Not much time to post today, but I’ve been meaning to post this excerpt from John Baxter’s biography of Stanley Kubrick:
Kubrick’s three years at [Taft High School in the Bronx], from 1943 to 1945, were the unhappiest of his life. IQ tests rated him above average, but formal learning bored him. Alex Singer recalls, “Stanley and I had boundless curiosity, but not about the things they were teaching.” Kubrick agrees. “I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker. I never learned anything at school and I never read a book for pleasure until I was nineteen years old.”
His school days were dominated less by a search for learning than by fear: “Fear of getting failing grades,” he wrote later, “fear of not staying with your class.” He got Fs by betraying his lack of interest in set books like George Eliot’s Silas Marner and failed English totally one year, forcing him to make up the lost grade during the summer. When he graduated, it was with a mediocre 70.1 average, his only high marks those in Physics.
Grades, however, don’t tell the whole story. Kubrick could and would work if his interest was engaged: this was the man who, despite his disdain for George Eliot, created in Barry Lyndon the cinema’s best adaptation of Thackeray. Once he left school and was no longer required to do so, he read voraciously.
I suppose this is anecdotal evidence of the worst kind. Maybe Kubrick was just an oppositional prima donna, or a unique “genius” from whose experience we shouldn’t generalize. But it’s not as if the world is made up of a lot of people who are basically the same and a few who are different. Isn’t everyone different from everyone else? Who are these standardized students who learn equally well whatever is dished up, regardless of whether they are interested? I’d like to meet them!