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Film Fan to Film-Maker
by Joanne Stang

When Stanley Kubrick was a boy of 14, life was a dream prescribed by a series of images, changed semi-weekly and viewed from the velvety, rococo depths of Loew's Paradise in the Bronx.

Today, in the airy reality of an executive office in Beverly Hills, the images wait quietly under the flat covers of a stack of scripts, or are already translated into rolls of film stored in round metal cans stamped "Kubrick" - and "Kubrick" has become a new word in the colorful, if circumscribed, dictionary of the movie industry. It means a lank-haired, slightly elusive, seemingly diffident young man who talks little, wears dark suits in the bright sunshine on Canon Drive, and makes astonishing movies.

The element that makes Kubrick's movies astonishing is not their number. He has brought forth just four feature films - two post-adolescent flings at learning the trade, Fear and Desire and Killer's Kiss, then The Killing and Paths of Glory. Nor is the element overwhelmingly commercial triumph. Only Paths of Glory was successful to the point of solvency.

Kubrick's magic ingredient is a kind of truth he achieves with the camera - a way of using the camera - a way of using the camera that limns the plot on the mind's eye of the audience with scenes so real that they seem able to be touched as well as watched.

Marlon Brando, who in a conservative estimate might be termed the most sought-after actor in motion pictures, recently chose Kubrick to direct his first independent picture, One-Eyed Jacks. Brando ascribes Kubrick's ability to protect a feeling of truth into a film to an instinctive sensitivity as well as a superior camera technique.

"Stanley is unusually perceptive", Brando says, "and delicately attuned to people. He has an adroit intellect, and is a creative thinker - not a repeater, not a fact-gatherer. He digests what he learns and brings to a new project original point of view and a reserved passion."

At 30, Kubrick is like some changeling prince migrated from the dark forests of the Grand Concourse to the sunny kingdom of Hollywood. After birth in the Bronx, he existed there as what he narrowly calls "a lonely child", and this remoteness has followed him West. In a professional community where even the most self-effacing directors are surrounded by a variety of "helpers", Kubrick is minus entourage. He makes no particular attempt to blend with the scenery, either.

One observer who watched Kubrick walking down a Hollywood street commented that he looked as though he might logically have "Made in New York" stamped on his forehead. A friend of Kubrick's explains: "Stanley isn't really anti-social. It's just that he isn't interested in the swiftest route to Palm Springs, or how to vacuum a swimming pool. He's really only interested in one thing. Making movies."

Kubrick's preoccupation with pictures, still and motion, born during a childhood "spent in local movie houses", flourished while he was a student at William Howard Taft High School and his camera work began cropping up in photography exhibits. At 17, he was a photographer with a national picture magazine, but at 21 he decided that taking still pictures was "too passive", went out and bought a 35-mm. newsreel camera, got the salesman to show him how to load it, and made two documentaries for R.K.O. - Day of the Fight and Flying Padre.

This was followed by Fear and Desire in 1953, released by Joseph Burstyn, and produced, written, directed and deplored by Kubrick, who merely says of it, "Pain is a good teacher."

A United Artists' release, Killer's Kiss, was next, and then Kubrick met James Harris, who was his own age (23), fresh out of the Army, and the former executive of a television producing and distributing company. With Harris as producer, Kubrick then went West and made The Killing with Sterling Hayden, a fine, suspense-filled film.

With The Killing, Kubrick was taken to the bosom of the movie business via elaborate critical acclaim and a loss of $120,000. The film also impressed three particular men: Kirk Douglas, whom Kubrick later directed in Paths of Glory; Gregory Peck, who will star next year in a Kubrick-Harris Civil War epic based on the adventures of Confederate cavalry leader John Singleton Mosby; and Marlon Brando.

After seeing The Killing, Brando says he was amazed that Kubrick "could project such a completely distinctive style with so little previous film-making experience. Here was a typical, episodic detective story - nothing unusual in the plot - but Stanley made a series of bizarre and interesting choices which buttressed and embellished an ordinary story into an exciting film."

Kubrick himself boils down the "buttress" to two basic factors: natural lighting and attention to details. "We are all used to seeing things in a certain way, with the light coming from some natural source", Kubrick explains. "I try to duplicate this natural light in the filming. It makes for a feeling of greater reality."

Kubrick is fiercely concerned with the accuracy of the small details that make up the backgrounds of his films because he feels this helps the audience to believe what they see on the screen.

In Paths of Glory there is a scene in which French company commander Kirk Douglas comes to plead with the general, played by Adolphe Menjou, for the lives of three of his men condemned to death. Just before this, Kubrick has clobbered the audience with some of the most horrifyingly realistic soldiers-in-trenches shots since All Quiet on the Western Front.

Suddenly, the mud becomes snowy marble as far as the eye can see, and Douglas is confronting the nattily dressed and precisely spoken Menjou at "headquarters" - a gilt and brocade salon Kubrick has filled with spindle-legged chairs, crystal chandeliers and porcelain cherubs.

The contrast is clear. Although Douglas argues eloquently, he is a soldier submerged in a sea of gold inlay, and it becomes obvious that Menjou and Louis Quatorze will prevail.

Probably the youngest of the emerging group of independent Hollywood film-makers, Kubrick and partner Harris have plans for three more pictures after the Mosby project. They have just purchased Lolita, the Vladimir Nabokov novel which explores a romantic relationship between a middle-aged man and a 12-year-old girl. The book was banned for a time in France and has already begun to be a source of strife among Middle Western public library boards, but Kubrick says he has a plan to translate the "unusual" theme into a form acceptable to the guardians of the silver screen.

Also in the works are films based on The Last Parallel, a novel of the Korean war by Martin Russ, and I Stole $16,000,000, an adaptation of the autobiography of an ex-safecracker, Herbert Emerson Wilson.

When these are filmed it will mean that most of Kubrick's pictures will have dealt with the fortunes or misfortunes of either criminals or soldiers, whom Kubrick says he finds fascinating because they are "doomed from the start".

"The criminal is always interesting on the screen because he is a paradox of personality, a collection of violent contrasts", Kubrick says. "The soldier is absorbing because all the circumstances surrounding him have a kind of charged intensity. For all its horror, war is pure drama, probably because it is one of the few remaining situations were men stand up for and speak up for what they believe to be their principles. The criminal and the soldier at least have the virtue of being for something or against something in a world where many people have learned to accept a kind of gray nothingness, to strike an unreal series of poses in order to be considered 'normal' or 'average'."

"It's difficult to say who is engaged in the greater conspiracy - the criminal, the soldier, or us."

The New York Times Magazine, December 12, 1958

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