Stanley Kubrick, whose dark vision of human nature seemed to suffuse each of his movies, died yesterday at his home outside London. He was 70. The cause of death was not released.
Kubrick was that rare director who left an imprint on every work, regardless of the genre. "The Killing" (1956), a taut crime drama starring Sterling Hayden, was a classic, gritty film noir; "Paths of Glory" (1957) was an elegantly filmed indictment of the hypocrisy of the military in World War I; "Lolita" (1962), Kubrick's adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel, was a decidedly bizarre take on a literary classic; "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964) might be the greatest political satire ever made.
"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), Kubrick's meditation on a mechanized future, anticipated the era of the special effects blockbuster. Artistically, it has been both praised for its dazzling visual imagery and use of music, and dismissed as pretentious overkill.
The shocking violence of his other foray into the future, "A Clockwork Orange" (1971), received similarly mixed reactions. "The Shining" (1978), an adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel starring Jack Nicholson as a blocked writer, is a chillingly perfect example of the psychological thriller.
Despite their wildly divergent subjects and artistic approaches, these movies all share a view as despairing and bleak as the desolate mountain hotel inhabited by Nicholson's mad author. And in many cases, Kubrick's visions proved to be disconcertingly prescient.
The stupidity and callousness of the military depicted in "Paths of Glory," for example, would be echoed a decade later in Vietnam; the ultra-violent, drug-addled delinquents of "A Clockwork Orange" would come to life in another 10 years in the punk movement. As for the nuclear machinations of the Cold War era sent up in "Dr. Strangelove," the accuracy of Kubrick's war-room scenarios may never be fully known.
In the midst of these uncompromising glimpses of man at his most inhuman were movies of almost rococo grandeur. It's difficult to believe, for example, that the movie Kubrick made in between "Paths of Glory" and "Lolita" was "Spartacus" (1960), a spectacle starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis that today seems ripe for a parodist of Kubrick's bite. (In all fairness, he replaced another director on that movie.)
In 1975 he made "Barry Lyndon," a ravishing adaptation of the Thackeray novel in which Kubrick seemed to submerge his penchant for pessimism under a patina of opulence.
Although he was nominated for an Oscar five times -- for "Dr. Strangelove," "2001," "A Clockwork Orange," "Barry Lyndon" and the screenplay of "Full Metal Jacket" (1987) -- Kubrick never won an Academy Award.
He completed production of his most recent film, "Eyes Wide Shut," in August after a troubled shoot that took more than 15 months and that reflected a meticulous nature (he was known to ask actors for more than 80 takes of a single scene.) His first film in more than 10 years, "Eyes Wide Shut" stars Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise and is scheduled to open in July.
"He was like family to us and we are in shock and devastated," Cruise and Kidman said in a statement released by their publicist.
Malcolm McDowell, who starred in "A Clockwork Orange," issued a statement through his publicist calling Kubrick "a heavyweight of my life."
"He was the last great director of that era. He was the big daddy," said McDowell.
Kubrick, who was born in the Bronx in 1928, came by his meticulous visual style early on. He took up photography as a hobby at the urging of his father, and at 17, he was hired as a photographer by Look magazine.
In 1950, he quit Look to make his first motion picture, a documentary about boxing called "Day of the Fight." He not only succeeded in making the movie, he sold it, making the tidy sum of $100. He went on to make a series of minor, low-budget features.
He first came to the attention of critics and the movie industry with "The Killing" and "Paths of Glory," both of which showcased Kubrick's storytelling ability and his sophisticated sense of composition. But neither film did well at the box office, which necessitated Kubrick's taking on "Spartacus."
After completing that project, Kubrick moved to England seeking the creative freedom he found lacking in the Hollywood studio system.
That freedom allowed an uncompromising vision that some say came with a cost. Although no one could accuse movies like "Lolita," "Dr. Strangelove," "2001" or "A Clockwork Orange" of lacking imagination, many viewers and critics thought that Kubrick had sacrificed coherent narrative on the altar of visual ingenuity.
Eventually Kubrick became as famous for his obsessive perfectionism as his bold cinematic style. From selecting every lens for every shot to asking cast and crew to reassemble time after time for endless reshoots, Kubrick was the embodiment of the director as control freak.
The results of his meticulousness were perceived by some film goers as fussy pedantry. Others saw Kubrick's films as poetic, visually stunning commentaries about a society constantly on the brink of cynical self-destruction.
But detractors and defenders alike can agree that Kubrick's influence has been striking, enduring and, even at its most antiseptically controlled, deeply personal.
Kubrick was married three times, first in 1948 to Toba Metz. After their divorce, he married Ruth Sobotka in 1954. Their marriage ended three years later, and in 1958, he wedded Suzanne Harlan, with whom he had three daughters.
Kubrick's family announced his death, and said there would be no further comment. Details about funeral arrangements were not immediately available.
Pub Date: 3/08/99