Stanley Kubrick, Film Giant, Dies at 70
Stanley Kubrick, the great, uncompromising movie director whose work revolutionized filmmaking and whose startling vision of the modern world altered our perceptions of it, died in his home outside London early Sunday morning. He was 70.
Hailed as one of the greatest filmmakers of the post-war period for envelope-pushing works such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “A Clockwork Orange,” and “Dr. Strangelove; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” Kubrick delivered his just-completed 13th and final feature film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” to Warner Bros. executives last week.
“He created more than just movies,” director Steven Spielberg, a longtime friend of Kubrick’s, said in a statement. “He gave us complete environmental experiences that got more, not less, intense the more you watched his pictures. He copied no one while all of us were scrambling to imitate him.”
Director Oliver Stone called Kubrick the “single greatest American director of his generation” and noted that “he influenced me deeply.”
“His films were metaphors for the times and fears and feelings we live in and among,” said Alexander Walker, film critic for the Evening Standard in London and author of “Stanley Kubrick Director,” a 1972 book that is to be reissued by Norton in conjunction with “Eyes Wide Shut.” 'Dr. Strangelove’ was the failure of world leaders to control danger. ‘Clockwork’ was the violence and power of the absolute state. And ‘2001' was the mystery of space.”
Warners co-chairman Terry Semel said Sunday he had spoken with Kubrick the night before. “We had one of the best conversations ever,” he said. “We laughed our heads off, just talking about everything. He was on a roll...He felt really great about the film (‘Eyes Wide Shut’) and I have to say we were really thrilled. It is an incredible picture.”
Kubrick apparently died in his sleep and was found by his wife in their home, an old manor house on a 172-acre estate about 20 miles north of London. The cause of death is still under investigation but police believe it was from natural causes.
Semel said Kubrick’s wife, Christiane, woke him up Sunday morning with the news that Kubrick had died. “I am still stunned that I’m not going to speak to him again,” he said.
“Needless to say Stanley was not a fitness guy,” said Semel. “He was into enjoying life and he did it to the fullest.”
“Eyes Wide Shut,” a much speculated about movie that deals with sexual obsession, had been screened for Semel and Warners co-chairman Robert Daly and stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman last week in London. The studio intends to release the movie in July.
In a statement, Cruise and Kidman, who worked on the film for more than a year, said they were “in shock and devastated” by Kubrick’s death. “He was like family to us,” they said. “We are thankful to have had the opportunity to have shared this experience with him. He was a true genius, a dear friend and we will greatly miss him.”
Filmmakers around the world praised Kubrick Sunday for his unique and often challenging work. Some of his films--particularly “2001"--became cult hits with fans and inspired a new generation of science fiction films like “Star Wars.”
“‘2001: A Space Oydssey’ was the Big Bang that inspired my generation’s race to space,” said Spielberg, who called Kubrick “the grand master of filmmaking.”
Although most widely praised for those towering films of the ‘60s and early ‘70s--Seventies--"2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Doctor Strangelove,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Lolita” among them--even lesser known films that he made much earlier remain impressive today and continue to influence filmmakers.
While the importance and great achievement of Kubrick’s work was universally acknowledged, the movies themselves could sometimes be hard to like. Visually stunning and technically perfect, some of them also struck critics as emotionally distant and cold. In the last 20 years of his life Kubrick became an increasingly obsessive filmmaker, releasing only two films and working--in complete secrecy--on each for years in his own studio.
Born in the Bronx in 1928, Kubrick moved to England in 1961 and lived there the rest of his life, building a studio for himself outside of London. He enjoyed amazing creative freedom, controlling his movies from beginning to end. He wouldn’t even allow studio executives to see his work until he was finished. According to the Hollywood Reporter, when he completed the screenplay for “Eyes Wide Shut,” Kubrick summoned executives to London to read it and would not allow them to bring a copy back with them.
“Most filmmakers show their early cut, the director’s cut, to the studio,” said Semel. “The studio gives input and then the director makes changes. That wasn’t the case with Stanley. When Stanley showed you the movie, his cut, that was the finished movie. There are just a handful of directors who can do that. Steven (Spielberg) is one. Clint (Eastwood) is another. It’s because they’ve proven over the years that one cut is all that’s necessary.”
Beginning with the first feature film he directed in 1953, Kubrick wrote or co-wrote all of his movies with the exception of “Spartacus” in 1960 and “Lolita” in 1962.
He left the United States after completing “Spartacus,” a big-budget epic. “After ‘Spartacus,’ he vowed, ‘That’s it,”’ said Derek Malcolm, veteran film critic for the Guardian in England. “He said that he left America because filming in Hollywood would involve their (the studios) exercising some control, and he wanted no one to have control.
He succeeded in that as few filmmakers ever have. He even handled the marketing of his movies, paying for it out of his production budget, and he dictated the distribution schedule.
His subject matter ranged from costumed epics like “Barry Lyndon” in 1975 to horror (1980’s “The Shining), from over-the-top political satire (‘Strangelove’) to disturbing social commentary (“Clockwork”).
“No other filmmaker tackled such a variety of important themes and made them accessible and in imagery that people remembered,” Walker said. “He infiltrated the subconscious of filmgoers in ways that surprised them days and weeks later. He had the power to alarm and disturb. He knew the power of the irrational, of the perfect plan gone wrong.
Walker added: “He not only understood humanity, he understood it too well. He had no love of humanity. He was a misanthrope.”
Spielberg remembered him, however, as “a teddy bear, and kind.”
“He was terribly misunderstood as a recluse just because he didn’t do a lot of press,” Spielberg said. “He actually communicated more than many people I know. When we spoke on the phone, our conversations lasted for hours. He was constantly in contact with hundreds of people all over the world...He would pick up the phone and call a complete stranger to say how much his or her movie impressed him.”
