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 gave 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 excelled at science, 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, New York City and he started spending time at the Museum of Modern Art. Here he devoured films by directors like Max Ophuls and Elia Kazan, and was inspired to become a filmmaker. One of his friends, Alexander Singer, worked in the office of March of Time, a newsreel series, 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 Kubrick, and together they formed Harris-Kubrick Pictures. Under the new banner, Kubrick directed the noir classic 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, none of which came to fruition. In 1960, Kirk Douglas called Stanley Kubrick and asked him 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, which was already in production when he took over.

In 1960 Kubrick and Harris began work on Lolita (1962), an adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel by the same name. They decided to work in England with a mostly English cast and crew because of the artistic freedom they could enjoy outside of the Hollywood studio system. This cast included Peter Sellers, whose acting range impressed Kubrick enough to allow Sellers to improvise during shooting, and whom Kubrick would cast in three separate roles in his next film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Though controversial at the time, Lolita would later receive critical acclaim as an insightful satire of the social and sexual atmosphere in the United States. His first black comedy, Lolita also marked Kubrick’s first experiment in cinematic surrealism, a key element of his style for the rest of his career. Lolita was also Kubrick’s last film with Harris.

Kubrick's next film, Dr. Strangelove, developed his surrealist and satirical style. Though the project began as a serious thriller, Kubrick realized that the subject would not be believable as such, and saw the opportunity for humor in some of the film’s most pointed criticisms of the Cold War. Upon release, the film was criticized for being irresponsible, juvenile, and hostile to the U.S. defense establishment; however, it was also a box office success, and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as the third-greatest comedy film of all time.

Kubrick remained productive throughout the 1960s and 1970s, which saw the release of some of his most celebrated films, including as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1972), Barry Lyndon (1975), and The Shining (1980). During this time Kubrick also became increasingly reclusive, settling permanently in England and refusing to do interviews for the latter part of the 1970s. In 1987 he made Full Metal Jacket, a grim Vietnam War movie that reiterated many themes found in Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove. His final film was Eyes Wide Shut (1999), starring the then-married stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Kubrick died a few days after he finished editing the film.

Critics have singled out Kubrick for his contributions to the fields 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 Academy Award. 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 lit entirely by diegetic candlelight, giving the film a soft, portrait-like feel. The Shining is often cited as the first film that fully utilized the technology of the Steadicam.

Stanley Kubrick is often referred to as an auteur (from the French word for author)—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 down to the way his films were marketed, 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.

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, many important directors have cited Kubrick as a major influence on their work, including 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.

Study Guides on Works by Stanley Kubrick

Barry Lyndon, released in 1975, is Stanley Kubrick’s follow-up to his highly controversial film adaptation of the novel A Clockwork Orange released three years previously. That film was, in turn, his follow-up to the mammoth event that was 2001: A...

Dr. Strangelove was written and produced at the height of the Cold War, amidst such escalations as the Berlin Crisis (the closing of the border between Soviet East Berlin and democratic West Berlin) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (the establishment...

Eyes Wide Shut is a movie that first premiered in 1999. The movie was written by Stanley Kubrick and was nominated for one Golden Globe award. The film was based on the Austrian novel entitles Traumnovelle written by Arthur Schnitzler.

The story...

Stanley Kubrick released Full Metal Jacket in 1987, a full seven years after his previous project, the psychological horror film The Shining. Kubrick was contemplating making a war film as early as 1980, when he initiated contact with writer and...

Written, directed, and produced by Stanley Kubrick, The Shining was released by Warner Brothers in 1980 and based on Stephen King's novel of the same name. It was the twelfth feature film by Kubrick and was met with colossal critical success....

Stanley Kubrick is a master of both satire and science fiction, but also achieved renown with the 1960 historical epic Spartacus. The film has positive reviews and grossed $60 million (the most of any Universal Studios film until Airport grossed...