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Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick


Director, Producer, Screenwriter, D.O.P., Editor
Due to a poor 70.1% high school grade point average, a class rank of 44 out of 509, a future in college was not foreseeable for young Stanley Kubrick.

In those days to graduate from high school you needed a major.  Not sure what his major could be, Stanley’s art teacher, Herman Getter, advised Stan to be an art major and explained that his photographs were art.  It was in this class where Stanley met Alexander Singer.  Alex was also an art major who wrote and illustrated for the Taft Literary Art Magazine.  In this class Mr. Getter told the adventurous boys about the art films he had made and showed them the different techniques. This helped to further the curiosity of film for Stanley.

While the Kubrick family continually moved around New York, Stanley met the first love of his life at 1414 Shakespeare.  Her name was Toba Metz.  She would eventually become his first of three wives. 

Due to a poor 70.1% high school grade point average, a class rank of 44 out of 509 and the influx of war veterans filling spots at universities across the country, a future in college was not foreseeable for young Stanley Kubrick. Due to this, after high school Stanley enrolled in Night School at City College of New York. After doing some good work for Look magazine the year before, the picture editor gave Stanley a job and he therefore dropped out of school. 

Stan has always been very appreciative of the people at Look for helping him out in his time of perplexity. He stated once to Michael Ciment “I worked for Look magazine from the age of seventeen to twenty-one.  It was a miraculous break for me to get this job after graduation from high school.  I owe a lot to the then picture editor, Helen O’Brian, and the managing editor, Jack Guenther.  This experience was invaluable to me, not only because I learned a lot about photography, but also because it gave me a quick education in how things happened in the world.”

During this time, Stanley began to develop a love and passion for aviation (which would later be adapted in a film). On August 15, 1947 Stanley received his private pilot’s certificate.  This passion for aviation and eventual fear would both be displayed later in both work and life itself.  

"To make a film entirely by yourself, which initially I did, you may not have to know very much about anything else, but you must know about photography.”  

On May 25, 1948 Toba Metz and Stanley Kubrick, two high school sweethearts, prepared to leave the Bronx and start a life together.  The two moved to Greenwhich Village, a community of artists, performers, writers, and musicians.  They got married at 10:30 AM on May 29, 1948 at the home of acting Judge Harry Krauss.  Toba was an eighteen-year-old secretary and Stanley was a nineteen-year-old photographer. 

Stanley got to travel a lot with his job with Look, but got bored with most of the assignments and said this of his first job. “It was tremendous fun for me at that age, but eventually it began to wear thin especially since my ultimate ambition had always been to make movies.  The subject matter of my Look magazine assignments was generally pretty dumb.  I would do stories like ‘Is an Athlete Stronger Than a Baby?’ photographing a college football player emulating the ‘cute’ position that a fifteen-month-old child would get into.  Occasionally I had a chance to do an interesting personality story.  Photography certainly gave me the first step up to movies.  To make a film entirely by yourself, which initially I did, you may not have to know very much about anything else, but you must know about photography.”

In 1950 Stanley put aside his photojournalism for a period of time to work on his first film.  The subject was Walter Cartier, a Look magazine subject of Stanley’s at one point.  Day of Fight was a nine-minute documentary on the life of a boxer as he prepared to step into the ring for a big fight. This fight was against Bobby James, and was taped live for the documentary.  Already his presence on the set and behind the camera was quite evident as he made it clear exactly who was in charge.  Walter’s twin brother Vincent who had a lot to do with the production of this film stated, “Stanley comes in prepared like a fighter for a big fight, he knows exactly what he’s doing, where he’s going and what he wants to accomplish.  He knew the challenges and he overcame them.”
He also read a small library of film books that were available. 

Stanley borrowed money from family and friends to cover the $3,900 budget of the movie.  The film was sold to RKO-Pathe for $4,000, making the independent filmmaker a $100. More importantly RKO gave Stanley $1,500 for his next short.  The movie ran in RKO’s “This is America” series and opened at the Paramount Theatre in New York on April 26, 1951. 

For Stanley’s next short he borrowed more money from friends and relatives to cover the cost of his film.  The Flying Padre was an eight and a half-minute human-interest documentary of two days in the life of a southwestern priest, the Reverend Fred Stadtmueller.  For Kubrick that short film was very significant. “It was at this point that I formally quit my job at Look to work full time on filmmaking,” he told Joseph Gelmis.  He was learning more film technique by asking film technicians, salesmen, and craftsmen about the mechanics of filmmaking.  He spent a great amount of time speaking with Faith Hubley in the cutting room about filmmaking as well.  She gave him movies to watch and he became a regular at the Museum of Modern Arts film programs. He also read a small library of film books that were available. 

