'"When I made my first film, I think the thing [that] probably helped me the most was that it was such an unusual thing to do in the early 50s for someone to actually go and make a film. People thought it was impossible. It really is terribly easy. All anybody needs is a camera, a tape recorder, and some imagination."
— Kubrick in an interview with East Village Eye in 1968
(1928-1999) is a controversial director. In a good way. His films span nearly every genre he could get his hands on — but start in the wrong place.
Originally a New York photographer, Mr. Kubrick wormed his way into film making with little difficulty. He made documentaries, which provided him the technical skill for turning stills into real movies. He never left England during his last forty years due to a fear of flying
People he had worked with have described him as acidic to others but amazingly fond of animals
and very close to his wife and children. But he treated pretty much all of the actors in his movies like crap. Some liked him anyway: Malcolm McDowell
thoroughly enjoyed working with him on A Clockwork Orange
, but was snubbed after shooting was complete
. Equally abrasive individuals such as Jack Nicholson
and R. Lee Ermey
, however, remained friends with Kubrick until his death.
On average, however, his relationships could be defined by the making of Doctor Strangelove
; Actors that did exactly as he said walked away with their paychecks (unless they were named Peter Sellers or R. Lee Ermey, who got to do a surprising amount of Improv
). Slim Pickens was never told he was making a comedy
, implying that his character was the hero of the film, heroically delivering the bomb that ends the world
. Pickens was okay with it in the long run, spinning the publicity into a highly successful career. On the other hand, George C Scott
wanted to play General Turgidson as a dignified Well-Intentioned Extremist
, so Kubrick tricked him by telling him to do a few over the top takes as "practice" and that they would never be put into the real movie.
Kubrick used all of them. Scott swore he would never work with Kubrick again.
He also had a long-time friendship with Steven Spielberg
, and the two would often have extended talks on the art of filmmaking and other subjects. Because of the England-Los Angeles time difference he would often call the latter up in the middle of the night, and the two would have conversations over the phone for hours
. He dismissed Spielberg's Schindler's List
for having a happy ending, but possibly he was miffed because he was planning to make his own film about the Holocaust and Spielberg beat him to it. After Kubrick's death Spielberg finished the last movie project that he had been working on as a token to him (although Kubrick had already pretty much given the reins of that project to Spielberg prior to his death), resulting in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Because of his tendency for blazingly original iconography (his background in photography really shows in his work), his films are ripe for Affectionate Parody
. Because his films include some of the bleakest and harshest ever made, it is completely impossible to do a cruel one.
His work, due to the controversy it has provoked, has often been Vindicated by History
. Many of his films including Paths of Glory
, Doctor Strangelove
, A Clockwork Orange
and 2001: A Space Odyssey
are now viewed as among the greatest ever made.
- Fear And Desire (1953) - his first real film, which he considered his Old Shame. Kubrick and his first wife were the only crew on-set during production. Recently restored and released on video via BluRay.
- Killer's Kiss (1955) - Kubrick's second wife cameos in this one.
- The Killing (1956) - the archetypal Film Noir, famous for its Non-Linear Plot.
- Paths of Glory (1957) - the first of two anti-war films starring Kirk Douglas. Set in WWI. The woman who would later become Kubrick's third wife (who would stay with him until his death) appears in this film. Also very underrated, Kirk Douglas once said "There's a picture that will always be good, years from now. I don't have to wait 50 years to know that; I know it now.". In 1959!
- Spartacus (1960) - the second of two anti-war films starring Kirk Douglas. Set in Rome. Not really a Kubrick movie; he came in at the last minute as a favor to Mr. Douglas.
- Lolita (1962)- Adaptation of the novel. Theoretically starred James Mason. Really starred Peter Sellers.
- Doctor Strangelove (1964) - A comedy that ends with the whole world dying. Starred Peter Sellers in three brilliant and very different roles. Also features Sterling Hayden, Anti-Hero from The Killing.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - An episodic film that is probably about the evolution of man. Starred special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull and was stolen (just as Lolita was stolen by Peter Sellers) by a computer named HAL.
- A Clockwork Orange (1971) - A bit of the old ultraviolence.
- Barry Lyndon (1975) - Martin Scorsese's personal favourite.
- The Shining (1980) - though it lost what made the book great, it is a great horror movie in its own right. This movie cemented Kubrick's reputation as a perfectionist.
- Full Metal Jacket (1987) - War movie set in Vietnam. Starred Matthew Modine as Private Joker, really starred R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
- Eyes Wide Shut (1999) - Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Has a mixed reputation.
His movies provide examples of:
- Banned in China:
- Paths of Glory was banned in France until 1970 due to its critical and inaccurate depiction of the French Army.
- Mixed with Creator Backlash after accusations of Life Imitates Art: A Clockwork Orange was withdrawn from distribution in the UK at Kubrick's request - he did not believe it had actually inspired the crimes blamed on it, but his family received threats and saw protests staged outside their home. It remained unavailable in the UK until after Kubrick's death in 1999.
- Big Applesauce: Despite being his home, only two of his films were set there.
- Bittersweet Ending: This is as happy as his films get.
- Black Comedy: His stories often include this kind of humour as an integral and natural part of the events. Dr Strangelove is built around it.
- Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Jack Torrence, Redmond Barry, Alex De Large and Bill Harford are all men attempting to take control of their destinies against society. One is destroyed in the attempt, two are put firmly back in their place, and Alex is vindicated by a new dystopian government.
- Brooklyn Rage
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Kubrick was ungodly eccentric, but the quality and impact of his films speak for themselves.
- The Cameo: His daughter Vivian plays minor uncredited roles in four of his movies. She also wrote the soundtrack of Full Metal Jacket under the name of Abigail Mead.
- The Conspiracy: Kubrick's entire filmography shows a huge distrust of people and institutions.
- Control Freak: One of the most insane perfectionists in movie history, sometimes requiring dozens of takes for very minor scenes. Very few actors got to ad-lib a single word in his movies, but the exceptions are remarkable, see Throw It In below.
- Creator Thumbprint: Bathroom scenes, often ominous.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Every film up to 2001, with the exception of Spartacus where he didn't have creative control.
- Doing It for the Art: This was the man who converted lenses from NASA to shoot in natural candlelight in Barry Lyndon looking right. Perhaps more impressive was getting an entire fleet of the Spanish army to be extras in Spartacus.
- Enforced Method Acting: invoked in many of his films.
- Executive Meddling:
- A Clockwork Orange suffered this. It was banned in some places because censors were afraid it would incite violence. Some claim it did.
- Barry Lyndon almost got this when executives wanted to film to be "zanier" with more slapstick comedy and songs. Kubrick sent back with an awesome response about how William Makepeace Thackeray (upon whose book the film is based) was known for his wit and satire but not for his zaniness, pratfalls, or musical numbers.
- The Film of the Book. Every Kubrick feature film after the first two was an adaptation of a book or short story. 2001 is a partial exception, as the original Arthur C. Clarke story only dealt with Heywood Floyd's trip to the Moon, and the rest of the story was written by Kubrick and Clarke in collaboration.
- Hobbes Was Right
- Insufferable Genius: Despite his perfectionist tendencies, Kubrick did not actually have much in common with this trope. He did poorly in school and even stated that his IQ was below average.
- Kubrick Stare: Trope Namer; a lot of his films used it.
- Odd Friendship: Kubrick and Spielberg were polar opposites as far as film styles go. They had a close friendship and Kubrick handpicked Spielberg to direct his final film.
- Prima Donna Director: After earning his Auteur License, every of his movies were productions which extended for years where he controlled every tiny of detail and forced the actors to over 20 takes at minimum.
- Production Throwback: Re-insertions of "CRM 114", originally the comunication device onboard the bombers of Dr Strangelove
- Public Domain Soundtrack: A prominent use of classical music from 2001 onwards.
- Reclusive Artist: After he went to the UK, helped by being afraid of flying;
- Scenery Porn.
- Kubrick really "composed" his backgrounds. Many rooms and settings have an almost photographic quality to them. They have been carefully constructed, built or put in the frame in a way that they too become interesting to look at. Small significant and symbolic details can be spotted by the observant viewer.
- A scene in or just outside a bathroom. Or both. Involving someone breaking into the bathroom.
- Shots down long paths with parallel walls.
- Later in his career, extensive Steadicam use. Kubrick was one of the first filmmakers to really embrace the technology. Interestingly, he was also known for personally handling the camera whenever an handheld (shaky) shot was necessary. Examples are 2001 (when descending the ramp on the moon), and The Killing, which is notable because it creates a Jitter Cam effect (meant to portray the chaos after a gunfight) in a black and white movie, in 1956.
- Shrouded in Myth: Due to Kubrick's reluctance to talk about the hidden meanings of his films he's probably one of the most analyzed and discussed film directors of all time. There are still scenes in his work that remain mysterious and are open for interpretation.
- Signature Style: Very far on the cynicism side for Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism, lots of hallways and tracking shots (he was particularly fond of the Steadicam), almost always an adaption of a book, mentally unstable protagonists, classical music (many times used for ironic effect), tons of black humor, the Kubrick Stare, at least one scene involving a toilet and above all meticulous attention to detail.
- Soundtrack Dissonance.
- The Spartan Way: Curiously and disconcertingly applied to filming up to Jerkass levels. Kubrick was a hardened and noted perfectionist, and the lengths he went to get the results he wanted were extreme. Jack Nicholson in particular swore off working with him after The Shining because of the way he treated the cast and crew.
- Throw It In: Despite his reputation for being a perfectionist and retaking shots over and over, many of Kubrick's films' most iconic moments were unscripted, including:
- Wag the Director:
- In a bit of Early-Installment Weirdness and in a non-hostile manner during the production of Spartacus. Kirk Douglas fired Anthony Mann and hired Stanley Kubrick, and though directing the film made Kubrick famous, he later claimed that almost everything was really controlled by Kirk Douglas, who was also the producer. The two of them were very good friends and Kubrick did it as a favor to Douglas.
- Although they weren't friends by the end, as both tried to control the film creatively, and the picture really wasn't big enough for both of them. Douglas later went on to describe Kubrick as "a talented shit."
- Kubrick quit the production of Marlon Brando's vehicle One Eyed Jacks (1961) after it became clear that Brando wanted to direct the film himself and Kubrick would be the director in name only.
- Worthy Opponent: In chess, according to George C Scott. It's why he still respected him after the trick Kubrick pulled in Strangelove.