (1964).
Lolita's release in 1962 was surrounded by immense hype, which was responsible for the box office success at the time; it was also given an "Adults Only" rating, since ratings for film and literature were not applicable at the time of Lolita's release. Critical reception for the film was mixed, many praising it for its daring subject matter, others surprised by the lack of intimacy between Lolita and Humbert. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing of an Adapted Screenplay, and Sue Lyon, who played the title role, won a Golden Globe for Best Newcomer Actress.
Kubrick's next project, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), became a cult film. The screenplay, based upon the novel Red Alert, by ex-RAF flight lieutenant Peter George (writing as Peter Bryant), was co-written by Kubrick, George, and American satirist Terry Southern.
Dr. Strangelove is often considered a masterpiece of black humor. While Red Alert, released around the same time as Dr. Strangelove, is a serious, cautionary tale of accidental atomic war for Cold War-era readers, Dr. Strangelove accidentally evolved into what Kubrick called a "nightmare comedy." Originally intended as a thriller, Kubrick found the conditions leading to nuclear war so absurd that the story became dark and funny rather than thrilling; Kubrick reconceived it as comedy, recruiting Terry Southern for the required anarchic irony.
Kubrick's decision to film a Cold War thriller as a black comedy was a daring artistic risk that paid off for him and Columbia Pictures. Coincidentally, that same year, Columbia Studios released the dramatic nuclear war thriller Fail-Safe. Its close similarity with Dr Strangelove prompted Kubrick to consider suing the makers of that film, but he decided against it.
Peter Sellers, memorable as Clare Quilty in Lolita, was hired to simultaneously play four roles in Dr. Strangelove. Eventually, Sellers played three, due to an injured leg and difficulty in mastering the Texas accent of bomber pilot, Major "King" Kong.
Dr. Strangelove portrays a deliberate American nuclear war launched against Russia, by U.S.A.F. General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden). In real time, the film's duration, the story intercuts among three locales: (i) Burpleson Air Force Base, where RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Sellers) tries stopping the mad Gen. Ripper; (ii) the Pentagon War Room, where the U.S. President (Sellers), U.S.A.F. General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott), and (officially ex-)Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers) try stopping (or not) the B-52 bombers en route to dropping nuclear bombs on Russia; and (iii) Major Kong's (Slim Pickens) renegade B-52 bomber, where his crew try to complete their mission.
In belittling the sacrosanct norms of the political culture of "mutually assured destruction" (MAD) as the squabbling of intellectual children, Dr. Strangelove foreshadowed the cultural upheavals of the late 1960s and was enormously successful with the nascent American counter-culture. Dr. Strangelove earned four Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director) and the New York Film Critics' Best Director award. Kubrick's successful Dr. Strangelove persuaded the studios that he was an auteur who could be trusted to deliver popular films despite his unusual ideas.
Kubrick spent five years developing his next film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), (photographed in Super Panavision 70). Kubrick co-wrote the screenplay with science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke, expanding Clarke's short story, "The Sentinel." The screenplay and the novel were written simultaneously; the novel was published in tandem with the film's release, and credited only to Clarke. The literary and the screen stories substantially deviate from each other; despite this, Clarke and Kubrick later spoke highly of one another.
The film's special effects, overseen by Kubrick and engineered by special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull (Silent Running, Blade Runner), proved ground-breaking and inspired many of the special effects-driven films which followed in the genre. Despite nominations in the direction, writing, and production categories, the only Academy Award Kubrick ever received was for supervising the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This film, like many of Kubrick's, also was notable for its use of classical music, such as Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra and Johann Strauss's The Blue Danube waltz. More notable is Kubrick's use of the music of contemporary, avant-garde Hungarian composer, György Ligeti, done however, without his consent.
Artistically, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a radical departure from Kubrick's previous cinematic oeuvre and cinematic technique. It has only forty-five minutes of dialogue of conversations seemingly superfluous to the background story, the images, and the music, nevertheless it outlines the story while presenting mankind as dissociated from themselves. Clarke's characters function either as extensions to the story or anthropological archetypes. The story and plot are obscure for most of the film's duration, and its ambiguous, perplexing ending continues fascinating contemporary audiences.
An unorthodox science fiction genre film, it was an enormously successful commercial and popular culture phenomenon. This occurred after the public's initial disinterest was followed by word-of-mouth recommendation. Were it not for a six-week exhibition contract, the film may not have had enough time in cinemas to have benefited from the word-of-mouth popularity as ticket sales were low during the first fortnight of its release. Paradoxically, Kubrick won total creative control from Hollywood by succeeding with one of the most thematically "difficult" films ever to win wide commercial release.
Interpretations of 2001: A Space Odyssey are as widespread as its popularity, and, though made in 1968, it still prompts debate today. When critic Joseph Gelmis asked Kubrick about the meaning of the film, Kubrick replied:
They are the areas I prefer not to discuss, because they are highly subjective and will differ from viewer to viewer. In this sense, the film becomes anything the viewer sees in it. If the film stirs the emotions and penetrates the subconscious of the viewer, if it stimulates, however inchoately, his mythological and religious yearnings and impulses, then it has succeeded.
2001: A Space Odyssey may be Kubrick's most famous and influential film. Steven Spielberg called it his generation's big bang, focusing its attention upon the Russo-American space race. The special effects techniques Kubrick pioneered were later developed by Ridley Scott and George Lucas for films such as Alien and Star Wars.
The film's primary themes include the origins of evolution; sentient computers; extra-terrestrial beings; the search for one's place in the universe; and re-birth all seen within a cold, foreboding light.
In place of his Napoleon, a failed project, Kubrick sought a project which he could quickly film with a small budget. He found it in A Clockwork Orange (1971). His film version is a dark, shocking exploration of violence in human society. It was released with an X rating in the United States, though it later was re-classified with an R rating.
Based upon the famous novel by Anthony Burgess, the film is the story of a teenage hooligan, Alex, (Malcolm McDowell), who gleefully torments, beats, robs, steals, and rapes without conscience or remorse. Finally imprisoned, Alex undergoes psychiatric aversion treatment to be cured of his instinctively reflexive violence. This conditions him physically unable to act violently, yet also renders him helpless and incapable of moral choice, resulting in a consequently brutal retribution at the hands of his victims.
Kubrick photographed A Clockwork Orange quickly and almost entirely on location in and around London. Despite the low-tech nature of the film, when compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick was highly innovative, i.e. throwing a camera from a rooftop to achieve the desired viewer disorientation. For the score, Kubrick had electronic music composer Wendy Carlos, at the time known as Walter Carlos, (Switched-On Bach), adapt famous classical works such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony for the Moog synthesizer.
The film was extremely controversial because of its explicitly depicted teenage gang-rape and violence. Released the same year as Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and Don Siegel's Dirty Harry, the three films sparked ferocious debate in the media about the social effects of cinematic violence. When Kubrick and family were threatened with death, resulting from the social controversy, he took the unusual step of removing the film from circulation in Britain. The film was not released again in the United Kingdom until its re-release in 2000, a year after Stanley Kubrick's death. In banning his film in Britain, he showed the unprecedented power he held over his distributor, Warner Brothers. For the remainder of his career he held total control of every aspect of his films, including the marketing and the advertising; such was Warner Brothers' faith in his projects.
The novelist Anthony Burgess had mixed feelings about Stanley Kubrick's film. Though Kubrick's film ends differently from Burgess's original novel, Burgess blamed his American publisher for that, not Kubrick, who based his screenplay upon the American edition of the novel, from which the final, 21st, chapter had been removed. In the novel's original ending, Alex, the story's anti-hero, chooses to give up criminal ways to instead lead a peaceful, productive life. Kubrick did not read the final chapter until well into production, deciding it was out of keeping with the tone of his film version. A Clockwork Orange is Anthony Burgess's best-known novel. It remains, perhaps, Stanley Kubrick's most notorious and controversial film.
Kubrick's work pace slowed considerably after Barry Lyndon (1975); he did not make another film until The Shining. Released in 1980, and adapted from Stephen King's popular horror novel, it stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in the story of a writer manqué who takes the job of off-season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, a high-class resort deep in the Colorado mountains. The job demands that he, his wife, and son spend the winter alone in the isolated hotel. His son, Danny, is gifted with telepathy, called "shining," and has glimpses of visions of the past and of the future.
