One of the greatest retrospectives on Kubrick's work “Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition” opens at the Design Museum, London.
THE ART OF PERFECTION
"Nobody could craft a movie better than Stanley.
He was a chameleon with the astonishing ability to reinvent himself.”
Interviews by Zoltan Alexander
Katharina Kubrick of the Kubrick Foundation, Adriënne Groen, the curator of the exhibition, Alan Yentob, the Special Advisor of the exhibition, Deyan Sudjic, the director of the Design Museum and lighting designers Moritz Waldemeyer & Nazanin Farahbod of Studio Waldemeyer
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition at the Design Museum / © video by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Kubrick’s renaissance is undoubtedly in full swing. The Design Museum opened last week one of the most compelling exhibitions of the year “Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition”. No, it isn’t a controversial statement. Kubrick is a grand master of the film industry: he probably wouldn't have become an iconic and such an influential film director without his compelling stories, visuals and perfection of working. He directed 13 ground-breaking films throughout the course of his 60-year career.
Kubrick lived and worked in the UK for over 40 years, which gave him space and time to develop each of his films very carefully, as well as many great sources of architecture. He moved to the countryside to Hertfordshire during the filming of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and lived there for 28 years with his family until his death in 1999.
London was a true inspiration for him. Some of his most iconic scenes from “The Shining” (1980), “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999), “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) were filmed in the city. Kubrick created the battlefields of Vietnam for “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) at Beckton Gasworks, near the Isle of Dogs, an orbiting space station for “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and a war room for “Dr Strangelove” (1964).
The Design Museum’s exhibition features over 500 objects and several themed areas; each built around a designated film and tells the story of “Stanley Kubrick, The Obsessive Genius”. It is a brilliant work of a small team of curators showing step by step how Kubrick created his worlds for his films to the finest detail and how London was his endlessly inventive canvas. Each time, for each of his films he managed to morph the city into something entirely new and significantly different.
When the visitor steps on the famous orange replica carpet from “The Shining” and walks into the first room filled with large-size video screens, a typical OPP “one-point-perspective” corridor, mirroring Kubrick’s famous camera technique, the exhibition has already crawled up on the visitor.
There are many surprises. Amongst his personal objects, archives, movie props, production documents, set designs, storyboards, clapperboards and his amazing cameras visitors are able to relive key scenes from several of his films, and listen to personal anecdotes to get closer to who Stanley Kubrick was as a person, how he used innovative techniques to create his films.
That famous Kubrick perfectionism extended even as far as his bespoke storage boxes marked with his precise instructions “Lids to be not too tight, not too loose, just perfect”.
I think, for his perfectionism “Kubrick” should be either a verb or at least an adjective. His philosophy and his ability to create complete worlds through his immaculately detailed, painstaking research for each film are beautifully installed throughout the exhibition. He also had a great sense of art, contemporary design and technology. His fetishist attitude to objects comes through in “A Clockwork Orange” whether it is an Olivetti typewriter designed by Ettore Sottsass or the “Christ Unlimited” sculptures alongside a rocking phallus designed by Herman Makkink.
“Nobody could craft a movie better than Stanley. He was a chameleon with the astonishing ability to reinvent himself with each new story he told.” Steven Spielberg
Alan Yentob, the English television executive and presenter who has spent his entire career at the BBC, who is also the Special Advisor of the exhibition has joined the creative team of the Design Museum, curator Adriënne Groen and the director Deyan Sudjic. He said about the exhibition very enthusiastically:
“If you want to step inside the mind of one of the greatest film directors of all time, this exhibition will take you there. Kubrick’s imagination was boundless and his mastery of every aspect of filmmaking will be on display at the Design Museum bringing his innovative spirit and fascination with all aspects of design, depicting the in-depth level of detail that he put into each of his films.”
A few days after the opening I had the pleasure to sit down with Adriënne Groen at the Design Museum for a talk. Groen not only paid tribute to the 20th anniversary of Kubrick’s death but created a highly emotional exhibition. Her attention to details is just mind-blowing and provoked my first question:
Z+ “Were you a terrible child or a self-disciplined one?”
