Update – this exhibition has now closed but you can still see my 31 top picks and personal favourites of the items on display.
Despite the cannon of work he created between the 1950s and 1990s being relatively small, it goes without saying that Stanley Kubrick was one of the 20th century’s greatest film directors.
Each project he turned his mind to always differed greatly from the one conceived previously and so effective were Kubrick’s visions that the celluloid worlds he conjured up are now firmly embedded within our popular culture.
Kubrick’s style was best defined by two factors: his intensity (infamously demonstrated by his treatment of actors such as Malcolm McDowell and Shelly Duvall which resulted in physical and emotional trauma) and his acute attention to detail.
The latter of these traits left quite a legacy: a vast archive of props, notes, artwork and other material which is now under the guardianship of the University of the Arts, London. Since 2004, prize artefacts from this collection have been touring the globe, visiting Berlin, Melbourne, Seoul, San Francisco and many other cities.
And now it’s London’s turn to indulge in this Willy Wonka-esque box of filmatic delights.
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is hosted by the Design Museum in Kensington; a magnificent building which is a relative newcomer to the area having moved here from it’s previous Docklands location in 2016.
Advance booking is vital, and in doing so visitors are allocated a time slot at which to turn up (although once inside you may stay as long as you wish; a relief considering how much there is to absorb).
Even with this system in place however, it’s likely you’ll have to endure a wait.
This isn’t as bad as it sounds though. The museum staff are pleasant and as you snake your way through the cordon a number of intriguing distractions are at hand; namely the large video walls- which can be seen beaming a carousel of Kubrick’s most iconic scenes- and, to the right of the queue, a stunning Adams Probe 16 car- one of only three known to exist.
The Probe 16 is an appetiser for what’s to come. This ultra-rare vehicle appeared in Kubrick’s 1971 work, A Clockwork Orange in which it’s referred to as a Durango ’95 and is stolen by Alex and his gang of ‘droogs’ for a late-night, white-knuckle joy-ride.
Once you finally make it into the exhibition it can feel as if you’re being thrown in at the deep end as the sheer number of items you’re about to witness hits you. But being so near the entrance, the crowds prove to be a problem as you jostle to view Kubrick’s personal cameras, clapperboards and, almost lost amongst the bustle, the only Oscar he ever won (awarded in 1969 for the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey).
At this early point I felt as if I were tackling the tube during rush hour and, as I bobbed, stretched and twisted my neck, I feared I wasn’t going to have the chance to truly appreciate anything.
Fortunately things become easier as folk spread out and discover things at their own pace. After the introductory room, the following areas detail each of Kubrick’s films one at a time.
Interestingly, these sections are not arranged in chronological order- Kubrick’s final movie for example- 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut- is placed slap bang in the middle.
Every time you turn a corner, there’s a familiar prop to spot: by that wall is Private Joker’s helmet, complete with the juxtaposed ‘Born to Kill’ slogan and peace symbol badge. Here’s the raunchily posed statue from A Clockwork Orange, complete with a dispenser for the drug-laden Moloko-Plus.
Over in that cabinet are props from 1964’s Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; items so detailed it’s easy to see why the USAF suspected Kubrick of having an inside-man.
By the time I reached the section focused on Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece, The Shining I was beginning to feel truly dazed- albeit in a good way.
Was that really the actual typewriter upon which the increasingly deranged Jack Nicholson bashed out the line, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again? Yes it was. And there, in the cabinet opposite, stand three iconic costumes from the same film; the identical blue dresses worn by the creepy twins and little Danny Torrance’s custom-knitted ‘Apollo 11’ sweater.
Head around the corner and you’re plunged into the magnificence of 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; the ambition and magnitude of which provides an apt conclusion to the exhibition.
Tickets for Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition are priced at £16 which, considering the magnitude of items on display, is reasonable. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you may very well consider a second visit in order to concentrate on the many things which were no doubt missed before.
The exhibition runs until 15th September 2019 and if you’re in any way a fan of film, story-telling or the creative process in general, you’d be a fool to miss it.
How to get there
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is currently showing at the Design Museum, Kensington which is on Kensington High Street, next to the southern entrance to Holland Park.
The nearest stations are High Street Kensington, Kensington Olympia, Earl’s Court and Holland Park and the area is served by bus routes 9, 10, 27, 28, 49 and C1.