To Danny, the hotel displays increasingly horrible, phantasmagoric images, notably the apparition of two girls murdered years before by their father, the hotel's caretaker. Jack is slowly driven mad by the haunted Overlook Hotel until collapsing into homicidal psychosis, then trying to kill his family with an ax.
The film was shot mostly at the Elstree and the Pinewood studios, near London, where the film sets were built, however the Overlook Hotel exterior is that of the Timberline Lodge ski resort on Mount Hood, Oregon. Kubrick extensively used the newly-invented Steadicam (a spring-mounted camera support) for smooth movement in enclosed spaces, to convey the haunted hotel's claustrophobic oppression of the family.
More than any other of his films, The Shining gave rise to the legend of Kubrick-as-megalomanic-perfectionist. Reportedly, he demanded hundreds of takes of certain scenes (ca. 1.3 million film ft. were exposed), particularly plaguing actress Shelley Duvall.
The film opened to mostly negative reviews, but did very well commercially, making Warner Brothers a profit. As with most Kubrick films, subsequent critical reaction re-views the film more favorably. Stephen King was dissatisfied with the movie, calling Kubrick "a man who thinks too much and feels too little."
Among horror movie fans, The Shining is a classic cult film, often appearing with The Exorcist (1974) and Halloween (1978) at the top of best horror film lists. Some of its images, such as an antique elevator disgorging a tidal wave of blood, are among the most recognizable, widely-known images from any Stanley Kubrick film. The Shining renewed Warner Brothers faith in Kubrick's ability to make artistically satisfying and profitable films after the commercial failure that was Barry Lyndon in the United States. As a pop culture phenomenon, the film has been the object of countless parodies.
It was seven years until Kubrick's next film, Full Metal Jacket (1987), an adaptation of Gustav Hasford's Vietnam War novel, The Short-Timers, starring Matthew Modine as Joker, Adam Baldwin as Animal Mother, R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and Vincent D'Onofrio as Private Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence.
Kubrick said to film critic Gene Siskel that his attraction to Gustav Hasford's book was because it was "neither anti-war or pro-war," held "no moral or political position," and was primarily concerned with "the way things are."
The film begins at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, U.S.A., where GySgt Hartman ruthlessly pushes his new men through punishing recruit training to release their repressed killing instincts and transform them from "maggots" to Marines. Pvt Pyle, a fat, slow-witted conscript, subjected to relentless physical and verbal abuse by GySgt Hartman, slowly cracks under the strain, resulting in Pvt Pyle's shooting and killing GySgt Hartman on the eve of graduation, before killing himself as he repeats the by-then-familiar Marine mantra: "This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine…" The scene ends the boot-camp portion of the story.
The second half of the film follows Joker, since promoted to sergeant, as he tries to stay sane in Vietnam. As a reporter for the United States Military's newspaper the Stars and Stripes, Joker occupies war's middle ground, using wit and sarcasm to detach himself from the war. Though an American and a member of the United States Marine Corps, he also is a reporter and so is compelled to abide by the ethics of the profession. The film then follows an infantry platoon's advance on and through Hue City, decimated by the street fighting of the Tet Offensive. The film climaxes in a battle between Joker's platoon and a sniper hiding in the rubble; she almost kills Joker until his reporter partner shoots and severely injures her. Joker then kills her to put her out of her misery.
Full Metal Jacket received mixed critical review, but found a reasonably large audience, despite being over-shadowed by Oliver Stone's Platoon. This was one reason why Kubrick did not make Aryan Papers, fearing that its publicity would be stolen by Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. Though it swept the Academy Awards, Platoon has not maintained its original critical standing, whereas Full Metal Jacket has increased in critical acclaim.
Stanley Kubrick was a mute presence in Hollywood in the ten-odd years after the release of Full Metal Jacket (1987); many believed that he had retired from film-making. Occasionally, rumors surfaced about possible, new Kubrick projects. His final film would be Eyes Wide Shut.
The story of Eyes Wide Shut is based on Arthur Schnitzler's novella Traumnovelle (in English a.k.a. Dream Story), and follows Dr. William Harford's journey to the sexual underworld of New York City, after his wife, Alice, shatters his faith in her fidelity when she confesses to nearly giving him and their daughter up for one night with another man.
After trespassing upon the rituals of a sinister, mysterious sexual cult, Dr. Harford thinks twice before seeking sexual revenge against his wife, and learns he and his family might be in danger.
