Kubrick remembered as filmmaker who transcended the medium
Web posted on: Monday, March 08, 1999 3:44:42 PM EST
(CNN) - At 70, after nearly half a century making movies, Stanley Kubrick had outlived many of the faces that made his movies so memorable: Peter Sellers, James Mason, Sterling Hayden and Slim Pickens.
Among his surviving colleagues -- if the word "colleagues" can be applied to a legendarily reclusive director -- Kubrick was remembered Monday as both poet and craftsman, with eccentric blood in his veins.
"He was a very, very great talent and we have lost someone important," said Kirk Douglas, who gave Kubrick's early career a boost with two films.
British actor Malcolm McDowell, star of Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" (1971), called Kubrick "a heavyweight of my life."
But praise poured in even from those who weren't lucky enough to work with him.
Roberto Benigni, upon receiving best actor honors from the Screen Actor's Guild Sunday night, paused to remember the director as someone who influenced the film world.
"Kubrick is like someone like Fellini, like Kafka, like someone who really dreamt for us and gave to us the key to understand something and the pleasure to tell the story," said Benigni.
"Kubrick was god to people in the film business," said film historian Joseph McBride. "And like a god, he was remote and inaccessable and hardly anybody knew him personally."
'An inventor of a new type of poetry'
Kubrick died Sunday of natural causes at his home outside London, police said Monday.
His directing career spanned from 1950 ("Day of the Fight") to 1999 (his latest, "Eyes Wide Shut" starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, is set for a July release). Three of his films were named to the American Film Institute's recent top 100 list -- "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) was ranked 22, "Dr. Strangelove" (1964) was ranked 26, and "A Clockwork Orange" was ranked 46.
Kubrick, born in the Bronx section of New York in 1928, launched his film career -- using a second-hand camera -- with the documentary "Day of the Fight." The film was a 15-minute look at the last hours before a fight of middleweight boxer Walter Cartier and was based on a photograph Kubrick took for Look magazine.
His career took off slowly, until Douglas rescued Kubrick's 1957 "Paths Of Glory" by agreeing to star in it. It was a modest box office success, but won Kubrick critical acclaim.
The film, based on mutinies among French soldiers during World War I, was banned in France for more than a decade and was the subject of repeated controversies and demonstrations.
On Monday, French President Jacques Chirac called Kubrick "an immense creator whose works are among the high points of our collective memory."
Chirac said Kubrick was "an inventor of a new type of poetry, a musician of the cinema."
'His films warn us'
Douglas and Kubrick teamed up again in 1959, when Anthony Mann, the director of the epic "Spartacus," was fired two weeks into production. Douglas, who produced the movie, offered the position to Kubrick.
"Spartacus" gave the director his first major hit, but it was an unhappy experience that made Kubrick demand control over all future projects. Eventually, he left Hollywood for England.
"Lolita" (1962) and "Dr. Strangelove," the 1964 dark-humored classic about nuclear warfare, followed "Spartacus." Then in 1968, he released his most famous and perhaps most philosophical work, "2001: A Space Odyssey."
In the science-fiction film, based on a novella by Arthur C. Clarke, Kubrick rejected the space opera conventions to create a film that spanned millenia, from the dawn of man to the opening of the 21st century -- and, according to at least one observer, still stands as a metaphor for Kubrick's career.
"His films warn us we are risen apes, not fallen angels, creatures whose proud rationality suffers breakdown with convulsive effects," wrote Alexander Walker, author of a Kubrick biography.
Actor Tom Sizemore, who played the taciturn sergeant in "Saving Private Ryan," said the movie "changed American filmmaking."
"It was the first new wave, the French new wave that was inculcating the United States. He was right on the cutting edge. Always has been," said Sizemore, speaking at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday.
His next film, "A Clockwork Orange"(1971) outraged some viewers with its embrace of the leering violence of a teenaged gang leader on rampage through a bleak city of the future.
"He was the last great director of that era. He was the big daddy," said McDowell, who portrayed the movie's young thug.
Kubrick saw only three more movies released: "Barry Lyndon" (1975), "The Shining" (1980) and "Full Metal Jacket" (1987).
Nicole Kidman and husband Tom Cruise worked closely with the reclusive, expatriate director for more than a year on "Eyes Wide Shut."
"He's really an extraordinary human being, and he is very generous with his knowledge and he is very dedicated to what he does," Kidman once said. "He worked extremely hard on this film and he lives, breathes, eats the film, and I really admire that."
Correspondent Dennis Michael and Reuters contributed to this report.
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