Friday, December 21, 2012
The Auteurs #18: Stanley Kubrick
If there was one filmmaker in the second half of the 20th Century who made an impact in the world of cinema. It’s Stanley Kubrick. Considered to be one of the great auteurs in film, he was a filmmaker who never made any explanation into the films he’s made. He is beloved by film buffs, filmmakers, actors, and film historians. Yet, he was also despised by various film critics and other film fans who felt his films were pretentious, overblown, and lacking in any real meaning. He was controversial, he was elusive to the press, he was eccentric, and he was also difficult. He was also a man that was also very meticulous in the way he approached his films as more than just movies but grand statements of art. Nearly 60 years since the release of his very first feature film and nearly 15 years since the release of his last film and his death. Stanley Kubrick remains one of the most treasured individuals in cinema.
Born on July 26, 1928 in the Manhattan area of New York City, Stanley Kubrick was the son of Jacques and Sadie Kubrick as he spent most of childhood in the Bronx. During his childhood, Kubrick was more interested in chess and photography rather than other activities most children were into at the time as his father bought him a Graflex camera at the age of 13. Kubrick’s fascination with photography and lighting made him unique despite his poor grades as he often skipped school to attend double features. Kubrick’s fascination of cinema grew during this time as he would try to get jobs as a freelance photography in the late 1940s after he had completed high school. His work in photography got him attention as he would continue to develop his style in the coming years of his young life.
Day of the Fight/Flying Padre
While continuing work as a photographer for Look magazine, Kubrick’s desire to venture into filmmaking finally begin in 1951 with the first of three documentary short films that would develop his technique in the years to come. The first of which is a 16-minute documentary called Day of the Fight that was about middleweight boxer Walter Cartier’s fight with Bobby James on April 17, 1950 and the events before the fight as Cartier prepares for it. The film would mark the first in a series of collaborations between Kubrick and music composer Gerald Fried as well a unique look into Kubrick’s approach to lighting that would become part of the visual aesthetics that Kubrick would refine in the years to come.
Kubrick’s second short entitled Flying Padre was a nine-minute documentary about the life of a Catholic priest in New Mexico who flies from one isolated settlement to another to help the people. While it’s a film that Kubrick would later express discontent towards the short, it would reveal the kind of talent he has in creating images and in that approach to lighting as both shorts would indicate the potential for his talents as a filmmaker. After the two shorts, Kubrick quit his job for Look magazine to pursue his aspirations to become a filmmaker.
Fear and Desire
Kubrick’s first feature film was a sixty-one minute story about a small group of soldiers who crash-land behind enemy lines in a fictional war as they try to evade the enemy. With an original screenplay written by Kubrick’s high school classmate Howard Sackler, the film would explore the fear and urgency of war as well as some of its mental implications. Kubrick would get funding for the film from family and friends including the large bulk of the funds from his uncle as the budget was $10,000 for the film.
With a small crew that would also consists of Kubrick’s then-wife Toba Metz and a small group of actors that would include future filmmaker Paul Mazursky as the troubled young private Sidney. Shot on locations in the San Gabriel Mountains in California, Kubrick served as the film’s cinematographer as he improvised a lot due to the limitations he had in the film. Kubrick would also utilize a lot of close-up and medium shots to set up an atmosphere for the production.
Kubrick would also serve as editor and do sound for the film’s post-production which turned out to be troubling. Largely as he needed money to do a lot of the sound and syncing needed for the film. While Gerald Fried would help out with the music, Kubrick took on some second unit work for a TV movie in order to raise funds for the film as it was finally released in late March of 1953 through renowned distributor Joseph Burstyn.
The film received mixed reviews from critics while not faring well in the box office. Kubrick would later dismiss the film as he tried to collect as many prints of the film to not be shown publicly. Yet, the surviving prints were able to be found as it was eventually shown publicly at the 1993 Telluride Film Festival as a Kubrick retrospective. The film would finally be remastered as it was finally shown on Turner Classic Movies in December of 2011 as it was finally released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the fall of 2012.
Kubrick’s third documentary short was a project he took part in as a director-for-hire as he was in need of money. The Seafarers International Union hired Kubrick to helm a documentary that explores the benefits of being part of the Seafarers. Kubrick would use many traits that was common in documentaries at the time but he also devised sideway dolly-tracking shots to explore this lifestyle. It would be among the many techniques Kubrick would again use for his visual style in his other films. While it was released in the fall of 1953 and never seen for twenty years, it would be considered one of the lost films of its time until it was finally found by film scholar Frank P. Tomasulo. The film would eventually be released on DVD in 2008 while becoming an extra special feature for the Blu-Ray DVD release of Fear and Desire in 2012.
The money Kubrick made for The Seafarers along with more money from his uncle would allow him to create his second feature film in collaboration with Howard Sackler to co-write what would become Killer’s Kiss. The project would be a noir film revolving around a prizefighter who gets in trouble with a gangster after saving a woman who has connections with the gangster. The film would star Jamie Smith, Irene Kane, and Frank Silvera who had previously appeared in Fear and Desire.
With Kubrick serving as cinematographer and editor for the project, the film would be a unique take on the film noir schematics as Kubrick and Sackler utilized a lot of voice-over narration to help tell the story. The film would also reveal Kubrick’s fascination with man struggling with forces and environments that he doesn’t understand. A theme that would occur in many of his films in the years to come. Shooting on location in New York City, Kubrick employed a small crew to helm the project as he also wanted to create something that also used flashbacks such as the Gloria character that Irene Kane played as she talked about her sister who was played by Kubrick’s then-second wife Ruth Sobotka who was also an art director for the film.
