Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition (26/4/19–15/9/19)

Danny Torrance's jumper from The Shining
Seven years ago Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition could be experienced at Amsterdam's EYE Filmmuseum and has since wound its way (via cities including Toronto, Frankfurt and Barcelona) to London's Design Museum, where it runs until the 15th of September.  This terrific exhibition features countless props, costumes, annotated scripts, lenses, posters, and so on, and you should make every effort to see if it ever turns up anywhere near you.  It even gives you the opportunity to see the sole Oscar won by Kubrick, which was awarded to the director for his groundbreaking FX work on 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Kubrick may have made just 13 feature films in 46 years, but he's as good a shout as any for the label of 🐐.

Axes used in The Shining's most famous scene
The exhibition's impressive entrance area sets the mood nicely, with the initial fanfare from Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra providing its usual frisson.  You swiftly emerge into a room which is slightly overwhelming, and it's difficult to work out where to start when faced with four walls of artefacts and a couple of central islands featuring yet more exhibits.  The staff do point out that this part is non-chronological (as, it soon transpires, is the rest of the exhibition), so there's no real problem in dotting around and finding less busy spots.  This first room presents assorted Kubrickiana from various stages of the director's life and career, and it's in here that we find an interesting Dutch connection in the form of a mention of a film called Aryan Papers.  You may not have heard of this film as it was one of Kubrick's discarded projects, and it's never received anything like the amount of discussion and scrutiny afforded to his abandoned epic Napoleon.   

Oscar-winning costumes from Barry Lyndon
For Aryan Papers, which was to be a film about the holocaust, Kubrick had lined up Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege for the leading role.  At that point (the early 1990s) ter Steege was best known for her award-winning performance in George Sluizer's Spoorloos, and she travelled to England to meet with Kubrick, who was greatly impressed by the actress.  Once the role was confirmed as hers, ter Steege waited for the call to start work on the production, and she would receive frequent, reassuring updates from Kubrick's producer (and brother-in-law) Jan Harlan, who told the actress not to worry about any postponements or delays.  During this extended period of downtime ter Steege turned down other roles, but eventually she received the dreaded news that Kubrick had decided to abandon the film.  This decision was at least partly influenced by the fact that his previous film, Full Metal Jacket, had appeared shortly after another Vietnam War movie, Oliver Stone's Platoon, and Kubrick felt that this close proximity had not been especially helpful.  So when he learned that Steven Spielberg's thematically similar Schindler's List was due to be released before Aryan Papers, he decided to call time on the project.  Kubrick would complete one more film - Eyes Wide Shut - before dying, aged 70, in 1999.

2001: A Space Odyssey's Space Station V
Following the first room, there are ten separate displays, each devoted to a single film.  Kubrick's first three movies aren't included here, but everything from 1957's Paths of Glory on gets a substantial space in which props (and other items from the relevant production) are often augmented by a clip from the given film.  Quite naturally, chances are you'll spend longer in the rooms which focus on your own particular favourites, but the final area, devoted to 2001, is probably the pick of the bunch, with The Shining's patch coming a close second.  The Full Metal Jacket display has some interesting photographs of Beckton Gas Works, which stood in for ruined Vietnamese buildings, but I didn't spot any pictures of Cliffe, the village where some of the open country scenes were filmed.  I used to live not too far from Cliffe, so I've included a snap of my own of the area which, over three decades ago, temporarily became Vietnamese countryside.

Cliffe, one of the locations for Full Metal Jacket
There is a great deal to see at the exhibition, and perhaps the biggest recommendation that can be given is that, like many of Kubrick's films, it genuinely feels as if it has real replay value.  It would take many hours to read and study everything on display, so a second visit is sure to reveal details which weren't noticed first time around.  We are fortunate that Kubrick lived and worked in an age when practical effects still dominated - just think how much would be missing from this show if his work was driven by CGI.  Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition will almost certainly leave you with the desire to jump back into the films, so make sure you have a decent selection of Kubrick movies lined up for the days following your visit to this justifiably popular attraction.

Words/images: Darren Arnold



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