AG is so surprised by my question, she laughs: “Wow, straight to the personal level? Well, I was … hmmm, that’s a difficult one. I loved having fun but was also disciplined, never got into trouble. What more, I even wanted to be a dentist and I think I was about nine when I went home from my dentist’s surgery with a huge bag of old casts of teeth to finish off my school homework. It was fascinating, but I also loved stories, storytelling which eventually grew into history and art. I always loved finding out how things work.”
Z+ “The reason I asked you whether you were self-disciplined was, that here we are, 20 years after Kubrick’s death; you worked on a very complex installation … did you feel in any way that he was, after all this time, still influencing you, making you even more disciplined, more perfectionist? Did you feel that tiny pressure?”
AG “Not really. Most people described him as painfully perfectionist man and I am one, myself, a perfectionist, so I can relate. People think that being a perfectionist has a negative connotation, but what I see in him is the “care”. Care for the details, care for each object, each movement, each setting, each person. Malcolm McDowell once said about Kubrick that he never knew what he wanted but always knew what he did not want.
I am still amazed by the level of detailed research that Kubrick compiled for each of his films and how he was always looking for something to be “just right”. His approach was rigorous and meticulous which continues to amaze audiences today. You can see this very clearly with his Napoleon project, which I see as a blueprint for his way of working.”
Z+ “How about Josephine?”
AG “Kubrick has spent two intense years with a team about 20 assistants, collecting over 17,000 reference images for the Napoleon project. Having worked on this exhibition I understand his hunger for knowledge. He would spend years immersing himself in the subject until he knew every detail, which makes the process very difficult but I have an epic admiration for his way of working.
Next, to his old director's chair we put shelves stocked with the books he used to research his never-made Napoleon epic, a letter sent to Audrey Hepburn to turn down the role of Josephine, and the filing cabinet he filled with cards charting every day of Napoleon’s life, his activities like a living encyclopedia. It was purely obsessional or was “an analogue Wikipedia” as museum director, curator Deyan Sudjic put it.”
Z+ “How did you get involved with the show? How did it emerge?”
AG “I previously worked on the show, the one in Amsterdam. It was in a different capacity, assisting the production manager. That was a perfect moment when I watched all of Kubrick films.”
Z+ “How did you begin? You had to go through an immense archive, I believe.”
AG “You know the exhibition is based on a touring show. It’s been going around in the past 15 years and it is the 19th venue in London. The first one was in Frankfurt in 2004, set together with the family and by the Deutscher Film Museum.”
Z+ “How much have you changed in the original concept?”
AG “Every venue makes up its own story, so we changed quite a lot, focused on his way of working, the way he did his research, to find the man behind Kubrick, basically creating a personal story. For instance, the scripts in London are shown together although they were always separated with each film’s designated room. They archived everything online and I went through thousands of images. For “Barry Lyndon” alone there were at least 120 archive boxes.”
Z+ “I noticed that the films were not presented in chronological order.”
AG “The films themselves are organised in loose thematic order rather than a chronological one. We made changes and gentle grouping. “Lolita” for instance with “A Clockwork Orange” were his two controversy magnets, and still have quite a lot of censorship around them. It was interesting to see how Kubrick dealt with all these issues. “2001: A Space Odyssey” provides a final stage of the exhibition not far from a giant phallus from “A Clockwork Orange”. Even the preparation of certain films was not in chronological order. The novel for “Eyes Wide Shut” was brought in the 70s but the film wasn’t made until the very late 90s.
Z+ “Now let’s talk about his love about architecture and London.”
AG “Kubrick spent over 40 years in the UK and made many of his films here. “A Clockwork Orange” and “Eyes Wide Shut” focused on London architecture. These films worked really well together in our installation. Mixing different genre, eventually making his own. For “A Clockwork Orange’s” dystopian future the mid-60s London brutalist architecture, especially the social housing estate Thamesmead was a perfect setting. It is fascinating to see how his films responded to architecture.”
Z+ “……. so”
AG “Wait, there is some more. For the film “Full Metal Jacket” he transformed Beckton Gas station in London into the Vietnamese city of Huế, using 200 living palm trees flown in from Spain and hundreds of thousands of plastic tropical plants from Hon