Whatever your outlook on Stanley Kubrick and his filmography, there’s no doubt of his impact on modern cinema, upcoming filmmakers and even how we view adaptations of books, when given a unique angle. Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, currently running at the Design Museum in London, is one of the most absorbing collections of an iconic figure that I’ve encountered for quite a while.
Heading in, I didn’t have an affinity with all his films, for example I love The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and 2001: A Space Odyssey but still struggle with A Clockwork Orange, Spartacus and Barry Lyndon, even though I can admire the technical genius, detail and efficiency. However, this exhibition has made me think twice about my first viewings and thoughts on his work, right across the board.
The event is divided up into sections for each film and once you start looking into the individual elements, it offers up a different understanding and desire to re-visit his entire filmography, and reminds you how ahead of his time he was, with every picture. This last point is evident when it comes to scale and his research, and you’ll get to witness all of that in various forms. There are quotes lining the walls from Kubrick, including ones that remind us of the stories people made-up about his very nature. Those touches are thought-provoking, especially when you consider how much fellow film-makers and actors loved working with him, even if it pushed them to the edges of physical and mental well-being.
When you first arrive, my advice is to take a moment and watch the huge screens right in the entrance. Don’t worry about people behind you, there’s a small queuing system, but I’d guess that might depend on how busy it is, so maybe visit on a week day or just away from the obvious ‘busy’ times. It’s worth taking that extra minute to find the right head-space and while you can, as you’ll see from my photos, take pictures but I always say ‘Look at things, with your own eyes’ first, take in the feature and you’ll recall the moment just as well as any photo would.
Once inside, you’ll see his Oscar, from 13 nominations, for Best Visual Effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), the gathered documentation of his research for Napoleon (the greatest story never told?), original movie posters, sketch designs, Kubrick-used cameras and lens, original clapper board markers and a whole load more. And, best of all, this is just the beginning of the wider picture.
As previously mentioned, the exhibition is divided into a section for each film, while some over-lap, it’s always clear and there’s also a few moments of purposeful merging, when you hit the realms of A Clockwork Orange and Lolita. I first explored into the information for Full Metal Jacket, loved seeing the original helmets and all those small nuances of ideas and learned, because I didn’t realise, how much of his work was filmed in London. Whilst much was assumed to have an American-edge, from a wider audience, the likes of Eyes Wide Shut to Full Metal Jacket and – of course – the brutalism of A Clockwork Orange and then the other-worldly genius of 2001: A Space Odyssey, years ahead of Star Wars and popular science-fiction, were all filmed in and around the capital. Quite remarkable really.
You get to see props from all of his films and snippets of thought, narrative and progression from all angles, meticulously shared in letters, drawings and designs. The Shining ‘area’ itself is full of historic moments in film and seeing things like the typewriter, a model of the maze, the clothes of the twins, the Axe, is excellent. 2001 also has a load of props, Hal 9000 and parts of the set designs, there’s really nothing here that hasn’t been covered. I feel it’s one of those exhibitions were everyone who visit will get a different, or even new, insight and find things that capture them and their admiration and love for Kubrick’s work.
The resulting outcome, for me, is how clearly Kubrick saw the bigger picture before computer technology (as it is now) got involved, considering that the smallest detail – and the biggest – cannot be undervalued and if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing with every ounce of your existence. The truth that he researched heavily, could even still be an underestimation as he spent years on every project, to make sure what he was doing was the very best it could be.
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition at the Design Museum is an extensive insight which also holds an impressive balance between the geekery of technology, the stories themselves and some phenomenal original props, scripts, and photo boards. This is an exceptional exhibition and, simply put, not to be missed.