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Poster for Stanley Kubrick's Lolitavia

Stanley Kubrick: five things you (probably) didn't know

In honour of Raf Simons's 2001: A Space Odyssey themed couture set for Dior, we chart our favourite pieces of trivia about the life and work of the legendary director

Think you’re a perfectionist? Legends abound about Stanley Kubrick’s reputation as one of the most infamously meticulous directors in film history. Like the time he made assistants type out the hundreds of pages of Jack's 'all work and no play' novel in The Shining (1980), or when he flew an actor back to England to re-record the sound of him tapping on a window, not quite happy with it the first time. By his death in 1999, he was widely regarded as a reclusive figure, presented in the tabloids as an obsessive madman rather than a genius whose drive for perfection was responsible for some of cinema's most remarkable films. Whilst rumours of moon landing fakery and forcing actors to do hundreds of takes are well known, there’s a few things you may not have heard about the director and his films. On the heels of Raf Simons’s 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired Dior Couture show set, we’re charting our top five fave pieces of Kubrick trivia. 


When the director died of a sudden heart attack just days after handing over the final cut of Eyes Wide Shut (1999), he left a Hertfordshire manor house full of boxes, their contents dating back half a century. From photographs ­of possible locations (his nephew estimated that he took thirty thousand at the director's request for Eyes Wide Shut alone), to screen tests, rare behind-the-scenes footage and fan letters personally filed by geographical location and positivity, Kubrick's archives are astoundingly exhaustive. His hoarding habits (and Pinterest-worthy organisational system) were the subject of a fascinating 2008 documentary by Jon Ronson, Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes. The Stanley Kubrick Archive has since moved from his property, and is now held by the University of the Arts London. 


Pop artist Allen Jones’s fetishistic sculptures ‘Hatstand’, ‘Table’ and ‘Chair’ – life-sized figures of women in bondage gear rendered as furniture – made a stir when they were first exhibited in 1970. As well as earning the wrath of feminists, they caught the eye of Kubrick, who was working on his adaption of Anthony Burgess’s futuristic dystopia A Clockwork Orange at the time. Jones told the Telegraph in 2007 that Kubrick contacted him, asking that he create furniture sculptures for the iconic Korova Milk Bar set, the spot where Alex and his droogs stop off for a drink before a night of ultraviolence. Kubrick said that there would be no fee for the work, but due to his status as "a very famous film director,” Jones’s art would “be seen all over the world,” ensuring him a degree of fame. To be fair, Kubrick had a point, but blown away by his ego, Jones declined. Kubrick commissioned a set designer to make them instead, whilst the actual artworks sold for over £2,000,000 at Christies last year.


If you’ve never seen Lolita (1962), you’ve seen her shades – red heart-shaped frames from behind which she demurely peeps, lollypop resting between her painted pout. They have become synonymous with the character, portrayed by Sue Lyon in Kubrick’s adaption of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic tale of paedophilia and projection. But Lolita, aka Dolores Haze, never actually wears them in the film – instead she can be seen sporting more classic 60s cat-eye frames. The shades only appear in the promotional materials shot by photographer Bert Stern, along with the infamous tagline, “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?”. Stern met Kubrick whilst working in the mailroom of Look magazine, where the director got his start as a staff photographer in the 1940s, and the two remained friends. Perhaps best known for the images he shot of Marilyn Monroe before her death, Stern hadn't actually seen the film when shooting Lyon.


Perhaps unsurprisingly considering his methodical personality, Kubrick had a lifelong obsession with chess. He used to hustle for quarters playing it in the parks of New York City as a teenager, and would have matches against actor George C. Scott on the set of Dr. Strangelove (1964, above). He's even rumoured to have paused filming on The Shining for an entire day when a cast member once brought in a board. There are many references to the game throughout his filmography, from the black and white chequered floor in Paths of Glory (1957) to the match the computer HAL plays with Dr. Frank Poole on board Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). A minor character in the film, Smyslov, is named after a Russian chess champion.


According to Anthony Frewin, Kubrick’s assistant for over thirty years, he employed ‘readers’ in America under the front of a phony production company called Empyrean Films, a word Kubrick took from a classical dictionary, meaning 'the highest realm of heaven'. As the job-title suggests, their task was to read and review novels and screenplays, in the hopes of finding Kubrick’s next big story, a task he obsessed over. As a very private man, he didn’t want the readers to know who they were working for. “It was run rather like a communist spy cell, nobody knew anyone else” said Frewin, who himself gave the screenplay of The Killing Fields (1984) – which went on to win eight BAFTAs and three Oscars – a poor review, declaring it to be "boring".

Want more Kubrick? Check out the interview Dazed editor-in-chief Tim Noakes did with Ken Adam, his confidante and set designer here, and this feature on Leonard Lewis, the stylist behind the hair in several of Kubrick's films.