Twenty years have passed since the idiosyncratic master of the moving picture, Stanley Kubrick, passed away shortly before the release of his final feature Eyes Wide Shut. In celebration of his back catalogue, London’s Design Museum has paid homage to the director through a retrospective of his beloved films, giving exhibition-goers a chance to marvel at original props, script notes, unseen behind-the-scenes set footage, photographs and more.
As you enter the exhibition, the Overlook Hotel’s famous carpet from The Shining guides you into a gorgeous LED panel entrance, showing snippets of Kubrick’s films to the epic score of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s opening track. It’s a suitably dramatic way to enter the exhibition, but this is perhaps as flashy and immersive as it gets; if you’re expecting Instagrammable set replicas, you will be disappointed. The exhibition focuses mainly on the minutiae: props, letters, footage, handwritten notes. Before the exhibition moves on to a film-by-film format, the first room is fulled to the brim with a treasure trove of items to pore over: Kubricks’s sole Academy Award (Best Visual Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey), his director’s chair, even a handwritten letter written to Kubrick by Audrey Hepburn, politely declining a role in one of his films.
The exhibition boasts a huge number of correspondences, ranging from the fascinating to the hilarious. There are letters from Vladimir Nabokov regarding the Lolita script, but also letters from outraged, pearl-clutching moviegoers reacting to A Clockwork Orange. Moreover, we’re treated to original props from some of Kubrick’s most infamous scenes: the giant penis sculpture used to murder a cat-lover to death in A Clockwork Orange; the infamous typewriter from The Shining and Private Joker’s “born to kill” helmet from Full Metal Jacket.
Famously, Kubrick had a fear of flying and a love of England, and consequently, he shot the majority of his films in Blighty, with its brutalist architecture and sprawling greenery. A significant portion of the exhibition explores the filmmaker’s adoration for the country, and how he meticulously researched locations and period specificities in order to faithfully recreate different eras, places and designs. Indeed, his utter obsession with perfection was often criticised; in the part of the exhibition focused on The Shining, we see a behind-the-scenes video clip of Kubrick insulting Shelley Duvall on-set, telling her that she was ruining the scene with her mistakes, followed by an interview with the actress: “he knew how to get a reaction out of me, which ultimately made the scene better.” Exacting and finicky, Kubrick involved himself in every level of the film’s production; we see his original annotations on early versions of The Shining’s poster, where he has scribbled “title looks bad, too small, like the ink didn’t work,” as well as the desk and machinery from where he cut and edited all the footage for Full Metal Jacket.
There’s also plenty for those interested in Kubrick’s technical pioneering: endless lenses, cameras, negative, and spools are on display, which went a little over my head but I’m sure would be fascinating for the right clientele. The exhibition’s last hurrah focuses on 2001: A Space Odyssey, lovingly exploring Kubrick’s visionary sci-fi masterpiece where the natural world combines with sleek and impossibly futuristic design. Intricate sketches of spaceships and rotating chambers reflect the unthinkably detailed preparation Kubrick undertook to achieve his accuracy levels, and the exhibition ends on an installation replica of Space Station 5.
Rightfully popular, Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition requires booking ahead and will close on 17th September.
Words by Steph Green