Kubrick, Stanley


Kubrick, Stanley
(1928–1999)
   In a career that spanned 40 years—but included a mere baker’s dozen feature films, released in ever slower sequence as his notorious tendencies toward the micromanagement of projects became more pronounced—Stanley Kubrick established a distinctive but divided reputation as a director, famous for controversy and unpredictability as much as for meticulous professionalism and technical innovation; and for producing works that have consistently divided critics as well as broader audiences. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and THE SHINING (1980) essentially reclaimed the previously pulpish genres of SCIENCE FICTION and popular horror for the big-budget cinematic mainstream, but Kubrick was equally at home adapting relatively obscure literary works like WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY’s BARRY LYNDON and ARTHUR SCHNITZLER’s TRAUMNOVELLE (the source for EYES WIDE SHUT, 1999),working in established genres like that of the war film (PATHS OF GLORY, 1957, and FULL METAL JACKET, 1987), or inventing entirely new categories of film (as he did most notably in the nuclear-war comedy DR. STRANGELOVE).
   The range of genres across which Kubrick worked makes his body of films difficult to categorize, although some basic common ground can be found. On a thematic level, all of Kubrick’s films feature a dark, sometimes even malevolent skepticism about the effectualness of human aspirations in the face of an unknowable cosmos. In structural terms, many of his works involve highly divided plots (most obvious, perhaps, in Full Metal Jacket, but characteristic of other Kubrick films as well). On a technical level, they are marked by striking visual compositions (especially favoring a haunting symmetry), fluid camera movements (often employing newly developed technologies), and memorable use of musical scores. Kubrick was born on July 26, 1928, in the Bronx, New York, to a family of Romanian heritage. Critic Anthony Lane finds it highly significant that his father’s gift to the young boy of a still camera and a chessboard was “an inspired, if slightly ominous, combination. ” Kubrick, like novelist VLADIMIR NABOKOV, continues Lane, “would later be hailed as the grand master of aesthetic strategy—or, if you prefer, as the Bobby Fischer of cinema, the hermit wonk who used his players like pawns and trapped his harried audiences in check. ”When Kubrick was 17, he got a job at LOOK MAGAZINE and continued in that position for four years before resuming his education. But in a very real sense, this was his education, as he noted to interviewer ALEXANDER WALKER: “Four and a half years of working for Look magazine, traveling all over America, seeing how things worked and the way people behaved, gave me some useful insights plus important experience in photography. ” He also cites Max Ophuls’s films, Stanislavsky’s acting methods, and Vsevelod Pudovkin’s book Film Technique as seminal influences on his camera strategies and directing and editing practices. After fashioning a trio of short documentaries, beginning with the self-financed “DAY OF THE FIGHT” (1951), Kubrick plunged into feature films with FEAR AND DESIRE (1953), a war film about four soldiers lost behind enemy lines in an unnamed war. He followed this with KILLER’S KISS (1955), a boxing picture shot in New York City locations. Later, Kubrick told Gene Phillips that he saw the picture as a modest achievement: “The only distinction I would claim for it is that, to the best of my belief, no one at the time had ever made a feature film in such amateur circumstances and then obtained world-wide distribution for it. ” More interesting was the noirish THE KILLING Stanley Kubrick with his sister Barbara, sitting on their father’s car, in the Bronx, circa 1937 (Kubrick estate) (1956), a racetrack heist tale enlivened by STERLING HAYDEN’s portrayal of a just-paroled con man and the script assistance of novelist JIM THOMPSON. It was also the first film on which Kubrick was proud to have his name.
   It is with Paths of Glory (1957), however, that Kubrick comes into his own. Again working with Thompson on the script, and with KIRK DOUGLAS as his leading actor, Kubrick fashions a devastating critique of military hierarchies and class systems amid a brutal portrait of the trench warfare of World War I. Paths is divided between battle action, which recreates much of the horror of the trenches, and a courtmartial of three soldiers accused of refusing to follow orders who have been chosen to be made examples of for the rest of the fighting forces. The battle sequences feature aggressively filmed dramatic action reinforced by the sounds of war, while the courtmartial proceeds in relative silence, framed incongruously by an elegant French château. If the horrors of war provide the background to the story, its narrative focuses even more decisively on the French high command’s class-based indifference to the plight of the common soldier.
   Douglas would give Kubrick his next directing job, hiring him to take over the troubled shooting of SPARTACUS (1960) from Anthony Mann. An epic account of a Roman gladiator who led a slave revolt, the film remains a classic among the era’s many historical reenactments of the Roman past, but Kubrick’s inability to exert control over the studio’s final cut cemented his disenchantment with the Hollywood studio system. After this experience, he moved to the semirural region of Hertfordshire, just outside London, and would for the rest of his career direct at an ocean and a continent’s distance from Hollywood. It is true, declared, British critic Alexander Walker in 1971, that Kubrick’s seclusion in the English countryside assured him a quiet place “where time, energy, inspiration, confidence cannot be eroded by too much contact with the world”; however, continues Walker, it was also a location where he “finds it easy and attractive to keep in contact with the international film scene, and, indeed, with the larger world, from wherever he happens to be. ” Kubrick’s distrust of studio systems would be further reinforced by the difficulties surrounding his adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita (1962). Kubrick can be said, in response to the constraints of the time, to have found a way to substitute Humbert’s ironic subjectivity (relying heavily on JAMES MASON’s insightful portrayal) for the more open sensuality the novel would seem to have demanded, but the resulting film was still controversial and suffered at the hands of the Hollywood censors. “I wasn’t able to give any weight at all to the erotic aspect of Humbert’s relationship with Lolita in the film,” Kubrick told interviewer GENE D. PHILLIPS, “and because I could only hint at the true nature of his attraction to Lolita, it was assumed too quickly by filmgoers that Humbert was in love with her. In the novel this comes as a discovery at the end, when Lolita is no longer a nymphet but a pregnant housewife; and it’s this encounter, and the sudden realization of his love for her, that is one of the most poignant elements of the story. ” Still, many critics, including Pauline Kael, liked the results. “The surprise of Lolita is how enjoyable it is; it’s the first new American comedy since those great days in the forties when Preston Sturges created comedy with verbal slapstick. Lolita is black slapstick and at times it’s so far out that you gasp as you laugh. ”
