Eyes Wide Open
Religion is not in person by nature, yet my homeland misspent years trying to condition me to the ways of Catholicism. There isn’t any reverence to entities floating in the sky, but profound belief certainly resides in the great folk who have walked amongst us, especially those who preached from the pulpit of the silver screen, and off the back of that, the current Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is effectively my cinematic Mecca (Stanley was, of course, Jewish, but I’m trying to get all faiths in).
Stanley was born in 1928 New York. From the streets of the Bronx, he then went on to become one of the most influential movie makers of all time. That influence wasn’t based on a prolific body of work, far from it, and it’s not the case of less is more. What he was renowned for is an almost evangelical amount of attention to detail, and in particular research into any given subject that he was dealing with at the time. He was a craftsman of such purity, who had to fully and genuinely understand every nuance of a subject before he felt comfortable in being able to sincerely present the story he was telling.
Such attention to these objectives are not the norm for most folk, and of course the quest for such perfection would definitely rankle some artistic feathers along the way. But considering the unmistakable power and resonance of the resulting films, I’m Team Kubrick all the way.
Stanley was also renowned for his use of one-point perspective (possibly influenced from the streets of Manhattan and his early photography career), a composition in camera lens framing that creates a near-perfect symmetry that makes the viewer look at a defined central focal point. He didn’t invent the technique, it can be seen in Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’, but it is this ageless/classic approach that aptly and beautifully greets us upon entering Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition as it sets up residence in the Design Museum in London.
The exhibition has existed for well over a decade, meandering the world, and on the 20th anniversary of his passing, it fittingly lands in the UK, which really was his home and creative HQ for most of his life.
The one-point perspective multiple screen entrance shrewdly and literally act like a transport device, tunneling us through time, space, into the work and mind of Stanley. His wife Christiane who was at the opening of the event was compelled to say that it was by far the best presentation of the work yet, and with that I wholeheartedly agree, so huge credit to Marina Willer and all at Pentagram who was responsible for what is a truly stunning exhibition.
Stanley himself may have aspired to god-like levels, but this exhibition beautifully acts as a bridge to such peaks. In the most humbling of ways, it truly shows the mechanics of genius don’t lie in some sort of abnormal gene, but its tenacity, graft, perseverance, focus and dreams, effectively traits that everyone of us can develop. With that, the exhibition is effectively like going to The Kubrick College of Film.
Despite the digital screens at the entrance, the exhibition is like a euphoric homage to analogue. Having lived in a time before the advent of computers existing in mainstream life, Stanley’s astronomical attention to detail, research and note taking is beautifully placed at the beginning of the journey. It is here we see only a tiny part of what is known to be a cavernous amount of work that went into the preparation of everything, but in particular of ‘Napoleon’, a project that he had wanted to make for years, but unfortunately never came to fruition after financial backers pulled out. However, this seed work is planned to blossom under the direction of Steven Speilberg in a forthcoming epic TV series, at least according to notes beside the drawers and bookshelves that cover the entire existence of Napoleon.
This methodical procedure shows obsession, but also how to create timeless majesty. Like the many bands who started after seeing the Sex Pistols for the first time, this also shows what it takes, if you are willing to aspire.
The foundation of process explained, we drift through the space and actual space as the turn of each corner brings us into the transformatory world of Stanley’s movies. Like Bowie, he was keen to reinvent and challenge himself, taking on completely different topics and subjects, keeping things fresh, taking new perspectives and presenting them in ever new innovative ways. And if the technology didn’t exist to tell the story, invent it.
From the misguided human desires of Lolita, to the unfathomable existential vastness of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley adeptly showed his storytelling skill on any scale. From the ultra-violence of A Clockwork Orange, to the soothing natural candle light of Barry Lyndon.
It wasn’t just Stanley on his own though. He may have been the general (Napoleon) of his storytelling army, but the ranks were filled with support fellow artists, creatives and family who helped him achieve these great moments. The exhibition is full of contributions from collaborators (some no doubt persecuted with expectation) and great talents who all strive to the ultimate common goal, but it is a delight to see hand written notes to these hyper talented designers/artists as Stanley voices his no holds barred comments on them guiding the creative towards the projector light.
Keeping with the theme of vast submersive research into his preparation for his films, the exhibition itself is an Aladdin’s Cave in richness of content, information, props, cameras, models, costumes, artworks, writings, films and a great many other things (my ‘YELP’ count of excitement at seeing various pieces was off the scale). Realistically to absorb it all would take a few days, so for the true admirer of cinema, multiple visits. This again is to the credit of all involved in that it is a truly gorgeous, loving tribute to not only a truly exceptional human being (and his family), an artform, storytelling, but to the possibilities of achievements by mankind, you just have to be prepared to put the work in, as that’s clearly the secret behind genius.
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition at the Design Museum is open now, and runs till 15 September 2019. Check https://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/stanley-kubrick-the-exhibition for details.