Excerpt from: The New York Times - 4 July 1999
Title: What They Say About Stanley Kubrick
Author: Peter Bogdanovich
After Stanley Kubrick died in his sleep of a heart attack on March 7, even the New York tabloids reported the news with an auteur slant, headlining the director's generally bleak view of life. Words like "secretive," "reclusive," "strange," "mysterious" and "cold" were repeatedly used to describe him. It's true that the 13 feature-length films he made over 40 years present a disenchanted, sardonic and generally pessimistic view of humanity, but the lifelong friends, intimate associates and family members I spoke to conjure a far more complicated picture of a man who could be deeply reserved but also outgoing, meticulous and laid back, loving and self-absorbed.
The precocious son of a Bronx doctor, Kubrick became a staff photographer for Look magazine at 17, but from the start he was captivated by the movies. He began as a kind of one-man band, financing, directing, producing, writing, shooting and editing three short documentaries -- "Day of the Fight" (1950), "Flying Padre" (1951) and "The Seafarers" (1953) -- and then doing virtually the same thing for his first two extremely low-budget features, "Fear and Desire" (1953), backed entirely by an uncle, and "Killer's Kiss" (1955).
In 1954, having already run through two marriages, Kubrick moved to Los Angeles and formed a production company with his friend James B. Harris, through which he made his first two professional pictures, the film noir "The Killing" (1956), with Sterling Hayden, and the powerful antiwar drama "Paths of Glory" (1957), starring Kirk Douglas. While shooting "Paths of Glory" Kubrick fell in love with and wed the German painter and actress Christiane Harlan, with whom he would rear two daughters along with Christiane's young daughter from an earlier marriage. "The Killing" and "Paths of Glory" did not make money, but they did make Kurbick's reputation as a budding genius among critics and studio executives. In 1960, Kirk Douglas hired Kubrick to replace another director on "Spartacus," the only all-Hollywood production Kubrick would ever make, and his first box-office success. He hated the experience. Disenchanted with the industry and having developed a phobia about flying, the director soon afterward moved with his family to England, never again to travel far from home.
Over the next 38 years, he made only eight more films. Between his controversial adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's notorious "Lolita" (1962) and his grim but popular Vietnam war film, "Full Metal Jacket" (1987), Kubrick achieved a kind of mythic status in world cinema with three hugely successful pictures: his black comedy of the cold war, "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964), the mystical science-fiction saga "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) and his ultraviolent investigation of violence, "A Clockwork Orange" (1971), based on Anthony Burgess's novel. (While "Clockwork" won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best picture, it was wildly criticized in England for inspiring copycat crimes. Kubrick, wounded by the attacks, withdrew it from circulation in the U.K.; to date, it is not available there even on video.)
The gigantic and enduring box-office appeal and critical enshrinement of these three films, coupled with the slimness of his output and his distance -- physical and emotional -- from the Hollywood mainstream, fueled a kind of legendary aura of integrity and perfectionism that gave Kubrick enormous power in the industry he avoided. Still, he was troubled by the fact that "Barry Lyndon" (1975), his costume drama adapted from Thackeray, though much admired in certain quarters, did not have a box-office response commensurate with its cost. His next work was his most openly commercial: "The Shining" (1980), based on a Stephen King horror novel and headlining a major star, Jack Nicholson.
When he died, at 70, he had just completed "Eyes Wide Shut," based on Arthur Schnitzler's "Dream Story," a project he had been thinking about for more than 30 years. The film, which deals candidly with sexual relations between a contemporary New York married couple, played by the husband-and-wife team of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, opens in the United States July 16. On Tuesday, the Museum of Modern Art -- whose film showings Kubrick visited regularly as a youngster -- begins a retrospective of the five early films Kubrick donated to its archives.
I cannot say I knew Kubrick, though we spoke briefly on the phone two or three times in the early 70's. He was preparing to shoot "Barry Lyndon" and he called me out of the blue. His voice sounded extremely youthful, with a subdued but definite Bronx accent and a kind of reticence and self-effacement that was disarming. He asked what I thought about Ryan O'Neal, whom I had directed in "What's Up, Doc?" Kubrick's young daughters were fans of the movie and now were lobbying their father to cast O'Neal in "Barry Lyndon." Even in that brief exchange, Kubrick's obsessions -- film and family -- were twinned. They would remain that way until the end.