The Instant Expert's Guide to Stanley Kubrick

Cinema Paradiso's Instant Expert series introduces the work of the greatest directors in screen history. In addition to placing the films in a biographical context, each article also examines 10 titles in detail to give fans a better understanding of their maker's thematic preoccupations and visual style and to encourage newcomers to get better acquainted. Following on from the likes of Fellini, Buñuel and Scorsese, the focus falls on that enigmatic master, Stanley Kubrick.

Born on 26 July 1928, Stanley Kubrick would have been 91 this year. Two decades have passed since his death, yet he remains one of the most significant influences on modern American cinema. You only have to watch The Simpsons to see the impact that he has had on American culture, as the cartoon series is dotted with homages to Kubrick's 13 features. Moreover, everyone from Martin Scorsese and Terry Gilliam to David Fincher and Christopher Nolan claims to be indebted to him, while his legacy is continuously being reassessed in documentaries like brother-in-law Jan Harlan's Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001), Rodney Ascher's Room 237 (2012) and Tony Zierra's Filmworker (2017). Even Kubrick's chauffeur, Emilio D'Alessandrio, has told his story in Alex Infascelli's S Is For Stanley (2015).

The Truant With Talent

As the son of a New York doctor, Stanley Kubrick had a comfortable childhood. However, he took his easy existence somewhat for granted and not only failed to apply himself at school, but often didn't bother to show up at all. In an effort to improve his grades, Jack Kubrick bought Stanley a Graflex camera for his 13th birthday and he began taking pictures with his friend, Marvin Traub, who had his own darkroom. Taking their cues from Arthur 'Weegee' Fellig, the pair favoured street scenes, although Kubrick also became the unofficial photographer at William Howard Taft School, where he also developed a lifelong love of chess. His greatest passion, however, was for jazz and Kubrick considered becoming a professional musician after becoming the drummer of the Taft Swing Band.

He changed his mind after Look magazine paid $25 for an unsolicited photograph of a mournful newsboy selling papers announcing the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in April 1945. When he was offered a chance to become a trainee shutterbug, Kubrick left school without formal qualifications and spend the next four years producing story spreads that often caught ordinary people in everyday situations. In 1948, he visited Portugal for a travel item, while domestic assignments led to him snapping such celebrities as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio.

Such was Kubrick's compositional sense that it wasn't always apparent whether he had captured a moment or artfully posed his subjects to shape reality. He had developed this directorial skill while supervising the family's home movies and, in 1950, he was encouraged by school friend Alexander Singer (who was working for the March of Time newsreel) to follow up a print profile of prizefighter Walter Cartier by featuring him in the documentary short, Day of the Fight.

The young Kubrick had watched a couple of mainstream movies a week at the Loew's Paradise and the RKO Fordham. But he became hooked on more refined film-makers like Fritz Lang, GW Pabst, Max Ophüls, Robert Siodmak, Orson Welles and Samuel Fuller while attending screenings at the Museum of Modern Art and Cinema 16, where he also discovered the Soviet montagists Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin. During his spare time, Kubrick also started taking classes at Columbia University and became a voracious bookworm.

Having sold his first outing to RKO-Pathé for $4000 (earning him the princely profit of $100), Kubrick produced two more shorts, The Flying Padre (1951) and The Seafarers (1953), which, like its predecessor, are available on Eureka's edition of his debut feature. He later admitted, 'I was aware that I didn't know anything about making films, but I believed I couldn't make them any worse than the majority of films I was seeing. Bad films gave me the courage to try making a movie.'  The result was Fear and Desire (1953), a Korean War drama that Kubrick made with $9,000 borrowed from his pharmacist uncle, Martin Perveler.

In addition to helping Howard Sackler with the screenplay, Kubrick also served as his own cameraman during the five-week location shoot in the San Gabriel Mountains in California. Moreover, he also edited the footage and supervised the sound dubbing process that caused the budget to spiral to $53,000. The picture received lukewarm reviews and recouped little of its outlay. But Kubrick was bailed out by Singer's March of Time colleague, Richard de Rochement, who sent him to Hodgenville, Kentucky to shoot second unit footage for Mr Lincoln, a 1952 docudrama for television that starred Royal Dano as Abraham Lincoln and Joanne Woodward as Ann Rutledge.

