Occupational Folktale- Stanley Kubrick

The informant is a 27-year old grad student. He was born in Los Angeles, California, grew up in Seattle, Washington, was educated at UC Berkeley and now studying film production in Los Angeles. He’s worked as a freelance writer and filmmaker around Los Angeles and is a teaching assistant at the School of Cinematic Arts. He shall be referred to as NW.

Here, NW shares a legend about the early career of Stanley Kubrick:

“And there’s lots of crazy stories about him, like, that early on in his career, you know, he, in one of his really early movies, The Killing, he got in an argument with uh, with his cinematographer, ‘cause the cinematographer didn’t think he knew what he was doing based on like, a lens choice, wide-angle lens, and now Kubrick’s really famous for his wide-angle lens shots, in certain films, you know, then he’s just his upstart director and the cinematographer changes the lens out because he thinks he made a mistake, and so they take it and Kubrick notices it, and then like blows up on him, and tells him, ‘if you touch my lens again you’re fired, and I won’t ever see you again.” And then they have this big argument. I hear those stories about a lot of directors, famous directors, it’s like, and people kind of tell those now and it’s like, ‘oh, look at what a genius and how sure he was of himself back then,’ and I don’t know, again, I don’t know if that happened or what, but I think it’s a way of rationalizing like, ‘oh, if you were a real director, you’d know like what the hell you’re doing right away… From personal experience, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but it’s like a way of building their legend, you know, it’s like anyone, you know it’s like, people tell stories about Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln whoever, like they knew this, so they did this, and that showed who they were really early on and you’re kinda like I don’t know if that really worked that way, but it helps build them up as these, like, mythic figures so you’re like that’s what, that’s what a filmmaker is.”

As NW explains, this is a very relevant idea for young filmmakers. It is common to idolize the great directors of the past, and stories like these increase that level of respect.

Specifically, this story addresses some of the tensions that happen on film sets. Because film is a very collaborative process, it can be easy for one person to alter the work of another. As such, a person with a strong vision might see that compromised because of the interference of another person, such as this young Stanley Kubrick.

More importantly, this story stresses the importance of ego in the film industry. A director must be able to clearly argue for his or her vision, as Kubrick does in this story. Though his choices seemed like the mistakes of a novice, they were actually the eccentric brilliance of an auteur (in retrospect, that is). Thus, this story seems to encourage young filmmakers to think creatively and fight to protect the purity of the vision they have in mind for their artwork. It celebrates someone who, while acting like someone difficult to work with, was a true artist. In this industry, it is commonly believed that the most successful far surpassed their likability as people with their sheer talent. Thus, this seems to be an address of such a conflict for young filmmakers.