Stanley Kubrick spent the majority of his life in the UK, and made most of his films in London. It’s a surprise then that it has taken fifteen years for this retrospective of his work to be shown in London.
Following Kubrick’s death in 1999 his archive passed to what is now the University of the Arts London, and it is from this archive that the bulk of the exhibits displayed here are drawn. The designation ‘archive’ perhaps suggests dusty boxes full of dull documents, but nothing could be further from the reality of the sheer richness of the material presented here: models of sets; actual pieces of sets; posters; research collections; production skills, and even an Academy Award are just some of the items presented, initially thematically and then by movie, in the exhibition space at the Design Museum in Holland Park, west London.
What quickly becomes obvious is that Kubrick meticulously retained the paperwork and ephemera for every film he ever made - or contemplated making. The first substantial display concerns Napoleon, the Kubrick movie which never was, with his research for the project set out in such quantity that it becomes clear how in depth his research for his projects was - behind the glass-covered display cabinets a wall of shelves offers us just some of the more than 250 books Kubrick had accumulated when he was planning for the movie which may now become a Spielberg TV show.
As you walk through the thorough consideration of Kubrick’s work, curated by Adriënne Groen and Deyan Sudjic, you also become aware of the fact that Kubrick wasn’t confined by genre - he just made movies that interested him - and he overwhelmingly worked for himself, a rarity in most director’s careers. The anomaly of employment, when Kubrick was engaged by Kurt Douglas to lens Spartacus, is therefore afforded scanter attention than most of the other films, but the insights into this differing way of working, of Kubrick feeling bound to someone else’s vision, are fascinating.
Our niggles, if we have to have any, are few. There are some occasions on which the path of the visitor through the exhibition is unclear, leading to a doubling back and some over-crowding around a few displays as you try to see everything. One case had mixed up the placing of two of its exhibits, leading to a moment of confusion as we realised we were most definitely not looking at a script for Dr Strangelove. It would also have been helpful for some of the information to have been set out at both ends of a display case, or perhaps more aligned with the exhibits themselves, to avoid having to effectively memorise the descriptions of the items before they could be viewed. But these niggles are tiny, in what was a sprawling and authoritative exhibition.
If you love the films of Kubrick, and want to understand how he made those movies, how he got those ideas, and how he worked with some of the most renowned design names in the industry to realise his vision, then this exhibition will fascinate you for hours - we spent over two hours trying to absorb everything on display. But even if you have little to no interest in the films of Kubrick, we would urge you to see this exhibition. It is not merely a retrospective of a career of a man who was never afraid to make the movies he wanted to make, it is also a masterclass in film-making, from a time that is rapidly becoming forgotten in the era of digital. But Kubrick’s careful record keeping ensures that film-makers of the present and future have, and will continue to have, an impressive insight into the art, craft and technique of making movies. Highly recommended.
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, continues at the Design Museum, Kensington High Street, until September 17th, 2019. The exhibition is open daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission 5pm). Tickets are free for Members and £16 for adults, with various concessions and family tickets available. More information is available here: https://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/stanley-kubrick-the-exhibition