Despite being disappointed with a debut that he strove to keep out of circulation for the rest of his life, Kubrick had found his métier and he borrowed $40,000 from family and friends to embark upon Killer's Kiss (1955). Once again scripted by Howard Sackler, the noirish story was filmed across New York and centred on a ménage involving struggling boxer Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith), taxi dancer Gloria Price (Irene Kane), and her short-fused boss Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera). Despite a climactic punch-up in a mannequin factory, this was strictly pulp fare. But Kubrick experimented with camera angles and lighting and made such effective use of negative footage and symbolic doubles to cast a nightmarish pall that he and new producing partner, James B. Harris, were offered a contract by United Artists to turn Lionel White's hard-boiled page-turner, Clean Break, into The Killing (1956).

Trapped in Tinseltown

As an East Coaster who had become accustomed to doing things his own way, Kubrick was never going to fit into Hollywood's studio system. During pre-production for The Killing, he became embroiled in a dispute with the craft unions, who refused to let a director act as his own cinematographer. Veteran Lucien Ballard soon discovered that the softly spoken 27 year-old was not an easy collaborator and star Sterling Hayden also found him cold and detached. Kubrick did have art director Ruth Sobotka rooting for him, however, as she had become his second wife after he had divorced high-school sweetheart, Toba Metz. But the damage was done and UA were happy to let Kubrick move on to MGM after his slick racetrack caper (which has since acquired cult status) did less than modest business at the box office.

Initially, Kubrick hoped to rework Stefan Zweig's 1913 novella, Burning Secret (the script for which was rediscovered and auctioned last year). But he plumped instead for Paths of Glory, a denunciation of French military injustice during the Great War that Kubrick had adapted from a pacifist novel by Humphrey Cobb with co-scribes Calder Willingham and Jim Thompson. However, when studio chief Dore Schary was removed in a front-office coup, Kubrick and Harris were informed that their project had been cancelled. But star Kirk Douglas saved the day by offering to co-produce through his Bryna Productions company and the shoot in Munich passed off relatively smoothly. While on location, Kubrick fell for the only female member of the cast, German-born artist Christiane Harlan, who became his third wife in 1958. He had less luck with the film itself, however, as it underperformed after mixed reviews, while its unflattering depiction of the high command led to a ban in France that was only lifted in 1974.

Despite its commercial shortfall, Paths of Glory sufficiently impressed Marlon Brando for him to contact Kubrick about directing him in an adaptation of Charles Neider's Wild West novel, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones. Rod Serling (the creator of The Twilight Zone, 1959-64) and Sam Peckinpah had each taken a tilt at the screenplay, which went through two more revisions before One-Eyed Jacks (1961) was ready to shoot. Two weeks before the camera started to roll, however, Kubrick abruptly withdrew to leave Brando to take his one and only stab at directing.

Needing a job, Kubrick accepted Kirk Douglas's offer to replace Anthony Mann on Spartacus (1960), an account of the Gladiator War in 73 BC Rome that had been adapted from a Howard Fast novel by Dalton Trumbo, who was returning to action after being blacklisted during the Hollywood witch-hunt (a shameful episode that is recalled in both Peter Askin's documentary, Trumbo [2007], and Jay Roach's 2015 drama of the same name, which earned an Oscar nomination for Bryan Cranston). Shot in Super-Technirama and boasting over 10,000 extras, this $6 million epic was the most expensive picture that Hollywood had ever produced. But, despite revisiting Kubrick's recurring theme of human nature's response to conflict, this often rousing saga lacks his personal imprint.

Matters weren't helped by the on-set tussles with his star. But the Production Code's insistence on the removal of Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis's notorious snails and oysters scene (which has since been restored, with Anthony Hopkins dubbing Olivier's lines) confirmed Kubrick's conviction that he needed to quit America if he was to regain full creative control over his movies. His chance to relocate came when Warner Bros asked him to take on Vladimir Nabokov's adaptation of his own provocative novel, Lolita, and James B. Harris managed to secure Eady Levy funding to enable Kubrick to shoot at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire.

