Stanley Kubrick

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Stanley Kubrick
American filmmaker
"I would not think of quarreling with your interpretation nor offering any other, as I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself."
Born July 26, 1928
The Bronx, New York City, United States
Died March 7, 1999
Hertfordshire, England

Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928March 7, 1999) was an American film director and producer. Kubrick's films, most of which were adapted from literary sources, are characterized by technical brilliance, inventive storytelling, and wit. His trademarks include long tracking shots and extensive zooms, and use of pop songs and classical music.


Early Life

Kubrick was born on July 26, 1928 in the Bronx, New York City, United States, the first child of Jacques Kubrick and his wife Gertrude (born as Perveler). A second child, Barbara, was born in 1934. Jacques, whose parents had been Jewish immigrants of Austro-Romanian origin, was a successful doctor. When Kubrick was twelve years old, his father taught him how to play chess. At thirteen Jacques bought Stanley a Graflex camera, triggering Kubrick's fascination with still photography. At this time, he became interested in jazz, and strove to become a drummer.

Stanley Kubrick grew up in the Bronx, New York City as the first child of a well-to-do family.
Stanley Kubrick grew up in the Bronx, New York City as the first child of a well-to-do family.

Kubrick attended William Howard Taft High School from 1941 to 1945. He was a poor student with a meager grade average of 67. When he graduated from high school in 1945, colleges were flooded with soldiers returning from service in the Second World War, and Kubrick's poor grades eliminated his hopes of getting into a post-secondary school. During Kubrick's high school years his interest in photography became increasingly serious. Chosen the official school photographer for a year, he sought job opportunities on his own. By the time of his graduation Kubrick had already sold a series of pictures to New York's Look. To supplement his income, Kubrick began playing "chess for quarters" in Washington Square Park and in Manhattan chess clubs. Kubrick also registered for night courses at the City College, to improve his grade average. Kubrick continued to approach Look with new pictures to sell and was hired as an apprentice photographer in 1946. He later became a full-time member of the staff.

During the years he spent at Look (19461951), Kubrick developed his photographic talents in various commissions in the United States and abroad, and married Toba Metz. They moved to Greenwich Village. It was also during this time that Kubrick began frequenting film screenings at the Museum of Modern Art and at cinemas all over New York City. He became particularly inspired by the complex and fluid camera movements of Max Ophüls, whose films influenced Kubrick's developing visual style.

Film Career and Later Life

Early Films

In 1951 Kubrick's friend Alex Singer, persuaded him to make short documentaries for a provider of cinema-distributed newsreels. Kubrick agreed and independently financed Day of the Fight (1951). Although the March of Time went out of business in 1951, Kubrick was able to sell Day of the Fight to RKO Pictures for a small profit of one hundred dollars. Kubrick quit his job at Look and began work on his second documentary short, Flying Padre (also from 1951), funded by RKO. The Seafarers (1953), Kubrick's first film in color, was a 30-minute promotion for the Seafarers' International Union. These three films, in addition to several other short subjects which have not survived, would be his last works in the documentary genre. He also was the second unit director of an episode of the television show Omnibus focusing on the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Beginning with Fear and Desire in 1953, Kubrick would concentrate solely on feature-length narrative films. Fear and Desire concerns a team of soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in a fictional war. In the finale, the men realize the faces of their enemies are identical to their own (the characters are played by the same actors). Fear and Desire garnered respectable reviews, but was a failure commercially and artistically. Kubrick denied the showing of Fear and Desire in retrospectives and other public screenings after he had established himself as a major filmmaker. Kubrick's marriage to his high school sweetheart Toba came to an end during the making of Fear and Desire. He next married dancer Ruth Sobotka in 1954, and worked in a cameo appearance for her in his next film. Killer's Kiss (1955), like Fear and Desire, is a short feature film with a running time of little over an hour. Like Fear and Desire, Killer's Kiss gained limited commercial and critical success. The film revolves around a young welterweight boxer at the end of his career who gets himself mixed up with organized crime. Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss were both privately funded by loans from close family members.

The Killing

Singer introduced Kubrick to a young producer named James B. Harris. The two became lifelong friends, and their business partnership Harris-Kubrick Productions would finance Kubrick's films from The Killing (1956) to Lolita (1962). They purchased the rights to the Lionel White novel Clean Break which Kubrick and co-screenwriter Jim Thompson turned into a screenplay. 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, and although not a financial success, it was Kubrick's first critically acclaimed film, and brought Harris-Kubrick Productions to the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The major studio offered the pair the chance to pick out a project to develop from their massive collection of copyrighted stories. They chose The Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig, which Kubrick turned into a screenplay with Calder Willingham. However, the deal with MGM fell through before the film got properly underway. Kubrick and Harris began to plan their next project.

