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2000: A Film Odyssey The Films of Stanley Kubrik


Throughout his career, Stanley Kubrick had been hailed as one of the best directors in history, but critics in his time had largely ignored him or were exceptionaly 'fair', and chances are that it was because he was so far ahead of his time with graphic film-making (A Clockwork Orange, Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket). The world then was not ready for such an honest portrayal of the darker side of human nature, and people were, and largely still are, afraid to admit that in every single human there is a violent animal which floats to the surface in times of struggle. Detractors have often labeled Kubrik’s films as profane and violent, but free speech, if anything, means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.

The latter of the aforementioned films, Full Metal Jacket, did meet with worldwide acclaim by critics as ‘the best film ever made about war’ –(www.imdb.com) , and even garnered several Oscar nominations. But this can be attributed to the fact that the film was released in 1987, to a more educated and readily accepting public.

Kubrik’s strength, however, is not only the fact that he made breakthrough films, but also that he has a steady worldwide fan base numbering in the tens of millions, which had helped to drive him in making such great films.
However, fans alone have never convinced him to do one thing or the other, Kubrik has been known for making films that require thought to comprehend and make you think when it’s all over, and above all, he expressed what he wanted people to see.
Even with the world’s eye on him, Stanley Kubrik somehow managed to keep his private life out of the media and print. Therefore most of this paper will focus on his films rather than his life.

Part 1: The Fledgling Film-maker

1951 – Day of the Fight

Kubrik had worked full-time as a photographer in Look magazine after his graduation, and there, on one of his assignments, he had met boxer Walter Cartier. Using all of his savings, Kubrik later directed, edited, and sequenced his first film, a 16 minute documentary short on Walter Cartier.

He later sold Day of the Fight and all the rights to RKO for their This is America series, providing Kubrik with enough profit to put away as savings aside from his job at Look.

1951 – Flying Padre

Shortly after Day of the Fight, Kubrik quit his job and began to take his film-making passion seriously, directing, editing, and sequencing another short documentary about Father Fred Stadtmueller, who flew around his 400 mile parish in his one-engine private plane.

His second short had been financed by RKO, who were pleased with his previous success and featured Flying Padre in their Pathe Screenliner series.

1953 – The Seafarers

After a period of inactivity, Kubrik was hired by the Atlantic and Gulf Coast District of Seafarers International Union to direct, edit, and sequence his first film in color, a 30 minute industrial documentary entitled The Seafarers.

1953 – Fear and Desire

1955 – Killer’s Kiss

Kubrik had directed, edited, sequenced, and financed his first feature-length (68 minutes) film by collecting donations from his relatives, netting $13,000, and his second (64 minutes) by the same method, grossing $40,000.

1956 – The Killing

For his third film, Kubrik had found James B. Harris to produce it, someone he would be working with for the next several years. The Killing had been adapted to film from a novel, and was the first studio film for 28 year-old Kubrik, and also featured a large $320,000 budget and several acclaimed actors.

1957 – Paths of Glory

Kubrik’s partnership with Harris would continue to flourish when they were teamed with Calder Williangham and Jim Thompson to write a screenplay for a film version of Humphrey Cobb’s Paths of Glory. There wasn’t a single studio that would agree to the project until Kirk Douglas agreed to star. The eventual product was a film that proved to be the blossoming director’s first fan hit and is regarded as one of the greatest war films ever made.

Part 2: The New Guy

1960 – Spartacus

Kirk Douglas, Kubrik’s savior with Paths of Glory, was producing Spartacus in 1959, after two weeks of which the original director was fired and Douglas signed on Kubrik as the new director. The product of their second coupling proved to be a critically recognized and even warranted some Oscar nominations.

1962 – Lolita

Vladimir Nabokov’s original novel has been on every school district’s and the Board of Education’s black list of prohibited books, and deciding to direct the film adaptation was a bold move, even for Kubrik. The novel is the story of a middle-aged man who finds himself attracted to an acquaintance’s young daughter and what ensues is a secret and ardent affair between the two. Due to the film’s nature and U.S. law, the film was shot in Britain, after which, Kubrik moved there permanently.

1964 – Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

At the end of Lolita, Harris broke off from the eight-year partnership and went on to direct his own films, and Kubrik went back to his role as producer as well as director. The cold war fascinated Kubrik with its ‘delicate balance of terror’ -(pages.prodigy.com) , and he decided to rework Red Alert into a dark comedy titled Dr. Strangelove.

Part 3: The Established Director

1968 – 2001: A Space Odyssey

Arthur C. Clarke is a world-renowned author, and his main claim to fame has been his impressive screenplay for Kubrik’s cinematic masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not only is this one of the most renowned films in the history of the genre, but it is also a ‘landmark in film history’ -(pages.prodigy.com) . This superb film received several Oscar nominations and won one, and the only Kubrik received, for the special effects in the film.

1971 – A Clockwork Orange

Perhaps his most controversial film, the violent and graphic imagery provided by Kubrik sends audiences into the mind of Alex, a serial killer and rapist, as he struggles against society. Even though the U.S. release gleaned an X rating (NC-17), many people received the intended message of the film and became instant fans. Even with the X rating, A Clockwork Orange received three Oscar nominations, the only film in history to do so, for writing, direction, and production.

1975 – Barry Lyndon

His next project would be am 18th century costume drama, a contrast to his two earlier futuristic movies. Although this adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s novel didn’t succeed financially, it received seven Oscar nominations, including the now pattern-forming three for writing, producing, and direction.

Part 4: The Recognized Visionary

1980 – The Shining

This classic horror film needs no introduction, the combination of a brilliant film-maker and a great horror novelist produced a truly superb film that still terrifies audiences to this day. The Shining was a financial success but sadly, did not receive any Oscar nominations.

1987 – Full Metal Jacket

Kubrik’s third war film was both critically acclaimed and a financial success that combined dark humor and the realities of bootcamp. The film was divided into two parts, the first, a journey through U.S. Marine bootcamp that ends abruptly and violently with the murder-suicide of a Drill Sergeant and a future private. The second, a retelling of the hell in Vietnam through the eyes of an infantryman.

Part 5: Epilogue

I chose to focus on his films rather than his life for a greater reason than the fact that he was extremely private and kept his life out of the media, the reason being the fact that Kubrik’s films provide a greater profile of him than any of his actions could. His latest project (Eyes Wide Shut) hasn’t been released, and chances are production of his newest science fiction film (AI) will stop due to his untimely death, that and the fact that any director who even thinks he can fill Kubrik’s shoes will be instantly crucified by the media and fans alike.

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