Casting James Mason as Humbert Humbert, the middle-aged academic who becomes besotted with the underage Lolita Haze (Sue Lyon), and Peter Sellers as his scheming rival, Clare Quilty, Kubrick kept Oswald Morris's camera moving in a manner that recalled such Max Ophüls masterpieces as La Ronde (1950) and Le Plaisir (1952). He had troubles with the temperamental Shelley Winters as Mrs Haze, while the critical response was decidedly mixed. But, while it might lack the book's poetic elegance, this risqué comedy far surpasses Adrian Lyne's 1997 remake, with Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, Frank Langella and Melanie Griffith.

Days of Future Past

Now installed at Abbots Mead to the south of the Elstree/Borehamwood studio complex, Kubrick considered Rosalind Erskine's study of teenage sexual habits, The Passion Flower Hotel, which was eventually filmed by André Farwagi with Nastassja Kinski in 1979. He clearly decided that the theme was too close to that of Lolita, however, and settled instead for Peter George's Cold War tome, Red Alert. In the initial stages of development, Kubrick planned a serious treatise on the perils of the nuclear arms race. But he realised that the message would be more potent if he took a darkly comic tone and the result was Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

Satirist Terry Southern was brought in to give the script a final polish, while Kubrick recruited Peter Sellers to play three roles, as he had done in Jack Arnold's The Mouse That Roared (1959). In fact, Sellers was due to add B-52 Stratofortress commander Major TJ 'King' Kong to the roles of Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley and wheelchair-bound former Nazi Dr Strangelove, but he struggled to master the Texan accent and a leg injury meant that the part was memorably taken by former rodeo clown, Slim Pickens. Kubrick was frustrated in his bid to conclude with a giant custard pie fight in production designer Ken Adam's magnificent War Room set, but compensation came in the form of Armageddon taking place to the strains of Vera Lynn's wartime favourite 'We'll Meet Again'.

Having decided he was better at interpreting existing material than attempting original screenplays, Kubrick contacted science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke about turning his short story, 'The Sentinel', into a $10.5 million blockbuster that would chime in with NASA's bid to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon. Treatments for what was to be called Journey to the Stars were completed in 1964, while shooting at Borehamwood and Shepperton lasted into 1966. But, while Kubrick waited for Douglas Trumbull and his team to complete the special effects, science fact began to catch up with fantasy, as the Apollo programme was launched and captured the public imagination. Consequently, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was perfectly timed and its success gave sci-fi cinema new respectability and paved the way for George Lucas's Star Wars and Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (both 1977).

Not everyone agreed it was a masterpiece, however, with Pauline Kael dismissing it as 'the biggest amateur movie of them all'. By contrast, John Lennon was so blown away that he suggested that the film be shown in a temple 24 hours a day. Indeed, he also tried to talk Kubrick into starring The Beatles in an adaptation of JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, with himself as Gollum, Paul McCartney as Frodo, Ringo Starr as Sam and George Harrison as Gandalf. The venerable Oxford don detested the idea, however, and it never got off the ground and the same was true of Kubrick, whose fear of flying (after a runway incident while piloting a plane at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey) prevented him from personally accepting the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for 2001, which was just as well, as Douglas Trumbull, Con Pederson, Wally Veevers and Tom Howard had done all the hard work.

Stepping back from the edge of space, Kubrick resumed his research for the biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte that he had started in 1961. Over the course of two years, he read hundreds of books on the French emperor's life and campaigns and was even granted access to his personnel writings. Moreover, he tried to watch every film that had been made about the Corsican, including Abel Gance's Napoleon (1927) and Sergei Bondarchuk's Oscar-winning version of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1966). By all accounts, he considered the former to be hugely overrated, although, to be fair, he wasn't able to see the restored version prepared by Kevin Brownlow.

Unwilling to leave Britain, Kubrick dispatched Andrew Birkin to visit key battlegrounds and the scenes of Bonaparte's exiles. While sifting through the resulting 15,000 location photographs and 17,000 slides, he also made plans to hire the Romanian army. But, while he hoped to persuade Audrey Hepburn to play Empress Josephine, Kubrick couldn't decide between David Hemmings and Ian Holm to play Napoleon. By the time he settled on Jack Nicholson, however, MGM had got cold feet about the scale and cost of the project and pulled the plug in 1969. When Bondarchuk's Waterloo (1970) proved an expensive flop, the studio cancelled the picture altogether, Holm would eventually take the title role in Alan Taylor's The Emperor's New Clothes (2001). But, while both Spielberg and Cary Fukunaga have announced that they are developing small-screen versions of Kubrick's script, nothing has come to fruition.