The film also had Kubrick refine his technique more in terms of the way he wanted to present the lighting as well as staging a lot of the drama that is playing out for the film. While he was aware that he was playing to the conventions of film noir, Kubrick was able to infuse a lot of his own visual ideas into the film such as the climatic showdown between Jamie Smith’s Davey and Frank Silvera’s Vincent Rapallo character. Largely as Kubrick was able to shoot that scene in on location though he still had difficulty with capturing sound on film as he did a lot of the sound work on post-production.
The film was picked up by United Artists for a release in the fall of 1955 but the executives wanted Kubrick to re-cut the film with a happier ending. Despite his unhappiness with the changes, Kubrick was forced to give in order for the film to get released on September of 1955. While the film received mixed reviews, it was better received than Fear and Desire while it would also win the Golden Leopard award four years later at Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland.
One of the people who saw Killer’s Kiss was a young producer named James B. Harris. Harris was new in the film industry and had the power to help fund films as he finally met Kubrick where they formed their own Harris-Kubrick Films to help develop many of Kubrick’s upcoming projects. One of which came in the form of an adaptation of a book called Clean Break by Lionel White that Harris had the rights for years as it was a project that had been lingering. Kubrick took an interest in developing the novel into his own film as he called in famed pulp writer Jim Thompson to help develop the screenplay of what would become The Killing.
The Killing is the story about a racetrack robbery that was meticulously planned as a criminal hopes to use the money to start a new life away from crime. Yet, it is a film that revels into a lot of the motivations of characters and men who have high hopes for the money as well as what can go wrong. The story definitely intrigued Kubrick as it reveled into his fascination with man trying to defy the odds only to come up short due to some misfortunes. Particularly with those he trusted with this heist as one of them foolishly told his cheating wife about the plans as she had her lover involved in undermining things.
Kubrick and Harris received $200,000 from United Artists to create the film as Harris raised another $120,000 for the film’s budget as Kubrick was finally able to make the film with a proper crew and the equipment he needed. Among those he worked with as part of the crew was famed cinematographer Lucien Ballard whom Kubrick respected though the two did have issues over the type of lens and coverage that Kubrick wanted. Particularly as Kubrick wanted to maintain an atmosphere to underplay the drama as well as the suspense that went into the planning of the heist and its troubling aftermath. Kubrick also wanted to create that air of noir in some of the film’s drama in the way he places actors in a frame which included scenes of Elisha Cook Jr.’s George Peatty character trying to win over his cheating wife Sherry, played by Marie Windsor.
Kubrick was able to get a strong cast for the production that featured famed actor Sterling Hayden in the leading role of heist organizer Johnny Clay. Also cast were Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Jay C. Flippen, and Timothy C. Carey. Kubrick was starting to find himself more easy to work with actors as well as getting the kind of visuals he wanted. With Gerald Fried providing the music and Betty Steinberg doing all of the editing in post-production as she would incorporate a few stock footage for the horse race scenes. Kubrick was able to create a story that was more than a typical noir-film with a heist storyline as it included a great set-up of how each moment in the heist unfolds.
The film was released in May of 1956 to great reviews as it marked as Kubrick’s breakthrough. Though the film wasn’t a commercial hit, the critical support Kubrick was receiving at the time would prove to be helpful. Notably as he and James B. Harris were seen as new up-and-coming men who had something to prove in the world of film. For Kubrick who was 28 at the time of its release, he was just getting started.
Paths of Glory
The acclaim that Kubrick received for The Killing gave him the clout he needed as MGM production head Dore Schary gave Kubrick and James B. Harris the chance to develop another project that could help them gain more notice. The project they chose would be in an adaptation of Humphrey Cobb’s Paths of Glory. The book told the story of a World War I French colonel trying to defend three soldiers over accusations of cowardice from a general during a battle that was deemed suicidal. The book was something Kubrick wanted to do as he collaborated with Jim Thompson and Calder Willingham to create a treatment for their adaptation of the film.
During a shake-up at MGM, Kubrick and Harris was able to get the attention one of Hollywood’s big stars in Kirk Douglas who read a draft of the script Kubrick wrote with Willingham. With Douglas attached to the project, United Artists came on board to fund the project that would star Douglas in the lead role of Colonel Dax. Also cast for the film were Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou, and George MacCready along with Timothy Carey who had been in The Killing. With the production set near Munich, Kubrick was able to get what he needed for the film’s production.
While Kubrick was aware that he was making a war film of sorts, what he decided to do was make a film that would become an anti-war film as it explored the fear of battle as well as how one man’s blunder can lead to such troubles where he would eventually try to fire on his own troops. It would become one of the great examples at the horror of war where Douglas’ Colonel Dax character becomes the one person who has to defend his soldiers over these accusations as he was one of the few officer that fought with them.
The battle scenes with its tracking shots would unveil a lot of the trademarks Kubrick would bring to his films as they would become more engaging while he also showed more confidence in the dramatic moments. Particularly the courtroom scenes where Dax does everything he can only to realize the kind of political games that are being played. It is a moment where Kubrick reveals the ugliness of humanity not just in the battlefield but outside where men try to maneuver their ideas of victory in order to get some kind of commendation. With cinematographer Georg Krause providing a lot of exotic lighting schemes that Kubrick wanted as well as Eva Kroll’s effective editing. It would unveil a new evolution into Kubrick helming his own approach to storytelling.
