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Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick (July 26, 1928 – March 7, 1999) was an American film director, writer, producer, and photographer, 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 regarding his personal life. 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 backing 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 that eschews structured linear narrative. His films are repeatedly described as slow and methodical, and are often perceived as a reflection of his obsessive and perfectionist nature. A recurring theme in his films is man’s inhumanity to man.

After his early forays into film, ‘Fear and Desire’ (1953) and ‘Killers Kiss’ (1955); the film that first brought him attention to many critics was ‘Paths of Glory’ (1957), the first of three films of his about the dehumanizing effects of war. Starring Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory tells the story of three innocent soldiers who are charged with cowardice and sentenced to death, allegedly as an example to the troops but actually serving as scapegoats for the failings of the commanding officers.

Kubrick was about follow up with ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ starring Marlon Brando, however the two clashed and Kubrick was sacked from the project. It turned out to be fortuitous as Kirk Douglas hired him to direct ‘Spartacus’ (1960), whose original director, Anthony Mann was similarly fired. Despite on-set troubles, Spartacus was a critical and commercial success and established Kubrick as a major director. However, its embattled production convinced Kubrick to find ways of working with Hollywood financing while remaining independent of its production system.

In 1962, Kubrick moved to England to film ‘Lolita’ (1962), where he would live there for the rest of his life. The original motivation was to film Lolita in a country with laxer censorship laws. However, Kubrick had to remain in England to film Dr. Strangelove since Peter Sellers was not permitted to leave England at the time as he was involved in divorce proceedings. ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ (1964), became a cult film and is now considered a classic. Roger Ebert wrote that it is the best satirical film ever made.

It was after filming the first two of these films in England and in the early planning stages of 2001 that Kubrick decided to settle in England permanently. Kubrick spent five years developing his next film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film was conceived as a Cinerama spectacle and was photographed in Super Panavision 70mm. Kubrick co-wrote the screenplay with science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Kubrick reportedly told Clarke that his intention was to make “the proverbial great science fiction film.” 2001: A Space Odyssey was noted for being both one of the most scientifically realistic and visually innovative science-fiction films ever made while maintaining an enigmatic non-linear storyline. The $10,000,000 (U.S.) film was a massive production for its time. The groundbreaking visual effects were overseen by Kubrick and were engineered by a team that included a young Doug Trumbull, who would become famous in his own right for his work on the films Blade Runner and Terence Malicks recent ‘The Tree of Life’.

After 2001, Kubrick initially attempted to make a film about the life of Napoleon. When financing fell through, Kubrick went looking for a project that he could film quickly on a small budget. He eventually settled on ‘A Clockwork Orange’  (1971). His adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel is a dark, shocking exploration of violence in human society. The film was initially released with an X-rating  in the United States and caused considerable controversy. The film was extremely controversial because of its explicit depiction of teenage gang rape and violence. It was released in the same year as Straw Dogs and Dirty Harry, and the three films sparked a ferocious debate in the media about the social effects of cinematic violence. The controversy was exacerbated when copycat crimes were committed in England by criminals wearing the same costumes as characters in A Clockwork OrangeKubrick 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.

Kubrick’s next film, released in 1975, was an adaptation of William Thackeray’s ‘The Luck of Barry Lyndon’, about the adventures and misadventures of an 18th-century Irish gambler and social climber. His films were largely successful at the box-office, although ‘Barry Lyndon’ performed poorly in the United States.

The pace of Kubrick’s work slowed considerably after Barry Lyndon, and he did not make another film for five years. ‘The Shining’ (1980), was adapted from a novel by bestselling horror writer Stephen King. The film starred Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a failed writer who takes a job as an off-season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, a high-class resort deep in the Colorado mountains. The job requires spending the winter in the isolated hotel with his wife, Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and their young son, Danny (played by Danny Lloyd), who is gifted with a form of telepathy—the “shining” of the film’s title. As winter takes hold, the family’s isolation deepens, and the demons and ghosts of the Overlook Hotel’s dark past begin to awake, displaying horrible, phantasmagoric images to Danny, and driving his father Jack into a homicidal psychosis.

The film opened to mixed reviews, but proved a commercial success. As with most Kubrick films, subsequent critical reaction has treated the film more favorably. Among horror movie fans, The Shining is a cult classic, often appearing at the top of best horror film lists alongside ‘Psycho’ (1960), ‘The Exorcist’ (1973), and other horror classics.

Seven years later, Kubrick made his next film, ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1987). The film appears as two films in one, the first part centres around the dehumanising training of raw recruits by the sadistic Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (an incredible turn by R. Lee Ermey). The second half throws those same recruits into Vietnam, following their advance on and through Hue City, which has been decimated by the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive.

Kubrick’s final film was “Eyes Wide Shut’ (1999), starring then-married actors Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a wealthy Manhattan couple on a sexual odyssey. It follows Dr. William Harford’s journey into the sexual underworld of New York City, after his wife, Alice, has shattered his faith in her fidelity by confessing to having fantasized about giving him and their daughter up for one night with another man. Until then, Harford had presumed women are more naturally faithful than men. This new revelation generates doubt and despair, and he begins to roam the streets of New York, acting blindly on his jealousy.

In 1999—four days after screening a final cut of Eyes Wide Shut for his family, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Warner Bros. executives—70-year-old Kubrick died of a heart attack in his sleep. All of Kubrick’s films from the mid-1950s to his death except for 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.

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