The name of Stanley Kubrick evokes cinema, perfection, symmetry and depth. Kubrick’s footprint is such that it has been cited and recognized as one of the great influences of twentieth-century cinema. However, although no one doubts his talent, Kubrick aroused anger, exhaustion and anguish in his shootings.
A myriad of stories and legends have helped to mythologize Stanley Kubrick’s imprint. Some people are still trying to disengage the filmmaker’s films in search of hidden traces and clues that hide the truth. It has even been speculated that his death had much to do with his controversial latest film Eyes Wide Shut (1999).
The image of the cursed and tormented genius has been enormously nourished for years. In this article, we propose to make a brief review of his biography and filmography in which he played all genres.
Stanley Kubrick, first steps in the cinema
On July 26, 1928, Stanley Kubrick was born in the Bronx (New York). Although he grew up in a well-to-do Jewish family, Kubrick always considered himself an atheist. Already in his childhood, he showed great interest in chess, jazz and photography; three hobbies that decisively marked his professional future. Chess, for Kubrick, was much more than just entertainment, it gave him some ability to think before carrying out an idea.
The filmmaker saw in chess certain similarities with the cinematographic direction; for Kubrick, chess allowed observing, analyzing and, later, acting. There is always a better play and we can not leave everything to chance.
Such was his hobby that, in several of his films, we find references -both direct and indirect- to that game, a good example of which we see in 2001: An Odyssey in Space when Frank plays chess against the HAL 9000 computer.
“You sit on the board and, suddenly, your heart jumps; your hand trembles to pick up the piece and move it. But what chess teaches you is that you should sit calmly and think if it is really a good idea or if there are better ones.”
In his academic life, Stanley Kubrick did not stand out as a good student, but quite the opposite. He was missing class and his grades were very low; however, it is known that he was an extremely intelligent young man. His interest in photography led him to work for Look magazine at the age of 16.
The jump to the cinema would arrive at the beginning of the decade of the 50 with his first short documentary Day of the Fight (1951). Later, he decided to quit his job as a photographer and dedicate himself fully to his first feature film, Fear and Desire (1953), although the success did not accompany the film and it was Kubrick himself who decided that all copies should be removed due to their poor quality.
In this decade, Kubrick would know what would become his wife until his death, the German Christiane Kubrick; previously, he had already been married twice. After several films of black film, the absolute recognition came with Senderos de gloria (1957), a war film starring Kirk Douglas, with which Kubrick won critical applause.
From his first steps, the signature of Kubrick was associated with perfection and the absolute control of his films. The filmmaker needed to control all aspects of his films: production, direction, distribution … Somehow, many have wanted to see this fact as a simile with his idea of chess. The fame of perfectionist, authoritarian and obsessive was not long in coming.
Stanley Kubrick himself was responsible for reminding the press that he just wanted his work to be as he had imagined it, that everything went well and that this should not be a negative thing.
Recognition and great works
After the applause received with Paths of Glory, the 60s came loaded with great titles for the filmmaker: Spartacus (1960), the first film in which he had a large budget; Lolita (1962), his controversial adaptation of Nabokov’s novel of the same name; the exceptional Red Telephone ?, We flew to Moscow (1964), in which Peter Sellers stands out; and, finally, the immortal 2001: An Odyssey in Space (1968).
Despite his growing fame, it was not easy to get an interview with the filmmaker and he did not show up in crowded places either. He left the United States to move to the English countryside and acquired a somewhat negative reputation, was crossed out by cold, misogynist, misanthrope, authoritarian, etc.
His perfectionism made him put aside the aliens of 2001: An odyssey in space by not finding a way to make them credible (and we greatly appreciate it); In some way, a certain halo of mystery was created around his figure.
The journalist Michael Herr published a book, Kubrick (2000), in which he partly demystifies these ideas and shows a more human image of the filmmaker. In spite of it, it does not stop reflecting it like a quite peculiar personage and with a very particular vision of the cinema.
Kubrick knew very well what he wanted and how his films should be, as well, he faced censorship with titles like La naranja mecánica (1971) and broke the schemes by shooting a film with natural light like Barry Lyndon (1975).
If we want to reflect the life of these men of the eighteenth century, we must immerse ourselves in that era. For this reason, Kubrick decided to shoot Barry Lyndon by candlelight inside and soak up sets of the era. His meticulousness led him to explore new ways and techniques of filmmaking.
In 1980, the genius scared us all with El Resplandor, a film inspired by Stephen King’s eponymous work. Filming was not easy and the controversy with the leading actress, Shelley Duvall, contributed, even more, to creating that image of intransigent and cold director. It was not easy to shoot La naranja mecánica for the leading actor, Malcom McDowell, who broke some ribs and suffered a corneal injury.
Kubrick productivity began to decline in the 80s, after the premiere of the Shining, seven years would pass until his next film: The Metallic Jacket (1987), film with which he resumed the genre explored in Senderos de gloria.
Stanley Kubrick: from the moon landing to Eyes Wide Shut
In many of the filmmaker’s films, we can find a lot of symbolism. Symbols that, at times, wish to transmit relevant information. When it premiered in 2001: An Odyssey in Space, special effects and, in general, the cinema underwent a truly drastic change. How many movies of the time are remembered for such realistic and incredible special effects? And all this just a year after the arrival of man on the Moon.
Thus, began to develop a legend that claimed that Kubrick had filmed the arrival of man to the Moon and that those images that were seen on television were nothing more than a montage. For many, the director left a good number of subliminal messages that affirm this theory as, for example, the scene of the Radiance in which Danny wears a jersey with a space rocket in which it reads: Apollo 11, USA.
The rumor acquired even greater relevance when, in the decade of the 2000, the false documentary, Operation Moon, that affirmed this theory was released. There were those who took the documentary as true and, hence, the spread of the rumor.
In 2016, it was the filmmaker’s own daughter, Vivian Kubrick, who was responsible for denying these claims through Twitter. In addition, he recalled that his father had had various problems with the government of the United States as a result of his controversial films. How could Kubrick help those who censored his creations?
But the conspiracies do not stop there, we can find many theories in the network that claim that Kubrick belonged to some secret society. It is true that, politically, it was quite controversial and was skeptical of democracy.
Many have wanted to see in his latest film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), a way to unmask these secret societies that dominate the world and point to the film as the director’s death sentence.
The truth is that Kubrick died without seeing his film premiered on March 7, 1999. The cause of death is due to a myocardial infarction, the filmmaker was 70 years old. He was buried, without following any type of religious rite, in the garden of his house, next to his favorite tree in a private funeral.
Be that as it may, there is no doubt about the important legacy he left us and his great talent for cinema. Some films were left in the pipeline and he could never carry them out like Napoleon and even a pornographic film that would be called Blue Movie.
Although he never got an Oscar in his personal capacity as director, he was awarded the best special effects statuette for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Controversial, unequaled, neurotic or genius… Stanley Kubrick left us some of the most interesting titles in the history of cinema.
“If it can be written or thought, it can be filmed.”