During the production as it was set in West Germany as he was casting for small parts for the film. He met the woman who would become the love of his life in Christiane Susanne Harlan as she played the sole female part as the singer forced to sing for a group of French soldiers at the film’s very powerful and sentimental ending. It would be a moment in the film that would become very powerful only to be followed by the grim reality that Dax and his men had to keep on fighting.
The film was released on Christmas day in 1957 to great acclaim as well as a modest box office take thanks to Kirk Douglas’ star power. While the film did well in the U.S., it did drew controversy in Europe over its depiction of the French military from old military personnel. Not wanting to re-cut the film, the French distributors of United Artists decided not to show the film in France as it would not be shown for 20 years. Still, the film raised Kubrick’s clout as he would later marry Christiane Harlan a year later as he would become a stepfather to her daughter Katherina and later gain two daughters in Anya and Vivian.
The back-to-back critical success of The Killing and Paths of Glory brought Kubrick the attention of Hollywood as he would be connected to various projects. One of the projects he was involved in was a western that would start Marlon Brando called One-Eyed Jacks that would feature a screenplay written by another future controversial filmmaker in Sam Peckinpah. Kubrick was hired to direct the film as he brought his Paths of Glory co-writer Calder Willingham to help in the writing process. Instead, things fell apart forcing Kubrick to be fired with Brando eventually directing the film himself into a disastrous flop. Kubrick was then called upon by Kirk Douglas to helm a project that was already in production in an epic film called Spartacus.
Spartacus was about a historical figure in Roman times who led a revolt against the Romans in order for slaves to gain their freedom. It was a passion project for Kirk Douglas who wanted to make his own epic film after being unable to get the lead in Ben-Hur. With a large budget of $12 million and an all-start cast that included Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, and Jean Simmons. It was a very ambitious project as the director who was supposed to helm the film in its entirety was Anthony Mann. After a week’s work of material that included the opening scene that made it into the final cut, Mann was fired as Douglas brought Kubrick to direct the film.
Though it was a much bigger picture than anything Kubrick had done previously, he didn’t show his nerves while on set though he was very intimidated by its scale as well as the caliber of great actors he was working with. With a script written by then-blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, Kubrick was able to stick to the story though he couldn’t make any changes nor did he have final cut status for the film. While Kubrick did have issues with Kirk Douglas over the film’s direction, he also found himself having difficulty with cinematographer Russell Metty over Kubrick’s approach to the directing and his meticulous style.
Despite the issues Kubrick had in production, he was able to get praise from Tony Curtis and Peter Ustinov over his approach no matter how meticulous he was. Particularly in the dramatic moments though Kubrick knew about the tension between Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton who didn’t like each other. Yet, the production would prove to be a big moment in Kubrick’s life where he would make many decisions over what to do in the future as he realized that he shouldn’t be a work-for-hire filmmaker but one who has complete control over his work.
Spartacus was released in October of 1960 to rave reviews as well as being Kubrick’s biggest box office hit at the time. The film would win four Academy Awards for cinematography, costume design, and art direction in color as well as a Best Supporting Oscar for Peter Ustinov. The film would also establish Kubrick as one of top filmmakers working in cinema as he would gain lots of power of what he could do. Despite its success, Kubrick wasn’t entirely satisfied with the film as he decided to work outside of Hollywood and establish himself more as a filmmaker with complete artistic control.
Now a big name in the world of cinema, Kubrick decided to move to Britain in order to stay away from the confines of Hollywood as he looked for projects to work on. One book he was intrigued by was the controversial Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita that was about a middle-aged man’s infatuation with a teenage girl in which he marries the girl’s mother in order to be closer to her. The book was very controversial for its subject matter as it gave Kubrick enough reason to want to make his own version of the film with involvement of Nabokov to write a treatment for the film. While Kubrick and producer James B. Harris would do additional rewrites for the script that would be extremely different from the book. They chose to go un-credited due to issues with the Writer’s Guild at the time.
Kubrick decided to shoot the film in Britain in order to get funding for the film as he was working outside of the Hollywood film system. With a budget of $2.1 million, it would be modest in comparison to Spartacus as Kubrick was able to get big names involved for the film such as James Mason as Professor Humbert, Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze, and Sue Lyons as the titular character. For the role of Clare Quilty, Kubrick cast famed British comedy actor Peter Sellers for the role as Kubrick and Harris expanded the role as something far more ambiguous that would allow Sellers to create a character that was very unique.
With the film shot in Britain and set in contemporary America, Kubrick was able to create the kind of film he wanted to make though he knew it was going to be a very controversial project about a very taboo subject. Though Sue Lyons was 14 during the production, Kubrick decided to suggest things that are happening in order to play out the drama. Notably as Kubrick create scenes that shows the complications of this very disturbing relationship between Humbert and Lolita. Kubrick also wanted to infuse elements of humor as he would have Peter Sellers’ Clare Quilty add elements of dark humor to the film including a scene where Quilty pretends to be a man in order to trick Humbert.
