Stanley Kubrick was born on July 26, 1928, at the Lying-In Hospital in Manhattan, New York, the first of two children of Jacques (Jacob) Leonard Kubrick (1901–85) and his wife Sadie Gertrude (née Perveler; 1903–85), who were both Jewish. At Stanley’s birth, the Kubricks lived in an apartment at 2160 Clinton Avenue in Bronx.
The Kubrick biographer Geoffrey Cocks writes that Kubrick’s family was not religious, although his parents had been married in a Jewish ceremony. When the critic Michel Ciment asked him in 1980 whether he had a religious upbringing, Kubrick replied “No, not at all.” He had no bar mitzvah and did not attend synagogue, like many Jews who led secular lives.
As a boy, he was considered “bookish” and generally uninterested in activities in his Bronx neighborhood. According to a friend, “When we were teenagers hanging around the Bronx, he was just another bright, neurotic, talented guy—just another guy trying to get into a game with my softball club and mess around with girls”. Many of his friends from his “close-knit neighborhood” would become involved with his early films, including writing music scores and scripts.
Kubrick’s father taught him chess at age twelve, and the game remained a lifelong obsession. Kubrick later recalled the significance of his chess hobby to his career.
He also bought his son a Graflex camera when he was thirteen, triggering a fascination with still photography. As a teenager, Kubrick was interested in jazz, and briefly attempted a career as a drummer. His father was disappointed in his failure to achieve excellence in school, which he felt Stanley was capable of. His father encouraged him to read from his large library at home while at the same time permitting him to take up photography as a serious hobby. These additional interests outside of school may have contributed to his poor performance as a student.
Kubrick attended William Howard Taft High School located on Sheridan Avenue and 172nd Street in the Southwest section of Bronx from 1941 to 45. He was a poor student, with a meager 67 grade average. According to his English teacher, Kubrick was not a great student. But, “the idea of literature and the reading of literature, from a non-academic, from a more human point of view, clearly was what interested him. He was a literary guy even as a young man… “ Kubrick had a poor attendance record, and often skipped school to take in double-feature films. He graduated in 1945, but his poor grades, combined with the demand for college admissions from soldiers returning from the Second World War, eliminated hope of higher education. Later in life, Kubrick spoke disdainfully of his education and of education in general, maintaining that nothing about school interested him. His parents sent him to live with relatives for a year in Los Angeles in the hopes that it would help his academic growth.
While still in high school, he was chosen as an official school photographer for a year. In 1946, since he was not able to gain admission to day session classes at colleges, he briefly attended evening classes at the City College of New York (CCNY).
2001: A Space Odyssey
Kubrick spent five years developing his next film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film was conceived as a Cinerama spectacle and was photographed in Super Panavision 70. The $10,000,000 (U.S.) film was a massive production for its time. It is famous for its groundbreaking visual effects, minimal use of dialogue and its use of classical music instead of an original score. It was also noted for its scientific realism in depicting space flight as well as its slightly surreal and enigmatic narrative. The former was achieved through extensive consultation with NASA personnel who also helped design the look and feel of the spacecraft. Kubrick also used music by contemporary avant-garde Hungarian composer György Ligeti; it was the first wide commercial exposure of Ligeti’s work. Although not initially a critical and commercial success, the film became quickly popular with the counter-culture youth movement of the 1960s, who were especially enchanted by the “psychedelic” and mysterious nature of the film’s closing sequence of astronaut David Bowman’s journey through the “Stargate”. After this film, Kubrick would never experiment so radically with special effects or narrative form; however, his subsequent films would still maintain some level of ambiguity.
Despite nominations in the directing, writing, and producing categories, the only Academy Award Kubrick received was for supervising the film’s special effects.
In spite of initial negative critical reaction, many today consider it among the greatest science fiction films ever made, as well as one of the most influential. Steven Spielberg called it his generation’s “big bang”. It is a staple on All Time Top 10 lists.
The Shining, released in 1980, was adapted from the novel of the same name by bestselling horror writer Stephen King. The film stars Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, a failed writer who takes a job as a winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel. He lives there with his wife, Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) and their young son, Danny (played by Danny Lloyd), who is gifted with a form of telepathy. As winter takes hold, the family’s isolation deepens, and the demons and ghosts of the Overlook Hotel’s dark past begin to awaken, driving Jack into a homicidal psychosis.
The film opened to mixed reviews, but proved a commercial success. As with most Kubrick films, subsequent critical reaction has treated the film more favorably. Among horror movie fans, The Shining is a cult classic. Much of its imagery, such as the elevator shaft disgorging blood and the ghost girls in the hallway, are among the most recognizable and widely known images from any Stanley Kubrick film, as are the lines “Redrum,” “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” and “Here’s Johnny!”. The financial success of The Shining renewed Warner Brothers’ faith in Kubrick’s ability to make artistically satisfying and profitable films.
Other notable movies are Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.
On March 7, 1999—four days after screening a final cut of Eyes Wide Shut for his family, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Warner Bros. executives, Kubrick died in his sleep from a heart attack at the age of 70. He was buried next to his favorite tree in Childwickbury Manor, Hertfordshire, England, UK.