The film was in production for more than two years, and two of the main members of the cast, Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh, were replaced in the course of the filming. Although set in New York City, the film was mostly shot in London sound stages, with little location shooting. Because of Kubrick's secrecy about the film, mostly inaccurate rumors abounded about its plot and content.
In 1999, days after screening a final cut of Eyes Wide Shut for his family, the lead actor and actress, and Warner Brothers executives, the seventy-year-old director Stanley Kubrick died of a heart attack in his sleep. He was buried next to his favorite tree in Childwickbury Manor, Hertfordshire, England, U.K.
The film did smashing box-office business, which considerably slowed down in the weeks after the film's release. Far from being an erotic thriller, Eyes Wide Shut proved a slow, mysterious, dreamy meditation on themes of marriage, fidelity, betrayal, and the illusion-versus-reality of sexual adventure. Critics mostly were negative towards the film, attacking its slow pace and perceived emotional inertia. Kubrick's defenders have speculated that the mixed criticism of and box-office response to the movie were deeply affected by the pre-release lurid misconceptions about the film–the audience disliked it because it frustrated their expectations.
Eyes Wide Shut, like Lolita and A Clockwork Orange before it, faced censorship before release.
According to his friends and family, Eyes Wide Shut was Kubrick's personal favorite of his own films. Contrary to that, however, in 2006, actor R. Lee Ermey went on record as saying Kubrick told him in a telephone talk, shortly before his death, that Eyes Wide Shut was "a piece of shit" and that the critics would "have him for lunch," however, other friends and co-workers of Kubrick have spoken up, discrediting this story. The general consensus is that Kubrick was very happy with his final film at the time of his death.
An exacting perfectionist who often worked for years on pre-production planning and research, Kubrick had a number of unrealized projects during his career. All but one were never completed as films, but are of some interest to fans of the director.
Most famously, he never filmed his much-researched biopic of Napoleon (Bonaparte) I of France, which was originally to star Jack Nicholson as Napoleon after Kubrick saw him in Easy Rider. Kubrick and Nicholson eventually worked together on The Shining. After years of preproduction, the movie was set aside indefinitely in favor of more economically feasible projects. As late as 1987, Kubrick stated that he had not given up on the project, mentioning that he had read almost 500 books on the historical figure. He was convinced that a film worthy of the subject had not yet appeared.
In the early 1990s, Kubrick almost went into production on a film of Louis Begley's Wartime Lies, the story of a boy and his mother in hiding during the Holocaust. The first draft screenplay, titled Aryan Papers, had been penned by Kubrick himself. Kubrick chose not to make the film due to the release of Steven Spielberg's Holocaust-themed Schindler's List in 1993.
On November 1, 2006, Philip Hobbs, Kubrick's son-in-law, announced that he will be shepherding a film treatment of Lunatic at Large, which was commissioned by Kubrick for treatment from noir pulp novelist Jim Thompson in the 1950s, but had become lost until Kubrick's 1999 death.
One Kubrick project was eventually completed by another director, Steven Spielberg. Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, Kubrick collaborated with various writers (including Brian Aldiss, Sara Maitland and Ian Watson) on a project called by various names, including "Pinocchio" and "Artificial Intelligence."
The film was developed, expanding on Aldiss' short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long," which Kubrick and his writers turned into a feature-length film in three acts. It was a futuristic fairy tale about a robot which resembles and behaves as a child, who is sold as a temporary surrogate to a family whose only son is in a coma. The robot, however, learns of this, and out of sympathy, is left abandoned in the woods by his owners instead of being returned to the factory for destruction. The rest of the story concerns the robot's attempts in becoming a real boy by seeking “Blue Fairy” (a reference to Pinocchio), in order to regain his mother's love and acceptance once more, as his love was hard-wired into him, and hence everlasting. The journey would take the boy-robot (referred to as a "Mecha" ) thousands of years.
Kubrick reportedly held long telephone discussions with Steven Spielberg regarding the film, and, according to Spielberg, at one point stated that the subject matter was closer to Spielberg's sensibilities than his. In 2001, following Kubrick's death, Spielberg took the various drafts and notes left by Kubrick and his writers, and composed a new screenplay, and in association with what remained of Kubrick's production unit, made the movie AI: Artificial Intelligence, starring Haley Joel Osment.
