London: Stanley Kubrick @ the Design Museum

I am not a Stanley Kubrick fan. To be honest, every time I’ve seen one of his films, I’ve felt sick afterwards. But this is not really an example of me taking one for the team/sake of the blog, because Marcus does like him, and wanted to see this. Also, “The Shinning” is one of my absolute favourite segments in The Simpsons‘ “Treehouse of Horror,” so even though I don’t particularly like the Kubrick version of The Shining, I thought it would be worth going for the memorabilia from that film alone.

Of course, The Shining was only one small part of this comprehensive exhibition. The grandly titled: Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is at the Design Museum until 15th September, and costs £14.50 (half off with Art Pass). I would recommend pre-booking at least a few days in advance, as it does seem to sell out, even on weekdays. I booked on a Friday for a Monday visit, and it was pretty crowded inside, mainly with American tourists (I suppose they could have been living here like I am, but they had the air of tourists. You can tell).

 

The exhibition opened with a small section on Kubrick’s life before he became a director (seriously small. Like two cases worth. All I got out of it was that he liked chess). Apparently people often don’t realise he was American, because he spent almost the whole of his adult life in Britain (wonder if that’ll happen to me after I get famous, though I suspect the accent will give it away). It then talked about his method of directing (obsession basically), illustrated by his personal copies of some of his scripts. And I mean literally illustrated, because he drew little pictures in the scripts of how he wanted certain scenes to look. His drawing was about as good as mine (which is to say terrible), so these were pretty funny.

 

From there, the exhibition segued into a series of small galleries for each one of his films, including props, film clips, and some making of/behind the scenes facts. The trouble with not being a Kubrick fan is that I’ve only ever seen three of his movies: The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and A Clockwork Orange, so those were really the only parts that held my attention (and I seriously hate A Clockwork Orange so much, so it wasn’t necessarily holding my attention in a good way. I genuinely felt ill just looking at some of the props).

 

Like the one above left, for example. Not on account of it being a penis, but because I know what Alex does with that giant penis, and it is not pleasant. Because of this film, Malcolm McDowell totally gives me the creeps, but the photo shoot of him trying different hats to find one that suited his character was still pretty amusing. I think the bowler hat probably was the right way to go.

 

Speaking of creeps, how about Jack Nicholson? I think that’s why I hate the film version of The Shining so much, because Jack Nicholson taints everything he touches with his creepy creepy smile (I had to go see the first Batman movie in the cinema when I was about 4 (don’t think my parents realised how scary it was, since the TV show was super tame and campy), and his portrayal of the Joker has put me off Jack Nicholson for life). I have read The Shining, and of course it’s still scary, but the whole point is that while Jack Torrance clearly had his demons, he was trying his best to be a normal family man at the beginning of the book, which is what makes his descent into insanity so terrifying. Jack Nicholson was clearly just waiting for an opportunity to murder his family from the start, so all you’re left wondering is why they would be stupid enough to agree to be holed up with him for the winter in the first place.

 

But true to expectations, The Shining section was my favourite one by far, with all the props you’d want to see: the typewriter (“no TV and no beer make Homer something something”), the twins’ dresses, the axe, the photograph at the end of the film showing the Outlook Hotel at the July 4th Ball of 1921, and a miniature version of the maze from the movie made by Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame. There was even a patch of the Outlook Hotel carpet at the entrance to the exhibition (“that’s odd, usually the blood gets off at the second floor.” I really could quote classic Simpsons all day long (and often do))!

 

But I must reluctantly move on from “The Shinning” and get to the rest of the exhibition. I’ve never seen Barry Lyndon, apparently about a Georgian rogue, but the making-of in this case was quite interesting. Apparently no electric lighting was used during filming, so they had a lens with a super wide aperture to film in candlelight. The resulting film was also meant to look quite flat, like 18th century paintings, and certain scenes were even supposed to match up to various famous paintings, like Gainsborough’s Blue Boy (Hyacinth Bucket’s favourite). Because Kubrick didn’t want to have to leave England to film it, it was shot at about twenty different stately homes around the South of England, so Kubrick didn’t have to travel too far from London.

 

I’ve also never seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that one is at least ingrained enough in popular culture that I knew all about HAL and was willing to pose for a photo with him. There was also a gorilla suit that apparently features at the start of the film, a creepy (god, I’ve used that word a lot in this post) baby in a floating sphere, and a set of rather groovy furniture that was meant to be the interior of a Hilton Space Station.

 

Because I’m not familiar with Kubrick’s entire oeuvre, I think my views will be quite different than those of a fan. I enjoyed seeing the props I recognised, and some of the stuff about censorship and the film-making process was quite interesting, but personally, I would have liked to know more about Kubrick’s life, other than a brief blurb about his childhood and the fact that he married an actress from one of his films (in fact, she was the only female actress in the entirety of Paths of Glory, his WWI film, which looks like it actually might be worth watching). For one thing, I’d like to know what inspired him to make such violent films, or why he seemed to really like Jack Nicholson, who he had also marked down to play Napoleon, had that project not fallen through.

 

But I’ve little doubt that Kubrick fans would have been delighted with this, and even with me skipping over the sections I had no interest in (Eyes Wide Shut, for one), we still spent around an hour in there, so I think it was worth the price of my half-price ticket. In fact, I am intrigued enough to possibly check out Lolita and Paths of Glory, though whether I’ll actually like them is a different story altogether. The shop is also rich in Kubrick merchandise, though sadly nothing that could double as a “Shinning” reference, so we only got a postcard. For me, this was a solid 3/5, but fans will probably score it significantly higher.

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10 comments

  1. Thanks for that vivid, vicarious trip through a fascinating show! Now do yourself a favor and see the utterly amazing and devastating Paths of Glory, as well as the terrific heist noir The Killing, which is a blast. I hope the exhibit makes it to the NY area (maybe I missed it — that would be criminal).

    1. I do probably need to see at least Paths of Glory one of these days, but I can’t say I’m particularly looking forward to it. Screwball comedies starring Cary Grant are more my jam. I’m not sure if this is a travelling exhibition, as it was quite London-centric.

  2. I tend to like Kubrick’s earlier films: Spartacus, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, Lolita and 2001. His later films are more unpleasant so I’m totally with you on that one. Still, it sounds like you had a lot of fun and I hope an exhibit like this comes to the CA Bay Area one day.

  3. I’m not a particular fan of Kubrick but the exhibition looks absolutely fascinating. Anything to do with film is good in my book, your photos are great.

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