The death of maverick American director Stanley Kubrick at his home in Hertfordshire comes as something of a shock. At 70 he was not a director at the height of his powers – although it had been over a decade since he made Full Metal Jacket – but he had not suffered from any illnesses prior to his demise and he had just completed work on Eyes Wide Shut.
The power of his films is best demonstrated in the way that the images have filtered throughout our culture, particularly pop culture. Although it hasn’t been seen in this country legally since 1973, A Clockwork Orange has been a massive stylistic influence on everyone from David Bowie to Blur.
As a director, Kubrick was difficult to work with; he was an obsessive film-maker, a perfectionist and one of the few remaining auteurs, who brought his own personal and intensely original movies to the screen. Difficult to work with, but the rewards were some of the greatest movies of the post-war period, from Dr Strangelove to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The age of the great directors may be over – these days, aside from a few outsiders, independents and square pegs – the director is, at best, a hired hack brought in by the studio’s big producers who wield the real creative power. Kubrick was a film maker as important as John Ford, Orson Welles or Marcel Carne; he made his own film, but they were films that mass audiences flocked to. They were art films, but they were not confined to the ghetto of the art-house circuit.
While films like Full Metal Jacket, Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and the very underrated Barry Lyndon came from literary sources, Kubrick’s films swallowed the novels whole and reshaped them according to his own vision. More people know his films than have read the novels by Gustav Hasford (Full Metal Jacket was based on his book The Short Timers), Vladimir Nabakov, Anthony Burgess or William Thackeray.
All his films are essentially pessimistic and in his later years, he seemed to hold out little hope for the human race. In a world where even the darkest films coming out of Hollywood have syrupy feelgood endings added, usually as a dictate of the studios, Kubrick – who had lived and worked in the UK since 1962 – was a man at odds with the no-brain pap that the 90s Hollywood-dominated film has become.
His death leaves a massive gap that is unlikely to be filled.
Films by Stanley Kubrick that you should see.