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The Droogs stalking their way across a future London in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange

Your ultimate guide to Stanley Kubrick

As an exhibition launches celebrating his influence, we look over all the elements that make him such a brilliant filmmaker

Stanley Kubrick spent the majority of his 71 years obsessively dedicated to photography and filmmaking. With films as diverse and well-loved as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, he quickly became recognised as one of the most important filmmakers of all time. His meticulous and obsessive approach to cinematography remains legendary, and his impact on cinema is still felt strongly today.

With the recent release of Stanley Kubrick and Me by his personal assistant Emilio D’Alessandro and the upcoming exhibition at Somerset House curated by James Lavelle opening on July 6, it’s evident that Kubrick hasn’t waned in popularity and he still intrigues 17 years after his death – the exhibition showcases work made by filmmakers and musicians inspired by the man himself.

The son of Jewish immigrants, Kubrick pioneered new methods and was a major part of the New Hollywood movement alongside other giants of filmmaking such as Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola. Fiercely dedicated to his work, the famously reclusive man remains something of a mystery. While much has been written and debated about the man accused of faking the moon landing, this guide will serve as your handy overview.

A IS FOR A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Considered one of Kubrick’s most well-known and watchable films, A Clockwork Orange was a massive success; even being nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. Despite this, and despite its massive Box Office takings, it was widely controversial due to its subject matter. An adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel of the same name, A Clockwork Orange was widely derided for its graphic violence and sexual nature, and was pulled from distribution in the UK by Stanley himself.

B IS FOR BLACK COMEDY

Despite working in several genres, Kubrick never worked in straightforward comedy, unless you count the war satire Dr Strangelove. He preferred instead to weave in black comedy as a device, giving films like The Shining a surprisingly humourous tone over the top of shocking violence or horrific circumstance.

C IS FOR CHRISTIANE

Christiane Kubrick met Stanley when she was cast in his 1957 film Paths of Glory. From then on she was firmly by his side throughout his entire career, with her art appearing in two of his films. Her brother Jan Harlan was also Kubrick’s executive producer on a number of his movies, and the siblings remain active in preserving Stanley’s archives and exhibiting his work.

D IS FOR DOORS  

True to his legendary obsessive nature, Kubrick was rumoured to have travelled far and wide photographing doors to find the perfect one for The Shining, collecting them all in a book. He also shot the famous axe scene sixty times, which was in part due to Jack Nicholson – he used to be a volunteer fireman, and hacked through the door too quickly.

E IS FOR EYES WIDE SHUT 

Kubrick’s last film, a drama about a quasi-religious sex cult starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, was also widely regarded as his worst. Kidman and Cruise were signed on to film the film for “as long as it took” which ended up being a Guinness World Record breaking amount of time – a 46 week unbroken shoot. Despite Kubrick reportedly being proud of the film, many fans do not consider it as an official part of his oeuvre.

F IS FOR FILM THEORY 

Kubrick’s unique understanding of cinema could not only be attributed to his obsessive work ethic and talent, but to an extensive knowledge of film theory. He would not only analyse films and make his own notes, but would study film theory in his own time in order to greater understand his subject. Incidentally, his work is studied in film classes all over the world today.

G IS FOR GENRE 

Rather than breaking the mould as so many other considered auteurs or pioneers had done, Kubrick preferred to work in genre. Notably though he did not just work in one genre – he worked across them all. Romance, War, Period film, Drama, Science Fiction…Kubrick was skilled at turning his hand to any genre and becoming a master of it.

H IS FOR HOME 

A notorious recluse, Stanley spent most of his later years at home in Childwickbury Manor, England, where he lived with wife Christiane. Family, friends, and film crews would visit regularly, and they kept a film trailer in the driveway. Michael Herr, who worked with Stanley, called him “a complete failure as a recluse” as he was actually very friendly and personable, but preferred not to leave the house.

I IS FOR INFLUENCES 

A devout lover of film, Kubrick not only inspired an entire generation of filmmakers but had his own personal influences. As he, alongside others, pioneered modern filmmaking he didn’t have much to look up to. Instead he was obsessed by Soviet filmmakers, and read the entirety of Soviet theorist Pudovkin’s theoretical work. He also loved German filmmaker Max Ophüls, Orson Welles, and called David Lynch’s Eraserhead one of his “favourite films”.

J IS FOR JEWISH 

Despite not being religious, Kubrick was the son of Jewish immigrants and was profoundly affected by his Jewish heritage. Both his daughter and wife said that “he did not deny his Jewishness, not at all” and felt that it influenced his worldview. The obsession with the Holocaust and the morality of war that ran through his work, as well as his interest in Nazi filmmaker Viet Harlan, were all notably influenced by his Jewish heritage.

K IS FOR KILLING 

Although Kubrick had had two feature films before The Killing in 1956, it marked the start of his Hollywood career when United Artists asked him to make it after Kubrick met producer James B. Harris in New York. The movie, a film noir, performed badly at the box office but is still considered a great and influential film by many, with critics praising Kubrick’s work even at the time.

