Stanley Kubrick 1928–
American director and screenwriter.
Kubrick's are among the most ambitious and original films of the past three decades. A controversial director of outlandish subjects and eccentric cinematic styles, Kubrick derives an artistic identity from his natural bent for novelty and inventiveness. As a youth he took a keen interest in photography. While in high school he sold some of his photographs to Look; and after graduation became a staff photographer for that magazine. His first film short, Day of the Fight, was originally a picture story in Look, and his increasing preoccupation with cinema led to a second short documentary entitled Flying Padre. Kubrick sold these films to RKO at a slight profit and, after borrowing additional funds, made his first feature, Fear and Desire.
Stylishly imaginative camerawork and a somewhat erratic structure are the identifying traits of Fear and Desire. It received critical approval but not commercial success. Killer's Kiss is also characterized by an interesting visual style and structure supporting a conventional storyline. Less conventional is The Killing, a crime caper distinctive for relating its story with impersonal and efficient objectivity. Of the early films the most highly regarded is Paths of Glory, its favorable critical reception promoting Kubrick to the stature of an important American director. After directing Spartacus, a project on which he considered himself only hired talent, Kubrick chose to make a film from Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita. Though criticized for its various divergences from the novel, Kubrick's film nonetheless proves artistically adventuresome in its own right, containing at times a surreal quality foretold by certain scenes in his early films and pursued further in his later ones.
The sometimes grotesque farce in Lolita is amplified in Kubrick's next film, Dr. Strangelove; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This work, like all its successors in the Kubrick filmography, received dramatically varied critical estimates and interpretations. 2001: A Space Odyssey is probably the most outstanding example of this mixed reception, being alternately viewed as a work of cosmic prophecy and an attempt at gratuitous mystification.
A Clockwork Orange, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, is the third Kubrick film concerned with a hypothetical reality. Some critics see this story of ultra-violence in a decaying society as further evidence of the pessimistic undercurrents present in all of this director's films. After his three scenarios of the future, Kubrick recreated William Thackeray's novel of romance and adventure in the eighteenth century, Barry Lyndon. Despite the apparent departure from the previous themes and subjects of Kubrick's work, critics have observed in this film the same emphasis on stylization and strictly formal elements, along with a skeptical perspective on societal pretenses.
Kubrick is an idiosyncratic artist whose work nevertheless has wide appeal. Perhaps his greatest strength as a filmmaker lies in his ability to make films that are readily accessible to the viewer while providing abundant matter for critical speculation. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)