While making Dr Strangelove, Terry Southern had given Kubrick a copy of Anthony Burgess's novel, A Clockwork Orange. Set in a bleak near future, the story of a delinquent's reformation by a repressive state appealed to Kubrick. But he was concerned that audiences wouldn't be able to understand the Nadsat street slang that Burgess had created from Russian. However, he returned to the text towards the end of a decade that had seen the Production Code replaced by a rating system that allowed film-makers to take a more sophisticated approach to contentious topics. Features like Lindsay Anderson's If... (1968) clearly impressed Kubrick, who cast its star, Malcolm McDowell, as the anti-heroic Alex DeLarge, the leader of the droog gang whose fondness for 'a bit of the old ultraviolence' results in him being arrested and subjected to the pitiless Ludovico Technique.

Burgess was more or less happy with Kubrick's screenplay, although he regretted the decision to ignore the 1962 book's redemptive final chapter. But, despite arriving in cinemas shortly after Sam Peckinpah's equally violent Straw Dogs, the film ran into censorship difficulties in the United States. Moreover, having garnered Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay, A Clockwork Orange was blamed in the British press for incidents of supposedly copycat violence in Bletchley and Lancashire. Refusing to let his film be scapegoated for wider social ills, Kubrick withdrew it from UK circulation in 1974 and it remained unavailable until after his death a quarter of a century later.

In collecting his Oscar for The French Connection (1971), William Friedkin declared Kubrick to be the best director in the world and he benefitted from his decision not to adapt William Peter Blatty's horror bestseller, The Exorcist (1973). Despite being fascinated by Nazi Germany, Kubrick also declined an opportunity to film Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich and turned, instead, to The Luck of Barry Lyndon, an 1844 picaresque novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. Although set in the 1750s, the project allowed Kubrick to use much of his Napoleonic research and he insisted on shooting in daylight and candlelight to replicate the textures of contemporary English painting.

However, the location sojourn in Ireland proved endlessly frustrating and, despite converting four of its seven Oscar nominations, Barry Lyndon (1975) failed to make money. One New York critic branded it 'an egocentric film, made by a man who has lost touch with his peers, his critics and his audience', while even Spielberg compared it to 'going through the Prado without lunch'. Kubrick retreated to his new home, Childwickbury Manor, near Harpenden, as the press started to portray him as an eccentric recluse who only emerged from his cocoon to call Warners or individual theatres whenever he learned that one of his films had been shoddily projected.

The Long, Slow Fade

Many were surprised when Kubrick ended his silence with an adaptation of Stephen King's horror classic, The Shining (1980), especially as he had spurned the chance to direct Exorcist II: The Heretic (with the gig going to John Boorman). The bestselling novelist was far from impressed by Kubrick's interpretation, however, and leant his name to Mick Garris's 1997 retool, Stephen King's The Shining. Making innovative use of the new Steadicam camera rig, Kubrick encouraged stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall to improvise. However, his fabled perfectionism taxed the energy and emotions of his cast, with one scene between young Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers requiring 148 takes. He even criticised himself by removing a closing sequence involving hotel manager Barry Nelson visiting Duvall in hospital five days after the picture's much-heralded opening. Moreover, he cut 25 minutes from the version that premiered in Europe. But, while reviews were mixed, business was brisk and Kubrick was able to laugh off the fact that he received a Golden Raspberry nomination for Worst Director after being snubbed entirely by the Academy.

Having contemplated Shelby Foote's American Civil War novel, Shiloh, and Martin Russ's Korean War opus, The Last Parallel, Kubrick latched on to two studies of the conflict in Vietnam. He asked Michael Herr to work on a screenplay based on Dispatches, while Gustav Hasford was taxed with adapting The Short-Timers. Eventually, the latter became the basis for Full Metal Jacket (1987), which Kubrick made for $17 million without leaving home. All of the locations were within a 30-mile radius of Childwickbury, including the derelict gasworks at Beckton in London's Docklands, which was transformed into the decimated city of Hue. A near-fatal jeep accident involving R. Lee Ermey, who stole the film as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, caused the production to shut down for five months. But, while Ermey would receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, the picture followed the predictable pattern of dividing the critics and underwhelming audiences who were somewhat Vietnammed out after a string of postwar exposés that included Oliver Stone's Best Picture winner, Platoon (1986), and John Irvin's Hamburger Hill (1987).

