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 ūüźź.

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

Thursday 20 June 2019

The Hummingbird Project (Kim Nguyen, 2018)

Director Kim Nguyen's eclectic filmography includes the likes of the DR Congo-set War Witch (which was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar) and the excellent, snow-drenched Two Lovers and a Bear, and it's the offbeat spirit of the latter which inhabits The Hummingbird Project.  The film's Belgian funding is reflected in the casting of Flemish actor Johan Heldenbergh in a fine supporting role, but the film's two main stars are Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsg√•rd, who play cousins attempting to install a long-distance fibre optic cable.  While the premise doesn't sound terribly exciting, The Hummingbird Project manages to be a consistently engaging movie, helped no end by the winning performances of two eminently watchable actors.

Vincent (Eisenberg) and Anton (Skarsg√•rd) are employees of a stock trading company headed by the ruthless Eva (a scenery-chewing Salma Hayek).  The cousins have an idea of how they might make millions, if not billions, of their own, which involves running a cable, one that can transfer data at speeds greater than those of the existing network, all the way between Kansas and New York.  In order to achieve such a speed, the cable itself must carry virtually lossless data at breakneck pace and, more importantly, run in a straight line, which involves much drilling, not to mention negotiations with not-always-amenable landowners.  As the pair resign from Eva's company to pursue this secret project, their ex-boss is bent on discovering and disrupting their plans.  Vincent and Anton rope in the affable Mark (Michael Mando, so good as villain Vaas in Far Cry 3) to oversee the complicated drilling work, and the project receives considerable funding from the less affable - but extremely wealthy - Bryan Taylor (Frank Schorpion). 

Not too far into the film, there's a development involving Vincent which instils a fresh urgency to the cousins' project; Eisenberg brings real pathos to his role, and while his fast-talking, perma-smoking, jittery frontman may fool those around him, the viewer is privy to the pain which lies behind those haunted eyes.  In contrast, Skarsg√•rd's Anton is an introverted, socially awkward type who dreams of the country life, yet he seems quietly fulfilled by his family in a way which highlights the hole in Vincent's existence; a touching scene sees Vincent ask if it would be OK if he took Anton's kids out for ice cream once the mammoth project is completed.  Anton's affirmative response may appear casual, even throwaway, but there's a real sense that he knows just how much this simple act of belonging would mean to his cousin.

For all its poignancy, The Hummingbird Project isn't scared to mix things up a bit by throwing in some well-judged humour, with a comic highlight being the spontaneous victory dance performed by the normally buttoned-down Anton.  The way in which this moderately serious tale is punctuated with moments of levity draws parallels with the work of Nguyen's compatriot Denys Arcand, whose The Decline of the American Empire is explicitly recalled in a scene in which Eisenberg's character visits the bathroom.  You suspect that the great Arcand, whose latest film The Fall of the American Empire continues his examination of the degrading effect of money on civilisation, would approve of Nguyen's own idiosyncratic take on the race to the bottom.

Darren Arnold


Monday 17 June 2019

Intimate Audrey (1/5/19–25/8/19)

Intimate Audrey is a ‘bespoke’ exhibition on the life of Audrey Hepburn created by her son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, to celebrate her 90th birthday anniversary in her birth town of Brussels, Belgium. All of its profits will go to EURORDIS-Rare Diseases Europe and the Brugmann and Bordet hospitals in Brussels.

Intimate Audrey is een unique tentoonstelling over het leven van Audrey Hepburn, opgericht door haar zoon, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, ter gelegenheid van haar 90ste verjaardag in haar geboortestad Brussel. Alle winst zal worden gedoneerd aan EURORDIS-Rare Diseases Europe en aan ziekenhuizen Brugmann en Bordet gelegen in Brussel. 

Composed in large part of unpublished photographs, it focuses entirely on the woman - not the icon. It is the woman behind the legend who is ‘coming home’.

De tentoonstelling zal voornamelijk bestaan uit nooit eerder vertoond fotomateriaal, documenten en objecten die tot haar behoorden, de tentoonstelling zal zich uitsluitend richten op de vrouw die ze was en niet het icoon. Het is de vrouw achter deze legende die terugkomt naar de stad waar ze het licht heeft gezien.

The exhibition, laid out over 800 square meters over the first 2 floors of the Gallerie Vanderborght in Brussels, includes several hundred original and re-printed photographs, a limited amount of memorabilia, dresses and accessories, as well as her never before seen fashion drawings and humanitarian writings.

De tentoonstelling, die zich uitstrekt over 800 vierkante meter op de twee eerste verdiepingen van de Vanderborght galerijen in Brussel, omvat honderden originele en herdrukte foto's, een gelimiteerd aantal souvenirs, jurken en accessoires. Maar evenwel haar ongepubliceerde werken zoals haar mode ontwerpen en humanitaire geschriften.

Words/images: Intimate Audrey

Monday 3 June 2019

The Devils (Devil's Advocates)

Time for a shameless plug here: the book I've been working on for the past couple of years or so is finally available!  It's part of Auteur's Devil's Advocates series of books, each volume of which contains an analysis of a notable horror film.  My own particular entry looks at Ken Russell's 1971 shocker The Devils—a film which has never ceased to impress me since I first encountered it a full three decades ago.  The book is available both in brick-and-mortar bookshops and from a number of online retailers, including Amazon; it is also available in audiobook format from Google Play.  If you'd like to check if the book can be ordered from your country's Amazon, simply visit that particular store and pop the following number into the search box:


Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons