Biography of Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick was born in the Bronx, New York on July 26, 1928 to Jacques Kubrick, a doctor, and his wife Sadie. The Kubricks were Jewish and of Central European origin, but Stanley and his younger sister, Barbara, did not have a religious upbringing. Kubrick became interested in photography at the age of 13 when his father gifted him a Graflex camera. As a young teen, Kubrick was also interested in jazz drumming and chess. He did poorly in high school, even though he was very smart and curious - he often skipped school to go see double features. He did excel at science, however, but his overall grades were so low that they ruled out the possibility of college. Instead, he became a freelance photographer for Look magazine.

Kubrick married his high school sweetheart, Toba Metz, at the age of 18. He soon was promoted to staff photographer at Look and was traveling around the country, gaining a reputation as one of the magazine's most skilled photographers. He remained deeply passionate about chess, photography, and jazz. All three of these pursuits would eventually influence his filmmaking style.

In 1949, Kubrick and his wife settled in an apartment in Greenwich Village, NYC and he started spending time at the Museum of Modern Art, which is where he was inspired to become a filmmaker, noting Max Ophuls and Elia Kazan as early influences. One of his friends, Alexander Singer, worked in the office of March of Time, and got Kubrick a job making a low-budget documentary about Walter Cartier, a middleweight boxer who had been the subject of a photo-essay Kubrick had shot previously. By 1953, Kubrick had decided to leave Look and make his first feature film, the war drama Fear and Desire. Kubrick self-financed the film, borrowing money from his family and friends. It had a small release (as it was rejected by all the major studios) but garnered critical attention, so Kubrick decided to make another film - also independently - the film noir Killer's Kiss. His second film also lost money, but cemented Kubrick in critics' minds as a young director to watch.

James B. Harris, a friend of Alexander Singer's, met with Kubrick and together they formed Harris-Kubrick Pictures. Under the new banner, Kubrick directed the noir classic the The Killing in 1956, which was eventually financed by United Artists. Together, Kubrick and Harris made the WWI-set Paths of Glory (1957) and then tried to develop several other films that never came to fruition. In 1960, Kirk Douglas called Stanley Kubrick to replace Anthony Mann as the director of Spartacus - because Douglas and Mann were not getting along. This was the rare film in Stanley Kubrick's career where he did not have input on the screenplay - because it was already in production when he took over.

Stanley Kubrick made many of his most celebrated films in the 1960s and 1970s. It started with Lolita (1962), an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel, which was the last film that Kubrick and Harris made together. Kubrick produced his next several films solo, including Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1972), Barry Lyndon (1975), and The Shining (1980). He made Full Metal Jacket in 1987. His final film was Eyes Wide Shut, starring the then-married stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Kubrick died a few days after he finished editing the film.

Kubrick's direction has been widely praised for his contributions to the field of cinematography and visual effects. Steven Spielberg cited Paths of Glory as his favorite film, noting the "single unbroken reverse-tracking shot" that Kubrick popularized. Kubrick's collaboration with Russell Metty on Spartacus led the veteran cinematographer to his only Oscar. His innovation in the field of visual effects began with his work on Dr. Strangelove and he won his only Oscar, for Visual Effects, for 2001: A Space Odyssey. On Barry Lyndon, Kubrick used high-speed lenses that had originally been developed for NASA so that he could shoot interior scenes with very little light for a soft, portrait-like feel. The Shining is often cited as the first film that fully utilized the technology of the Stedicam.

Stanley Kubrick is often referred to as an auteur - a director who puts his unmistakable stamp on every aspect of each of his films. Like Orson Welles before him, Kubrick was vigilant and controlling, even when it came down to the marketing of his films, and in the case of A Clockwork Orange, he actually chose the theaters where it would be shown. Unlike Welles, though, Kubrick came up as the Hollywood Studio System had already started to wane, and he was able to make his films as he wanted, raising the money himself and negotiating deals with different distributors for different projects. He was completely self-taught, and developed an extremely high technical proficiency simply by learning as he went along.

Kubrick was married three times; he and Toba divorced in 1951. He married Austrian dancer Ruth Sobotka in 1955 and they divorced two years later. He met his third wife, Christiane, on the set of Paths of Glory (she was an actress with a bit part). She had a daughter from a previous relationship, and she and Kubrick had two daughters together, Vivian and Anya. They remained married until Kubrick's sudden death in 1999.

Stanley Kubrick is one of the most acclaimed American filmmakers of all time. He is still and will probably always be a major influence on many filmmakers. Besides Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Woody Allen, Terry Gilliam, The Coen Brothers, Ridley Scott, George A. Romero, Richard Linklater, Sam Mendes, Quentin Tarantino, Joel Schumacher, Taylor Hackford, Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo Del Toro, David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, Michael Mann, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Gaspar Noe are just a few of the directors who cite Kubrick as a major influence in their work.


Study Guides on Works by Stanley Kubrick

Very few directors ever get the opportunity to make two unquestioned masterpieces in a single career, let alone back to back. Not only did Stanley Kubrick manage to pull off this rare feat, he accomplished it in the same decade the release of Dr....