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Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick


Director, Producer, Screenwriter, D.O.P., Editor
Stanley looked up at Lucien Ballard and said, ‘Lucien, either you move that camera and put it where it has to be to use a 25mm or get off this set and never come back!’ 

For their first group effort Harris suggested the book Clean Break by Lionel White.  Stanley liked the idea and Harris bought the rights to the book for $10,000.  In collaboration with Jim Thompson, they presented the screenplay The Killing to United Artists (UA).  UA said they liked the idea but needed the assurance of an actor to sign.  After searching they told UA Sterling Hayden was very interested, but UA wanted to wait 18 months for Victor Mature to become available.  Harris and Kubrick didn’t want to wait so they took the stricter budget of $200,000 for being impatient.  

The cameraman’s union forced Stanley to hire a cameraman, and he hired the well-known and well-respected Lucien Ballard.  Stanley and Lucien didn’t get along well, and one day on the set control was almost lost. Alex Singer recalls the incident, “Stanley looked up at Lucien Ballard and said, ‘Lucien, either you move that camera and put it where it has to be to use a 25mm or get off this set and never come back!’  There’s a long silence and I’m waiting for Lucien to say the appropriate things in two or three languages to dismiss this young snot-nose, but no, he puts the camera where it has to be and there is never an argument about focal and length and lenses again.  To me it was a defining moment.  I don’t think Stanley did it casually and it cost him something, but it was done without hesitation.  It was done calmly, unhysterically, and in deadly earnest.  It marked the kind of control and icy nerve he brought to the job at the very beginning.”

The movie was about a racetrack robbery but was oddly presented in a nonlinear fashion.  This caused for terrible reviews and right before the movie premiered they discussed changing the form.  They eventually decided against the idea feeling that the movie would lose touch from the book.  The film ended out totaling $330,000.

During the production process of the movie Stanley was spending extremely long hours on the set causing him to not be at home with his new wife as much as she would have liked.  This eventually was the demise of their marriage. 

For their next film Harris and Kubrick decided on Paths of Glory.  UA denied the script the first couple of attempts, but said that if they got a big time actor they would reconsider.  After a long and arduous search they found Kirk Douglas.  The terms of the deal were not very good for Kubrick and Harris.  The deal was that Kirk Douglas would get $350,000, first class accommodations, a staff for on location work, and the delivery of a 16mm print of the film.  “The killer was Harris--Kubrick had to sign a deal with Bryna for five movies,” recalls Harris, “two of which he would be in and three of which he did not have to be in.  So we were going to work for Kirk Douglas at this point for our future.”

To top it off UA still gave them a low budget of $850,000 and the movie ended up costing $950,000.  The movie was shot in Munich, Germany for two main reasons. First, they needed the World War I trench warfare effect, and second because it was impossible to try and film in France.  Instantly Kubrick and Douglas did not get along.  Douglas arrived on the set and read the script (which had been revised a bit), and he was furious. As a result, they returned to the original script. Also on the defensive, throughout the movie Kubrick was putting up posters hailing Harris-Kubrick Productions responsible for the film but Bryna had the rights to it.  Douglas never said anything. 

Kubrick felt nothing constructive was going to come out of the eccentric Marlon Brando.  

Kubrick met his future and lifelong wife Katherina Christiane on the set of Paths of Glory.  She played the part of a German girl who sang to the shell-shocked men. Katherina was born in Nazi Germany and had been divorced four years earlier from German actor, Werner Bruhns.  She enjoyed painting and drawing. 

When the movie was released in Europe, French troops stood in front of the theatres in protest.  The movie was banned all over Europe but was eventually legal everywhere in 1974.  It won best foreign film in Italy and Winston Churchill was said to have like the authenticity of the movie. 

For their next project Marlon Brando teamed up with Kubrick.  The movie was called One Eyed Jacks and was about Billy the Kid.  Unfortunately, the egos of both Kubrick and Brando saw too many differences.  Kubrick felt nothing constructive was going to come out of the eccentric Brando.   Brando’s “no shoes” meetings with gongs at his house and the constant playing of games such as poker, dominoes, or chess made it impossible to get anything done. Eventually Kubrick was removed from the project. 

While all of this was going on Harris was fulfilling their obligations to Kirk Douglas.  The two had decided that five movies together would be too much.  So, they agreed that making two movies together would be binding to both sides. 

As 1959 was nearing Stan and Christiane Harlan moved to Beverly Hills. Katharina (Stanley’s first daughter) was six now and Christiane was expecting her first child with Stanley. 

Kirk Douglas came to Stanley and Harris for their next work and suggested the novel Spartacus by Howard Fast. Before talks about Stanley at the helm of the project got serious however, Douglas’s agent, Lew Wasserman, persuaded him they needed a “big-name” director.  Instead of Kubrick, Anthony Mann was chosen.  On January 27, 1959 the project started filming in Death Valley.  Mann shot the film for three weeks, but as Vincent LoBrutto stated, “Douglas felt that the director was allowing actor Peter Ustinov to direct himself by his docile acceptance of many-if not all- of the actor’s suggestions.” Kubrick was then called. 