With Oswald Harvey serving as his cinematographer, Kubrick wanted to infuse a more entrancing style of lighting in order to set a mood for the film as it had elements of film noir to play out the drama. Particularly in moments at night where Kubrick wanted to show Humbert’s obsession as well as the sense of paranoia through the backdrops he created during the film as Humbert and Lolita go on the road. While Kubrick made changes to the ending as it was more sentimental to play up Humbert’s loss and all of the trouble he went through.
The film was released in June of 1962 where it drew lots of controversy over its content. The film divided critics and audiences over the story while fans of the book were upset over the changes Kubrick made for the film. The film also got a lot of trouble from censors including U.S. production code at the time as well as the Catholic Legion of Decency. The film was given a restrictive rating in Britain where despite all of its controversy, the film did manage to do well in the box office allowing Kubrick the chance to get creative control as well as final cut. The film would also mark the last time Kubrick would work with James B. Harris as the two amicably parted ways to forge different directions.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
The early 1960s was defined by the specter of nuclear Armageddon during the Cold War as the Cuban Missile Crisis was still fresh in people’s minds. It was during this time that films were being made about a possible crisis as if it were to happen. For Stanley Kubrick, the subject of the Cold War was something he couldn’t ignore as he decided to create a film that wasn’t just about the paranoia of the Cold War but also the danger of how a mistake can lead to trouble. With Peter George’s novel Red Alert as the basis for his next film, Kubrick decided to adapt the book into something far more whimsical entitled Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
Kubrick decided to collaborate with Peter George to write a treatment as they also wanted to do research into how war can get started as they went to various military personnel from the U.S. and Britain to see how it could happen. It was during the development of the script that Kubrick realized that a serious drama on this subject would be too easy as he decided to bring in famed humorist Terry Southern to help co-write the screenplay as he turned the film into a black comedy and farce that explored the insanity of the Cold War and how things can go wrong in a darkly comic way.
Columbia Pictures decided to finance the film on the condition that the film would feature Peter Sellers in multiple roles as Kubrick already had Sellers in the role of various characters for the film. Among them was the British RAF officer Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, U.S. President Merkin Muffley, and the titular character who was a former Nazi scientist. Sellers was also supposed to play a fourth role in Major T.J. “King” Kong but Sellers was unable to play the part due to an injury as Kubrick re-cast the part and gave it to famed character actor Slim Pickens. The cast would also include Sterling Hayden from The Killing as the paranoid Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, George C. Scott as the comical General Buck Turgidson, Keenan Wynn as Colonel “Bat” Guano, and small roles for James Earl Jones, Tracy Reed, Peter Bull, and Shane Rimmer.
Shot in studios in Britain due to the fact that Peter Sellers was unable to leave the U.K. due to his own divorce at the time, Kubrick was able to create massive set pieces that he needed as the film would mark the first collaboration between himself and famed production designer Ken Adam who was already known for his work in the James Bond movies. Adam provided Kubrick with large set pieces including the War Room where the bulk of the film was set as Kubrick and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor created amazing lighting schemes that helped set a mood for the film. Even in some of the most comical moments such as a fight between General Turgidson and the Soviet Ambassador that had President Muffley say “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room.”
With Sellers improvising a lot for the film, it created a looseness in the film as it also played to a film that didn’t take itself seriously despite the grim subject matter. Particularly as Kubrick wanted to infuse a lot of dark humor such as the memorable scene of Major Kong riding on a bomb just as it’s about to fall on the Soviet Union. It was a moment that would shock audiences as well as Kubrick’s use of music as he provided would play to the humor while using Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again in a montage of nuclear explosions. The mixture of suspense, drama, and dark humor allowed Kubrick to create something that was unsettling and also confrontational. It would also be a film that many later stated contained a lot of truth about the paranoia of nuclear Armageddon and war.
The film was released in late January of 1964 after a delay due to John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963. The film polarized audiences and critics over its subject matter and humor. Some thought it was one of the funniest films ever while some felt that Kubrick went too far. Yet, its critical reception would become a trend of everything Kubrick would face with every film after that as some thought it was one of the great films that year while others just simply hated it. Still, the film won four Oscar nominations including Kubrick’s first nomination for Best Director while it won three British Academy Awards including Best Film that year.
2001: A Space Odyssey
With the power to do anything he wanted, Kubrick decided to go where no filmmaker had gone before. In the age of the space race that was happening during the 1960s, Kubrick decided to create something that expressed his fascination with the world outside of planet world and an idea of what the future could be. Kubrick also wanted to create something in the realm of science fiction where the genre itself was often seen as low-budget kitsch that lacked substance and were always hampered by either its low-budget or its emphasis to be entertaining. Kubrick knew it was time to change all of that as he found the source material that he needed to make this daring film.
The source material would be in a short story called The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke. Kubrick would meet Clarke in the spring of 1964 to create a screenplay that would broaden Clarke’s story into something much bigger. Tentatively titled Journey Beyond the Stars, the two worked on a script that would go beyond the boundaries of traditional science fiction stories. Clarke also took another short story of his to be put into the narrative of the screenplay as it would begin with the dawn of man where men were monkeys and then go into the world of the future where everything is set in outer space. The narrative would start out with the dawn of man where monkey-men encounter a strange monolith as it then abruptly cuts to a futuristic world where a U.S. doctor and other scientists go to the moon where they would encounter this monolith. Then the film take places eighteen months later where two men on course towards Jupiter where they deal with a computer gone rogue as it then goes into the world beyond.
