When Stanley Kubrick died at his St Albans estate on Sunday March 7 2001, aged 70, he left behind a legacy of 13 classic movies. But he also left an endless stream of myths about his enigmatic life. Allow us to separate fact from fiction.
MYTH Kubrick was a Howard Hughes-esque recluse who made increasingly rare journeys away from his Hertfordshire mansion. He is also said to have had a germ phobia.
TRUTH After moving to England in the early 60s, Kubrick increasingly divided his time between film sets and the luxurious home where he had an office. He went to bed late, working late into the night in order to contact people on the US west coast. Being the son of a doctor he almost always had a homemade remedy for other people’s ailments.
MYTH Kubrick was a control freak who demanded final cut on all of his movies.
TRUTH Following battles with the studio over Spartacus, Kubrick announced that he would never make another film without having complete artistic freedom. To avoid studio interference, he made Lolita in England under the now defunct Eady fund (which encouraged UK production). After completing 2001 he secured a deal with Warner Brothers who funded his films for the next 30 years.
MYTH Kubrick is not actually dead. His ‘demise’ was, in fact, an elaborate publicity stunt for his final movie, Eyes Wide Shut.
TRUTH Kubrick died in his sleep on Sunday March 7, 2001 days after delivering the final print of Eyes Wide Shut to Warner Brothers. Although unofficially he died of a massive heart attack.
MYTH The director had a fear of flying and refused to travel anywhere by plane. He is alleged to have demanded that drivers not exceed 30 mph when he was in a car.
TRUTH Kubrick held a pilot’s licence. When he tuned into the air traffic control frequency on a short wave radio he became alarmed at the risks of taking off and landing and developed an aversion to unnecessary travel and excess speed. He observed the UK speed limits — 30 mph in an urban area, 70 mph on the motorway.
MYTH Kubrick was working on a biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte, an historical figure he identified with.
TRUTH Napoleon was one of the long-standing projects Kubrick worked on. The Napoleon project had been shelved. Many observers believe his next movie would have been the science fiction saga A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), based on a short story by Brian Aldiss.
MYTH Kubrick treated his actors like automotons.
TRUTH Although one of the few documentaries recording him at work depicts him bullying a performance out of Shelley Duvall in The Shining, 2001 star Keir Dullea noted, “Kubrick was such a stickler for detail, but there was nothing tyrannical about him. Stanley was a true Renaissance man.” The stars of Eyes Wide Shut concurred, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman going so far as to say that the director was “like family to us”.
MYTH Kubrick once made Jack Nicholson do 134 takes on a scene in The Shining.
TRUTH As the years progressed, Kubrick liked to explore alternative readings and multiple takes. “Stanley’s demanding, he’ll do a scene 50 times,” Nicholson once observed. “There are so many ways you can walk into a room, order breakfast, or be frightened to death in a closet. Stanley’s approach is, ‘How can we do it better than it’s ever been done before?'”