Film historian Michel Ciment has declared Stanley Kubrick’s body of work to be “amongst the most important contributions to world cinema in the twentieth century” and such a bold statement is irrefutable. Although many of his films were considered to be divisive upon their initial release, they have since become deeply revered classics and inspired many film-makers working today, including the likes of Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick’s legacy and influence cannot be understated, but this edition of So You Think You Know… will attempt to convey it as concisely and effectively as possible.
Kubrick was born in Manhattan, New York, in 1928 and his fascination with still photography began as a young teenager when his father bought him a camera. His neighbour, Martin Traub, was similarly passionate about photography and Kubrick would spend much of his time in Traub’s dark room. In high school, he was chosen as an official school photographer and became an apprentice photographer for Look magazine where he soon gained a reputation for telling stories through his images. Eventually, Kubrick’s focus and attentions shifted and friends notices his growing fixation with film-making; he would spend many hours reading books on film theory, attending film screenings at the Museum of Modern Art and became inspired by the directors Max Ophuls and Elia Kazan. Personally driven and partly encouraged by his friend Alexander Singer, Kubrick spent the little money he had on producing a few short documentaries. In 1953, he released his first full length feature called Fear and Desire and while it wasn’t commercially prosperous, the critical reception was positive and he secured Hollywood success just a few years later with films such as Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960).
Although Kubrick shunned the Hollywood system and resented being able to have full creative control, the limitations pushed Kubrick to make some of the most ground-breaking cinema of all time, namely 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film underwent five years of development and featured innovative special effects and layered themes. Kubrick commented on the film’s concept, “On the deepest psychological level, the film’s plot symbolised the search for God, and finally postulates what is little less than a scientific definition of God. The film revolves around this metaphysical conception, and the realistic hardware and the documentary feelings about everything were necessary in order to undermine your built-in resistance to the poetical concept.” Typical of the director’s work, 2001 was genre defying and was not immediately lauded by critics but is now considered as one of the most influential pieces of cinema ever created. Kubrick’s cinematic perfection was undoubtedly a result of his demanding directorial style where he would request hundreds of takes of the same scene. This process took a toll on his actors but many respected his approach, including Ryan O’Neal who starred in Barry Lyndon (1975). O’Neal said, “God, he works you hard. He moves you, pushes you, helps you, gets cross with you, but above all he teaches you the value of a good director.”
Those values are also admired by many contemporary directors but Christopher Nolan (a film-maker often compared to Kubrick) asserts that there could never be another director like Kubrick, “You look at the cut in 2001, this vast jump forward – the confidence that takes to do that is actually enormous. Would I like to do things like that in my own work? Yes. But I don’t think I’d have the confidence to do that. Which is why there is only one Stanley Kubrick. I do believe he is inimitable.” That is Kubrick’s legacy – he has inspired a new wave of upcoming and already established film-makers to be as bold and audacious as he was.
• Spartacus (1960)
• Dr. Strangelove (1964)
• 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
• A Clockwork Orange (1971)
• The Shining (1980)
• Full Metal Jacket (1987)
By Evie Brudenall