'"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
(July 26, 1928 — March 7, 1999) was a controversial director. In a good way
. His films spanned 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, particularly cats
, and very close to his wife and children. However, 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 assuring him that the cameras were off
, and that Kubrick and the rest of the cast and crew are the only ones seeing him. He proceeded to use those takes, leading to Scott swearing to not work with Kubrick again.He also had a long-time friendship with Steven Spielberg
, and in spite of their radically different styles, 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 Schindlers 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.
Amazingly enough Kubrick is also a prime example of Dead Artists Are Better
. During his lifetime virtually all his films were met with a polarizing reception by critics and the audience. Several were banned or criticized for being controversial. Others baffled audiences because they were so unusual within the genre they were presented in. Many viewers felt his work was too cold and calculated, with cynical Black Comedy
and a general distrust of humanity and its institutions. As a result a lot of Kubrick's films only received their quality reputations after a some time had gone by. All of them have been Vindicated by History
as masterpieces at this point, especially after his death in 1999.
Oh—and many a Conspiracy Theorist
has attributed the "faked" footage of the Moon Landing Hoax
to Kubrick. Understandable: considering the often-praised realism of 2001
, he was basically the only filmmaker at the time who could
have pulled it off. note
- 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. Another one Kubrick felt was too bad to be bothered with.
- 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.
- Dr. 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. Words can not describe how controversial this was when first released. Kubrick even had it banned himself in his home country until his death.
- Barry Lyndon (1975) - Just about the most detailed and beautiful period piece in movie history. Martin Scorsese's personal favourite.
- The Shining (1980) - 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, but it's not as divisive as it once was.
His movies provide examples of:
- Ambiguous Disorder: Its is now widely suspected that he may have had Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism.
- 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.
- Certain scenes of Eyes Wide Shut were blurred out in the USA at the time for being too sexually explicit. In other Western countries people got the uncensored version and wondered what the hell was the fuss about?
- Big Applesauce: Despite being his home, only two of his films were set there, namely Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut- and the latter wasn't even filmed 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. A Clockwork Orange is mostly this throughout the entire story.
- Brooklyn Rage: He was a New Yorker but he's famous for his cold, detached way of film-making. So maybe an aversion. It's often surprising to hear Kubrick speak in interviews with a thick Noo Yawk accent.
- 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 Chessmaster: Both literally and figuratively. He once attempted to assert himself over an uncooperative George C Scott by challenging him to a chess game. Scott unwisely accepted. He also tended to see his actors and staff as pieces to be placed in his compositions.
- Children Are Innocent: During the filming of The Shining, Kubrick didn't expose Danny Lloyd to the disturbing elements of the movie, and severely re-edited it to cut out anything scary. It got to the point where Lloyd thought he was starring in a boring drama about a family doing nothing in a hotel. A major Pet the Dog moment for Kubrick, seeing how it was happening simultaneously with his treatment of Shelley Duvall...
- The Conspiracy: Kubrick's entire filmography shows a huge distrust of humanity and institutions, like the government, the army, the police,...
- 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.
- Dead Artists Are Better: During his lifetime Kubrick's work had already received recognition for being artistically and intellectually more interesting than your average movie, but nearly all his works were polarizing upon their intitial release. Paths Of Glory was dismissed because it showed the army as cold and inhuman and didn't glorify the military. Lolita caused controversy because it was about a middle aged man falling in love with a teenage girl. Dr. Strangelove upset people because it showed governments as incompetent and unable to prevent a nuclear war. 2001: A Space Odyssey was criticized for being pretentious and incomprehensible. A Clockwork Orange caused outrage for glorifying rape and violence. Barry Lyndon was seen as boring and soulless. The Shining was lamblasted for relying more on creepy atmosphere than actually showing anything happening, not to mention Jack Nicholson's over the top performance. Full Metal Jacket got mixed reviews because the second half just pads on without the strength of the first half. Eyes Wide Shut got better reviews, but this had more to do with Kubrick's death before the film came out. A lot of people still felt it was a slow erotic movie that wasn't sexy at all and just resulted in a Shaggy Dog Story with an anticlimax. All of his films have been Vindicated by History nevertheless, usually within 10 years after their initial release.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Every film up to 2001, with the exception of Spartacus.
