It’s hard to believe that Stanley Kubrick, the personification of the auteur theory, left us almost 18 years ago at the ripe, young (by today’s standards) age of 70. His career began with a self-described amateurish feature, 1953’s Fear and Desire—a war film which, in 2012, Village Voice critic Tim Grierson described as a “pretentious, muddled mess”—and culminated with his final film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut. Over the course of a film career, then spanned nearly 50 years, Kubrick directed just 13 features—which was a testament to the filmmaker’s reputation as a consummate perfectionist and stickler for even the smallest of details. Here are 15 facts that you might not have known about some of your favorite Stanley Kubrick films.
1. IT TOOK 167 DAYS TO FILM AND ABOUT 10,500 PEOPLE TO MAKE SPARTACUS.
Spartacus (1960) was epic in every way: its $12 million production budget made it the most expensive movie in Hollywood history at the time. Its budget ended up exceeding the total worth of Universal Studios, which was sold to MCA for $11,250,000 during filming. Overall about 50,000 extras were involved.
2. DR. STRANGELOVE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A DRAMA.
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The international climate of the early 1960s piqued Kubrick’s interest in writing and directing a nuclear war thriller. Kubrick began consuming piles of literature on the topic until he came across former Royal Air Force officer Peter George’s dramatic novel Red Alert. Columbia Pictures optioned the book, and Kubrick began translating the bulk of the novel into a script.
During the writing process, however, the director found himself struggling to escape a persistent comedic overtone because he found the vast majority of the political calamities described in the story to be inherently funny. Eventually, Kubrick abandoned the idea of fighting the adaptation’s dark sense of humor and embraced it wholeheartedly. Tone aside, the plot of Dr. Strangelove is strikingly similar to that of George’s novel. There’s one notable exception: Dr. Strangelove doesn’t appear in the novel—Kubrick and writer Terry Southern created the character.
3. KUBRICK HAD A LITTLE HELP FROM CARL SAGAN ON 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
Kubrick began principal production on 2001: A Space Odyssey without knowing how to convey many of the film’s key scenes—most notably the ending, where Dr. Dave Bowman makes contact with extraterrestrial life. One of the biggest problems Kubrick had while developing the movie was how to depict these extraterrestrial life forms in a way that suited his abstract ideas but could also be covered by the film’s budget. So he asked noted astrophysicist/author Carl Sagan for help.
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In his book The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective, Sagan explained, “I argued that the number of individually unlikely events in the evolutionary history of Man was so great that nothing like us is ever likely to evolve again anywhere in the universe. I suggested that any explicit representation of an advanced extraterrestrial being was bound to have at least an element of falseness about it and that the best solution would be to suggest, rather than explicitly to display, the extraterrestrials.”
Though Kubrick would experiment with literal ways to show aliens in 2001, like hiring a ballet dancer in a special polka-dotted suit filmed against a black background, he settled on Sagan’s insinuation of extraterrestrials.
4. KUBRICK WASN’T INITIALLY SOLD ON DIRECTING A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
The director first encountered Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange when his Dr. Strangelove co-screenwriter Terry Southern gave him a copy on the set of that film. Southern enjoyed the biting black humor of the book and thought Kubrick should consider adapting it into a movie. Kubrick allegedly didn’t like the book upon first reading because of the Nadsat language Burgess created for the novel. The language, literally translated as the Russian word for “teen” and comprised of Russian and Cockney rhyming slang, was confusing to Kubrick until he revisited the source material after his efforts to make a biopic about Napoleon fell through. Kubrick reportedly began to change his mind when he considered Alex as a Richard III-type character.
5. STEPHEN KING DIDN’T LIKE THE SHINING.
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“I’d admired Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result,” Stephen King told Playboy in 1983. “Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fell flat.”
He didn’t like the casting of Jack Nicholson either, claiming, “Jack Nicholson, though a fine actor, was all wrong for the part. His last big role had been in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and between that and the manic grin, the audience automatically identified him as a loony from the first scene. But the book is about Jack Torrance’s gradual descent into madness through the malign influence of the Overlook—if the guy is nuts, to begin with, then the entire tragedy of his downfall is wasted.”
6. KUBRICK GOT SPECIAL LENSES SO HE COULD FILM BARRY LYNDON BY CANDLELIGHT.
All period dramas feature rooms that appear to be lit by candles and oil lamps, but in reality, there are usually big lighting rigs just off camera. That wasn’t the case with Barry Lyndon. Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott wanted to use as a little electric light in the production as possible and went so far as to get special lenses that had been designed for NASA, which he had specially mounted on cameras that could then be used only with those lenses. The super-fast lenses captured rooms lit only by candlelight perfectly, creating a look, unlike any other film.
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7. VINCENT D’ONOFRIO GAINED 70 POUNDS TO PLAY LEONARD “GOMER PYLE” LAWRENCE IN FULL METAL JACKET.
In addition to the weight gain, Vincent D’Onofrio also shaved his head for the role and was surprised by how much it affected him. ”It changed my life,” D’Onofrio told The New York Times in 1987. ”Women didn’t look at me; most of the time I was looking at their backs as they were running away. People used to say things to me twice because they thought I was stupid.” To this day, it’s the most weight any actor has ever gained for a movie role.
8. EYES WIDE SHUT IS BASED ON A 1926 NOVELLA.
Eyes Wide Shut is loosely is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), which was published in 1926. Considering that the movie takes place in 1990s New York, it is obviously not a direct adaptation, but it overlaps in its plot and themes. “[The book] explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and might-have-been with reality,” Kubrick explained. “The book opposes the real adventures of a husband and the fantasy adventures of his wife, and asks the question: is there a serious difference between dreaming a sexual adventure, and actually having one?”