The narrative was unconventional in terms of what was expected as Kubrick wanted to go all-out in terms of what was expected as the production itself was to be very ambitious. Shooting began in late December of 1965 at Shepperton Studios in Shepperton, England at a soundstage where Kubrick did all of his work in not just the scenes with the actors but also the visual effects. Kubrick brought in Geoffrey Unsworth to shoot the film with additional work from John Alcott who would become one of Kubrick’s key collaborators. With Ken Adam unavailable for the production, Kubrick brought in a group of production designers to help build the sets.
One of the sets that Kubrick and his team of production designers created was a large, circular set that was built as a Ferris wheel where one of the actors would walk on set while another is sitting on a chair upside down wearing a harness as the set kept moving. It was among one of the many things Kubrick did that stood out as it was also a very big thing that Kubrick aimed for. Other set pieces were made for the project that were as vast in order to maintain the idea of the future. Particularly in the design of the spaceships, pods, and other objects as if the future was actually happening.
Kubrick utilized a group of visual effects people to help make the miniatures of the spaceships as well as other visual effects. Among them was Douglas Trumbull who would create a lot of animated work that provide Kubrick ideas for what he wanted that included the film’s climatic Star Gate sequence that was filled with an array of dazzling lights and images that was as if man was traveling the speed of light. The work that Kubrick, Trumbull, and many of the other visual effects creators would do was considered groundbreaking in terms of what could be achieved in visual effects.
Since the didn’t carry much dialogue and a plot that was extremely unconventional in terms of what was expected with a lot of films. Kubrick decided to use music to help tell the story as he gravitated towards a lot of classical music. Though he originally asked Alex North to compose original music, it ended up being discarded in favor of various classical pieces ranging from Johann Strauss II’s Blue Danube Waltz, Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra, and other music from composers like Aram Khatchaturian and Gyorgy Ligeti for other pieces. Particularly in the latter who would bring pieces for the film’s Star Gate sequence.
With production going on for a few years as well as post-production and various visual effects work that had the project completed with a final budget of $10.5 million. The film premiered in Washington D.C. on April 2, 1968 to executives from MGM where the reaction divided audiences. Kubrick would cut 19 minutes from the premiere version as it was officially released two days later in its final 142-minute running time shown in general 35mm print as well as a limited 70mm Cinerama presentation. Critical and audience reaction was definitely polarizing as some called it a landmark film while others just didn’t understand the film. Yet, it would be Kubrick’s biggest commercial hit to date as it grossed more than $190 million worldwide.
The film would garner several Oscar nominations including Best Director for Kubrick as well as Best Adapted Screenplay for himself and Arthur C. Clarke. The film would only an Oscar for Best Visual Effects given to Kubrick as it would be the only Oscar he would win in his career. The film would also garner various awards as well as an award from the Vatican that praised the film after a special screening. The film put Kubrick on top of the map among many filmmakers as he raised the bar of what could be achieved in cinema as he was considered to be the ultimate filmmaker working at that time.
A Clockwork Orange
After achieving the accolades for 2001: A Space Odyssey and later gaining a lucrative deal with Warner Brothers studio that would allow him complete freedom. Kubrick decided to work on a project that he had been obsessed with in a film about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. Kubrick went into a lot of extensive research to create the ultimate story on Napoleon as he had everything prepared including casting that featured David Hemming in the role as well as Audrey Hepburn as Josephine. Yet, the project was abandoned due to financial issues as well as the commercial failure of Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1970 film Waterloo forced Kubrick to abandon the project in favor of something smaller.
The project would be in an adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ controversial novella A Clockwork Orange about a young man who is obsessed with sex, ultra-violence, and Beethoven who is arrested for his actions and is later put into an experiment that would only trouble him even more. The story intrigued Kubrick as he adapted into a script and wanted to maintain something that was faithful to the novel but also put his own stamp as he set it into a futuristic dystopian Britain where it would be led largely by its protagonist Alex.
For the role of Alex, Kubrick chose Malcolm McDowell who had made a star-making performance in the 1968 Lindsay Anderson film if… as McDowell worked closely with Kubrick on developing the role. Since McDowell was going to be the lead and the one to carry the film, Kubrick also selected an eclectic group of actors to play small roles while wanting to maintain something that was offbeat and also unsettling. Even as it was a warped idea of the future where things seemed to be in a state of chaos but still has ties with the past. With this approach, Kubrick only decided to do little work with the sets to create something that didn’t seem too far off from the present.
With John Alcott becoming his new cinematographer as well as gaining another collaborator in costume designer Milena Canonero, Kubrick was able to get something that would be distinctive in its look. Notably the clothes that Alex would wear with his gang as they would wear bowler hats, black boots, white clothes with large jock straps over their pants, and some form of makeup. Kubrick also added something that seemed completely surreal in the violent events Alex took part in where Kubrick would shoot a large portion of the film in London with a more modest $2.2 million budget as it was shot from the fall of 1970 to the spring of 1971. The film also allowed Kubrick to take a chance to do something where he would utilize a lot of framing devices and images that would play up the strange world that Alex was living in.
