As one of the most universally acclaimed and influential directors of the postwar era, Stanley Kubrick enjoyed a reputation and a standing unique among the filmmakers of his day. A perennial outsider, he worked far beyond the confines of Hollywood, maintaining complete artistic control and making movies according to the whims and time constraints of no one but himself, but with the rare advantage of studio financial support for all of his endeavors. Working in a vast range of styles and genres spanning from black comedy to horror to crime drama, Kubrick was an enigma, living and creating in almost total seclusion, far away from the watchful eye of the media. His films were a reflection of his obsessive nature, perfectionist masterpieces which remain among the most provocative and visionary motion pictures ever made. Born July 26, 1928 in New York City, Kubrick initially earned renown as a photographer, selling his first free-lance pictures to Look magazine while still in high school. By the age of 17 he was working as a Look staff photographer, travelling the world in their employ for several years. He subsequently enrolled as a non-matriculating student at Columbia University, attending classes taught by the likes of Calvin Trillin and Mark Van Doren. In the late 1940s Kubrick became enamored of filmmaking, attending Museum of Modern Art showings regularly. To supplement his income, he also played chess for money in Greenwich Village. In 1951, Kubrick used his life savings to finance his first film, Day of the Fight, a 16-minute documentary profiling boxer Walter Cartier. The piece was later purchased by RKO for its This Is America series and played at the Paramount Theatre in New York. Encouraged by his success, Kubrick quit his post at Look to pursue filmmaking full-time. Soon, RKO assigned him to helm a short for their documentary series Pathe Screenliner. Titled Flying Padre, the nine-minute work spotlighted Fred Stadtmueller, a priest who piloted a Piper Cub around his 400-mile New Mexico parish. In 1953 the Atlantic and Gulf Coast District of the Seafarers International Union commissioned Kubrick to direct a half-hour industrial documentary called The Seafarers, his first color film. With the aid of relatives, Kubrick raised some $13,000 in order to finance his feature debut, the war story Fear and Desire. Filmed in the San Gabrielle mountains near Los Angeles with a crew of less than ten people (including Kubrick's then-wife Toba Metz), the picture was filmed silently, with its dialogue dubbed-in later (a measure which ultimately added $20,000 to the final cost). Shown only briefly on the New York arthouse circuit, Fear and Desire failed to earn back its initial investment and was later disowned by its creator. His sophomore feature, the gangland melodrama Killer's Kiss, followed in 1955. A more successful effort, it was sold to United Artists and received worldwide distribution, playing primarily as a second feature. In 1956 Kubrick directed his first studio picture, The Killing. A heist film told via an ambitious overlapping time structure, the film starred Sterling Hayden, with dialogue from the legendary hard-boiled crime novelist Jim Thompson. The result was the director's first artistic triumph, and it brought him to the attention of MGM production head Dore Share, where Kubrick was teamed with novelist Calder Willingham to develop future projects. After preparing a screenplay based on Steven Zweig's story "The Burning Secret" which went unproduced, Thompson joined the duo to adapt the Humphrey Cobb war novel Paths of Glory. Studio after studio rejected the project until Kirk Douglas agreed to star, resulting in a financing deal with United Artists. Shot in Germany, the 1957 film won considerable critical acclaim, and further cemented Kubrick's reputation as a rising talent. However, the next two years left him in a state of limbo, as a pair of proposed projects -- I Stole 16 Million Dollars, a planned vehicle for Douglas based on the life of safecracker Herbert Emmerson Wilson, and an untitled film about Mosby's Rangers, a southern guerilla force active during the U.S. Civil War -- both failed to come to fruition. Kubrick then spent some six months on pre-production work for the Marlon Brando western One-Eyed Jacks, only to look on helplessly as Brando decided at the eleventh hour to direct the picture himself. Finally, in 1959 he replaced Anthony Mann on Spartacus, a lavish historical epic starring Douglas, Laurence Olivier, and Tony Curtis. The most costly film produced in Hollywood to date, with a budget of over $12 million, it proved to be a major hit, winning the Golden Globe Award for "Best Picture." In 1962 Kubrick resurfaced with the controversial Lolita, based on the infamous Nabokov novel about a man's infatuation with his teenaged stepdaughter. Due to a number of financial and legal difficulties, the film was shot in England, where Kubrick continued to live and work after the project's completion. He next turned to his first undisputed masterpiece, the 1964 Cold War-era black comedy Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, a brilliant adaptation of the Peter George novel Red Alert starring Peter Sellers in three different roles. In December of 1965 Kubrick began production on what was to become his crowning achievement, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Inspired by the Arthur C. Clarke story The Sentinel, the 1968 film -- a complex meditation on man's instinctive desire for violence, set against a backdrop of an American spacecraft's contact with extraterrestrial intelligence -- quickly emerged as a landmark in motion picture history, growing in status to become recognized as one of the greatest and most thought-provoking movies ever released. A biography of Napoleon was projected as the follow-up, but when expected costs proved too prohibitive, the film never moved beyond the planning stages. Instead, Kubrick turned to another controversial novel, Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. A satiric 1971 essay on crime and punishment set in a violent future world, the film initially scored an "X" rating in the U.S. but proved surprisingly popular regardless, even netting several Oscar nominations. In Britain, A Clockwork Orange played theatrically for a year without incident, but was pulled after a number of copy-cat crimes which authorities blamed on the picture's influence, including a brutal gang-rape mirroring a scene in the film. Moving from the future to the past, in 1975 Kubrick adapted William Makepeace Thackery's 19th century novel Barry Lyndon, a lavish costume drama detailing the rise and fall of an Irish rogue (Ryan O'Neal) during the 1700s. In 1980, Kubrick helmed The Shining, an adaptation of a horror novel by author Stephen King. While one of the director's greatest popular successes, critical notice was less kind, and he spent the early half of the decade away from the camera, plotting his next move. The result was 1987's Full Metal Jacket, a Vietnam War drama which scored with both audiences and critics. Despite the film's success, Kubrick again went into hibernation. Finally, in late 1996 Kubrick began work on Eyes Wide Shut, starring husband and wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. In 1997, Kubrick was given two of the film world's highest honors, winning the D.W. Griffith Award from the Director's Guild of America as well as the Golden Lion Award at the 54th Venice International Film Festival. Two years later, Eyes Wide Shut was released to extremely mixed reviews; a dreamlike erotic odyssey, it proved to be Kubrick's last film. He died of natural causes on March 7 of that year, leaving behind one of the cinema's most provocative, varied, and altogether brilliant legacies.
Biography by Jason Ankeny
- Was a teenage chess prodigy who won money playing matches.
- Hired as a staff photographer by Look magazine at age 17.
- Began his career as a director by helming two short films in 1951–Day of the Flight and Flying Padre.
- Moved to London to shoot Lolita because Peter Sellers was unable to leave the country; Kubrick ended up living in England for the rest of his life.
- Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Direction for four straight movies–Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Barry Lyndon (1975). He lost all four times.
- Renowned for his perfectionism and slow shooting method; Guinness Book of World Records states he made Shelley Duvall do 127 retakes for a scene in The Shining (1980).
- Steven Spielberg dedicated A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) to Kubrick, who worked on the script and was planning to direct before his death.
- Made just 13 features in 46 years, but three are on the AFI list of 100 Greatest American Movies.
- Portrayed by Stanley Tucci in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004).