Socialist Worker

Stanley Kubrick exhibition is one for the die-hard fans

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2652

Kubrick talks to an astronaut

Kubrick talks to an astronaut

Film exhibitions often amount to no more than memorabilia. This exhibition about film director Stanley Kubrick has higher ambitions.

You enter by a section of orange carpet from The Shining (1980), with its hypnotic dead-end pattern.

Kubrick’s shots often lead the eye towards an off-screen vanishing point and the exhibition starts with a minute-long supercut of such compositions.

Symmetry is a thing in Kubrick—unending corridors, the twins, the maze, but also the trenches in Paths of Glory (1957), the barracks in Full Metal Jacket (1987), the Star Gate sequence and looming monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

There is intent in the structure of the exhibition, and there are new relics. The film-by-film section of the show makes thematic links between projects.

So Paths of Glory, Spartacus (1960) and Full Metal Jacket are clustered for their depictions of the battlefield, while Lolita (1962) and A Clockwork Orange nestle together with a focus on sex and controversy.

The most elaborate displays—The Shining, Barry Lyndon (1975), Dr Strangelove (1964) and finally 2001, together perhaps because design elements were in the foreground.

The argument is that the films were masterpieces of strategic planning, advancing every element meticulously towards their common goal.

Kubrick’s attention to detail is on display everywhere here. Look, there’s that very typewriter with a sheet of paper bearing the hugely spaced out words repeated over and over. Look, there is the same sheets paper with the repetitions in other languages for overseas distribution.


The detail is often indeed wonderful—the Saul Bass story boards for Spartacus, the models of the sets of Dr Strangelove and 2001. The assiduous snaps of east London streets to check out sets for Eyes Wide Shut (1999) are an unexpected beauty.

There are margin comments on source books—pages from Stephen King’s The Shining, with “Danny sees the blood” scrawled in red ink down one side.

Script notes, memos about production and casting have a terse finality.

“This is how it types,” we read on one blank sheet of paper—new stationery Kubrick was testing out—with “this is how it takes ink” scrawled in red below.

In Kubrick’s films, humanity and the systems we create collide—we’re enslaved to the war machine, or capitalism, or technology—and we get crushed underfoot or sometimes driven mad.

“Kubrick” was and is a brand, and it’s easy to critique his genius as a form of tyranny similar to the ones he scrutinised.

If you are a Kubrick fan then this is the Harry Potter Studio Tour with intellectual airs and graces. If not, it’s £16 to look at a monkey suit and a typewriter. As a fan it was brilliant.

Stanley Kubrick—The Exhibition Until 15 September at the Design Museum. £16

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