The film contains a posthumous producing credit for Stanley Kubrick at the beginning, and the brief dedication "For Stanley" at the end. The film contains many recurrent Kubrick motifs, such as an omniscient narrator, an extreme form of the three act structure, the themes of humanity and inhumanity, and a sardonic view of Freudian psychology.
A.I. was not a major box office or critical success, and the unorthodox combination of two vastly different directorial visions was considered by some critics a confusing failure unappealing to fans of both Spielberg and Kubrick.
Kubrick's cinematic technique was very recognizable. His distinctive style is composed of many stylistic calling cards and signature techniques, including the following:
Kubrick's "coldness," or emotional distance from his subject matter, has always been a point of his critics. Ray Bradbury, criticizing 2001, said that the "freezing touch of Antonioni" hovers over Kubrick in this film. Harlan Ellison described Kubrick's view as so remote that it's almost alien.
Few directors routinely held shots longer than Kubrick. Examples include the duel scene in Barry Lyndon and the shots of Danny Torrance tricyclying through the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. The technique creates tension in the audience because moviegoers are conditioned to expect constant cutting in a scene between different character points of view. Audiences have become accustomed to a certain rhythm in cutting from scene to scene, but in some of Kubrick's films a single take might last five minutes, thus breaking this rhythm. This technique creates a certain discomfort in the viewer, who almost looks away from embarrassment because the length of the take turns the viewer into an awkward voyeur.
In 2001, Kubrick stages and shoots the sequence where the astronauts discover the Monolith in exactly the same way that he stages and shoots the scene where the apes discover the Monolith, indicating how little man has involved. In the same vein the scene around the coffee table with Dr. Floyd and the Russians, involving mounting tension as the discussion progresses, is shot and staged in a way similar to the scene in which the opposing groups of apes congregate around the water hole.
In many Kubrick films the scenery, the setting, figures as prominently as do the actors. Examples include the spaceship in 2001 and the hotel in The Shining. Visual symmetries accompany tragedy in many of Kubrick's films. The war room of Dr. Strangelove is geometric to an extreme. 2001 is chock-full of symmetrical cabins and corridors. In Full Metal Jacket, a crucial scene of the drill sergeant's murder takes place in a sterile white latrine. (U.S. Army training barracks have latrines from a standard-issue pattern, a tidy row going along one wall. Abandoning his usual hyper-accuracy in favor of slight artistic license, Kubrick specially created a set with two rows, on opposing walls for the sake of symmetry.) The icy white of the washroom is juxtaposed against the mess of spilled blood. The use of Hal's brain room in 2001 is similar to the symmetrical latrine. Kubrick uses symmetry to lull the audience into a sense of false security and to provide a counterpoint to the asymmetry of destruction.
Virtually every Stanley Kubrick work is adapted from a novel or other literary medium. However, usually his adaptations are radically different from the original work.
In every major Kubrick film there is a character or characters who at one point become the focus of the camera's attention in an extreme closeup, while their face is mangled by a height of extreme emotion or insanity.
Dr. Strangelove: Gen. Buck Turgidson, Gen. Ripper, and Strangelove himself all exhibit the contorted face at one time or another.
2001: A Space Odyssey: When Bowman is going "beyond the infinite," there are several scenes of his face being contorted.
The Shining: The famous still of Jack Nicholson's face that was used in the film's promotion is the most salient example.
A Clockwork Orange: The author, one of Alex's victims, on recognizing Alex when he enters his house.
Full Metal Jacket: Private Pyle during his mental breakdown.
Very frequently Stanley Kubrick films reference other Stanley Kubrick films; there are recurring threads through nearly all of his work. Examples of this include:
All of these echoes are markers to indicate the deeper revisitation of the same themes in the body of Kubrick's work.
Steven Spielberg said of Kubrick, "He copied no one while all of us were scrambling to imitate him."
Stanley Kubrick's work had a major influence on the technical development of film making, on hundreds of film makers, as well as many aspects of pop culture.
Kubrick increased the popularity of the art film, and his films help defined the standards by which films are judged as art films. For instance, one criterion for modern films to be considered "art films" is a high Average Shot Length (ASL), since all of Kubrick's films had very long takes, and hence very high ASLs. Kubrick also pioneered developments in several other areas besides the aesthetic of the long take, including everything from lighting (Barry Lyndon) to special effects (2001) to musical scoring (A Clockwork Orange).