Since the film contained lots of controversial content including nudity and graphic violence, Kubrick knew he was going to push the boundaries of what he was going to do in order to be true to the story. Particularly when he decided to showcase some humor in an extremely-sped up sex scene between Alex and two young women to a sped-up take on Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture. The violence was also gruesome where it had this sense of dark humor where Alex and his gang stormed into a house as he’s singing Singing in the Rain while raping a woman. Kubrick wanted to show different ideas of violence where Alex is later taken to prison and eventually into a rehabilitation center where he would be tortured in a manner that was more gruesome.
It was Kubrick providing commentary on the actions of those in authority who tries to change a man’s human nature for the sake of their own political agenda. Particularly by torturing him through obscene means by having the things he loved turned against him. Even as Alex becomes a victim to the point that he nearly does something that would almost kill him. It’s Kubrick revealing that despite the kind of person that Alex is, he is still human as the things that were done to him were just as worse as what he was doing to others.
While Kubrick would also use classical pieces by Rossini and Edward Elgar, it was largely dominated by the music of Ludwig Van Beethoven as something that Alex loved. While Kubrick originally wanted to use the title-track suite of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, the band denied permission as Kubrick eventually went to electronic music composer Walter (Wendy) Carlos to create new takes on Beethoven’s music that would provide something that was futuristic. It would also be used for something that was unsettling but also humorous in its tone.
The film made its premiere in December of 1971 in the U.S. where the film divided critics but was a major hit with audiences despite the fact that the film was rated X at the time. The film was released a month later in Britain where it was a major hit but drew lots of controversy over its violence as many copy-cat killings inspired by the film became prevalent at the time forcing Kubrick to withdraw the film from theaters as it would be banned for more than 20 years in Britain. Still, the film earned four Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director and Adapted Screenplay to Kubrick while winning seven British Academy Awards including Best Film and Best Director to Kubrick.
Due to the research he had taken part of for the Napoleon project, Kubrick decided to turn his attention to the works of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. Though he wanted to go for Vanity Fair, the book was just then adapted into a TV mini-series was being produced forcing Kubrick to turn towards another book in The Luck of Barry Lyndon. The book was about a young Irishman who stumbles his way through many adventures including the Seven Years War where he later seduces the wife of a lord and becomes her husband only to squander his fortune and gain the hatred of his stepson.
The story’s protagonist was very interesting to Kubrick as he wanted to see how a man tried to find his way to become something he had craved for only to realize what he must do in order to be truly called a gentleman. It is also told largely from a very different perspective in the eyes of an off-screen narrator who would reveal a lot of exposition and back-stories to the characters and situations that occur. Kubrick realized that he would do a whole lot more than just make a film that was expected in a period film set in the 19th Century. Thanks to the research that he did with the Napoleon project, he was finally getting ready for his next project.
Shot entirely in Ireland with a $11 million budget, Kubrick called upon many of his collaborators to create a film that wasn’t just true to the period of those times but also take it way back in time. With cinematographer John Alcott, production designer Ken Adam, and costume designer Milena Canonero involved, Kubrick relied on them to create something that felt true to the period. Canonero, along with Ulla-Britt Soderlund would create clothes and dresses that didn’t just have the actors look a certain way but also make the clothes feel like they’re part of something. Adam also provided a lot of detail into the look of the homes of the period as he along with Kubrick and the rest of the collaborators looked at paintings of those periods for inspiration.
For the film’s look, Kubrick wanted to avoid artificial and electric lighting as he and Alcott wanted to do something that felt more naturalistic to the period. Kubrick sought the help of many camera designers as he wanted to fit in the Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 lenses for low-light scenes as he intended to shoot the film with only candlelight. Kubrick got what he wanted as he bought three Zeiss lenses for the production that began in the spring of 1973 to early 1974 as the film would also have a large ensemble cast led by Ryan O’Neal in the role of the titular protagonist. The cast would also include model Marisa Berenson as Lady Lyndon and a few of Kubrick’s regular actors in Patrick Magee and Philip Stone. Another actor who would play the role of the adult version of Lord Bullingdon would be Leon Vitali who would become one of Kubrick’s key personnel in the coming of year.
Kubrick also wanted to utilize a music soundtrack that played true to the period as he picked a wide range of music from Irish folk music performed by Paddy Moloney and the Chieftans to classical music from Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Franz Schubert. With the music, Kubrick played to the sense of melancholia and dramatic elements of the film. Notably in the climatic duel where Barry faces off against Lord Bullingdon where Barry would do something that would become a major development in not just in himself but a culmination of everything he had been through in his life and what he was about to accept.
The film premiered in December of 1975 to a large degree of anticipation as with a lot of films Kubrick had done at this point. Yet, the film drew mixed reviews and only did modestly well in the U.S. and Britain while the film was a major hit in Europe both critically and commercially. Despite winning four Oscars for Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and for its music while gaining three additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film’s reaction was disappointing to Kubrick as he would venture into a period of hiatus just as the film world was set to enter the Blockbuster era.
Due to the disappointing reception of Barry Lyndon in which Kubrick took a break from films where he made a brief visit to the set of The Spy Who Loved Me to give advice on the lighting where his production designer Ken Adam was working on the set at the time. During this hiatus, Kubrick read Stephen King’s The Shining about a writer who takes the job as a caretaker at an isolated hotel in the Rocky Mountains where he descends into madness due to the supernatural lurking around as his wife and son become scared. The project was something Kubrick was intrigued by as he decided it would become his next film in the hopes it would do well commercially while giving him lots of artistic satisfaction.