Paths Of Glory

Left to right: Stanley Kubrick, James B. Harris, and Kirk Douglas on the set of Paths of Glory (1957).
Left to right: Stanley Kubrick, James B. Harris, and Kirk Douglas on the set of Paths of Glory (1957).

Kubrick suggested they adapt author Humphrey Cobb's Paths of Glory. Kubrick, again with Willingham, developed the story into a complete screenplay. Prior to Kirk Douglas's involvement in the project, Harris and Kubrick had little success in interesting a studio. Once a major star of Douglas' caliber was on board, United Artists decided to take up the film. Paths of Glory (1957) went on to become Kubrick's first significant commercial and critical success. The production of the film took place in Munich, Bavaria. While in Germany, Kubrick met and became romantically involved with a young actress named Christiane Harlan (who performed under the stage name of "Susanne Christian"), for whom he had created the only female part in Paths of Glory. Christiane (born in 1932) was four years his junior and had been born in Germany into a theatrical family. She trained as a dancer and actress. The two would marry within a year. The marriage was Kubrick's third and last, ending only in his death in 1999. In addition to raising Christiane's young daughter Katharina (born 1953) from her previous marriage, the couple would have two daughters: Anya (b. 1958) and Vivian (b. 1960).


After returning to the United States, Kubrick worked six months on the Marlon Brando vehicle One-Eyed Jacks (1961). Because Brando wanted to direct the film himself, Kubrick left before the actual production began and spent time on projects that never went beyond the script stage. Kirk Douglas requested that he take over the director's chair on Spartacus (1960). Kubrick agreed. During the production, creative differences arose between Kubrick and Douglas, who was both the producer and star of the film. Kubrick was frustrated by his lack of creative control, a result of having been selected as the second director after Anthony Mann had dropped out for creative differences only one week into production. Although well-received by critics and moviegoers, the battles waged over Spartacus convinced Kubrick that he would have to find ways to work with the financial resources of Hollywood without becoming involved in Hollywood's production conventions.


Kubrick relocated to England to make Lolita in 1962, and would reside there for the rest of his life. The film caused Kubrick's first major controversy. He worked with the book's author, Vladimir Nabokov, to produce a screenplay that would allow the book to be filmed without being banned from theaters worldwide. Despite this, however, the fate of the film's release was in the hands of the Catholic Church who had their own censorhip bureau. Several scenes in the film had to be re-edited in order for Kubrick to get it released. He later commented that had he realized how severe the censorship limitations were going to be, he probably never would have made the film.

Dr. Strangelove

It was with Lolita that he first worked with Peter Sellers. Kubrick asked Sellers to play four roles simultaneously in his next film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), and Sellers accepted (though he eventually only played three of those roles). Kubrick's decision to film a Cold War thriller as a jet-black comedy was a daring risk, one that paid off for both himself and Columbia Pictures. By belittling the sacrosanct norms of the political culture as the squabbling of intellectual children, Strangelove foreshadowed the great cultural upheavals of the late 1960s as well as Kubrick's next project. Kubrick's success with Strangelove persuaded the studios that he was an auteur who could be trusted to deliver popular films despite his unusual ideas. Warner Brothers gave him almost complete artistic freedom on all his ensuing projects.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Kubrick spent five years developing his next film, 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey (photographed in single-film MGM Camera 65/Super Panavision 70 Cinerama). Kubrick collaborated with Arthur C. Clarke, adapting parts of Clarke's short story "The Sentinel" (Clarke also wrote a novelization of the screenplay, which was released alongside the film). The film was groundbreaking in its use of visual effects. Despite numerous nominations in the categories of directing, writing, and producing, the only Academy Award Kubrick ever received was for his supervision on the special effects for 2001. The realistic look of the spacecraft would have a huge impact on the portrayal of technology in subsequent science fiction movies. The film was also notable for its use of European classical music (including Also Sprach Zarathustra and The Blue Danube). 2001: A Space Odyssey represented a radical departure from both Kubrick's previous films and the mainstream Hollywood paradigm. While Kubrick would never again push the experimental envelope quite so hard, paradoxically Kubrick would win a uniquely total creative control from Hollywood by succeeding with one of the most "difficult" films ever to win such a wide release. Critics were initially divided in their response to the film, but it was a huge popular success.

A Clockwork Orange

Kubrick's next project was to be an epic biopic of Napoleon. He did a great deal of research and wrote a preliminary screenplay, but ultimately the project was cancelled due to the box office failure of the Napoleon-themed Waterloo (1970). Instead his next film would be A Clockwork Orange (1971), which was darker in tone than 2001 (and originally released with an "X" rating in the US). The film was based on Anthony Burgess' novel about a criminal who undergoes treatment to be 'cured' of violent urges. Its depictions of teenage gangs committing acts of rape and violence made the film controversial, and the controversy increased when copycat acts were committed by criminals wearing the costumes of the film's characters. Kubrick was perplexed by critics who said he was glorifying violence. When he received death threats targeting himself and his family, Kubrick took the unusual step of removing the film from circulation in Britain, with the result that the film was not shown again there until its rerelease in 2000, after his death.