Danny Lorber of iPOP online magazine, said of 2001: A Space Odyssey:
The science fiction genre has no other entry this smart and challenging. Spielberg and Lucas, who have made the most prominent sci-fi works since 2001, are inspired in every way by Kubrick's opus—but their films come short in every artistic and intellectual way.
Kubrick's influence extended outside of film making to other aspects of popular culture. The films of Stanley Kubrick influenced popular music. The 1968 release of 2001 had a profound effect on the music of the late sixties. (The film inspired David Bowie to write "A Space Oddity," his epic song of the dialogue between "ground control" and Major Tom, an astronaut who becomes separated from his spaceship). 2001 is not the only Kubrick film that has had an impact on pop music. New Musical Express magazine said that "A Clockwork Orange has been a massive stylistic influence on everyone from David Bowie to Blur."
The long list of film makers that list Kubrick as a major influence is varied and diverse. It includes David Lynch, P.T. Anderson, Stephen Spielberg, Sam Raimi, Cameron Crowe (in Vanilla Sky). Simpsons Creator Matt Groenig is said to be a huge fan of Kubrick's films, which is clear from the constant parodies of his films that the can be found in episodes of the show.
Kubrick was often unwilling to discuss personal matters publicly, or to speak publicly at all. Over time, his image in the media has ranged anywhere from being a reclusive genius to a megalomaniacal lunatic, shut off from the world. Since his death, Kubrick's friends and family have denied this. Kubrick clearly left behind a strong family and many close friends. Many of those who worked for him speak highly in his favor. The rumor regarding his reclusiveness is largely a myth, and may have resulted from his aversion to travel once installed at St. Albans. Kubrick was afraid of flying and refused to take airplane trips, so he rarely left England over the last forty years of his life.
Kubrick once told a friend that he went to London (about 40 minutes by car) four to five times a year solely for appointments with his dentist. Kubrick also shunned the Hollywood system and its publicity machine. His appearance was not well known in his later years, and a British man by the name of Alan Conway successfully pretended he was Kubrick to meet several well-known actors and get into fancy clubs. (Conway is the subject of the film Colour Me Kubrick (2005), written by Kubrick's assistant Anthony Frewin and directed by Brian Cook, Kubrick's First Assistant Director for 25 years.)
Kubrick was constantly in contact with family members and business associates, often by telephone, and contacted collaborators at all hours for conversations lasting from under a minute to several hours. Many of Kubrick's admirers and friends spoke of these telephone conversations with great affection and nostalgia after his death, most especially Michael Herr and Steven Spielberg. In his memoir of Kubrick, Herr said that dozens of people claim to have spoken to Kubrick on the day of his death and remarked "I believe all of them." Kubrick also frequently invited various people to his house, ranging from actors to close friends, admired film directors, writers, and intellectuals.
Kubrick was also an animal lover. He owned many dogs and cats throughout his life and showed an extraordinary affection for them. Christiane, Kubrick's widow, said in her book version of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, that Kubrick brought his cats to the editing room to spend time with them that was lost while he was shooting his films. Philip Kaplan, one of Kubrick's lawyers and friends, reports that at the last moment Stanley once canceled a meeting with him and another lawyer who had flown to London from the United States because he sat up all night with a dying cat and was in no shape to participate.
