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Stanley Kubrick at the Design Museum, London
May 12, 2019
All to often exhibitions to do with films and film directors miss the mark, often filled with tiny stills, signed scripts, dusty costumes semi-recognisable objects from the set. However, a new show at London’s Design Museum dedicated to the small but brilliant opus of thirteen films by the late Stanley Kubrick, hits the nail on the head.
The invigorating show dedicated to perhaps the most stylish director of the 20thcentury highlights just how obsessed with detail he was. You leave with the impression he was a planner to an excessive degree – as well as a deliberator.
One photograph, which depicts a snow-capped hotel somewhere deep in Oregon is annotated with scribbles and notes, full of energy. They evoke how he sent out his set designer to find the building that would ultimately become the hotel in The Shining. One label stuck to the photos surface explains how he wanted to path to snake, while another emphatically states ‘THERE IS NOT OTHER WAY TO DO IT, REPEAT NO OTHER WAY. Exercise the greatest care as the compositional effect of a different path might be BAD BAD BAD.’ Indeed.
The photo is one of over 500 objects on show that offers insight into Kubrick’s relentless pursuit of perfectionism. Others include erotic furniture from the Korova Milk Bar from A Clockwork Orange – which are dreamy for mid-century design buffs – and sketches for the war room in Dr Strangelove and the twin’s eerie dresses from The Shining.
The exhibition plunges you head first into Kubrick’s world of the weird, twisted, sometimes painful and always dystopian mind, whilst proving he is one of the consummate all-round storytellers.
It is clear from the outset that this show is well researched, and the curation is spot on. No doubt is left that the team behind it at dedicated Kubrick nerds. It also offers up some hidden gems – such as the note cards produced for the director’s unrealised Napoleon biopic, which detail every single day of the emperor’s life. Even down to his menu choices.
A section dedicated to what is often regarded as Kubrick’s crowing glory, 2001: A Space Oyessy, is like an artwork in itself. Featuring original model spaceships, costumes and props – as well as a model of the set of the spaceship, which cost £580,000 to build, it puts you right into Kubrick’s mind, and hints at just how ahead of his time his vision was.
This sense of design in fact, is what the lasting effect on the visitor. If Kubrick had chosen any other creative path it seems, he would have aced it. Overall, he was a genius visionary.
One other element that leaves an impression is how far Kubrick went to avoid travelling. Despite having a pilot’s license in his youth, he was scared of flying. As a result the majority of his work was filmed in UK, and he went to often annoyingly long lengths to make everyone bend to his fear. The work, at astonishing lengths, would always have to come to him: turning a gas works in east London into Vietnam battle fields for Full Metal Jacket involved flying in 200 palm trees from Spain and 100,000 plastic tropical plants from Hong Kong. Photos in the show give a wonderful idea of just how much he seemed to enjoy watching everyone labour.
Kubrick’s steadfast working method often drove his collaborators mad, and everyone has heard the rumors of how he ground everyone down, but in the end, the results speak for themselves. Whether perfectionist, or pain, Kubrick definitely changed the landscape of visual art.
Words by Toby Mellors