Film World Mourns Unexpected Death of Kubrick
- By Matt Wolf
- Mar. 09 1999 00:00
LONDON -- Stanley Kubrick, a visionary craftsman whose films such as "Dr. Strangelove" and "A Clockwork Orange" reflected an icily despairing view of life, has died. He was 70.
"Stanley Kubrick was the grandmaster of filmmaking. He copied no one, while all of us were scrambling to imitate him," director Steven Spielberg said in a statement released by his office.
At the time of his death, the publicity-shy Kubrick had been preparing for the midyear release of "Eyes Wide Shut," his first film in more than a decade. Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the film had been shrouded in the usual secrecy that attended all of Kubrick's later movies.
Hertfordshire police said officers were summoned Sunday afternoon to Kubrick's rural estate, where he was certified dead. "There are no suspicious circumstances," police said.
Kubrick's family simply announced his death, and said there would be no further comment. Kubrick married Suzanne Harlan in 1958. They had three daughters.
Over a career spanning some four decades, Kubrick worked infrequently but often brilliantly, and was regarded as a maverick talent f to some, a genius f who played by his own rules.
He long ago gained a reputation as a fierce perfectionist who wouldn't do one take if he could do a hundred. "He gives new meaning to the word 'meticulous,'" Jack Nicholson said after working with Kubrick in "The Shining."
Though he often obtained leading performers, Kubrick's films were rarely an actor's showcase, distinguishing themselves instead by craft, intellect, and painstaking finesse.
War was one of Kubrick's great themes, starting with his first feature, "Fear and Desire," in 1953 and again in "Paths of Glory" in 1957. The horrors of thermonuclear war were turned into a dark satire in "Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" in 1964, and Vietnam was the setting for "Full Metal Jacket."
Kubrick moved freely between genres f from a tale of sexual obsession with "Lolita" in 1962, based on the Vladimir Nabokov novel, to a nightmarish vision of the future in "A Clockwork Orange."
Common to all Kubrick's work was a cool, icy brilliance that some found too emotionally detached f even as others hailed the director's visual flair. In "Barry Lyndon" (1975), based on the 19th-century Thackeray novel, Kubrick insisted on shooting by actual candlelight. The result was a film whose rapturous visual sheen got attention and awards even as its stars, Ryan O'Neal and Marisa Berenson, were scarcely mentioned. Likewise in "2001," the human actors were upstaged by Hal, the devious computer.
Adapting Stephen King's thriller "The Shining" for the screen in 1978, Kubrick made that rare horror film that was all the more disturbing for taking place largely in bright light. Nicholson's leering smile as he bashes through a door was one of the defining film images of the decade.
Kubrick was born July 26, 1928, in New York City, and was hired by Look magazine as a photographer at age 17. In his spare time, he learned film by watching movies at the Museum of Modern Art.
"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," Kubrick once said.
He had been based in England since the early 1960s.
"Spartacus," released in 1960, was an unhappy experience that made Kubrick determined to control all his future projects. He was brought in after the original director, Anthony Mann, was fired.
"If I ever needed convincing of the limits of persuasion a director can have on a film where someone else is the producer and he is merely the highest paid member of the crew, 'Spartacus' provided proof to last a lifetime," Kubrick told an interviewer.
"A Clockwork Orange," set in a violent future, was one of Kubrick's most provocative and controversial films and was eventually withdrawn from circulation in Britain. Kubrick has his hero launch into "Singin' in the Rain" while dishing out a brutal beating. Later, the hero is the victim of brainwashing by the state.
One could argue that "A Clockwork Orange" was consistent with the vision of all Kubrick's work.
"His films warn us we are risen apes, not fallen angels, creatures whose proud rationality suffers breakdown with convulsive effects," wrote The Evening Standard film critic Alexander Walker, author of a Kubrick biography.