Twelve years would pass before Kubrick released what would prove to be his swan song. Around this period, he considered numerous projects, including Virginia C. Andrew's Flowers in the Attic, H. Rider Haggard's Norse novel, The Saga of Eric Brighteyes; a recreation of Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain in 55 BC; Gavin Blakeney's sci-fi radio play, Shadow on the Sun; and Brian Aldiss's short story, 'Supertoys Last All Summer Long'. Press reports that Kubrick was also linked to adaptations of Patrick Süskind's Perfume, Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum and Herbert Selby, Jr's Last Exit to Brooklyn turned out to be mere conjecture.

There was more substance to the rumour that Kubrick was intrigued by Robert Marshall's All the King's Men, which centred on British espionage during the Second World War. Indeed, this period proved the most enticing, as Kubrick considered a biopic of controversial German film-maker Veit Harlan (who also happened to be his wife's uncle), and an adaptation of Louis Begley's Wartime Lies, which centred on a Jewish boy and his aunt going into hiding during the Holocaust, Michael Herr titled his screenplay Aryan Papers and Kubrick was reportedly keen on pairing Joseph Mazzello with either Julia Roberts or Uma Thurman. Following the success of Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), however, Kubrick dropped the project to concentrate on AI Artificial Intelligence. Ironically, Spielberg would follow Kubrick's notes and screenplay to realise this study of the relationship between humans and robots in 2001.

One idea that kept coming back to Kubrick, however, was an adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella, Traumnovelle. In the late 1950s, he had been drawn to the Austrian's 1902 story, 'The Death of a Bachelor', but a decade was to pass before he inquired about the rights. Following the production of Barry Lyndon, Kubrick toyed with the idea of casting Woody Allen as the Jewish doctor in 'Dream Story', while Steve Martin was mooted in the 1980s. In all, Candia McWilliam, Sara Maitland and Michael Herr all took a tilt at the screenplay. But it was Frederic Raphael's version that appeared as Eyes Wide Shut. Despite the casting of Hollywood power couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the shoot was shrouded in secrecy as it sprawled into becoming the longest in American film history.

Kubrick didn't live to endure the typically polarised critical reaction, however. Just four days after showing Warner Bros a workprint, he died of coronary thrombosis on 7 March 1999. Respected British critic David Thomson declared Kubrick 'the most significant and ornate dead end in modern cinema'. But French counterpart Michel Ciment came closer to the mark in proclaiming him 'one of the most demanding, most original and most visionary filmmakers of our time'. He was played by Stanley Tucci in Stephen Hopkins's The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004), while John Malkovich headlined Brian W. Cook's Color Me Kubrick (2005), which recalled the efforts of con man Alan Conway to pass himself off as the reclusive auteur during the 1990s.

  • Fear and Desire (1953)

    1h 2min

    It certainly helps having a future Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright as an old classmate and Stanley Kubrick was fortunate in having Howard Sackler script his much-maligned debut. Originally titled The Trap and later known as The Shape of Fear, the story is set during a war between two unnamed states and falls into two parts. In the first, rookie Private Sidney (Paul Mazursky, who would go on to direct such fine films as Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, 1969) resorts to violence while guarding a female prisoner (Virginia Leith), while the second centres on a bid to ambush an enemy general in his riverside base. The dialogue has its purple moments and some of the delivery is a bit stilted, as the decision to shoot without wild sound meant that the inexperienced cast had dub their lines on a soundstage. By contrast, Kubrick's compositional sense reveals his photographic background, while his camera movements (for which he used a pram) and cross-cutting reveal him to be a natural film-maker.