Kubrick sought the collaboration of famed American essayist Diane Johnson to help him write the screenplay for the film as the would create a script that was to be very different from the King novel. Notably as Kubrick wanted to do something different with the characters and situations that was to be darker and more ambiguous. Even when it revolves around the supernatural that would play to the madness of its protagonist Jack Torrance who would see ghosts while his son Danny has telepathic powers that can allow him to communicate with others through their mind.
With the production set mainly in EMI Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, Kubrick brought in some of his collaborators including production designer Roy Walter, costume designer Milena Canonero, and cinematographer John Alcott for the production along with Kubrick’s daughter Vivian to direct a making-of documentary for the film. The cast would be led by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall along with Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers plus an appearance from Kubrick regular Philip Stone as a man named Grady. With second unit providing shots in Oregon including the hotel where the film would be set, the rest of the film was shot in Britain that included a large scale maze. Kubrick brought Garrett Brown, who had invented the Steadicam, to serve as a camera operator to help utilize stylish tracking shots for the scenes in the maze as well as Danny riding the big wheel around the hotel.
Kubrick wanted to employ a lot of dark imagery and moments for the film that would play up the sense of horror such as a pool of blood coming out of the elevator. Even in the moments such as Jack Torrance’s encounter with the ghosts including Grady who had been known as the caretaker that had killed his own children. Kubrick also wanted to maintain a cinematic style that was different as he would shoot scenes from afar to maintain that sense of detachment that was occur only to get closer once Jack Torrance descends into madness.
Kubrick brought in Wendy Carlos to help create a score as she and Rachel Elkind created a lot of dark, moody electronic music for the film that ended up being used sparsely where Kubrick also utilized an array of classical pieces from Gyorgy Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki to maintain a mood for the film. Kubrick also used early 20th century pop standards for the scenes where Jack goes to the Gold Room where he dabbles in all sorts of parties as it played up the ambiguity of the film.
The film was released in Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. in 1980 where the film received mixed reviews yet was a major box office hit for Kubrick. Fans of King’s novel and Stephen King himself were very critical about the film feeling it deviated too much from the book. Kubrick released a shorter version in Europe that cut out many scenes outside of the hotel in the film’s second and third act in hopes to improve the pacing following the dismal critical reaction the film was receiving in the U.S. Despite getting a couple of Razzie nominations for Worst Director and Worst Actress to Shelley Duvall, the film would later be considered to be one of the great horror films of all-time.
Full Metal Jacket
After the success of The Shining, Kubrick went on another break from films where he settled at the Childwickbury Manor that he had bought in 1978 where he would live his life privately while conducting many of his business at home. It was during this time Kubrick was trying to figure out what to do next as he became fascinated by the Vietnam War as he read Michael Herr’s 1977 memoir Dispatches where two collaborated on a project together. In 1982, Kubrick discovered Gustav Hasford’s novel The Short-Timers where he would eventually take the storyline of that book with Herr’s memoirs and turn it into a war film called Full Metal Jacket.
Kubrick and Herr began to work in the script in 1985 with Gustav Hasford though Hasford’s involvement was brief. The script would unveil two very different setting all of which is told from the perspective of a young man who is dealing with life as a soldier as the first half was set in boot camp while the other half is in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. It would be crucial to the development of this young man who is conflicted over the idea of war and peace as he realizes what he must do as a soldier. The production would finally begin in late 1985/early 1986 as Kubrick would begin to start casting.
Though Kubrick hired real U.S. Marines drill instructor R. Lee Emrey as a technical advisor, Kubrick realized that Emrey was perfect for the role of Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann who would be a key player in molding the men into killers in the film’s first half. The rest of the cast would largely consist of up-and-comers including Adam Baldwin, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard as Cowboy, and Vincent D’Onofrio as Private Leonard Lawrence aka Gomer Pyle. For the lead role, Anthony Michael Hall was set to play the role of Private Joker but financial issues fell apart as Matthew Modine was finally selected for the role.
The film was shot largely in Britain where Kubrick based a lot of the production to recreate Vietnam while getting lots of imported palm trees from Spain and other plants from Hong Kong as set dressing. With only Leon Vitali around as Kubrick’s constant collaborator in the casting and Vivian Kubrick doing some making-of footage as well as providing the score under an alias. Kubrick utilized a very different crew to do the film as he also wanted to create something that was very different from war films of the past including his own war features.
Experimenting with narrative structure by setting the film in two different worlds, Kubrick wanted to explore the idea of de-humanization such as the scenes in boot camp where young soldiers have to deal with the verbal abuse of Sgt. Hartmann as well as the chaos they have to endure in war such as a very darkly-comic scene where Pvt. Joker watches a soldier kill innocent people on a helicopter. It was to show a view into the world of a young man who is later confronted by his superior for wearing a peace sign on his uniform while having the words “born to kill” on his helmet.
For the film’s music, Kubrick decided to stray from his usual approach to music by employing rock music from the 1960s to play up the period of the times. It was unusual yet it would prove to be effective as it added a sense of black comedy as well as the craziness of the times. What Kubrick was able to do as he had always done with music in his film was find a way to fit in sound and image where the results would help further story.
The film was released in late June of 1987 where it was a hit in the box office while reviews were once again polarizing. While the film did contain many hallmarks that was expected by Kubrick, his reputation as the great innovator was suddenly coming to an end. Largely due to the fact that there were several films about the Vietnam War that had been released prior to Full Metal Jacket though many would rank this as one of the best films about the war. Though it would yield an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as winning a Best Director prize from the London Film Critics Circle. The film would be the beginning of the longest gap between releases for Kubrick as he would step away from the film world once again.
