"Do we lose our humanity if we are deprived of the choice between good and evil?” – Kubrick on Clockwork Orange (1971).
Image: Matthew Modine and Stanley Kubrick on the set of Full Metal Jacket (1987), directed by Stanley Kubrick. Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.
From the 26th of April to the 15th of September 2019, the Design Museum is home to the stupendous Stanley Kubrick Exhibition, chronicling his five decades of film-making. Films that captured stark human nature, that understood the abilities of each cast to perform and communicate a specific narrative, that took the form of cinema to a new realm: one of powerful perspectives and disturbing insights.
The exhibition preview began with an introduction from key members of the Design Museum’s staff and from some Kubrick's family, including Kubrick's daughter who commented that 'what was once on a dusty old bookshelf is now here, sealed under glass'. Entering through a one-point perspective corridor—which shows some of his most classic scenes, that have become some of the most famous scenes in cinematic history—one is immediately submerged in Kubrick’s cinematic universe.
A more personal approach to Kubrick’s life and mind takes place in the first section of the exhibition, with the narrative being assisted by many of his personal effects, including his impressive collection of books about Napoleon – in preparation for a film that was never made. The amount of energy, thought and detail Kubrick put into this project was enormous; in the time before Google, he sent twenty students around the globe to gather information and histories of Napoleon from around the world. This illustrates perfectly how Kubrick was not only a director but an inventor, his passion driving him to create what he needed to do his job.
Taking the time to fully absorb each part was key to building the collage of Kubrick’s imprint on our visual culture, encapsulation of human nature, and even various political and social moods of the twentieth century. From Paths of Glory (1957) set in the First World War, which criticised abuse of power in wartime, to Dr Strangelove (1964), where Kubrick’s use of black comedy satirised the Cold War, offering the perspective 'of an alien reconstructing humanity’s final hour', and implying that the world could really be destroyed within ninety minutes. Each film is attributed with its own space and colour scheme, and makes for a visually stunning layout. The colours emphasise the importance of design in Kubrick’s work, and evoke the different atmospheres felt in each film; for example, using a solemn military green for Full Metal Jacket (1987), followed by a provocative pink for Lolita (1962).
Featuring rare behind the scenes footage, one of the most fascinating scenes captures Kubrick with Jack Nicholson during the filming of The Shining (1980). Nicholson explains to the interviewer that he enjoys working with a creative director like Kubrick, who gave Nicholson a completely new character to embody and perform, so as to avoid being cast and expected to play “Jack Nicholson”: 'I want the director to have control so it doesn’t become predictably "my work"'. Earlier in the exhibit, actor Peter Sellers, similarly expressed a certain creative pleasure in working with Kubrick, because of the possibility to use original approaches, with the best ideas occurring from the chaos of exchange and collaboration. Dr Strangelove’s infamous gloved hand, for example, was an idea that came out of brainstorming what his appearance and behaviour should be, gradually progressing to the plot line that his compulsive Nazi Salute was due to a “nuclear fallout experiment”.
The exhibition’s narrative then guides us to considering the numerous details that shaped his films, from his NASA-made camera fashioned specifically to capture candle-light in Barry Lyndon (1975), to the crucial pairing of optical stimulus with an acoustic one, as we are taken through his many different soundtracks. Equally, the importance of carefully editing shots, and the the powerful impact of an actor's ability to bring their own spin to the character, are distinguished.
Whether you are familiar with Kubrick's work or not, this exhibition will leave you wanting to watch or re-watch all these masterpieces in full.
Image: Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson on the set of The Shining (1980). Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor
The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition
Open daily 10:00 – 18:00 (last admission 17:00)