Kubrick had a reputation as tactless and rude to many people who worked with him. Some of Kubrick's collaborators have complained of a coldness or lack of sympathy for the feelings of others on his part. Although Kubrick became close friends with Clockwork Orange star Malcolm McDowell during filming, Kubrick abruptly terminated the friendship soon after the film was complete. McDowell was deeply hurt by this and the schism between the two men lasted until Kubrick's death. Michael Herr, in his otherwise positive memoir to Kubrick, complains that Kubrick was extremely cheap and very greedy about money. He states that Kubrick was a "terrible" man to do business with and that the director was upset until the day he died that Jack Nicholson made more money from The Shining than he did. Science-fiction writer Brian Aldiss was fired from Kubrick's never completed project AI for vacationing with his family in violation of his contract, even though Kubrick had put the project on hold at the time. Kubrick brought in other writers to help write the AI script, but fired them because he felt they were useless. Kirk Douglas often commented on Kubrick's unwillingness to compromise, his out of control ego, and ruthless pursuit to make a film his own distinct work of art instead of a group effort (it must be noted, however, that in interviews Kubrick often acknowledged and admired the effort of his team, especially those who made the special effects for 2001 possible). However, Douglas has acknowledged that a large part of his dislike for Kubrick was caused by Kubrick's consistently negative statements about Spartacus. James Earl Jones, despite his admiration for Kubrick on an artistic level, spoke negatively of his experience on Dr. Strangelove, saying that Kubrick was disrespectful to actors, using them as instruments in a grand design rather than allowing them to be creative artists in their own right. George C. Scott, who admired Kubrick in retrospect for reportedly being one of the few people who could routinely beat him in chess, famously resented Kubrick using his most over-the-top performances for the final cut of Dr. Strangelove, after promising they would not be seen by audiences. Kubrick's crew has stated that he was notorious for not complimenting anyone and rarely showed admiration for his co-workers for fear it would make them complacent. Kubrick complimented them on their work only after the movie was finished, unless he felt their work was "genius." The only actors that Kubrick called "genius" were Peter Sellers, James Mason, and Malcolm McDowell.
Although Kubrick was greatly disliked by many of the people he worked with, many speak kindly of him, including co-workers and friends Jack Nicholson, Diane Johnson, Tom Cruise, Joe Turkel, Con Pederson, Sterling Hayden, Scatman Crothers, Carl Solomon, Ryan O'Neal, Anthony Frewin, Ian Watson, John Milius, Jocelyn Pook, Sydney Pollack, R. Lee Ermey, and others. Michael Herr's memoir to Kubrick and Matthew Modine's book Full Metal Jacket Diary show a different, much more kind, sane, and warm version of Kubrick than the conventional view of him as cold, demanding and impersonal. In a series of interviews found on the DVD of Eyes Wide Shut, a teary eyed Tom Cruise remembers Kubrick with great affection. Nicole Kidman also shares his sentiments. Shelley Winters, when asked what she thought of him, answered, "A gift." Shelley Duvall, who played Wendy in The Shining did not always get along with Kubrick, as seen in The Making of the Shining, but has said that in retrospect it was a great experience that made her smarter—though she'd never want to do it again. Also, Malcolm McDowell in retrospect said that he felt some of his statements about Kubrick were "unfair" and were a "cry out" to Kubrick to call him. He has mused that it was because Kubrick saw some of Alex (the main character in A Clockwork Orange) in McDowell, and McDowell has commented on how much this termination of friendship personally hurt him. McDowell said that he was very sad when Kubrick died.
In his memoir of Kubrick, Michael Herr, his personal friend and co-writer of the screenplay for Full Metal Jacket, wrote:
Stanley had views on everything, but I would not exactly call them political… His views on democracy were those of most people I know, neither left or right, not exactly brimming with belief, a noble failed experiment along our evolutionary way, brought low by base instincts, money and self-interest and stupidity… He thought the best system might be under a benign despot, though he had little belief that such a man could be found. He wasn't a cynic, but he could have easily passed for one. He was certainly a capitalist. He believed himself to be a realist.
Michael Herr said of initial reactions to Full Metal Jacket, "The political left will call Kubrick a fascist." Despite that, Full Metal Jacket is often cited as an anti-war film, in his 1987 interview with Gene Siskel called Candidly Kubrick, Kubrick has said, "Full Metal Jacket suggests there is more to say about war than it is just bad." In the same interview he said that everything serious the drill instructor says, such as "A rifle is only a tool, it is a hard heart that kills" is completely true. Though some have said Kubrick disliked America, Michael Herr says, on the other hand, that America was all he talked about and that he often thought of moving back. Kubrick also told Siskel he was not anti-American and that he thought that America was a good country, though he did not think that Ronald Reagan was a good President.
Kubrick's works depict his own view of human nature and are critical of moral and political stances based on other views of human nature. For example, in A Clockwork Orange, the police are as violent and vulgar as the droogs, and Kubrick depicts both the subversive writer Mr. Alexander (a figure of the Left) and the authoritarian Minister of the Interior (a figure of the Right), as manipulative, hypocritical, and sinister.
