Stanley Kubrick 1928–-1999
American director and screenwriter.
Kubrick's films are among the most ambitious and original of the late twentieth century. A controversial director of outlandish subjects and eccentric cinematic styles, Kubrick derived an artistic identity from his natural bent for novelty and inventiveness. He was an idiosyncratic artist, yet his work has wide appeal. Perhaps his greatest strength as a filmmaker was in his ability to make films that were readily accessible to the viewer while providing abundant matter for critical speculation.
Kubrick was born on July 26, 1928, in Bronx, New York. The son of a prosperous doctor, he grew up interested in chess, photography, and movies. While in high school he sold some of his photographs to Look; after graduation, he became a staff photographer for that magazine. His first film short, Day of the Fight (1952), was originally a picture story in Look, and his increasing preoccupation with cinema led to a second short documentary entitled Flying Padre (1952). Kubrick sold these films to RKO at a slight profit and, after borrowing additional funds, made his first feature, Fear and Desire (1953). After the release of Lolita in 1962, Kubrick moved to England; where he lived and worked. His work in the 1960s and 1970s garnered much critical and commercial attention. In the last few decades of his life, he became an infamous recluse and was rarely seen in public. Right before the release of his final movie in 1999, Eyes Wide Shut, he died at his home in Hertfordshire, England.
Kubrick's first feature, Fear and Desire, is identified by its stylishly imaginative camerawork and a somewhat erratic structure. It received critical approval but failed commercially. Killer's Kiss (1955) is also characterized by an interesting visual style and structure supporting a conventional storyline. Less conventional is The Killing (1956), 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 (1957), Its favorable critical reception promoted Kubrick to the stature of an important American director. After directing Spartacus (1959), a project on which he considered himself only hired talent, Kubrick chose to make a film from Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita. 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 (1964).
Kubrick's science-fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was alternately viewed as a work of cosmic prophecy and an attempt at gratuitous mystification. A Clockwork Orange (1971), based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, is the third Kubrick film concerned with a hypothetical reality. Some critics perceive 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 (1975). In 1980 he adapted Stephen King's gothic novel, The Shining, which chronicles the degeneration of a struggling writer into violence and hallucinations. The 1987 film Full Metal Jacket focuses on the Vietnam War and the dehumanizing and terrifying aspects of armed conflict. His final film, Eyes Wide Shut, depicts the effects of sexual fantasy and betrayal on an upper-class Manhattan couple.
Kubrick's films have received dramatically varied critical estimates and interpretations. Most reviewers have praised Kubrick's stunning visual style and camera technique, but have frequently derided the ambiguous endings of his movies and his puzzling narrative technique, which often results in audience alienation and dislocation. Thematically, critical discussion has focused on his treatment of apprehension, mortality, and the impact of social injustice. Controversy plagued his career, as much publicity concentrated on Kubrick's enigmatic personality and creative process as well as his depiction of sex and violence, misogyny, tyranny, and the sinister influence of technology in his films. Despite the mixed critical reaction to the body of his work, commentators concur that Kubrick's impact on filmmaking has been profound and far-reaching.