The Unrealized Projects (late 1980s to mid-1990s)
During the late 80s and early 1990s, Kubrick went into hiding as he tried to figure out what to do next as various ideas were floating around. Among them was a film about the social circle of Nazi minister Joseph Goebbels as well as an adaptation of Umberto Eco’s 1988 novel Foucault’s Pendelum and an adaptation of Perfume by Patrick Suskind. These were among the many unrealized projects Kubrick had tried to do as he eventually worked on many others. One that almost went into production was an adaptation of Louis Begley’s Holocaust novel War Crimes into Aryan Papers yet Kubrick abandoned the project due to the fact that he found the subject matter too depressing as well as the fact that Steven Spielberg was already making Schindler’s List at the time.
Kubrick later turned his attention towards the short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss into a full-length feature film entitled A.I. Artificial Intelligence as he collaborated with many writers including Aldiss to create a suitable treatment of the story. Yet, the realization that a story as ambitious as this would have to require computer-created visual effects that weren’t advanced at the time. Kubrick decided to be involved in the project as a producer as he turned to Steven Spielberg to helm the project as Spielberg would eventually make a version of the film that would be released in the summer of 2001.
Eyes Wide Shut
After a period in which Kubrick tried to figure out what to do next, he decided to revive a project that he thought about doing dating back in the 1960s. It would be in an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Dream Story about a doctor who goes into a journey of his own after his wife’s confession about having sexual fantasies with another man as he would encounter a masquerade ball nearly puts him in great danger. The concept intrigued Kubrick as he brought in Frederic Raphael to help write the screenplay for what would become Eyes Wide Shut.
Kubrick decided to have the story be based in present time in New York City though Kubrick had no intentions to shoot the film in the place he once called home choosing to remain in Britain. Instead, he decided to hire a second unit crew to shoot locations in New York City while he would do the bulk of the production at Pinewood Studios in London with some of the shooting in London to recreate parts of New York City. It was definitely unconventional yet it would allow Kubrick to remain in Britain as he would do work on the film from November of 1996 to June of 1998 as it would later get the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest constant movie shoot.
While Kubrick would utilize production designer Roy Walker and his longtime assistant/casting director Leon Vitali to be part of the production. Most of the crew that Kubrick utilized were either new or had worked with him in smaller jobs as Kubrick chose Larry Smith to do the shooting as he had been Kubrick’s gaffer since Barry Lyndon. Wanting to stray once again from the conventional idea of lighting, Kubrick and Smith decided to aim for something that was exotic by shooting the film with available light while using Christmas lights and such to help set the mood for the film.
For the cast, Kubrick decided to get Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman to play the leads as they were the most famous Hollywood couple of that time having both done two films together in 1990’s Days of Thunder for Tony Scott and 1992’s Far and Away for Ron Howard. The rest of the cast would include Todd Field, Vinessa Shaw, Rade Serbedzija, Alan Cumming, Leelee Sobieski, and Leon Vitali as the mysterious master of ceremonies in the red cloak. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Harvey Keitel were also in the production playing the respective roles of Marion Nathanson and Victor Ziegler. Yet when Kubrick needed to do re-shoots for both actors, Leigh and Keitel were unable to do it due to scheduling conflicts as Leigh was replaced by Swedish actress Marie Richardson and Keitel was replaced by filmmaker Sydney Pollack.
While production was commencing, Kubrick also decided to return to classical music for musical accompaniment with some exception as he used Chris Isaak’s Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing for a key scene in the film. For the rest of the music, Kubrick asked Jocelyn Pook to create music for the masquerade ball ceremony as well as using music from Gyorgy Ligeti and Dmitri Shostakovich to help set the mood. Notably in some of the film’s darker and suspenseful moments with Ligeti’s piano cycle to play out the conflict and horror that Cruise’s character goes through as he nearly loses touch with who he is.
After production wrapped, Kubrick and editor Nigel Galt spent time editing the film to create unconventional rhythms and ideas to help maintain an eerie mood of the film. Notably as it revolves around the journey of Dr. Bill Halford who becomes consumed by jealousy and temptation as he later delves into a world of horror of everything he encounters. After many months of post-production, Kubrick finally presented the film to Cruise, Kidman, and the executives at Warner Brothers on March 2, 1999. Kubrick would die five days later as the film was officially released in July of that year in the U.S. to mostly positive reviews as well as modest box-office take. Though the film was presented with some digitally-altered scenes in the U.S. to ensure a R rating while international versions showed the film in its original cut. The film would mark the end of an era for the world of cinema.
It’s been nearly 15 years since the release of Eyes Wide Shut and Stanley Kubrick’s death as well as more than fifty years since the release of his first short film Day of the Fight. Yet, Kubrick’s influence has endured beyond the parameters of film as his influence ranges from all sorts of art from music, television, and even Halloween costumes. Many filmmakers who arrived during Kubrick’s time and afterwards have cited him as an important influence. The films that Kubrick has made in the post-war era of the 20th Century are often considered to be among some of the greatest films ever made. While he may no longer be around, Stanley Kubrick has left a major imprint in the world of cinema that no one will ever replicate.
Related: Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures
© thevoid99 2012