12th Jun2019

‘Stanley Kubrick Exhibition’ Review

by Rupert Harvey

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Remember Jon Ronson’s 2008 documentary, Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes? Fans of the great director, that famously reclusive weirdo, surely do. Well, the boxes have been opened, and the contents curated and meticulously arranged in London’s Design Museum. Apart from being a breathtaking collection in its own right, it goes a long way toward correcting the myth that Stanley Kubrick was a reclusive weirdo.

What emerges from my time in this dizzying, dense and deeply intimate exhibition is an increased sense of the passionate professional Kubrick truly was. It is beautifully conceived. Through a dazzling entrance of light and colour, you emerge from the Stargate into a hallway full of hand-drawn notes and sketches. Letters to and from producers; early poster designs (Saul Bass at his best); original clapperboards – teasers for the delights that lie deeper within.

The exhibition goes through each of Kubrick’s feature films systematically, although not chronologically. Each display space is themed around a film. It feels like an odyssey through Kubrick’s cultural impact. It works wonderfully well and explains why Eyes Wide Shut, great film though it may be, isn’t given the same presence as that of the climactic hall, dedicated to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This is a truly priceless collection. Forget reproductions or dull photographs you’ve already seen in umpteen art books. Here we have the original, framed photo from the end of The Shining. We have Wendy’s knife. Jack’s typed pages (did you know they were translated to multiple languages?). The actual Moonwatcher costume from 2001. The survival kit from Dr Strangelove, complete with handy Russian phrasebook and Bible.

Non-flash photography is permitted, and you can feel the yearning among the throngs of adorers to somehow absorb some of the essence of these treasures. To be this close to film history – to some of the most enduring pop culture iconography of the cinematic universe – is a mesmeric and moving experience. It’s so thrilling and uplifting, you almost feel like jumping into the Durango 95 (the concept car from A Clockwork Orange, standing proud in the museum’s foyer) when you’re done and going for a joyride.

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Alongside the respectfully-presented costumes and props are a range of smaller, quieter delights. All of Kubrick’s later features were book adaptations, and we get to see the hand-written annotations he made in the margins or scrawled on working scripts. There’s a trove of material relating to his recently resurrected passion project, Napoleon, as well as research material for Aryan Papers, his Holocaust drama that never came to fruition.

By the end of it all, two hours later, I felt overwhelmed; terrified that I’d missed some tiny note or detail. Thankfully, the exhibition is running until mid-September. I know I will be going back, just to bask in more of the warmth, wit and wisdom of one of cinema’s most influential modern masters.

The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition is in the Design Museum in London until 15th September 2019.

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