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Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition at The Design Museum, London

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. keyworthdavid@gmail.com https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-keyworth/49/b3a/b83 My debut poetry pamphlet is available at www.wildpressedbooks.com/david-keyworth.html
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Shining a light on Stanley
As you enter the exhibition you are greeted by a relay of clips from Stanley Kubrick's (1928 - 1999) films - including The Shining, Barry Lyndon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut and Paths of Glory.

As you exit, the original prop of the Starchild from 2001's final scene, by Liz Moore, hangs above you within its bowl. It is a baby-doll with intense blue eyes but still reminded me of a child's toy.

Design Museum, London, Stanley Kubrick, cinema, exhibitions, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange
Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Image Credit – Ed Reeve for the Design Museum.


My only qualm about seeing the paraphernalia of Kubrick's films was that it might kill the cinematic magic. A bit like spending time in the kitchen of a Michelin starred restaurant.

For me, one of the scariest moments in The Shining is the unexplained appearance of the staring twin girls When I saw their blue dresses in a glass cabinet, my first instinct was laughter rather than fear. This was partly because of how small the dresses are in reality.

Design Museum, London, Stanley Kubrick, cinema, exhibitions, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange
Grady sisters' costumes and Danny's jumper, original costumes from The Shining. Image Credit – Ed Reeve for the Design Museum.


Throughout the exhibition and publicity, the word single-minded is attached to Kubrick It's hard to dispute this, but he continually found inspiration in the work of other visual artists and writers. The twins were inspired by Diane Arbus's photo: Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967 and most of his films were adaptations of novels.

The Design Museum does not shortchange us in terms of the props and re-creations on show. There are 700 objects, films and interviews. Indeed the hardest problem was trying to see them over the shoulders of other gallery-goers.

The shiny white mannequins from the Korova Milk Bar of A Clockwork Orange are as sinister, stylish and sexual as they appear in the first scene of Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's novel.

Korova Milk Bar mannequins by Liz Moore from A Clockwork Orange
Korova Milk Bar mannequins by Liz Moore from A Clockwork Orange


I was also beguiled by the costumes and three-wick candles in the Barry Lyndon section. Kubrick filmed it in natural light and the specially adapted high-speed lens he used to capture the flickering flames is also on display.

But there is just as much value for money in the small exhibits. Under a glass case, there is Kubrick's copy of the The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray. It is open at a page with Kubrick's notes, under the heading 'Main Themes' (hopefully this wasn't a library book!). One line, in red ink, reads: "Feckless friends and spongers."

Design Museum, London, Stanley Kubrick, cinema, exhibitions, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange
Costumes from Barry Lyndon. Image Credit – Ed Reeve for the Design Museum.


The attention to detail in the props is remarkable - from the instructions in the 2001 section on how to use a zero-gravity toilet to the typed translations for foreign audiences of words Jack Nicholson repeatedly types in The Shining (in Italian, for example, "Il mattino ha l'oro in bocca; Il mattino ha l'oro in bocca.")

Not all of Kubrick's plans and research made it to the screen, though. We see fragments of his work towards a film about the holocaust (Aryan Papers) and Napoleon Bonaparte - the director had even got as far as recruiting the Romanian army as extras.

The holocaust film plan was scrapped because of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List project and Kubrick ceded his Artificial Intelligence (AI) proposals to Spielberg. There was clearly much mutual respect between the two directors.

Of the many films Kubrick did make, A Clockwork Orange tends to be the one we most associate with controversy. But Lolita also met with outrage. A letter from Rev Max F. Stowe of Florida (Dec 10, 1960) says: "It is obvious to everyone, although you might like to dismiss it, that it is based upon sex appeal."

Canon John Collins Chairman of Christian Action, London, wrote on 15 March 1961: "We would not wish to launch upon any protest without first trying to discover what are the reasons you seem to think justify the making of this film."

How would Lolita now be received now - in relation to our concerns about sexualisation and the abuse of power?

Elsewhere, a film-goer wrote to Kubrick about her "utter dismay and complete disgust" after seeing Dr Strangelove at her local theatre.

It is remarkable that these letters were preserved within the Kubrick archive and the Design Museum are indebted to University of the Arts London (UAL) where the archive is held.

So much for Kubrick the 'obsessive genius' but what was he like to work with? In her autobiography, the model Marie Helvin, (Marie Helvin, The Autobiography by Marie Helvin Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007) who was Jack Nicholsons' companion on the set of The Shining, refers to Kubrick's isolation of Shelley Duvall in the cause of making her on-screen distress more visceral

You can hear Shelley Duvall talking directly about this in a BBC Arena film 1980 by Vivian Kubrick https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03lsjr2. At one point Duvall complains about her hair falling out and Kubrick responds: "Don't sympathise with Shelley . . . it doesn't help . . ."

In the same documentary, which is included in the exhibition, Duvall also acknowledges that without the "butting of heads together" the final cut would not have been so good.

There is also an affectionate letter from Sue Lyon, the star of Lolita, telling Kubrick about her conventional married life, after he caught up with her some time later.

The issue of Kubrick and his duty of care towards his actors is obviously a complex one to be explored on another occasion.

Design Museum, London, Stanley Kubrick, cinema, exhibitions, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, A Clockwork Orange
Outside the Design Museum


I found some of the technical descriptions of cameras and lenses hard to relate to but overall it is a rare privilege to get this glimpse into the painstaking creative processes of a twentieth-century artist.

I doubt that The Shining will be any less scary or Barry Lyndon any less enchanting the next time I see them. Just because you know the individual ingredients that go into a gourmet recipe, it doesn't make the meal taste worse when they are combined together.

The exhibition - which builds on an earlier one at Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt in 2004 - has been extended by two days to 17 September. But be quick if you want to see it. I saw an Austrian couple politely being told that tickets for that particular day were sold out, despite their protests that this was their last day in London.
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Why? An eye-opening exhibition about Kubricks’s painstaking work and artistry
When: 26 April - 17 September 2019
Phone: 020 3862 5900
Where: The Design Museum 224 - 238 Kensington High Street London W8 6AG
Cost: £18 Concession, family and gift tickets available
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