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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
More to follow . . .