Just what do you think you’re doing, Kubrick?
Stanley Kubrik’s life and career were anything but a straight line. This snippet of history, from his first photographs to his masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, shows the zigs and zags of a creative visionary working hard to find his style and his place.
Kubrick didn’t get into university. Instead, he got into the trades and became a photographer taking slice-of-life pictures of America for Look magazine. Eventually, he tried his hand at news serials—those silent black-and-white short documentaries with dramatic voiceovers. The first was about a boxer whose coach was his twin. After expenses, he made about $100 on that venture. The second was about a priest who used an airplane to visit his vast parish.
He used his family for financing and his friends as crew members to make his first feature called Fear and Desire (1952). It got little attention. Kubrick hated the amateur results so much he destroyed the original negatives.
Then he made Killer’s Kiss (1955), which got enough attention that a studio financed his next film, The Killing (1956), which didn’t do great at the box office but caught the eye of Hollywood titan Kirk Douglas.
Douglas first got involved in Kubrick’s one-million-dollar Paths of Glory (1958), about which Criterion writer James Naremore says, “…of the several major films about the war, only Paths of Glory depicts the conflict in all its cruel, almost laughably absurd logic (All Quiet on the Western Front, Grand Illusion, The Dawn Patrol, and Sergeant York are humanistic, romantic, or patriotic by comparison).”¹