His next project was presented to him by the Seafarers International Union (SIU) in 1953.  They gave him a commission to make a thirty minute industrial promotional film.  It would be his first color film.  There was not much creativity to it and as Kubrick recalled it was quite a bore. 

For his next movie Stanley wanted to make a full-length feature film.  To help produce money for the movie Stanley played chess at Washington Square Park and made $20- $30 a week. He also borrowed $10,000 from friends and relatives and haggled his millionaire Uncle to go in on the venture with him.  His Uncle agreed but insisted on being assistant producer.  Fear and Desire was a true independent production.  They worked with a thirteen-person crew.  In one scene to get the effect of fog, Kubrick used a California crop spray and nearly asphyxiated the whole cast and crew. 

Stanley utilized a Mitchell camera, which he learned how to use by the Camera Equipment Company (and rented it for $25 a day).  An extra $30,000 was added on at the end of the movie to dub in the sound.  To cover this unexpected cost Stanley received a loan from Richard de Rochemont.  The film was about four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines during an unknown war while women were held hostage.  Kubrick’s high school buddy Alex Singer remembers seeing the movie, “I was a snotty kid in terms of arrogance.  I wanted to make films like the greatest things ever done, and if this wasn’t the greatest, then it was of little importance.  I gave it short shrift except I was aware of what an astonishing performance this had been from Kubrick.  This was a polished work as a piece of professional filmmaking.” 

"We used to go to terrible double features on 42nd Street simply because Stanley wanted to see everything that was being put out."

During production Kubrick met another woman, Ruth Sabotka, and began to have an affair.  As a result, he and Toba Metz got a divorce.  Ruth was a student at the American School of Ballet and danced with the New York City Ballet.  She emigrated to USA at the age of fourteen and the two were married in Albany, NY on January 15, 1955.  Stanley moved into her place in East Village, a quiet neighborhood populated by Ukrainians.  The two of them and Ruth’s ex-roommate David Vaughn became good friends.  

David recalls Stanley’s obsession with film, “We used to go to movies all the time because Stanley used to go to every movie.  We used to go to terrible double features on 42nd Street simply because Stanley wanted to see everything that was being put out.  He was only interested in the way the film was made visually.  If the actors started to talk too much, he would start reading his paper by whatever light he could until they stopped talking.”

For his next project, Killer’s Kiss, the main proprietor was Morris Bouse, a Bronx pharmacist who helped with the film’s $40,000 budget.  Kubrick would later describe the style of filmmaking “guerilla-filmmaking”.  They literally filmed on the busy streets of New York and were forced to bribe the NYPD on a regular basis to keep them off their case.  It was during the production of this film that the dominance and control Kubrick demands out of his staff when working on a picture becomes known.  

Soundman Nat Boxer recalls the situation in 1976 interview with Filmmakers Newsletter, “He wouldn’t let us in there, and then he finally did.  It was very handsomely lit, but when we went in and placed the microphone where we normally would, there must have been seventeen shadows in the picture.  What do still photographers know about the problems of a movie?  Well, he looked at the set and said, ‘Is that the way you do it?  You mean you’re going to put the microphone there?  But that’s impossible.’  ‘But that’s the way we do it,’ I said.  And then the actor started moving and all the shadows started moving and Kubrick yelled, ‘Cut!  You don’t make a movie that way.  You guys are all fired!’  Then he brought in a Webcor, a little school audiovisual tape recorder, and looped the whole picture because he didn’t know how to light yet.  On his next picture, The Killing with Sterling Hayden, he hired a professional lighting man, and it must have been a real education.”  This would not be the last time Stanley established his ‘My way or the highway’ philosophy on the set.  United Artists bought the film for worldwide distribution, although Kubrick didn’t even break even on the $75,000 adventure.

Kubrick kept his passion for chess by joining the exclusive Marshall Club in Manhattan where some of the chess world’s finest players mingled. Eventually Kubrick won the respect of many of these top players.  It was at that club where Stan met Alton Cook, a film critic for the New York Telegram and Sun. At this point Stanley began to network his way into the Hollywood limelight despite residing in New York.  This is something that was very rare at the time.

Alex Singer, photographer in the last few movies with Stanley and former high school classmate, met James B. Harris while in the Korean War’s Signal Corps.  The two began making training films and clearly both shared an interest in filmmaking.  Singer told Harris about director friend Stanley Kubrick.  The two met and agree to team up as director and producer in what would later be called Harris-Kubrick Productions.  Harris brought some financial help to a lot of the projects and helped open the doors to some untapped resources for the two independent filmmakers.
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