Of A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick said to the New York Times,
Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved—that about sums it up. I'm interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it's a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure.
He also said in the same interview:
The idea that social restraints are all bad is based on a utopian and unrealistic vision of man. But in this movie you have an example of social institutions gone a bit berserk. Obviously social institutions faced with the law-and-order problem might choose to become grotesquely oppressive. The movie poses two extremes: It shows Alex in his pre-civilized state, and society committing a worse evil in attempting to cure him.
Kubrick's earlier work can be seen as more "liberal" than his later work. Colonel Dax in Paths of Glory and Spartacus in Spartacus are comparable to liberals, and the satire of government and military in Dr. Strangelove seems to point to a liberal political perspective (although the ignorant hawk, General Turgidson in the "War Room" is still more decisive than the peaceful, pacifist President Merkin Muffley). Kubrick's more mature works are more pessimistic and suspicious of the so-called innate goodness of mankind. In a letter to the New York Times in response to Fred M. Hechinger declaring A Clockwork Orange "fascist," Kubrick wrote, "Being a pessimist is not yet enough to qualify one to be regarded as a tyrant (I hope)…"
Stanley Kubrick was born Jewish, but never much practiced this religion, as his parents were not very religious either. When asked by Michel Ciment in an interview if he had a religious upbringing, Kubrick replied: "No, not at all."
Kubrick is often said to have been an atheist, but this may not be quite true.
In Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, Jack Nicholson recalls that Kubrick said The Shining is an overall optimistic story because "anything that says there's anything after death is ultimately an optimistic story."
In Kubrick's interview with Craig McGregor, he said:
2001 would give a little insight into my metaphysical interests. I'd be very surprised if the universe wasn't full of an intelligence of an order that to us would seem God-like. I find it very exciting to have a semi-logical belief that there's a great deal to the universe we don't understand, and that there is an intelligence of an incredible magnitude outside the Earth. It's something I've become more and more interested in. I find it a very exciting and satisfying hope.
The clergyman in A Clockwork Orange, whom Kubrick has called "the moral voice of the story" says, "Goodness must come from within. Goodness must be chosen. If a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man." In fact, Kubrick said in an interview with The New York Times that his view of man was closer to the Christian view than humanistic or Jewish views, as he said, "I mean, it's essentially Christian theology anyway, that view of man."
Stephen King recalled Kubrick calling him late at night while he was filming The Shining and Kubrick asked him, "Do you believe in God?" King said that he had answered, "Yes," but has had three different versions of what happened next. One time, he said that Kubrick simply hung up on him. On other occasions, he claimed Kubrick said, "I knew it," and then hung up on him. On yet another occasion, King claimed that Kubrick said, before hanging up, "No, I don't think there is a God." Stephen King said that the primary reason why he didn't like Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining was as follows:
I think there are two basic problems with the movie. First, Kubrick is a very cold man—pragmatic and rational—and he had great difficulty conceiving even academically, of a supernatural world. Not that religion has to be involved in horror, but a visceral skeptic such as Kubrick just couldn't grasp the sheer inhuman evil of the Overlook Hotel. So he looked, instead, for evil in the characters and made the film into a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones. That was the basic flaw: Because he couldn't believe, he couldn't make the film believable to others.
Curiously and ironically, King has said numerous times that he believed H. P. Lovecraft was the greatest master of the classic horror tale (something he shared in common with Kubrick), but Lovecraft famously scoffed at the notion of a literal belief in the supernatural and was a very rational and pragmatic man himself. Kubrick was also a fan of the works of H.P Lovecraft.
Finally, his daughter Katharina Kubrick Hobbs was asked if Stanley Kubrick believed in God. Here is her response:
Hmm, tricky. I think he believed in something, if you understand my meaning. He was a bit of a fatalist actually, but he was also very superstitious. Truly a mixture of nature and nurture. I don't know exactly what he believed, he probably would have said that no one can really ever know for sure, and that it would be rather arrogant to assume that one could know. I asked him once after The Shining, if he believed in ghosts. He said that it would be nice if there were ghosts, as that would imply that there is something after death. In fact, I think he said, "Gee I hope so." … He did not have a religious funeral service. He's not buried in consecrated ground. We always celebrated Christmas and had huge Christmas trees.
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