Last autocrat of the movies leaves a rich legacy from his obsessive odyssey with a rich legacy of masterpieces
Monday 08 March 1999
No one in the world of film disagreed with any of these assertions yesterday as news spread of Kubrick's death just a week after his latest movie, Eyes Wide Shut - filmed 12 years after his last movie, Full Metal Jacket, and so long in gestation (two and a half years) that some forecast it would never be completed - was finally finished and viewed by Warner Brothers.
"He was the last great artist of the cinema," said Frederic Raphael last night, who wrote the screenplay for Eyes Wide Shut, which will star Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. Kubrick had triumphed over the "Hollywood money machine" to make the movies he had wanted to make, said Mr Raphael.
And to take as long as he wanted to make them. For Kubrick made just 10 feature films in 31 years. It was definitely a case of quality not quantity. His films won him eight Oscars and 14 nominations. Four of them, Paths of Glory, Dr Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange are judged by his peers as among the best in the history of film.
It was doubtful, said Mr Raphael, that anyone would again have the "will, authority and nerve" to make the stand that Kubrick, the doctor's son from the Bronx, had made for art against commercialism.
The film critic Alexander Walker, who wrote a book on Kubrick and knew him for 30 years, said the man who also gave the world Lolita and The Shining was "the most original film-maker of his generation... and the most audacious."
Mr Walker said that almost every film he made seemed to speak for the times, and to say what ordinary people were feeling. An extraordinary feat for a man who lived in virtual isolation in England, so terrified of travel that he filmed Eyes Wide Shut at Pinewood Studios, because it was just a short drive from his manor house in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Even so, getting to the studios could be a torturous process. For his driver was not allowed to travel faster than 30mph.
Mr Walker said it was amazing that Kubrick had managed to complete his last work. His death, however, had still robbed him of the chance to make the legendary Kubrick revisions, which recognised no end.
For he was never really done with a movie. "He was an utter perfectionist," said Mr Walker. "He would alter the movie even after it opened, tightening a little here or there. Only Stanley Kubrick would be allowed to do that after release."
Only Stanley Kubrick would have been allowed to get away with many things. Many thought of him as paranoid and a megalomaniac, and the signs are all there in the man idolised by other film-makers such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg.
The reclusiveness was real. When George Lucas or Speilberg came to London they dined with Kubrick. But otherwise he tended to shun company.
And his obsessive search for perfection made him a control freak on the set. He was very, very tough on actors. Another biographer, John Baxter, said that actors were drawn to him because of his unquestioned skill but they only ever worked for him once.
One musical director condemned Kubrick as either "an enslaver or just totally insensitive". Screen tough guy Kirk Douglas, who starred in Kubrick's Spartacus, called him "a cold bastard" and even more memorably a "talented shit".
And Malcolm McDowell, the star of A Clockwork Orange, claimed he was traumatised for years after making it. McDowell would not allow him genius status because of his "lack of humanity". "Extraordinary, yes. Brilliant, yes," he said. "But as a human being - that's a test he doesn't do well." Critics claim there is a coldness to his films.
If Kubrick put actors through hell, he was undoubtedly going through the same horror. Perfection was taken to its limits, with sometimes 100 takes for just one scene. No themes seem to link his films. All they seem to share is his deep desire to make the best movie in a given genre. Mr Raphael suggests that real artists can be forgiven for not being nice. "You take real artists as they come," he said last night. Whatever Kidman and Cruise made of their work experience with Kubrick they are yet to fully reveal. But they now have the distinction of starring in the master's final offering. The movie is due out in the United States on 16 July.
Life in Films
1955 Killer's Kiss. The first major feature. A prizefighter risks death to rescue lover from her gangster boyfriend.
1955 Fear and Desire. Kubrick produced, directed, photographed and edited low-budget war drama.
1955 The Killing. Sterling Hayden starred in classic heist movie in which $2m is stolen from a racetrack; the device of narrating the same events by different characters inspired Reservoir Dogs.
1957 Paths of Glory. First of Kubrick's great anti-war movies. Kirk Douglas starred in story of three soldiers court-martialled for cowardice amid the incompetence of senior officers.
1958 Spartacus. Douglas again in the story of a slave revolt in ancient Rome. Kubrick was brought in as a hired hand by Douglas but effectively took over.
1962 Lolita. Based on Vladimir Nabokov's tale of obsession with a young girl, Kubrick had to film with the American censors breathing down his neck. James Mason brilliant as Humbert Humbert.
1964 Dr Strangelove. A satire on the madness of nuclear war, with Peter Sellers in three roles, ending with Slim Pickens on an atomic bomb dropping into Armageddon and Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again"
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey. Arguably Kubrick's most famous and best film. Based on the Arthur C Clarke story, the cut from apes to space stations circling the earth is a great cinematic moment.
1971 A Clockwork Orange. Based on Anthony Burgess's novel, the tale of a gang of violent young men, led by Malcolm McDowell, was withdrawn by Kubrick after it allegedly inspired copycat attacks.
1975 Barry Lyndon. An adaptation of Thackeray's novel, it was a technical marvel (some of it was shot by candle-light) as well as being stupefyingly dull.
1980 The Shining. His adaptation of Stephen King's novel was panned, despite an astonishing performance from Jack Nicholson. Subsequently hailed as a horror classic.
1985 Full Metal Jacket. A harrowing tale of Vietnam, partly shot in a disused gasworks in east London. Kubrick had to import dozens of palm trees.
1999 Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick had finished shooting this tale of sexual obsession with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman but was still involved in post-production. Due for release this summer and now his epitaph. Will it live up to its predecessors?
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