This year, Stanley Kubrick would have turned 85. Since his death in 1999, collaborators and family members have come forward to shed light on the inner workings of one of cinema's great directors, and the films and directors that he loved and that served as his own film school. The BFI has published a great list of Kubrick's favorite films, influences, and an interview with his long-time producer Jan Harlan, and it's required reading for any student of cinema. Click below to see which directors and films influenced one of the greatest directors himself!
Unlike, say, Martin Scorsese, who is a true evangelist for cinema and would probably talk to you for an hour about John Huston if you bumped into him in the street, Kubrick was a more private person, who spent most of his time working or with his family.
But he loved movies passionately (I think that goes without saying,) and we can glean a lot from looking back at what he said over the years. The British Film Institute's Nick Wrigley sat down with Jan Harlan for an exhaustive interview about Kubrick's influences, an interview Harlan agreed to mostly because he was relieved that someone wanted to talk to him about something about than Kubrick's own films.
One of Kubrick's earliest influences was Max Ophüls, the German born director of such films as La Ronde, who he credited with teaching him, among other things, the importance and use of camera movement. (And it's worth noting that La Ronde was an adaptation of a play by Arthur Schnitzler, whose novella Traumnovelle Kubrick would adapt into Eyes Wide Shut decades later.) Of Ophüls, Kubrick said:
Highest of all I would rate Max Ophüls, who for me possessed every possible quality. He has an exceptional flair for sniffing out good subjects, and he got the most out of them. He was also a marvellous director of actors.
Kubrick was also quoted as saying:
I believe Bergman, De Sica and Fellini are the only three filmmakers in the world who are not just artistic opportunists. By this I mean they don’t just sit and wait for a good story to come along and then make it. They have a point of view which is expressed over and over and over again in their films, and they themselves write or have original material written for them.
A point of view, expressed throughout a body of work, is something Kubrick could relate to, given that his films feature many of the same themes, such as dehumanization, the inability to plan in the face of a contingent universe, and the seductive dangers of power.
In 1999, shortly after his death, his daughter, Katharina, gave a partial list of some his favorites.
- Closely Observed Trains (Menzel, 1966)
- An American Werewolf in London (Landis, 1981)
- The Fireman’s Ball (Forman, 1967)
- Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
- The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973)
- White Men Can’t Jump (Shelton, 1992)
- La Belle et la Bête (Cocteau, 1946)
- The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974)
- Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet, 1975)
- One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975)
- Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
- Abigail’s Party (Leigh, 1977)
- The Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991)
The BFI article also contains a master list of even more films that Kubrick was influenced by and loved, including Manhattan (he saw "every Woody Allen film.") Since one of the best ways to learn about making movies is by watching movies, then watching the films that inspired and brought joy to one of the greatest American directors can't help but be instructive.
What do you think? Are you surprised by any of the films on this list? What influences do you see in Kubrick's work? Are you, as an indie filmmaker, influenced by Kubrick in any way? Let us know!