Stanley Kubrick, Film Director With a Bleak Vision,
Dies at 70
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
The New York Times
March 8, 1999
Kubrick, the famously reclusive director of such classic films as "Dr.
Strangelove," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "A Clockwork
Orange," died Sunday at his home in England, his family said. He was
The police were summoned to Kubrick's rural home in Hertfordshire, north
of London, Sunday afternoon, when he was pronounced dead.
"There are no suspicious circumstances," a police spokesman
said. Kubrick's family announced his death and said there would be no further
One of the few American directors who had the prestige to make big-budget
movies while working outside the Hollywood mainstream, Kubrick directed
coldly brilliant films that explored humanity's baser instincts with great
visual flair and often savage wit. Although those films won eight Academy
Awards, none were for best director.
That may be because his subjects were often dark. The comic satire "Dr.
Strangelove," made at the height of the cold war, portrayed the military
as a collection of incompetent, jingoistic yahoos itching for an chance
to unleash nuclear devastation.
The film was a harsher and much funnier version of the same vision of
military pathology and hypocrisy found in "Paths of Glory," the
movie that brought him to prominence in 1957, and that was reiterated 30
years later in "Full Metal Jacket."
Kubrick's sarcasm and ironic humor flared memorably in "Dr. Strangelove"
in the juxtaposition of Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again"
against images of nuclear catastrophe. It was also evident in "The
Blue Danube Waltz" accompanying a space-docking sequence in "2001"
and in a scene of Malcolm McDowell jauntily crowing "Singin' in the
Rain" while delivering a brutal beating in "A Clockwork Orange."
That film's savagery was so pointed that some critics complained that the
movie glorified violence.
Kubrick withdrew the film from distribution in Britain after it was
said to have inspired copycat crimes. But if Kubrick's misanthropy prompted
some critics to accuse him of coldness and inhumanity, others saw his pessimism
as an uncompromisingly Swiftian vision of human absurdity.
Kubrick's chilly outlook coincided with his reputation for being an extreme
perfectionist who insisted on control over every aspect of his films, from
casting and screenwriting to editing, lighting and music. It often took
him many months and sometimes years to complete a film. He was known to
film up to 100 takes of a scene.
Increasingly reclusive, he announced in 1974 that he was settling permanently
in England. Refusing to give interviews, he withdrew so completely that
an Englishman impersonated him for several months before being discovered.
Stanley Kubrick was born on July 26, 1928, in the Bronx. As a child
he was encouraged by his father, a doctor, to take up still photography,
and when he was 17 he was hired as a staff photographer by Look magazine,
which had been impressed by a picture he had snapped the day President
Franklin D. Roosevelt died.
While working at Look he attended film screenings at the Museum of Modern
Art and later said that seeing so many bad films gave him the confidence
to do better.
"I was aware that I didn't know anything about making films, but
I believed I couldn't make them any worse than the majority of films I
was seeing," Kubrick once said. "Bad films gave me the courage
to try making a movie."
In 1950 he quit his job at Look to make his first film, "Day of
the Fight," a 16-minute documentary, which he sold to RKO-Pathé.
He completed two more documentary shorts before making his feature debut
in 1953 with "Fear and Desire," a low-budget film that was financed
with family money, and that he wrote, directed, photographed and edited.
After making a second feature, "Killer's Kiss," he formed
a production company in 1954 with a producer, James B. Harris, and made
"The Killing," a drama about a racetrack heist starring Sterling
Kubrick's fourth full-length film, "Paths of Glory," established
him as one of the most promising postwar American filmmakers. The World
War I drama, starring Kirk Douglas, was a devastating indictment of military
duplicity that still stands as one of the most powerful antiwar movies.
He made "The Killing" and "Paths of Glory" for a
percentage of the profits, and both received critical acclaim while faring
indifferently at the box office.
Two years later, in 1959, Kubrick was invited to replace Anthony Mann,
the director of the high-budget Roman epic "Spartacus," which
starred Douglas as the leader of a slave rebellion against the Roman state.
The film, released in 1960, was noticeably more intelligent than most Roman
spectacles of the era and was an enormous box-office success.
Soon after, Kubrick moved to England, where he hoped to maintain greater
creative control of his films than he could in Hollywood.
But he soon returned to the United States to scout locations for "Lolita,"
an adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel in which James Mason played
Humbert Humbert, the middle-aged lover of the pubescent Lolita (Sue Lyon).
The director's taste for the controversial and bizarre sharpened with
the nightmarish comic satire "Dr. Strangelove" (subtitled "How
I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"), which imagined nuclear
Armageddon as a macabre joke. More than any other film "Dr. Strangelove"
established Kubrick's reputation for coldness.
The successes of "Spartacus," "Lolita" and "Dr.
Strangelove" gave Kubrick the rare freedom to choose his subjects
and to control his projects. For the next several years, he worked on the
science fiction epic "2001" (1968), which he wrote with Arthur
C. Clarke. Its spectacular psychedelic effects earned the film a reputation
as the era's quintessential "head" movie. In its visual grandeur
and dazzling special effects, "2001" paved the way for George
Lucas's "Star Wars" trilogy.
In an interview with Playboy magazine, Kubrick said that in "2001"
he had "tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized
pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional
and philosophic content . . . just as music does. . . . You're free to
speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning."
After the spaced-out fantasies of "2001," in which the hero
is reborn as an angelic child, Kubrick's pessimism reared up savagely in
his adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel "A Clockwork Orange."
The work was voted the year's best in 1971 by the New York Film Critics
Circle, which also named Kubrick best director. The film paints a portrait
of Alex ( McDowell), a violent, homicidal thug who is sadistically brainwashed
into placidity by the state, and it has no sympathetic characters.
"Dr. Strangelove," "2001" and "A Clockwork
Orange" were the high-water marks in a career that stumbled with "Barry
Lyndon" (1975), a visually stunning but static film based on a Thackeray
novel in which the director took enormous pains to evoke a lighting and
imagery that would recreate an authentic 18th-century ambiance. The costly
movie took 300 shooting days to complete and fared only modestly at the
Five years later came "The Shining," an icy Gothic fable based
on a Stephen King novel in which a writer (Jack Nicholson) holes up with
his family in a Colorado hotel and goes mad, turning into a homicidal maniac.
Kubrick's next film, "Full Metal Jacket" (1987), adapted from
Gustav Hasford's novel "The Short-Timers," was a grim near-horror
movie about the Vietnam War.
Kubrick was married four times. His marriages to Toba Metz in 1948,
Ruth Sobtka in 1954 and Susanne Harlan (with whom he had three daughters)
in 1958 ended in divorce. He is survived by his fourth wife, Christiane,
and his daughters Katharine, Anya and Vivian.
Kubrick had recently finished editing his final film, "Eyes Wide
Shut," a psychosexual thriller based on Arthur Schnitzler's "Traumnovelle"
("Dream Story") and starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as
psychiatrists. Filmed in Britain in an atmosphere of military secrecy,
it took 15 months to shoot. The film is to be released on July 16.