Stanley Kubrick

Eyes Wide Open

Stanley Kubrick was one of the 20th century’s most influential filmmakers. His movies showcased a dramatic visual style, careful attention to detail, and a detached viewpoint, often tinged with irony or pessimism.

Stanley Kubrick during the filming of Paths of Glory, 1957

Stanley Kubrick during the filming of Paths of Glory, 1957

Born in New York City on July 26, 1928, Kubrick began his journey as a photographer for Look magazine before venturing into filmmaking in the 1950s. During his school years, he was at the bottom of his class without a strong interest in any subject or a clear goal. This lack of enthusiasm later led him to criticize the American education system and its flaws. As he approached the end of high school, Kubrick applied to multiple colleges, but unfortunately, he received rejections from all of them.

I never learned anything at school, and I never read a book for pleasure until I was 19.

Kubrick’s initial films were short documentaries, supported by his friends and relatives. When he reached 25, he used his family’s help to self-fund his first full-length feature, Fear and Desire, a fictional war movie filmed in California. Alongside directing, he handled the roles of cinematographer, editor, and soundman.

His first big success arrived with the film Dr. Strangelove; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a darkly humorous take on the Cold War’s arms race. During the planning, Kubrick aimed for seriousness, yet he found himself drawn to farce. Ultimately, he embraced this inclination while effectively conveying the chilling possibility of nuclear annihilation. As a result, Dr. Strangelove secured Kubrick’s first Academy Award nomination for best direction.

A satirist is someone who has a very skeptical view of human nature, but who still has the optimism to make some sort of a joke out of it. However brutal that joke might be.

At the age of 40, Kubrick presented his most renowned film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, a metaphysical science-fiction masterpiece. He dedicated four years to its creation, collaborating with Arthur C. Clarke on the script, overseeing special effects, and directing. The movie’s meaning was elusive, even mysterious. Kubrick once said he hoped the film would transcend language and reason, reaching people on a profound, intuitive level. His stunning use of classical music, particularly Richard Strauss’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, became a defining feature, enhancing the story and atmosphere. Garnering 13 Academy Award nominations, the film earned Kubrick an award for his exceptional work in special effects. Its success was substantial; it continued to screen in theaters for four years after its initial release.

On the deepest psychological level, the film’s plot symbolized the search for God, and finally postulates what is little less than a scientific definition of God.

Continuing his exploration of different genres, Kubrick picked Stephen King’s horror novel The Shining for his next project and bought the rights to the book. In the movie, Jack Nicholson played a writer who grows more and more deranged while looking after an isolated hotel during winter. Initially, critics gave The Shining mixed reviews. However, it later gained recognition as one of the 20th century’s standout horror films.

The Shining’s theatrical release poster

The Shining’s theatrical release poster

Kubrick was a filmmaker who lived and worked the way he wanted, often clashing with those who challenged his creative choices and freedom. His love for photography from a young age led him to put a strong focus on visual arts in his films. This focus gave rise to his signature technique, the one-point perspective shot, where everything in the scene guides the viewer’s attention to one specific point.

His passion for books was evident, as almost all of Kubrick’s films were adaptations of literary works. He became an expert in translating written words into vivid visual experiences. He also had a unique way of extending scenes and slowing the film’s pace, creating a growing sense of emotion and suspense. This style kept audiences engaged and made his films unforgettable.

I have a wife, three children, three dogs, seven cats. I’m not a Franz Kafka, sitting alone and suffering.

In the early 1960s, he moved to England and became known as a recluse. He spent most of his time on studio sets or in his home office, working at night to align with North American time, and avoided interviews and photographs.

Kubrick died in his sleep from a heart attack at the age of 70, hours after delivering his last film, Eyes Wide Shut. Though his career spanned nearly fifty years, he made only 13 feature films, leaving behind a legacy as unique and intriguing as his life.

Words of wisdom

“The most terrifying fact about the universe not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent” —Stanley Kubrick

“I do not always know what I want, but I do know what I don’t want.” —Stanley Kubrick

“A film is—or should be—more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” —Stanley Kubrick

“If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed.” —Stanley Kubrick

Bibliography

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