Film is a wonderful medium that dazzles us and transports audiences through a screen to a vibrant world of powerful stories. Having only been around for about 130 years, it is a relatively new form of creative expression for humanity. During this period, an unimaginable amount of development has been accomplished, both in process and product. For every era there have been renowned directors, actors, cinematographers, and others, who have in their own way innovated the visual medium in order to speak to the souls of those who watch. One particular figure in the history of film is often considered the greatest of all time. Amidst so many other great contributors, and to reference a comment once made by Orson Welles, even today Stanley Kubrick remains a giant.
Growing up in the Bronx with his Jewish family, Kubrick led a very engaged life. He quickly found his way to getting involved wherever his interests lied. Though he was found to have a very high IQ, school seemed to bore him and so his grades did not appear to be one of his focuses. After graduating high school there was little chance to get into university, because of his grades and the inflow of returning WWII veterans desiring college admissions. But this did not stop him from becoming an autodidact. Whether it was photography or film, he taught himself, and accomplished much.
As a young man he pursued an interest in still photography, finding his way into a position with Look magazine. Here he laid out the groundwork of an incredible eye for imagery. While developing himself as a photographer for a magazine, he began attempting some short films using both his own savings and funds he was able to raise from friends and family. It was in these years where he struggled to begin his career as a filmmaker, often going well over-budget and in many situations being rescued financially from elsewhere. Though there were many difficulties in these early short-films, mostly documentaries, they were considered at the time impressive and formative works. This was when Kubrick first starting making inroads to becoming a feature-length director.
His first features were uniquely shot and narratively original. Right away he started carving out his position amongst other great directors by creating very fluid and imaginative ways of capturing images that were profoundly impacting and emotionally charged. Even during this early period, Kubrick’s films began to influence others who would come to be other titans in the industry. As he moved into different eras of his professional development Kubrick never repeated himself and strove for completely novel and innovative projects. In several genres he created masterpieces: science fiction, horror, drama, comedy, epic, noire, and war film. Unfortunately, because of his unwillingness to repeat in formula his successes, he was progressively misunderstood by Hollywood and many critiques.
Throughout his career as a filmmaker he was to only ever receive one personal Academy Award for the visual effects he helped create for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Though every single one of his films is in some regard considered an integral part of the history of cinema, and the list of other people he’s influenced is too long to present here, a great lacking to understand what he was accomplishing in his time stood strong. It was only 2 years before his death that he received the award of lifetime achievement from the Academy.
Sometimes being so ahead of the times can be a curse, and in Stanley Kubrick’s case it is infinitely true. He was not only influential to other filmmakers, but even to the companies and engineers who built the lenses and camera equipment. There was no area of his life that he did not pour himself into with full attention and interest, whether it was research for films, editing the final product, or working with his actors, he always strove for perfection. Stanley Kubrick led the way into a new generation of expression through film, and in some ways, every film nowadays owes some aspect of its cinematography, or its music, or its visual effects, or even in more subtle ways to what he did.
For someone who had such a mastery over light and its application to the visual format of film, with all the glorious and dark qualities of the human condition that he explored throughout it, he is strangely like a blackhole, in which anything that gets too close will inevitably be drawn into and influenced forever.
Author: Jonathan M. Bessette