Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928 – March 7, 1999) was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer who lived in England during most of the last four decades of his career. Kubrick was noted for the scrupulous care with which he chose his subjects, his slow method of working, the variety of genres he worked in, his technical perfectionism, his reluctance to talk about his films, and his reclusiveness. He maintained almost complete artistic control, making movies according to his own whims and time constraints, but with the rare advantage of big-studio financial support for all his endeavors.
Kubrick's films are characterized by a formal visual style and meticulous attention to detail. His later films often have elements of surrealism and expressionism and often lack structured linear narrative. His films are frequently described as slow and methodical, and are often perceived as a reflection of his obsessive and perfectionist nature. He worked in a wide variety of genres: science-fiction, horror, period piece and war film. However, there are recurring themes in all his works, notably man's inhumanity to man. While often viewed as expressing an ironic pessimism, some critics feel his films contain a cautious optimism when viewed more carefully.
The film that first brought him attention from many critics was Paths of Glory, the first of three films of his about the dehumanizing effects of war. Many of Kubrick's movies initially met with lukewarm reception, only to be acclaimed years later as masterpieces that had a seminal influence on later generations of filmmakers. Considered groundbreaking was 2001: A Space Odyssey, noted for being one of the most scientifically realistic and visually innovative science-fiction films ever made while also maintaining an enigmatic non-linear storyline. He voluntarily withdrew his film A Clockwork Orange from Great Britain, after it was accused of inspiring copycat crimes which in turn resulted in threats against Kubrick's family. Authors Anthony Burgess (eventually) and Stephen King (immediately) were unhappy with Kubrick's adaptations of their novels A Clockwork Orange and The Shining respectively; both authors became involved with subsequent stage or TV adaptations. His films were largely successful at the box office, although Barry Lyndon performed poorly in the United States. All of Kubrick's films from the mid-1950s onward, except The Shining, were nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, or BAFTAs. Although he was nominated for an Academy Award as a screenwriter and director on several occasions, his only personal win was for the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Even though all his films, apart from the first two, were adapted from novels or short stories, his works have been described by Jason Ankeny and others as "original and visionary". Although some critics, notably Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael, frequently disparaged Kubrick's work, Ankeny describes Kubrick as one of the most "universally acclaimed and influential directors of the postwar era" with a "standing unique among the filmmakers of his day."
Stanley Kubrick was born on July 26, 1928, at the Lying-In Hospital in Manhattan, New York, the first of two children born to Jewish parents, Jacques (Jacob) Leonard Kubrick (1901–85) and his wife Sadie Gertrude (née Perveler; 1903–85). His sister, Barbara Mary Kubrick, was born in 1934. Jacques Kubrick, whose parents and paternal grandparents were Jewish of Austrian, Romanian and Polish origin, was a doctor. At Stanley's birth, the Kubricks lived in an apartment at 2160 Clinton Avenue in The Bronx.
Kubrick biographer Geoffrey Cocks writes that although Kubrick descended from Eastern European Jews, and was raised in a Jewish neighborhood in New York City, his family was not religious, although his parents had been married in a Jewish ceremony. When critic Michel Ciment asked him in 1980 whether he had a religious upbringing, Kubrick replied "No, not at all." He had no bar mitzvah and apparently did not attend synagogue, although after his death, both his daughter and wife stated that "He did not deny his Jewishness, not at all." His daughter noted that he wanted to make a film about the Holocaust, to have been called Aryan Papers, and spent years researching the subject. Most of his friends and early photography and film collaborators were Jewish, and his first two marriages were to daughters of recent Jewish immigrants from Europe. British screenwriter Frederic Raphael, who worked closely with him in his final years, believes that the originality of Kubrick's films was partly because he "had a (Jewish?) respect for scholars," noting that it was "absurd to try to understand Stanley Kubrick without reckoning on Jewishness as a fundamental aspect of his mentality." He points out, nonetheless, that when Kubrick died, "few of the obituaries mentioned that he was a Jew."
