An American film director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, editor, and photographer, Stanley Kubrick has always been an iconic personality for film lovers worldwide. He is known as one of the most influential directors ever, having heavily contributed to ground-breaking cinema, especially with 2001: A Space Odyssey. He died on March 7, 1999, just a few days after he delivered his final cut for Eyes Wide Shut. In the week of his 17th death anniversary, let’s have a closer look at the enigmatic man and his obsession with perfection.
The fact that he was in the business for almost 50 years and directed just 16 films justifies how he took his own sweet time to deliver a perfect final product. Guinness World Records has recognized Eyes Wide Shut as the longest constant movie shoot – over 15 months, including an unbroken shooting schedule of 46 weeks. Let’s not forget that this shoot was as secretive as it could get, with every detail under wraps and tight security all around the set.
Known for his attention to detail, he was extremely demanding for all his films. Most cast members over the years have complained about "going through hell" while shooting with him, due to the dozens of retakes of the same scene. Kubrick despised it when actors changed dialogue or "improvised" with new material, even though he would often himself re-write the script on set.
While filming The Shining, Kubrick would often ill-treat the female lead Shelley Duvall, just to get her to act the part of a traumatized and terrified wife. Her distress and trauma would come across on screen as a result and also caused her to lose hair from all the stress – which she then gave to Kubrick as a memento. A similar ‘torture’ technique he used was in Eyes Wide Shut, where he kept Tom Cruise away from his then real and on-screen wife, Nicole Kidman, for almost two weeks. During this time, a love-making scene was shot between Nicole and another co-star, bringing about an actual feeling of jealousy and anxiety to Tom, setting the tone for the following scenes.
Not only the cast, even the crew had to live up to his exceptional standards, since he would have retakes just to place certain props in a particular manner and have his set design modified as desired. He was very symbolic and mysterious with his style, often leaving his films’ ends open to interpretation. This is very evident from the fact that he paid extra attention to every element in the frame, and everything meant something, if you knew where to look.
He believed that the subconscious emotional reaction evoked by audiences had a greater impact through films than in any other traditional form. This is why he often had long periods in his films without dialogue, simply emphasizing on images and sound. He said and we quote, "The essence of a dramatic form is to let an idea come over people without it being plainly stated. When you say something directly, it is simply not as potent as it is when you allow people to discover it for themselves. Realism is probably the best way to dramatize argument and ideas. Fantasy may deal best with themes which lie primarily in the unconscious."
It is assumed that if Kubrick was alive today he may still be making adjustments to his last film, like he did with a few of his earlier films even after their release. Nicole Kidman sums it up perfectly: "I think Stanley would have been tinkering with it for the next 20 years. He was still tinkering with movies he made decades ago. He was never finished. It was never perfect enough."
At the age of 70, he suffered a heart attack just a few days after delivering the final cut, resulting in his death. His close ones say the film consumed him – his heart gave way due to the constant stress and sheer effort he put into his last project.
What do you think? Was he an obsessive madman or a genius whose drive for perfection delivered some of cinema’s most remarkable films?