A Kubrickian odyssey: Stanley Kubrick’s work on display at London’s Design Museum

Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition at the Design Museum in London shines light on the clockwork art of one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th Century

The entrance to the exhibition, is a darkened passage lit only by symmetrical rows of screens on either side to lend a one-point perspective effect, showing some of the most stunning movie scenes. It is a perfect tribute to their maker — Stanley Kubrick, whose life’s work is on display at the Design Museum in London.

Kubrick was obsessed with detail. The expo, titled Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, curated by museum director Deyan Sudjic and designed by Marina Willer, presents exactly that obsession to commemorate the maestro’s 20th death anniversary. From his collection of reference books and the unique props, to the specially-designed film equipment and the detailed drawings of designs that went into the making of each of his meticulously-made movies, the things on display give a peek into Kubrick’s astonishing mind and ways.

The international touring exhibition that has toured 16 cities, began with the 2004 inaugural one organised by Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt. This is the first time the exhibition, which opened on April 26, is coming to the UK. Although born and raised in New York, Kubrick spent the last 40 years of his life in the UK and made most of his movies while living there.

A Kubrickian odyssey: Stanley Kubrick’s work on display at London’s Design Museum

Cross-section of work

It opens with a space filled with a cross-section of pre-production objects. Several photographs from his location scouts are displayed, along with a collection of reference materials from his unfinished dream project on Napoleon Bonaparte’s life, the original scripts of movies and a number of special lenses from Kubrick’s huge collection. Another wall displays the stylishly-designed posters of films such as Spartacus (1960) and Lolita (1962).

But the highlight of the introduction is a well-curated collection of the objects relating to the design of the giant centrifuge that acted as the interior of the spaceship in his 1968 magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sketches of the centrifuge, a mini-model and a detailed technical drawing of the slit-scan photography set-up created by special-effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull for making the famous ‘stargate’ sequence, all reveal the extent to which Kubrick would go for perfection.

A Kubrickian odyssey: Stanley Kubrick’s work on display at London’s Design Museum

From the plywood-walled workshop aesthetics of the opening space denoting the craft of Kubrick, visitors step into the realm of Spartacus. The collection set in blood-red décor is apt for the tale of Spartacus — the Roman slave who led a bloody rebellion against the empire. Vibrant set, scene and character sketches hang on red walls, while the majestic military uniform worn by Sir Lawrence Olivier, who played the villainous Senator Marcus Licinius Crassus, and a Roman toga adorn a corner.

New life
  • The soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey has many classical and orchestral pieces, such as ‘The Blue Danube Waltz’ by Johann Strauss II and Richard Strauss' symphonic poem ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ (inspired by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche).

Costumes, like all the other details, were given special care by Kubrick, who wanted extreme authenticity. The ridiculous attire of the psychotic Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, from A Clockwork Orange (1971) and the regal 18th-Century dress from Barry Lyndon (1975), both give visitors an insight into what the auteur demanded from his designers.

If it is red for Spartacus, then it is military-green for Full Metal Jacket (1987), sensual pink for Lolita and erotic velvety-blue for Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Paraphernalia from nine Kubrick classics are on display, with each space colour-coded according to the feel of the tale the movies portray — from the intricate interior sketches of spaceships from Space Odyssey and the ‘born-to-kill’ helmet of Private ‘Joker’ in Full Metal Jacket to the drawings of the famous war-room from Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), and the magnificent Venetian masks from Eyes Wide Shut. The original three-wick candles manufactured for the stunning ‘candlelight’ sequence from Barry Lyndon is a testament to Kubrick’s fixation with authenticity. These were the candles used in the 18th Century, the period the story is set in, and they also burned with a bigger, brighter flame which made it possible for Kubrick to shoot it without any extra lighting using a special Zeiss extreme high-speed lens originally made for NASA, which is also on display.

A Kubrickian odyssey: Stanley Kubrick’s work on display at London’s Design Museum

All in a sketch

The tour ends with a stunning pick of items from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was Kubrick’s most ambitious project. Superbly-detailed sketches of the spaceships, along with equally-matched mini-models of the crafts tell you the amount of research that went into this science-fiction epic. But a gorgeous life-size replica of the sleek white reception of the Hilton ‘Space’ Hotel, full with the futuristic red chair designed by Olivier Mourgue, steals the shot in the finale.

A Kubrickian odyssey: Stanley Kubrick’s work on display at London’s Design Museum

There are many standouts and it is hard to pick just one. If the erotic furniture in the form of submissive female mannequins from the opening scene of A Clockwork Orange reveals Kubrick’s fetish for finding shock value even in props, then the photographs from Beckton Gas Works in London, which was the set of Full Metal Jacket, shows a person who can envision an utterly believable Vietnamese war-zone, full with appropriate flora and fauna, from scratch, without ever setting foot in Asia. In fact, London was his favourite location and has been cast in many of his movies — as New York in Eyes Wide Shut, Vietnam in Full Metal Jacket and as London itself in A Clockwork Orange.

Kubrick did most of his location scouts using photographs. Having started his career as a magazine photographer, photography was a powerful tool in his filmmaking process. There is a photograph of a paused chess match between Kubrick and actor George C Scott from the set of Dr Strangelove that best depicts Kubrick’s obsession with detail. Next to the chessboard is a cardboard with a handwritten note: “Strict continuity, do not touch”.

The exhibition is on till September 15. Entry ticket costs £14.50 for adults, £7.25 for children and £10.75 for students.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 10:13:55 PM |

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