As you walk across the carpet from The Shining (available in the gift shop in the form of a bow tie, towel and pair of socks) in the Stanley Kubrick exhibition, you’re treated to a montage of clips from the director’s key films, soundtracked to THAT song from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra).
This is the first of several moments that gave me goosebumps. Over the next two hours, as I strolled through the exhibition, I came to one main conclusion: Stanley Kubrick consistently crafted masterpieces.
Initially, the display gives an overview of Kubrick’s work, covering the aspects of each film’s journey from initial sourcing and research to its release. All bar one of his films were adaptations and it’s this that becomes an early focal point, as Kubrick and his collaborators shaped their response and interpretations of different texts.
Simultaneously, there’s the design and craft on the technical side of the films, which, given the setting (The Design Museum), feels an apt focal point. From this setup, we journey through some of his most acclaimed works from Paths of Glory to Eyes Wide Shut. Each film receives its own area, with clips, props and information gathered to show gestation and impact.
There are juicy nuggets dotted throughout, such as fascinating anecdotes that give the exhibition a depth to match its breadth. An early focus on Napoleon (perhaps Kubrick’s greatest unmade film, struck down by the financial failure of similarly-themed Waterloo), tantalisingly teases what might have been. And we also learn that at the end of The Shining’s mammoth, near year-long shoot, the Kubrick was left with over 400 kilometres of film to trawl through.
Another interesting bit of trivia: Dr Strangelove’s original title was Nardac Blefescu Presents Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, A Macro-Galaxy-Meteor Picture.
At times, the exhibition threatens to overwhelm, which I guess is the point. Kubrick is perhaps cinema’s ultimate auteur, a meticulous planner who researched and development each film across decades at a time. It’s this that the exhibition so successfully gets across.
If anything is lacking, it’s a critique. This is a sanitised version, with items taken from the director’s extensive archive. Little is mentioned of his somewhat tyrannical nature, dissenting voices here are merely viewers and organisations that responded to his work. This is not a warts-and-all look at the man, instead it basks in what made him such a successful director. It’s the technical craft the exhibition so effectively explores – the rest is left frustratingly silent.
Still, as a cinephile whose teen years were spent devouring much of Kubrick’s work, this was a journey into a body of work that I adored. As I watched clips from Barry Lyndon, a film I have never seen, a broad grin stretched across my face. The works Kubrick crafted gain beauty in their exploration here. It brings into sharper focus his most impressive achievements. The terror of The Shining feels rawer, the danger of A Clockwork Orange more scintillating, the scale of his epics more profound.
This is one exhibition you can truly lose yourself in, the brilliance of its subject brought into sharp focus. It was a journey I’d gladly have undertaken again, even if it at times lacked the colour to match its depth.