Stanley Kubrick, Part 2 – Early Years

Published On April 19, 2013 | By Mike Carroll | Stanley Kubrick, Uncategorized

At the Stanley Kubrick Exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, understandably, there isn’t too much for his early years. He was still borrowing and renting gear so, for the most part, all there is to see are photographs from his first films, Fear and Desire. Killer’s Kiss, The Killing and Paths of Glory. But they do set the stage for the career to follow.

Young Stanley Kubrick had always been interested in photography. During his high school years in Brooklyn he’d been savvy enough to be able to sell a few photographs to Look Magazine across the river in Manhattan. He graduated from high school in Brooklyn when he was 17 in 1945 with a grade average of 67, he needed a 75 to get into college. This was even more difficult with the waves of G.I.s returning from World War Two. This worked to his advantage, however. He’d hang around Look and he was liked enough to be offered a job as a staff photographer. His “college years,” as he called them, were spent traveling the country, taking pictures and having them published in a national weekly magazine.

Young Stanley Kubrick on an assignment at Grand Central Station for Look Magazine in the later 1940s.

After four years at Look he graduated to making small documentaries, which he sold to newsreel companies. Then embarked on making his first feature film Fear and Desire. This only played in a few arthouse cinemas, but it did establish a style that he was to carry on for the rest of his life — controlling as many aspects of the productions as possible.

“Naked filmmaker” Stanley Kubrick as co-writer, director, cameraman, editor on “Fear and Desire.”

Initially this was done out of necessity, because he was only dealing with a few thousand dollars to make a feature film. But it taught him all aspects of  filmmaking. On his first two dramatic films Fear and Desire and The Killer’s Kiss he was the co-writer, producer, director, cameraman, editor and sound effects editor. One of the first “naked filmmakers.”

One-man filmmaking on “The Killer’s Kiss.” This film actually did make money. Kubrick learned that art doesn’t sell. But a film with some violence, action, and a little sex was money in the bank. This 68-minute film sold to United Artists.

“Poor man’s copyright.” An early script that Kubrick registered with the U.S. Post Office and mailed to himself and never opened. It wasn’t opened until it was discovered in his more than 1,000 boxes of archived materials.

The script he mailed to himself. This wasn’t discovered and opened until years after his death.

Kubrick’s next film, with producing partner James B. Harris, was The Killing for United Artists. His first taste of the Hollywood system with professional stars and a Hollywood crew. But he still exerted as much control as he could, co-writing the script and selecting each camera set-up, the lenses to be used, and how it should be lit — much to the consternation of the director Lucien Ballard, who shot most of Sam Peckinpah’s films.

Script page from “The Killing” with Kubrick’s handwritten notes.

Mid-20s Stanley Kubrick overseeing the old-time Hollywood pros on the set of “The Killing.”

This $300,000 noir heist thriller lead United Artists to give Kubrick and Harris $900,000 to make Paths of Glory. $300,000 of that went to hire Kirk Douglas. The authenticity of the battle scenes and confidence in his compositions and the performances of his actors put this film on critics 10-best lists around the world. Kubrick was only 28 years old.

The “Paths of Glory” area in the Stanley Kubrick Exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.


Script page for “Paths of Glory” with Kubrick’s handwritten notes.

Stanley Kubrick in the trenches overseeing one of the many classic shots filmed in a World War One modeled trench. This was filmed in Germany.

Frame from an original contact sheet with a behind-the-scenes photo of extras with the only female actor in the film, Christiane Harlan. She would soon become Christiane Kubrick, the love of Stanley’s life, and they would be together for the rest of his life. You can tell by the spark in her eyes here why Stanley was drawn to her.

More to follow . . .




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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

2 Responses to Stanley Kubrick, Part 2 – Early Years

  1. bil paul says:

    What a force of nature Kubrick was. I wonder if Netflix has his two earliest films.

  2. Mike Carroll says:

    If you mean his shorts DAY OF THE FIGHT and THE FLYING PADRE, they are available now on YouTube. The industrial he was hired to make about merchant marines THE SEAFARERS is on Netflix, as is THE KILLER’S KISS. FEAR AND DESIRE is on YouTube. Kubrick was right, it’s pretty unbearable. He spent years seeking out copies to have them destroyed. Unfortunately for him, a copy was given to the Eastman House, who restored it.
    Thanks for finding the site. How did you discover it?

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