    Director:
    Stanley Kubrick
    Cast:
    Frank Silvera, David Allen, Kenneth Harp
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Action & Adventure
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • The Killing (1956)

    1h 21min

    Adapted by Kubrick and hard-boiled novelist Jim Thompson from Lionel White's Clean Break, this heist caper proved a significant influence on Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992). Masterminding the raid on a racetrack counting-house is Sterling Hayden, a veteran crook who intends retiring after his last job to marry Coleen Gray. The plan is for gunman Timothy Carey to shoot the favourite during the big race to create a distraction. But bookie's clerk Elisah Cook, Jr. tells wife Marie Windsor about the scheme and she tips off her ruthless lover, Vince Edwards. Although the suspense builds grippingly towards the justifiably famous climax, it's the characterisation that makes this such an effective film noir. Everyone has a weakness and Kubrick (working exclusively in America for the last time) plays on them in order to keep the audience guessing who is going to let the side down. The ensemble playing is superb, although Hayden and Windsor stand out, with the latter demonstrating again why she was one of the B-hive's finest femme fatales.

    Director:
    Stanley Kubrick
    Cast:
    Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards
    Genre:
    Thrillers, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD
  • Paths of Glory (1957)

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    1h 24min

    The theme of combat through the ages recurred throughout Kubrick's career, but he rarely approached it with such indignation as in this adaptation of Humphrey Cobb's 1935 tome that had been based on a New York Times article about an actual incident during the Battle of Verdun and had inspired a Broadway play by Sydney Howard, who would go on to win a posthumous Oscar for Victor Fleming's Gone With the Wind (1939). Opening on the Western Front in 1916 with an ill-conceived French bid to capture a German stronghold known as 'The Anthill', the action comes to centre on the court-martial of some randomly selected soldiers after General Georges Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) accuses them of cowardice. The sacrificial victims are defended by Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), who knows that Broulard is an incompetent trying to salvage his own reputation. On learning that Max Ophüls had died, Kubrick filmed the scene in which Boulard hatches his scheme with Ophüls's trademark fluency, as a mark of respect.

    Director:
    Stanley Kubrick
    Cast:
    Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics, Action & Adventure
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • Dr. Strangelove (1964) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

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    1h 30min

    One of these days, Kubrick's estate will let us see the footage of the War Room pie fight that was intended to provide a slapstick finale to this dark Cold War satire. Apparently, Kubrick took the decision to excise it, but Columbia executives thought that a gag about the American president being splattered so soon after the assassination of John F. Kennedy might be in bad taste. Coming after Stanley Kramer's On the Beach (1959) and Sidney Lumet's Fail-Safe (1964), this might have seemed like light relief. But Kubrick took the topic of accidental calamity very seriously and returned to it in several subsequent features. Naturally, Peter Sellers steals the show, but Sterling Hayden and George C. Scott merit mention as hawkish loose cannon Jack D. Ripper and Buck Turgidson, the general bemused by the ineptitude of President Merkin Muffley and his cohorts.

    Director:
    Stanley Kubrick
    Cast:
    Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden
    Genre:
    Comedy, Collections, Classics
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

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    2h 23min

    Kubrick had little time for men in suits and they prove to be as self-destructively foolish as the apes (who are actually mimes in suits) in this famously gnomic epic's 'Dawn of Man' prologue. It's never quite explained how the black monolith that prompts one of our simian ancestors to use a bone as a weapon links up with the one located on the Moon in the second section before the action switches to the Jupiter-bound probe containing astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and his nemesis, the HAL 9000 computer (Douglas Rain) that is convinced it's smarter than any human. But Kubrick built the ambiguity into the scenario, as he wanted audiences to derive their own philosophical and allegorical meaning at 'an inner level of consciousness'. Indeed, he compared viewing the film to listening to classical music, which is apt, as Richard Strauss's 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' became synonymous with space travel after it was adopted by the BBC for its coverage of the Apollo Moon landings.

    Director:
    Stanley Kubrick
    Cast:
    Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain, Frank Miller
    Genre:
    Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Classics, Collections
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Blu-ray
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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    2h 11min

    It's hard to imagine how this dystopian peek into the near future could be more radically different from Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's Singin' in the Rain (1952), whose joyous theme plays over the grotesque rape sequence. Its use was improvised by Malcolm McDowell during rehearsals, which entirely justifies his casting after earlier directors linked with the project, Ken Russell and John Schlesinger, had contemplated casting Mick Jagger as Alex and the other Rolling Stones as his droogs. McDowell's love of cricket also led to his costume including a jockstrap. But Kubrick was very much in control of the project, as the eye-clamping element of the Ludovico Technique demonstrates, as he defied on-set medical advice and damaged McDowell's cornea by insisting that he sat upright during his torture. As in his previous three features, Kubrick casts a darkly comedic pall over proceedings in a way that still seems shockingly modern half a century later, as the clash between free will and civil liberty again come into sharp focus.