A friend of Kubrick's family notes that although his father was a prominent doctor, "Stanley and his mom were such regular people. They had no airs about them. . . . His mother was so down-to-earth, she was lovely."As a boy, he was considered "bookish" and generally uninterested in activities in his Bronx neighborhood. According to a friend, "When we were teenagers hanging around the Bronx, he was just another bright, neurotic, talented guy—just another guy trying to get into a game with my softball club and mess around with girls . . ."Many of his friends from his "close-knit neighborhood" would become involved with his early films, including writing music scores and scripts.
Kubrick's father taught him chess at age twelve, and the game remained a lifelong obsession. Kubrick later recalled the significance of his chess hobby to his career: "I used to play chess twelve hours a day. You sit at the board and suddenly your heart leaps. Your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you must sit there calmly and think about whether it's really a good idea and whether there are other, better ideas." He also bought his son a Graflex camera when he was thirteen, triggering a fascination with still photography. As a teenager, Kubrick was interested in jazz, and briefly attempted a career as a drummer. His father was disappointed in his failure to achieve excellence in school, which he felt Stanley was capable of. His father encouraged him to read from his large library at home while at the same time permitting him to take up photography as a serious hobby. These additional interests outside of school may have contributed to his poor performance as a student.
Kubrick attended William Howard Taft High School from 1941 to 45. He was a poor student, with a meager 67 grade average.According to his English teacher, Kubrick was not a great student, and school didn't interest him. However, "the idea of literature and the reading of literature, from a non-academic, from a more human point of view, clearly was what interested him. He was a literary guy even as a young man . . . " Kubrick also had a poor attendance record, and often skipped school to take in double-feature films. He graduated in 1945, but his poor grades, combined with the demand for college admissions from soldiers returning from the Second World War, eliminated any hopes of higher education. Later in life, Kubrick spoke disdainfully of his education and of education in general, maintaining that nothing about school interested him. His parents sent him to live with relatives for a year in Los Angeles in the hopes that it would help his academic growth.
While still in high school, he was chosen as an official school photographer for a year. In 1946, since he was not able to gain admission to day session classes at colleges, he briefly attended evening classes at the City College of New York (CCNY) and then left. Eventually, he sought jobs as a freelance photographer, and by graduation, he had sold a photographic series to Look magazine. Kubrick supplemented his income by playing chess "for quarters" in Washington Square Park and various Manhattan chess clubs. He became an apprentice photographer for Look in 1946, and later a full-time staff photographer. (Many early [1945–50] photographs by Kubrick have been published in the book Drama and Shadows [2005, Phaidon Press] and also appear as a special feature on the 2007 Special Edition DVD of 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
During his Look magazine years, Kubrick married Toba Metz (b. January 24, 1930) on May 29, 1948. They lived together in Greenwich Village. During this time, Kubrick began frequenting film screenings at the Museum of Modern Art and the cinemas of New York City. He was inspired by the complex, fluid camerawork of director Max Ophüls, whose films influenced Kubrick's later visual style, and by director Elia Kazan, who he described as America's "best director" at that time, with his ability of "performing miracles" with his actors.
In 1951, Kubrick's friend Alex Singer persuaded him to start making short documentaries for The March of Time, a provider of newsreels to movie theatres. Kubrick agreed, and shot the independently financed Day of the Fight in 1951. The film notably employed a reverse tracking shot, which would become one of Kubrick's signature camera movements. Kubrick is said to have sold Day of the Fight to RKO Radio Pictures for a profit of $100, although Kubrick himself claimed he lost $100. Inspired by this early success, Kubrick quit his job atLook magazine and began working on his second short documentary, Flying Padre (1951), funded by RKO. A third short film, The Seafarers (1953) was filmed just after his first featureFear and Desire to recoup costs. It was a 30-minute promotional film for the Seafarers' International Union and was Kubrick's first color film. These three films constitute Kubrick's only surviving work in the documentary genre, although it is believed that he was involved in other shorts which have been lost—most notably World Assembly of Youth (1952). He also served as second unit director on an episode of the Omnibus television program about the life of Abraham Lincoln. None of these shorts have been officially released, though they have been widely bootlegged and clips are used in the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures.
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