Barry Lyndon

William Makepeace Thackeray's The Luck of Barry Lyndon, also known as Barry Lyndon, a picaresque novel about an 18th century gambler and fortune hunter was just what Kubrick wanted to film next. It would be Kubrick's least appreciated, in the U.S., post-Strangelove film, despite the performances of Ryan O'Neal and Irish actress Marie Kean. Barry Lyndon (1975) was considered by some critics to be cold, slow-moving, and lifeless. As with most of his films later assessments would change. His innovative adaptation of cameras and lighting techniques (including filming scenes lit only by candlelight) and the blending of music and action would set standards that others would attempt to match.

Final Films

Kubrick's filmmaking pace slowed considerably after the release of Barry Lyndon. The Shining (a 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's novel starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall) and Full Metal Jacket did not reach the heights of Dr. Strangelove and 2001 in the eyes of many critics, though they are still seen as exceptional examples of their genres. After Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick spent years planning a project entitled A.I., but due to the limited special effects technology of the time, he postponed the idea and filmed Eyes Wide Shut instead. (In 2001, friend Steven Spielberg finished Kubrick's final project, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence based on the late director's treatment.) Released in 1999, Eyes Wide Shut starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a couple caught up in a sexual odyssey (Cruise and Kidman were married at the time). The story is based on Arthur Schnitzler's novella, Traumnovelle (Dream Novel). Days after screening a final cut of "Eyes Wide Shut" for his family, lead actors Cruise and Kidman, and Warner Bros. executives, Kubrick died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 70, in 1999, and was interred in the grounds of Childwickbury Manor, Hertfordshire, England. Kubrick was always unwilling to discuss personal matters publicly. Newspaper articles reported unfounded rumors as facts. Kubrick was seen as a hermit genius akin to Howard Hughes. After his death, Kubrick's family and close associates began to take steps to debunk the myth.


  • Kubrick often had antagonistic relationships with writers with whom he collaborated. Sir Arthur C. Clarke was upset that Kubrick's actions caused the delay of the publication of his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey so that it appeared the book was a novelization of the film rather than the film an adaptation of the book as the pair had agreed. Anthony Burgess was appalled that he was called on to defend A Clockwork Orange when Kubrick refused to do so. Burgess believed that the film contradicted the message of his novel. Writer Stephen King was vocal in interviews when developing his own television mini-series version of The Shining, hinting at how he was unhappy with Kubrick's adaptation of the film. Although the writer never discussed his opinions in public, due to a legal contract he signed regarding the film.
  • Kubrick's later films were usually filmed at Borehamwood Film Studios in Hertfordshire. The Docklands area of London was also used as a stand in for Vietnam in Full Metal Jacket.
  • The last occasion on which Kubrick was seen in public was at a performance of The Blue Room at the Donmar Warehouse then starring Nicole Kidman.
  • Over the years, Kubrick worked on a number of projects which did not evolve beyond the script stage: Napoleon (1969-1971); Aryan Papers (1988-1991), a Holocaust story postponed because of Schindler's List; and Blue Movie (late 1960s, early 1970s), about a director so highly regarded he is allowed to direct a pornographic movie starring major Hollywood stars. This project was proposed by Terry Southern following their collaboration on Dr. Strangelove and was the basis of his novel Blue Movie. In 1997, it was believed Kubrick was making his own "blue movie" with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise (this later turned out to be Eyes Wide Shut).
  • According to his wife, Christiane, some of his favorite films were Eraserhead, The Godfather, and Summer of '42. He was a fan of The Simpsons, which has often referenced his films.
  • Variations of "CRM-114", which was a device used on the B-52 bomber in Dr. Strangelove, have appeared as a reoccuring theme in other Kubrick films. In 2001: A Space Odyssey one of the space pods was labled with serial number CRM-114. In A Clockwork Orange, Alex was injected with "serum 114" (serum = CRM). In Eyes Wide Shut, the mortuary was located on Level/Wing C, Room 114.


Documentary Short Films

Feature Films


  • Stanley Kubrick, (2001) Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1578062977
  • Jeremy Bernstein (November 1966). A Day in the Life of Stanley Kubrick, The New Yorker, ?: ?
  • David Hughes (2000) The Complete Kubrick, London: Virgin. ISBN 0-7535-0452-9
  • Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. Documentary film. Dir. Jan Harlan. Warner Home Video, 2001. 142 min.

External Links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

Films by Stanley Kubrick
Day of the Fight | Flying Padre | The Seafarers | Fear and Desire | Killer's Kiss | The Killing | Paths of Glory | Spartacus | Lolita | Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb | 2001: A Space Odyssey | A Clockwork Orange | Barry Lyndon | The Shining | Full Metal Jacket | Eyes Wide Shut | A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
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