   If Paths of Glory established Kubrick as a director, his next project, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), loosely based on PETER GEORGE’s novel, RED ALERT, secured his independence. A wild dark comedy about nuclear holocaust, the film employs a talented cast (most notably including PETER SELLERS, in a range of roles, and GEORGE C. SCOTT) to create a menagerie of human grotesques responsible for carrying out the nightmare scenario of accidental nuclear destruction. Starkly outrageous in its portrait of out-of-control militarism, in its linkage of nuclear policy and Nazism, and in its celebratory rendition of the destruction of humanity, the film hardly seemed an obvious candidate for popular success in the duckand-cover age of cold war nuclear fears, but Kubrick’s bleak slapstick hit a receptive nerve. “My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay,” Kubrick told Phillips. “I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving things out of it which were either absurd or paradoxical in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seem to be close to the heart of the scenes in question. ”
   The film 2001 appeared four years later and marked a striking shift in tone, pace, and theme. About man’s exploration of space, but also about intelligent life beyond Earth (and the possibility that that life has guided human development), with side plots about the principle of violence underpinning human evolution and the capabilities of artificial intelligence, and featuring the memorable psychedelic roller-coaster ride of its concluding segment, the film is a metaphysical mystery that works more through evocation than a deliberate narrative. Regarding the celebrated opening sequence in which an ape discovers digital dexterity,Kubrick told Phillips:“Somebody said that man is the missing link between primitive apes and civilized human beings. You might say that the idea is inherent in the story of 2001 too. We are semicivilized, capable of cooperation and affection but needing some sort of transfiguration into a higher form of life. ” The film also involved Kubrick in extensive technical research, ensuring insofar as possible both the accuracy of his futurist vision and the technical means to bring it to the screen.
   Kubrick followed 2001 with an adaptation of ANTHONY BURGESS’s 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange. Released in 1971, the film was a dystopian nightmare vision of youth culture gone awry, a portrait of an ultraviolent British future dominated by hedonist gangs inclined toward excess. Coming in the wake of a series of increasingly violent Hollywood releases, its controversy was enhanced because the film’s tone appeared deeply ambiguous, seemingly celebrating as much as condemning the dark violence of its vision, mixing brutality and slapstick, layering comic-book images into its most violent scenes, and offering a final “redemption” that plunged its hero back into the realm of gangster excess. Above all, the film was a kind of “dance of death. ”“It was necessary to find a way of stylizing the violence, just as Burgess does by his writing style,” Kubrick explained to critic Andrew Bailey. “The ironic counterpoint of the music was certainly one of the ways of achieving this . . . and in a very broad sense, you could say that the violence is turned into dance, although, of course, it is in no way any kind of formal dance. But in cinematic terms, I should say that movement and music must inevitably be related to dance, just as the rotating space station and the docking Orion spaceship in 2001 moved to the ‘Blue Danube. ’” In 1974, disturbed by accounts of real-life violent acts attributed to screenings of the film, he ordered the film pulled from circulation in Britain, although it remained in release elsewhere.
   It has been claimed that in no subsequent film has Kubrick as successfully conveyed his vision or attained such solid commercial and critical acclaim. If that is true, it is less a matter of lost control of craft-he continued to pioneer new film techniques, to bring actors to masterful exertions, and to produce films of elegant technical mastery, although continuity flaws, a mark of his method, become increasingly apparent—than of a faltering unity of vision, perhaps exacerbated by an increasing obsessiveness (evident in the slowing pace of releases and the multiple takes). After Clockwork Orange (and several failed projects),Kubrick shifted gears again with Barry Lyndon, a slow-paced, narrative-heavy period piece set in the 18th century. The vision of humanity offered in its leisurely tour through the battlefields and drawing rooms of that era is every bit as dark as that in his earlier work, although the restraint of the period style and the elegance of the settings somewhat ameliorates the pessimism of the tale. The Shining (1980) transforms STEPHEN KING’s pulp novel into a richly envisioned but distinctly interior meditation on insanity, spiced with the occultism and cathartic bursts of violence the genre demands. Kubrick contributed to the burgeoning Vietnam War genre of the later 1980s with Full Metal Jacket (1987), but the bitter antiwar drama confused some audiences with its starkly split narrative and its detachment. It suffered in comparison with Oliver Stone’s Platoon’s grunt’seye view of the war, which it had the misfortune to follow in release. Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novel Traumnovelle, was a dreamy, dark allegory about eroticism and human desire (rather than fulfillment). Released shortly after the director’s death, it received a decidedly mixed reception, divided between those who celebrated its brilliance and those who found its allusive ambiguities merely irritating. In a career highlighted by long development and work on multiple projects, Kubrick is almost as famous for films that were never made as for those he finished. Particularly noteworthy among these is ONE-EYED JACKS, a project with MARLON BRANDO that had faltered by 1961, and an epic picture about NAPOLEON, envisioned by Kubrick in the late 1960s (and alluded to in both Clockwork Orange’s musical choices and Barry Lyndon’s emblematic final scene).
   Another long-term project, A. I. (for artificial intelligence), was taken over by STEVEN SPIELBERG and released in the summer of 2001. Kubrick’s genius tends to obscure an essential emptiness in his films, declares critic Anthony Lane: “He wanted to make everything new—the plushest costume drama ever, the most baroque science fiction, the war to end all wars—but, for all his erudition, he rarely paused to ponder what might lie in the bedrock of the old, or the ordinary, or the much loved. ”
   References
   ■ Kagan, Norman, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972);
   ■ Lane, Anthony, “The Last Emperor: How Stanley Kubrick Called the World to Order,” New Yorker, March 22, 1999, pp. 120–123;
   ■ LoBrutto,Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Donald I. Fine Books, 1997);
   ■ Nelson, Thomas Allen, Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982);
   ■ Phillips, Gene D. , Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey (New York: Popular Library, 1975);
   ■ Raphael, Frederick, Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick (New York: Ballantine Books, 1999).
   T. P.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • KUBRICK, STANLEY — (1928–1999), U.S. film producer and director. Born in the Bronx, New York, Kubrick worked as an apprentice photographer at Look Magazine at the age of 17. He made his first feature film, Fear and Desire, in 1953, and his first moneymaking film,… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Kubrick, Stanley — born July 26, 1928, New York, N.Y., U.S. died March 7, 1999, Childwickbury Manor, near St. Albans, Hertfordshire, Eng. U.S. film director. He began his career as a photographer for Look magazine (1945–50). He directed two documentary films before …   Universalium

