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How Stanley Kubrick was inspired to start making movies

Like the influence of The Beatles on the culture of the late 20th century, it’s difficult to know what a cinematic world without Stanley Kubrick would look like. Would sci-fi have the same existential scope without 2001: A Space Odyssey? Would haunted-house psycho-horrors have the same satirical bite without The Shining? For cinephiles, the thought of a world without Kubrick is, in itself, a terrifying concept, with the director’s meticulous hand responsible for some of cinema’s most iconic moments. However, it seems that without the early influence of Erich von Stroheim, D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein, Kubrick may have never made it in the industry.

It was during a young Stanley Kubrick’s obsession with chess that he would attend regular screenings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, developing a great appreciation for the classics of cinema. Speaking in a newspaper interview in 1987, Kubrick recalled this early experience of cinema, commenting: “My sort of fantasy image of movies was created in the Museum of Modern Art, when I looked at Stroheim and D.W. Griffith and Eisenstein. I was starstruck by these fantastic movies. I was never starstruck in the sense of saying, ‘Gee, I’m going to go to Hollywood and make $5,000 a week and live in a great place and have a sports car’. I really was in love with movies.”

Such directors that Kubrick lists are responsible for some of the earliest Hollywood and international classics, including D.W. Griffith’s highly controversial Birth Of A Nation and Sergei Eisenstein’s 1926 film Battleship Potemkin. It’s certainly a great filmography to learn and study from; it’s no wonder Kubrick had such vision and technical prowess when it came to the creation of his first feature film, Fear and Desire, in 1953.

Continuing in his interview, Kubrick noted: “I used to see everything at the RKO in Loew’s circuit, but I remember thinking at the time that I didn’t know anything about movies, but I’d seen so many movies that were bad, I thought, ‘Even though I don’t know anything, I can’t believe I can’t make a movie at least as good as this’. And that’s why I started, why I tried.”

It seems as though Kubrick’s passion for cinema came both from the quality of classic film, as well as general dissatisfaction with mainstream content, driving the influential director to have a near-obsessive attitude toward filmmaking. As high-school friend and collaborator Alex Singer recalls, once he and Kubrick went to see Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, the director went immediately to buy an LP of Prokofiev’s score. In fact, the director played it so continuously that he eventually drove his younger sister mad, smashing the LP on his head in rage. 

Sounds like Kubrick alright…

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