Review: Stanley Kubrick Exhibition

It feels like only yesterday when my eleven-year-old-self was given an old copy of Empire magazine by my father. It listed the greatest science fiction films of all time, and the dystopian section of the publication immediately caught my eye. Or perhaps it was the glaring, stylised eye of the figure in the image that immediately caught me.

I’d never heard of this film before, nor was I aware of the Anthony Burgess book of the same name from which Kubrick had adapted his work. The only Stanley Kubrick film that I’d watched at this stage was Spartacus, and the director’s name held little significance for me.

The film still holds the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous film shoot, clocking up a staggering 400 days.

But following my purchase of a bowler hat, my father sneaking the book under my pillow and watching the film a couple of years before its recommended age rating, arriving at London’s Design Museum and seeing the original car that Alex and his droogs hijack to go on a night of revelry was, to say the least, real horrorshow.

Walking into the exhibition, I was met with a screen of changing images of Kubrick’s many iconic films, before being introduced to various descriptions and items depicting Kubrick’s life and career. The first space was filled with more conventional memorabilia such as Kubrick’s director’s chairand collection of cameras. But the area was also interspersed with items alluding to the individual’s meticulous behaviour, such as his impeccably detailed filming schedule for Paths of Glory.

The director’s didactic behaviour isn’t without its amusing anecdotes.

The exhibition also reveals details where Kubrick’s control was at the detriment of his collaborators. After vowing not to release any more creative control after finishing Spartacus, Kubrick became notorious for making actors do multiple takes, and his desire for precision is shown in his detailed notations in screenplays and his dismissal of collaborator’s work. As one description explained, Kubrick was adamant that London be his primary filming location across all his works, and commissioned a photographer to take images of potential areas to shoot for his final film Eyes Wide Shut.

After the individual returned after several months of research with thousands of photos, Kubrick then decided he’d shoot these scenes in a studio instead. The film still holds the Guinness World Record for the longest continuous film shoot, clocking up a staggering 400 days. After watching the finished work the day before I attended the exhibition, I can tell you it wasn’t worth it. I did enjoy standing by the creepy masks, though.

Yet the director’s didactic behaviour isn’t without its amusing anecdotes. Another description details Kubrick’s short communication with the controversial artist Allen Jones, asking whether he can use his sculptures for no fee. Upon Jones’ refusal, Kubrick hired a set designer to produce the pieces, which looked virtually identical to Jones’ work anyway.

Even though I’ll never know how much material Kubrick actually used from his associates, their designs are nonetheless wonderful to behold. Saul Bass’ poster sketches for The Shining were compelling, and the designer’s storyboard sketches for the final scene of Dr Strangelove were lovingly and meticulously hand-drawn.

The exhibition then moved onto props and designs used in individual films, which included some of my personal highlights. The original ‘Born to Kill’ helmet from Full Metal Jacket was pretty cool, as was Alex’s original droog clothing in A Clockwork Orange. The original typewriter from The Shining was almost as awesome as the phrase ‘All Work No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy’ translated into several foreign languages on paper, with Kubrick overseeing the horror film’s dubbing himself to make sure that international audiences understood the exact tones of his screenplay.

The final part of the exhibition showed the weird embryo from the end 2001: A Space Odyssey suspended in the air. A bit odd, but I appreciated it nonetheless. If you’re a fan of Kubrick, then I’m confident that you’ll find this exhibition as real horrorshow as your friend and humble narrator did.