- 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.
- This also extends to actual methods of filming as well, with Kubrick always quick to embrace the next development in film technology. This has led to problems when the time came to archive his original prints and reels since the means for playing them are no longer available due to obsolescence.
- Downer Ending: "Paths Of Glory" ends with the soldiers accused of desertion being shot. "Dr. Strangelove" ends with the entire world being succombed into nuclear war. Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" is sent back in the streets, despite his criminal record, and now hailed as a victim of the people who tried to cure him from his violent tendencies.
- 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: His work evokes extreme distrust of humanity and the lengths people will go through to control, hurt and kill each other as part of the grander scheme of the system. Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange definitely show Kubrick's hatred for these things. Full Metal Jacket is a bit more fodder for polarizing discussion. On the one hand it shows how the army dehumanizes its soldiers, but at the same time Kubrick doesn't seem really sure if it ever could/would or should be another way?
- Humans Are Bastards: Kubrick's films show mankind at its worst, especially political and military institutions and organisations. A telling moment in 2001: A Space Odyssey is that one of the first things apeman does with his higher intelligence is bashing the head of his fellow apemans in with a huge bone.
- 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. On the other hand: if something interested him he wanted to know everything about the subject matter and you better take that literally. Every other book written about the topic, until the tiniest detail, was scrutinized by him.
- 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.
- The Perfectionist: In preparation of each new project Kubrick read every possible book about topics concerning the story that he could lay his hands on. One has to see this to believe it, because he also categorized the information in files and tried to find answers to really odd problems that seemed trivial to others. Nevertheless the end results were often staggering, with officials often wondering how on Earth he was able to get his facts and details so accurately precise? Quite amusingly, Kubrick denied being considered such.
- Pet the Dog: Several. Especially during the filming of The Shining.
- Since the movie was Danny Lloyd's first acting job and that he was very young, Kubrick was genuinely concerned and highly protective of the child. Kubrick treated Danny's scenes like a little game, and kept him from discovering the true nature of the film. During the filming, Lloyd was under the impression that Kubrick was making a drama. He only realized the truth several years later, when he was shown a heavily edited version of the film. He did not see the uncut version of the film until he was 17 - eleven years after he had made it.
- Despite his reported abuse of Shelley Duvall on set, Kubrick spoke very highly of her ability in multiple interviews and found himself quite impressed by her performance in the finished film.
- Prima Donna Director: Trope Codifier. After earning his Auteur License, every of his movies were productions which extended for years where he controlled every tiny detail and forced the actors to do over 20 takes at minimum. This resulted in great films.
- Production Throwback: Re-insertions of "CRM 114", originally the comunication device onboard the bombers of Dr. Strangelove
- Properly Paranoid: Kubrick's work shows a deep paranoia and fear of humanity and how it is forced to function within certain systems.
- Public Domain Soundtrack: A prominent use of classical music from 2001 onwards.
- Reclusive Artist: After he went to the UK, helped by his fear 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 a 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.
- Smart People Play Chess: Kubrick was an avid chess player, and it forced him to be slow, methodical and deliberate with his actions, as seen in his movies.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Kubrick often used well known classical music and pop melodies and put them in an ironic new context. This has led to Pop-Cultural Osmosis in some cases where one can't hear the original piece without associating it with a Kubrick film instead.
- 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:
- Verbal Tic: A lot of the dialog in his movies goes... very... slowly... sometimes with lots of pauses within a line, or more commonly, characters pausing before EVERY reply, sometimes causing a conversation of four or five lines to take nearly a minute.
- 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 what Kubrick did to him in Strangelove.