L IS FOR LITERATURE 

Unlike many who would be considered auteurs, Kubrick did not often write his own films and preferred instead to adapt films from literature. All of his most famous projects: Lolita, The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange – were adapted from books. Kubrick said that when adapting work “you should choose a work that isn't a masterpiece so you can improve on it.

M IS FOR MOON LANDING  

One of the most famous conspiracies surrounding Kubrick (and there are many) is that he helped to fake the famous moon landing in 1969. Conspiracists cite several reasons for this: evidence of front screen projection, parallels with 2001, Room 237 being a reference to the distance to the moon (237,000 miles) and an apparent confession from Kubrick himself. 

N IS FOR NEW HOLLYWOOD 

In the early 1960s-late 1980s film censorship was becoming more relaxed, and Hollywood was panicking about waning audience numbers. They worried that the young audience (coming-of-age baby boomers) was dwindling, and started to give more money to up-and-coming young directors who would direct more violent and sexual films. This movement contained such notable filmmakers as Scorsese, Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola.  

O IS FOR OBSESSIVE 

One of Kubrick’s most significant traits was his obsessive, meticulous perfectionism. He would shoot takes hundreds of times, spend years on single projects, travel across the world in order to reshoot or re-record just one sound. His favourite part of filmmaking was editing, and he would spend days locked up in the editing suite to get everything just right. This obsession also led to his distinctive use of symmetry and colour in film.

P IS FOR PHOTOGRAPHY 

Kubrick’s passion for photography and early career as a photographer for Look not only gave him a number of important contacts, but a unique understanding of framing and film that would inform all of his work. It also ensured that his work was perfectly symmetrical, and often intended to work as a standalone shot.   

Q IS FOR QUENTIN TARANTINO 

Kubrick inspired a number of modern filmmakers with his revolutionary filmmaking methods and usage of onscreen violence. One of the most notable of these directors is perhaps Quentin Tarantino, who cites Kubrick’s The Killing as having had a major influence on his career.  

R IS FOR ROOM 237  

As well as the infamous moon landing rumours, there are a number of Kubrick-related conspiracy theories that are explored in the documentary Room 237. The film interviews a number of fans and analysts who claim that The Shining is about everything from Native American Genocide to the story of the minotaur, and it was well received but disliked by some who worked with Kubrick.

S IS FOR SPACE ODYSSEY 

Despite some previous commercial success, 2001: A Space Odyssey marked a massive shift in Kubrick’s filmmaking methods. His obsessive attention to detail, scientific realism and technological mastery remain legendary. In spite of reviews that were confused by its lack of narrative, the film made almost 20 times its budget.  

T IS FOR TRAUMA  

Trauma is a key thread that runs through Kubrick’s films, in everything from A Clockwork Orange to Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick’s own trauma came when his friend died in a plane crash in 1947 and he was sent the charred remains of his friend’s camera and notebooks. This event reportedly inspired his fear of flying and the reclusive nature that would affect his work.

U IS FOR UNREALISED PROJECTS 

As well as his complete films, Kubrick had a number of projects that would never see completion. One notable project is A.I. Artificial Intelligence; which Kubrick had started but had not managed to complete due to his death. Spielberg adopted the project, saying that he felt inhibited by attempting to stay true to Kubrick’s aesthetic vision. Kubrick had also written a Holocaust film, The Aryan Papers, but it was never finished as he felt Schindler’s List was too similar. Napoleon is perhaps Kubrick’s most significant abandoned project, as he conducted two years of intensive research into Napoleon’s life and had planned to make a massive epic before abandoning the project.  

V IS FOR VISUAL EFFECTS   

Kubrick was technically very accomplished, employing visual effects techniques that were ahead of his time, most notably in 2001: A Space Odyssey. He used his trademark perfectionism to recreate scenes exactly as he imagined them, and won a Best Visual Effects Oscar for the unprecedented scientific realism in 2001.  

W IS FOR WAR  

Kubrick’s first feature film, Fear and Desire, was an anti-war film. In part due to his Jewish heritage and growing up through World War II, war would be a frequent motif throughout his career. Dr Strangelove, Paths of Glory, Spartacus, Full Metal Jacket, Day of the Fight and The Seafarers were all war films or documentaries that Kubrick made through his career. 

X IS FOR X-RATED 

As a pioneer of New Hollywood film during a time when censorship laws were becoming more relaxed, X-Rated nudity and violence were a staple of Kubrick’s films. His movies were often disliked for their graphic content, although he never explicitly showed sex on screen. The sex he did show or imply however was often unusual, violent, or extramarital.

Y IS FOR YORK, NEW 

The son of Jewish immigrants, Stanley Kubrick spent many of his early years living in The Bronx, New York. This upbringing had a huge impact on his filmmaking and he would often spend entire days playing chess in Washington Park, where he met producer James B. Harris, who went on to employ him for The Killing.

Z IS FOR ZOOM 

Kubrick employed a number of techniques to achieve the perfect effect in his films, the zoom being a notable one. He used it (often referred to as the ‘horror zoom’) in The Shining to create tension and fear, and is known for employing a ‘slow zoom’ in his 1975 film Barry Lyndon.