Wednesday, April 10, 2013

'Stanley Kubrick' Exhibition in Los Angeles

Stanley Kubrick
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles, CA
Through June 30, 2013
Kubrick on set of 2001 (photo: (C) Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.)

Stanley Kubrick’s films are filled with so many indelible images that it was probably difficult for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to choose which would show off its Kubrick exhibition, now running through June 30.

Of the three chosen, two are iconic: Jack Nicholson’s face thrust through the bathroom door in The Shining and Malcolm McDowell’s diabolical grin in A Clockwork Orange. The other, though, is surprising: Sue Lyon’s teen nymphet in Lolita. Seeing those faces on banners in the museum’s L.A. neighborhood draws attention to how Kubrick—always shown as a cold, calculating, technology-obsessed filmmaker—explored our baser impulses and wild, out of control emotions in a five-decade career of masterly, daring films before his untimely death at age 70 in 1999.

Kubrick’s imposing oeuvre, which began in the early ‘50s with a trio of shorts than continued through 13 feature films, from the immature war allegory Fear and Desire (1953) to his dream-like final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999), brilliantly studies the very breadth of human experience, from war's dehumanization to insanity's horror.

Of course, the exhibition Stanley Kubrick doesn’t probe deeply into his memorable films. All 13 Kubrick features are included, through clips and stills—with the bizarre exception of Fear and Desire, which the director considered a failure and never wanted shown, even though it’s on sale in the museum store as well as around the world on DVD and Blu-ray—but the multi-media exhibit is notable for the voluminous amount of items on display from Kubrick’s own archives.

We see samples of Kubrick’s photographic work, such as stills he took for Look magazine when he began as a teenager; that such a unique eye would go onto create such unforgettable cinematic images is unsurprising. There’s also a selection of the film cameras and lenses used to create those images, like the specially-made Zeiss lens that allowed the innovative candlelight shooting on Barry Lyndon (1975). And there are costumes, sets and props from many films, from the Star Child and baroque room in 2001 (1968) and the Korova milkbar furnishings and droog outfits in A Clockwork Orange (1971) to the infamous axe and typewriter of The Shining (1980), along with my favorite object in the entire exhibit: a scale model of that chilling film’s hedge maze.

For serious Kubrick aficionados, don’t-miss artifacts include the Napoleon room, which explores Kubrick’s unrealized project about the French dictator: the crowded bookshelf packed with hundreds of books on the subject and the card-filing system keeping track of events in the French dictator’s eventful life demonstrate how seriously Kubrick took research.

Grady twins in The Shining (photo: (C) Warner Bros Entertainment Inc.)

Another unfilmed project, The Aryan Papers, based on Louis Begley’s superb novel Wartime Lies—the film was scuttled after Kubrick discovered that Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List would cover similar ground—is represented by Jane and Louise Wilson’s film, Unfolding the Aryan Papers, which features Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege (who was supposed to be the lead in Kubrick’s film) recreating the film’s wardrobe shoot that the filmmakers found in the director’s archives.

Overall, the exhibition Stanley Kubrick balances what casual moviegoers enjoy—many visitors take their picture in front of a blown-up image of The Shining’s dead twin girls (“come and play with us")—and what’s appreciated by serious scholars of Kubrick’s dense, still often misunderstood work.

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