    Director:
    Stanley Kubrick
    Cast:
    Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates
    Genre:
    Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Drama
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • Barry Lyndon (1975)

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    2h 58min

    As the numerous retellings available from Cinema Paradiso testify, Vanity Fair is William Makepeace Thackeray's most popular work. But Kubrick was drawn to this 'novel without a hero', as Redman Barry (as the character is called at the outset of his progress through 18th-century society) was an everyman whose exploits chimed in with the era's penchant for countercultural subversion. Unfortunately, Robert Redford didn't want to play such a conniving chancer and the title role passed to Ryan O'Neal, as Kubrick felt that he looked the part and that he could wring a better performance out of him than he had managed in earning an Oscar nomination for Arthur Hiller's Love Story (1970). Unfortunately, O'Neal had little time for co-star Marisa Berenson, while the shoot in Ireland was beset by continuous problems. Kubrick even argued with production designer Ken Adam, while cinematographer John Alcott had to use special lenses to recreate the contemporary painting style that Kubrick demanded. Time magazine called it 'Kubrick's Grandest Gamble', but it paid off handsomely.

    Director:
    Stanley Kubrick
    Cast:
    Michael Hordern, Ryan O'Neal, Marisa Berenson
    Genre:
    Drama, Classics
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray
  • The Shining (1980)

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    1h 55min

    Anything you need to know about Kubrick's take on Stephen King's bestseller can be found in Rodney Archer's award-winning documentary, Room 237, which helps decode its symbolism and hidden meanings. The story turns around recovering alcoholic Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), who seeks to conquer his writer's block by taking a job as the off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. Accompanying him are his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and young son, Danny (Danny Lloyd). But, as Jack begins to lose his grip on reality, the hotel's unsettling past begins to manifest itself. Robert De Niro and Robin Williams had briefly been considered for the lead, but Kubrick was keen to work with Nicholson and gave him an unprecedented degree of latitude. But he made Duvall's life a misery in order to drive her to the levels of distraction he required (although she often gave as good as she got). Critics initially found it ponderous and superficial, but the picture has since been hailed as a horror classic.

    Director:
    Stanley Kubrick
    Cast:
    Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
    Genre:
    Thrillers, Drama
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Blu-ray
  • Full Metal Jacket (1987)

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    1h 52min

    It's fair to say that Kubrick mithered authors Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford into contributing to the screenplay of his Vietnam saga. But the endless phone calls paid off, as they helped produce a compellingly credible insight into the military psyche that earned the trio an Academy Award nomination. The first act takes place during the Summer of Love at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island in South Carolina, where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) seeks to toughen up his raw recruits by coming down hard on privates JT Davis (Matthew Modine) and Leonard Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio), whom he respectively nicknames 'Joker' and 'Gomer Pyle'. Such is the harrowing nature of the midway denouement that it takes a while for the audience to adjust to the horrors that Joker witnesses as a war correspondent for Stars and Stripes in the coastal city of Da Nang. But the action begins to re-exert its grip when the Vietcong launch the Tet Offensive in January 1968.

  • Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

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    2h 33min

    Kubrick spent three decades trying to realise his version of Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle and didn't quite live long enough to see the results of his labours. Switching the action from Carnival in turn-of-the-century Vienna to Christmas in pre-millennial New York, Kubrick and co-scenarist Frederic Raphael focused on the differing approaches that men and women take to fantasy and fidelity. Asked by Warners to cast established names to help the tricky subject matter find an audience, Kubrick agreed to work with married superstars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. However, as if sensing that the film would be his last, he spun out production over 400 days and earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest continuous shoot. The delays led to Sydney Pollack and Marie Richardson having to replace Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh, as they respectively had to leave to make David Winkler's Finding Graceland (1998) and David Cronenberg's eXistenZ (1999). Tragically, the perfectionist's perfectionist passed away before completing post-production.

    Director:
    Stanley Kubrick
    Cast:
    Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Todd Field
    Genre:
    Thrillers, Drama, Romance
    Availability:
    DVD, Blu-ray

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