He came to the set over the weekend and was directing in days.  With such a star studded and a young cocky director, no one got along and it was obvious.  Kubrick’s numerous takes were growing on the large cast.  Loren Janes recalls, “I said, ‘Well, the only way would be shooting straight up and putting the camera on the ground.  He’ll probably come and dig a hole and put the camera down in the hole to shoot up,’ and just as I said this, five guys walked by with shoves and started digging a hole.  Kubrick loved weird and unusual camera angles.”  There were numerous times like this in the making of this film where the cast thought the cocky and young Kubrick would never get the take he wanted.  But, he always did and that’s the way he worked.  The movie did very well in the box office and won four Oscars, but nothing for Kubrick. 

During the production of Spartacus Stanley became a father to Vivian Vanessa on August 5, 1960. 

Harris decided during this time in his career that he wanted to direct himself and consequently left the team. 

Next in line was Lolita.  He was just itching to start it ever since the episode with One Eyed Jacks, but Spartacus had priority because of the Kirk Douglas deal.  They had already bought the rights to the book and convinced the author Vladimir Nabokov to write the screenplay adaptation.  This book was very popular and it was known about all over the world.  The story is about an older man falling in love with a fourteen-year-old girl.  Harris borrowed a million dollars from Kenneth Hyman for the making of the movie.  

They opted to film in England at the Elstree Studios because it was cheaper and also because Stanley was getting sick of the Hollywood scene.  They had to delete a lot of scenes because of the touchy subject, which made it hard to get the Code Seal.  After deleting a lot of scenes they finally had it approved and the movie ended up costing two million but made $4.5 million at the box office.  This movie was a huge success for the two at the time and Kubrick was slowly starting to get the respect he deserved.  Kubrick told Newsweek in 1972 that, “Had I realized how severe the limitations were going to be, I probably wouldn’t have made the film.”  Clearly Stan didn’t feel he got to truly represent Nabokov’s work, despite it fairing well in the box office. 

For the next project they bought the rights to Red Alert for $3,500 and started working on a script for Dr. Strangelove (a.k.a. How I learned to Love the Bomb).  They joked around one day pretending the movie could be satiric. The more he thought about the idea the more he liked it, and with the help of Terry Southern Stan decided to go for it. Harris decided during this time in his career that he wanted to direct himself and consequently left the team.  He remembers the silly idea of making the movie satiric.  “I said to myself, ‘I leave him alone for ten minutes and he’s going to blow his whole career.’  I was actually convinced he was out of control to do this as a comedy-as it turns out, it’s my favorite Kubrick picture.”  

Harris and Kubrick had been a great team but their careers were at a fork in the road and they were both going in different directions.  Harris went back to the US, while Kubrick decided to film in England again. Kubrick completed the film there for $2 million.  MCA executives whom all hated the film screened the finished picture.  After the JFK assassination he made some minor adjustments and the film was released on November 22, 1963.  Although at the time it was given mixed reviews, today Dr. Strangelove is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time by the American Film Institute .

A Space Odyssey: 2001 was Stanley’s next film, based on the book The Sentinel by Arthur Clarke.  The two worked on a script together in New York.  To get the effect he wanted Stanley was going to have to get some of the industry’s top special effects people.  He hired Harry Lange who eventually helped make space vehicles for NASA and Frederick Orway who worked for NASA as well.  They also worked with special effects team Wally Veevers, Douglas Trumball, Con Pederson, and Tom Howard.  

Stanley was in a science fiction phase and couldn’t stop reading and talking to people.  Even the renowned Carl Sagan spoke with Stanley one night about the movie and said this about it.  “I argued that the number of individually unlikely events in the evolutionary history of man was so great that nothing like us is ever likely to evolve again anywhere else in the universe.  I suggested that any explicit representation of an advanced extraterrestrial being was bound to have at least an element of falseness about it and that the best solution would be to suggest rather than explicitly to display the extra-terrestrials.”          

When it was finally released it broke opening day records at the box office despite an influx of reviews despising the movie.

On May 1st a fire ruined the rough copy screenplay.  After the fire Clarke was very worried the script would never get done.  “Clarke was increasingly fearful that he would never come up with a suitable plot for the film.  Nightmares interrupted his fitful sleep.  He has described one that envisioned the writer on the set-the shooting had begun-and actors were standing around with nothing to say, while Kubrick continued to question and probe the writer, who still hadn’t found the story line the director was searching for.  In Clarke’s waking hours, long walks with Kubrick ended at the East River with few answers and many new prospects to consider.” On December 25 the script was eventually finished. Kubrick loved it and apparently so did MGM, who gave the green light with a $6 million budget. 

Stanley was only working with a few actors but there were 35 designers and 25 special effect technicians.  In February of 1968 Stanley had a premonition that this was his masterpiece and it would do very well.  So, he purchased $20,500 worth of MGM shares.  After the MGM executives saw a screening on April 15 they felt it was too long and boring.  So before the world premiere he cut seventeen minutes.  When it was finally released it broke opening day records at the box office despite an influx of reviews despising the movie. Vogue magazine’s Stanley Kauffmann called 2001,”a film that is so dull, it even dulls our interest in the technical ingenuity for the sake of which Kubrick has allowed it to become dull.  He is so infatuated with technology-of film and of the future-that it has numbed his formerly keen feeling for attention-span.”
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