Review: Catch Design Museum's Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition While You Can

on Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition (Design Museum, London) // Words: Saam Das // Photos: Ed Reeve

Twenty years on from his passing, a touring exhibition celebrating visionary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has finally arrived in the UK, his adopted home. Raised in New York, Kubrick moved to Hertfordshire in the 1970s, living there until his death in 1999. The UK would become not just a base for his family but also for his work, and Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition at London’s Design Museum appropriately delves into his particularly close relationship with the city.

An auteur, Kubrick was well-known for his meticulous approach to filmmaking. From his comprehensive research in the developmental phase of projects to his infamous penchant for numerous takes for scenes on-set, Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition guides visitors through the director's approach to the creative process and some of his most famous works, including 'Full Metal Jacket' and 'A Clockwork Orange'.

Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition trailer by Design Museum

Originally curated by Frankfurt's Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, this expanded exhibition actually begins outside its main enclosure, within the foyer of the Design Museum. Here, a sleek orange Adams Probe 16 car is on display, otherwise known as the Durango '95 featured in 1971's 'A Clockwork Orange' - one of only three known to be in existence.

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by an immersive multimedia presentation of Kubrick's one-point perspective, a style of cinematography drawing viewers to a central point on the screen. Understandably, the opening section acts an introduction ahead of individual sections dedicated to a range of the director's films, arranged thematically rather than chronologically.

'Columbus' director Kogonada's collation of Kubrick's one-point perspective (not featured in Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition)

Within the opening area, we witness the depth of Kubrick's pre-production research. For example, for his unrealised project on Napoleon Bonaparte, we see the collection of several thousand note cards that Kubrick compiled - charting the life of the French leader. A considerable undertaking, which has thankfully inspired Steven Spielberg and Bond 25 director Cary Fukunaga to resurrect the project.

From the brutalist architecture of Thamesmead in 'A Clockwork Orange' to the transformation of inner London to represent New York's Greenwich Village in Kubrick's last finished film, 1999’s 'Eyes Wide Shut', the following sections of the exhibition showcase the affection that Kubrick had for filming in London. Most impressive is the revelation, across a series of photographs, that the Vietnamese battle scenes of 'Full Metal Jacket' were actually shot in East London at Beckton Gas Works.

Throughout the exhibition, we see Kubrick's notable collaborations across various aspects of design. His critiques of Saul Bass’ poster design are placed prominently, such as his note that the iconic maze from 'The Shining' should not be used in ads for its film. For set design, a model of Ken Adam's defining War Room in 'Dr Strangelove' takes centre stage in that film's section. Costume design is particularly prominent across the sections, but most striking, are the Oscar-winning period costumes for 'Barry Lyndon' by Milena Canonero.

Other highlights include the original typewriter prop used by Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining', the NASA-produced Zeiss camera lenses that allowed Kubrick to uniquely film 'Barry Lyndon' by candlelight, and a haunting display of masques from 'Eyes Wide Shut'. Kubrick's only Academy Award is also on display - the Oscar for Best Visual Effects for '2001: A Space Odyssey' from 1969.

In fact, the exhibition dedicates its largest section for the aforementioned film. Here, there are touches of Kubrick's sense of innovation and wider place in the world such as his use of The Newspad, a proto-tablet of sorts, and of course, HAL, the Alexa/Siri of its day. The futurist element of '2001: A Space Odyssey' is capped off with a striking full-size recreation of the film’s Hilton Space Station 5 lobby.

Arguably, the exhibition's main flaw is that the focus on each film are mere snapshots, tantalising glimpses (that also don't always reflect inherent tensions and conflicts) into Kubrick's life. It almost feels like each section is worthy of an expansion and an exhibition of its own. A natural progression for Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition perhaps.


Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition closes on 17th September 2019. Advance booking advised through

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