  • Kubrick, Stanley — • КУ БРИК (Kubrick) Стэнли (р. 26.7.1928)    амер. режиссёр, сценарист, продюсер. В кино с 1951 (к/м док. ф. День боя ). Известность принёс К. антимилитаристский ф. Тропы славы (1957) о франц. солдатах 1 й мировой войны, расплачивающихся жизнью… …   Кино: Энциклопедический словарь

  • Kubrick, Stanley —    b. 1928, New York (USA)    Film maker    Though his early films were produced in Hollywood, Kubrick’s finest and most innovative work is British. He emigrated to the UK in 1961 and his first British film was an adaptation of Nabokov’s Lolita… …   Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture

  • Kubrick,Stanley — Ku·brick (ko͞oʹbrĭk , kyo͞oʹ ), Stanley. 1928 1999. American filmmaker whose works include Lolita (1962), Dr. Strangelove (1963), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), and A Clockwork Orange (1971). * * * …   Universalium

  • Kubrick, Stanley — …   Википедия

  • Kubrick, Stanley —    см. Кубрик, Стэнли …   Режиссерская энциклопедия. Кино США

  • Kubrick, Stanley — ► (1928 99) Director cinematográfico estadounidense. Llega hasta el interior de los hechos y personajes con un lenguaje directo. Películas: Espartaco (1960), Lolita (1962), ¿Teléfono rojo? Volamos hacia Moscú (1963), 2001, una odisea del espacio… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Kubrick — Kubrick, Stanley …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Kubrick — Stanley Kubrick Stanley Kubrick Autoportrait de Kubrick avec un Leica III (extrait du livre Drame et Ombres ) Nom de naissance Stanley …   Wikipédia en Français


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