Shaken friends and colleagues talked fondly of Kubrick Sunday, recalling his intelligence, his love of the good life and his legendary eccentricites and fears. Warner Bros. executive Barry Reardon recalled that Kubrick didn’t even like to ride in a car wihout a helmet for fear of being in a car crash, noted Warners executive Barry Reardon.
Joe Hyams, the Warner executive who had personally handled Kubrick for the studio for the past three decades, said the director was “extremely demanding, extremely bright and one of the funniest men I ever knew. He could make you laugh and he could make you cry.
“He knew something about everything. He may not have (physically) traveled but he was always traveling in his mind... through acquired knowledge. He really was the Garbo of filmmakers in that he didn’t like to go out, yet he always had tons of people around him.”
Walker said some of his fears were well based. “He had people turn up on his doorstep and his films raised deep emotions and passions,” he said.
But not only fear made him a recluse, according to Walker. “He had no life outside of filming, and he didn’t wish extraneous influences to come in and occupy his space and time.
He kept in touch by phone, fax, e-mail; he was a tremendous reader. “At the end of his life, he had reversed day and night. He worked more intensely at night and found the world was a quieter place then. Also, many people he communicated with lived in other time zones.”
Malcolm said of Kubrick: “He got every newspaper, the Internet, all the television channels you could get, and he never left home except to shoot films. He found out about the world secondhand and then made films about it. . . . He was a brilliant filmmaker but also a bit cold in his analysis of the world. How can you know the world locked up in a mansion near London?”
Reardon, who released Kubrick’s last three pictures, and who like Semel and Hyams, had known him for 30 years, said a reel of “Eyes Wide Shut” was being delivered to Warners’ on Sunday afternoon to be shown at the Sho West convention for movie exhibitors this week in Las Vegas. The film is scheduled for nationwide release on July 16.
Reardon described Kubrick as being extremely meticulous. “I remember when we were releasing “The Shining” and “Full Metal Jacket” he wanted to know about every single theater, how many seats, what they were like, everything. He would have his brother-in-law come over an= d check them out, to make sure all of the theaters were up to snuff.
“I would get these calls from his brother-in-law. He’d say, ‘You know, Barry, I’m here in Charlotte, North Carolina and this screen is not so great.’ And I’d say well if we need a new screen we’ll get the exhibitor to get us one. If the exhibitor wouldn’t put up a new screen, Stanley would call up and say ‘Well, Barry I just won’t show my movie at that one.’ And that’s how it was with Stanley, every movie.”
When Kubrick’s films were released in England, Kubrick he used to go around West End theaters in London and check the sound and projection to make sure they were perfect, Malcolm said. “He would go to 30 or 40 cinemas to see that the projection was totally balanced and the sound perfect. He would yell and scream until it was absolutely right.”
He yanked “A Clockwork Orange” out of theaters in England after it had shown for only a couple of weeks because critics said it glorified violence and an attorney used it to defend a client who had beaten up a tramp, saying the client had just seen “A Clockwork Orange.”
“He hooked it off of England because he said people took it the wrong way.” After that, it was shown only in film and theater schools.
Some, but not all of Kubrick’s films were box office hits. “The Shining,” the first of Kubrick’s films that Reardon worked on, grossed $65 million domestically, considered a hit at the time. It was reissued in ’82 “and it took on a life of its own,” Reardon said. John Calley, the chairman of Sony Pictures who has known Kubrick for more than 30 years, said he spoke with Kubrick Thursday, and he was in great spirits because Cruise, Kidman and Warners executives who had just seen “Eyes Wide Shut” had liked it. “He was so happy we talked for an hour,” said Calley, a former Warners Bros. executive who first worked with Kubrick on “A Clockwork Orange” in 1971.
“I said, ‘Good for you. This is a victory for the old guys,”’ Calley recalled. “‘Old guys?,’ he said. ‘I’ve never felt better. I don’t feel like an old guy and you better not either.’
Kubrick is survived by three daughters, one of whom, Vivian, made a documentary of him filming “The Shining.” His wife, Christiane Harlan, appeared in “Paths of Glory.”
Times London Bureau Chief Marjorie Miller and freelance writers Judy Brennan and Richard Natale contributed to this story.
* AN APPRECIATION
Kenneth Turan writes that Kubrick will always be young in the film world’s eyes. A18
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The Kubrick Legacy
“Eyes Wide Shut,” Scheduled for mid-1999 release
“Full Metal Jacket” (1987)
“The Shining” (1980)
“Barry Lyndon” (1975)
“A Clockwork Orange” (1971)
“2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
“Dr. Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964)
“Paths of Glory” (1957)
“The Killing” (1956)
“Killer’s Kiss” (1955)
“Fear and Desire” (1953)
“The Seafarers” (1952)
“Flying Padre” (1951)
“Day of the Fight” (1950)
His Major Awards:
1997: Received Director’s Guild of America D.W. Griffith Award for lifetime achievement.
1997: Venice Film Festival Golden Lion for Career Archievement
1975: Best director, National Board of Review (tied with Robert Altman) for “Barry Lyndon”
1975: Received British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award for best director for “Barry Lyndon”
1971: Best Motion Picture Award, N.Y. Film Critics for “A Clockwork Orange”
1968: Academy Award for best special effects of “2001: A Space Odyssey”
1964: Best director, N.Y. Film Critics, for “Dr. Strangelove”
1964: Writers Guild of America Award for best written American Comedy for “Dr. Strangelove”
1964: British film Academy Award for “Dr. Strangelove”
1964: British film Academy United Nations award for “Dr. Strangelove”
Sources Associated Press; Baseline Documents