“COMPLETE TOTAL FINAL ANNIHILATING ARTISTIC CONTROL”:
STANLEY KUBRICK AND POSTWAR HOLLYWOOD
In June 1964, Kubrick wrote a long memo about a two-picture deal he had been offered by Columbia Pictures. He rejected almost all contractual stipulations restricting his personal control over the films he would be making under this deal. Addressing his lawyers who were negotiating the contract, he wrote: “I must have complete total final annihilating artistic control over the picture, subject only to approval of the budget, [and] approval of the two principal players.” The hyperbolic language indicates that Kubrick was aware that he was probably going too far with his demands. His statement also acknowledges certain limits beyond which his control could never reach.
In this paper I examine the early stages of Kubrick’s career, which took him from being a staff photographer at Look magazine in the late 1940s via a series of short documentaries in the early 1950s and seven feature films (between 1953 and 1964) to the point where, in June 1964, he felt that he deserved the kind of control which Hollywood only ever granted its most successful filmmakers.
Making use of a wide range of archival sources (contracts, financial records, correspondence, Production Code Administration files, press clippings etc.), I show that from the outset of his film career Kubrick was determined to work with the major studios, but intended to do so on his own terms. Despite the fact that his (by and large extremely low-budget) films tended to lose money, Kubrick was able to sustain his film career in the 1950s, mainly due to the financial support he received from family members, friends and collaborators with substantial personal wealth. The huge success of Spartacus (1960), on which Kubrick worked as a hired hand, then turned him into a major figure in Hollywood, so that from the early 1960s onwards he was able to make medium to big-budget films financed and distributed by the major studios, yet made without much interference from them. He achieved this position because his approach to film production was fiscally responsible, and his aim and ability to reach large cinema audiences coincided with the majors’ desire to sell as many tickets as possible.
Peter Krämer is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK) and a regular guest lecturer at Masaryk University (Brno, Czech Republic). He has published more than fifty essays on American film and media history, and on the relationship between Hollywood and Europe, in Screen, The Velvet Light Trap, Theatre History Studies, the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, History Today, Film Studies, Scope, Sowi: Das Journal für Geschichte, Politik, Wirtschaft und Kultur, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Iluminace, Participations: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies and numerous edited collections. He is the author of A Clockwork Orange (Palgrave, 2011), 2001: A Space Odyssey (BFI, 2010) and The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars (Wallflower Press, 2005), and the co-editor of Screen Acting (Routledge, 1999) and The Silent Cinema Reader (Routledge, 2004).