The 4 Documentaries by Stanley Kubrick

Little known fact about Stanley Kubrick?

His first four films were documentaries. He directed Day of the Fight”, “Flying Padre” and “The Seafarers”.

For the fourth (“World Assembly of Youth”), it is unlikely he direcrted it by a couple of signs (correspondence from Stanely and reference to his resume) show that he had some assistant role on the doc.

A special shout-out to Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams, authors of “Kubrick”, the 2024 biography. They helped me fill in some of the details below.

Here they are:

Day of the Fight (1951)

Kubrick’s first film was the documentary “Day of the Fight” (released in 1951).

Stanley began work on it towards towards the end of 1949 (when he was just 21). He had done a photo shoot of Walter Cartoer for Look Magazine earlier in 1949.

In Day of the Fight, director Kubrick shadows Irish-American boxer Cartier in the hours leading up to his April 17th, 1950 match with middleweight Bobby James.

The doc starts with Walter and Vincent Cartier (his identical twin and business manager) in bed together in Walter’s Greenwich Village apartment.

That’s a routine the twins have for the day in which Walter is fighting a boxing match.

Kubrick shows the twins scarfing down eggs on their way to morning Mass.

Walter is the working man’s hero – a Bronx boy (just like Stanley) turned prizefighter who remains devout and humble even as he scales the ranks.

Throughout the 12-minute runtime, Kubrick’s lens captures Cartier’s pre-fight rituals with neorealist flair.

We watch the middleweight lace up at his local gym, surrounded by wisecracking cornermen.

We join his pre-fight supper at Dan Stampler’s Steakhouse in the Village

And finally, we follow Cartier into the hot and crowded Laurel Gardens Sports Arena in Newark, New Jersey.

Assistant Director Alex Singer says Kubrick approached the doc short “as if we were doing War and Peace”

The fight itself is shot in a furious montage, but the headlines tell the story – our hero Cartier emerges victorious in a 3-round TKO.

For the machinists and longshoremen crowding America’s urban gyms in 1950, he’s a champion they can call their own.

The budget for “Day of the Fight” was $3,900 (and Stanley sold it for $4,000 (netting a $100 profit).

Watch Kubrick’s “Day of the Fight” for free on YouTube by clicking the video embed above or here:

Flying Padre (1951)

In Stanley Kubrick’s 1951 short Flying Padre, we meet the “Flying Padre” himself – a bush pilot priest named Father Fred who ministers to remote areas of New Mexico.

His parish spans a mind-boggling 4,000 square miles, so this man of the cloth does his work from the cockpit of a tiny Piper Cub christened “The Spirit of St. Joseph.”

Over just 9 minutes, Kubrick’s documentary packs an episodic narrative punch.

We see Father Fred hopping from one dusty, isolated settlement to the next, delivering last rites to a dead ranch hand one minute and counseling a pair of quarreling youths the next.

He touches down on remote ranches to catch hardy frontier families amid their breakfast routines, administering communion through the Cub’s open window.

The peak comes when an urgent call comes crackling over the radio – a sick child needs emergency transport to the hospital.

Father Fred revs up the Spirit of St. Joseph and sets his headings for the nearest airfield, peeling into the skies to once again become the Flying Padre.

It’s a stirring glimpse of the links between spiritual nourishment and gritty realities in the American frontier.

And a reminder that sometimes, ministering to a far-flung flock means donning a collar and a set of aviator goggles.

Kubrick’s lens captures a vanishing lifestyle, seen through the eyes of a pilot-priest still tending his scattered tribe. It leaves us wonderstruck and wanting more.

Watch “Flying Padre” for free on YouTube by clicking the video embed above or

World Assembly of Youth (1952)

In the 1952 documentary (33 min.) “World Assembly of Youth”, we’re flies on the wall at a gathering of global youth leaders and thinkers at Cornell University.

Delegates from 65 countries have converged to discuss lofty goals – crafting a Universal Declaration of Human Rights under the auspices of the United Nations.

The doc captures the intellectual meat of the conference, the endless policy workshops and draft resolutions playing out in Ithaca that humid August.

Through exhibits, meals, and late nights on the town, young change-makers from Japan, India, France, and beyond soak up their first tastes of America.

There are solemn moments too – a Japanese rep laying a wreath at FDR’s Hyde Park grave, clarity on the world’s immense postwar challenges.

Watch “World Assembly of Youth” for free on YouTube by clicking the embed above or

The Seafarers (1953)

In Stanley Kubrick’s 1953 doc The Seafarers, the legendary director boards a vessel of a different kind – a Seafarers International Union cargo ship.

His goal?

To capture the gritty grandeur of life at sea for the merchant marine rank and file.

Over just 29 minutes, Kubrick’s lens captures the maritime world with gritty grace.

We see sinewy old salts toiling away in the engine room, grizzled comrades blowing off steam in the cafeteria.

The ace up Kubrick’s sleeve is his groundbreaking camerawork – he dollies and tracks across the deck and through narrow passageways, the camera gliding as smoothly as the creaking ship.

Kubrick saves his flashiest flourish for last – a show-stopping tracking shot following a group of seafarers from the shade into the sunlight as they stride towards a union meeting.

It’s a fitting metaphor for the SIU itself – these forgotten blue-collar workers finally brought out of the shadows and into the light.

In just a quarter hour, Kubrick pays tribute to the unsung heroes who keep global commerce afloat, while previewing the audacious style that would capture masterpieces to come.

The Seafarers is a minor gem from a director destined for major greatness.

Watch “The Seafarers” for free on YouTube by clicking the embed above or

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc