Stanley Kubrick is a controversial director. In a good way. His films span nearly every genre he could get his hands on — but start in the wrong place.
Originally a New York photographer, Mr. Kubrick wormed his way into film making with little difficulty. He made documentaries, which provided him the technical skill for turning stills into real movies. He never left England during his last forty years due to a fear of flying.
People he had worked with have described him as acidic to others but amazingly fond of animals and very close to his wife and children. But he treated pretty much all of the actors in his movies like crap. Some liked him anyway: Malcolm McDowell thoroughly enjoyed working with him on A Clockwork Orange, but was snubbed after shooting was complete. Equally abrasive individuals such as Jack Nicholson and R. Lee Ermey, however, remained friends with Kubrick until his death.
On average, however, his relationships could be defined by the making of Doctor Strangelove; Actors that did exactly as he said walked away with their paychecks (unless they were named Peter Sellers or R. Lee Ermey, who got to do a surprising amount of Improv). Slim Pickens was never told he was making a comedy, implying that his character was the hero of the film, heroically delivering the bomb that ends the world. Pickens was okay with it in the long run, spinning the publicity into a highly successful career. On the other hand, George C. Scott wanted to play General Turgidson as a dignified Well-Intentioned Extremist, so Kubrick tricked him by telling him to do a few over the top takes as "practice" and that they would never be put into the real movie. Kubrick used all of them. Scott swore he would never work with Kubrick again.
He also had a long-time friendship with Steven Spielberg, and the two would often have extended talks on the art of filmmaking and other subjects. Because of the England-Los Angeles time difference he would often call the latter up in the middle of the night, and the two would have conversations over the phone for hours. He dismissed Spielberg's Schindler's List for having a happy ending, but possibly he was miffed because he was planning to make his own film about the Holocaust and Spielberg beat him to it. After Kubrick's death Spielberg finished the last movie project that he had been working on as a token to him (although Kubrick had already pretty much given the reins of that project to Spielberg prior to his death), resulting in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.
Because of his tendency for blazingly original iconography (his photography side really show), his films are ripe for Affectionate Parody. Because his films include some of the bleakest and harshest ever made, it is completely impossible to do a cruel one.
His work, due to the controversy it has provoked, has often been Vindicated by History. Many of his films including Paths of Glory, Doctor Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey are viewed as among the greatest ever made.
- Fear And Desire - his first real film, which he considered his Old Shame. Kubrick and his first wife were the only crew on-set during production. Keep Circulating the Tapes, as it has never been released on video and is only rarely screened.
- Killer's Kiss - Kubrick's second wife cameos in this one.
- The Killing - the archetypal Film Noir, famous for its Non-Linear Plot.
- Paths of Glory - the first of two anti-war films starring Kirk Douglas. Set in WWI. The woman who would later become Kubrick's third wife (who would stay with him until his death) appears in this film. Also very underrated, Kirk Douglas once said "There's a picture that will always be good, years from now. I don't have to wait 50 years to know that; I know it now.". In 1959!
- Spartacus - the second of two anti-war films starring Kirk Douglas. Set in Rome. Not really a Kubrick movie; he came in at the last minute as a favor to Mr. Douglas.
- Lolita - Adaptation of the novel. Theoretically starred James Mason. Really starred Peter Sellers.
- Doctor Strangelove - A comedy that ends with the whole world dying. Starred Peter Sellers in three brilliant and very different roles. Also features Sterling Hayden, Anti-Hero from The Killing.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey - An episodic film that is probably about the evolution of man. Starred special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull and was stolen (just as Lolita was stolen by Peter Sellers) by a computer named HAL.
- A Clockwork Orange - A bit of the old ultraviolence.
- Barry Lyndon - Considered to be his most underrated film, and Martin Scorsese's personal favourite.
- The Shining - though it lost what made the book great, it is a great horror movie in its own right. This movie cemented Kubrick's reputation as a perfectionist.
- Full Metal Jacket - War movie set in Vietnam. Starred Matthew Modine as Private Joker, really starred R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.
- Eyes Wide Shut - Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Has a "Love It or Hate It" reputation.
His movies provide examples of:
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Kubrick was ungodly eccentric, but the quality and impact of his films speak for themselves.
- Doing It for the Art: This was the man who converted lenses from NASA to shoot in natural candlelight in Barry Lyndon looking right. Perhaps more impressive was getting an entire fleet of the Spanish army to be extras in Spartacus.
- Enforced Method Acting: invoked in many of his films.
- The Film of the Book. Every Kubrick feature film after the first two was an adaptation of a book or short story. 2001 is a partial exception, as the original Arthur C. Clarke story only dealt with Heywood Floyd's trip to the Moon, and the rest of the story was written by Kubrick and Clarke in collaboration.
- Humans Are Bastards
- Insufferable Genius: Despite his perfectionist tendencies, Kubrick did not actually have much in common with this trope. He did poorly in school and even stated that his IQ was below average.
- Kubrick Stare: Trope Namer; a lot of his films used it.
- Scenery Porn. Kubrick really "composed" his backgrounds. Many rooms and settings have an almost photographic quality to them. They have been carefully constructed, built or put in the frame in a way that they too become interesting to look at. Small significant and symbolic details can be spotted by the observant viewer.
- A scene in or just outside a bathroom. Or both. Involving someone breaking into the bathroom.
- Shots down long paths with parallel walls.
- Later in his career, extensive Steadicam use. Kubrick was one of the first filmmakers to really embrace the technology.
- Interestingly, he was also known for personally handling the camera whenever an handheld (shaky) shot was necessary. Examples are 2001 (when descending the ramp on the moon), and The Killing, which is notable because it creates a Jittercam effect (meant to portray the chaos after a gunfight) in a black and white movie, in 1956.
- Soundtrack Dissonance.
- Shrouded in Myth: Due to Kubrick's reluctance to talk about the hidden meanings of his films he's probably one of the most analyzed and discussed film directors of all time. There are still scenes in his work that remain mysterious and are open for interpretation.
- Throw It In: Despite his reputation for being a perfectionist and retaking shots over and over, many of Kubrick's films' most iconic moments were unscripted, including:
- Much of Peter Sellers' dialogue in Doctor Strangelove.
- Much of R. Lee Eremy's dialogue in Full Metal Jacket.
- The inclusion of "Singing in the Rain" in A Clockwork Orange.
- Jack Nicholson's "Here's Johnny!" line in The Shining (due to his long residence in the UK, Kubrick had no idea what the line meant and had to be talked out of using a different shot).