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Art Imitating Art: Stanley Kubrick | Design Museum

Last updated on October 30th, 2019

Is there anyone on the planet who hasn’t seen a Stanley Kubrick film? My Kubrick of choice, and one of my all-time favourite films, is the lesser-known Barry Lyndon,  the tale of a rake’s progress where every scene is a delicious 18th century painting. To watch it is to step inside a William Hogarth, a Joshua Reynolds or a Thomas Gainsborough. Filmed entirely in natural light or by candlelight, and set to Handel’s masterpiece, Sarabande, Barry Lyndon  is a feast for the eyes and the ears.  And over at the Design Museum, I discover that one of the secrets to the beauty of the film is a three-wick candle, commissioned by Kubrick, and a nifty piece of kit: a NASA-manufactured lens used for the Apollo moon landings, perfect for capturing candlelight just as it would in a Hogarth painting. Another 700 objects explore all aspects of Stanley Kubrick’s incredible craft as a film maker, storyteller, editor, director and as an inventor in Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition.

Kubrick was American, but he was also a Londoner. He lived and worked here for 40 years, and most of his films were shot in or around the capital. He was a craftsman, and the last of the great analogue film directors. It becomes clear as you walk through the exhibition how prophetic he was with technology and with the game of politics. Kubrick was also a notorious control freak, involved in the nuts and bolts of every stage of the film-making process.

Stanley Kubrick, exhibition, London, Design Museum, Malcolm McDowell

Hat tests with Malcolm McDowell for A Clockwork Orange

In a pre-Google, pre-CGI world, Kubrick would go to tremendous lengths to gather the nuggets of information he needed to create a masterpiece, and he worked with good old-fashioned film techniques using sketches, models, choreographers and designers to map out the details – down to the minutest detail.

Give yourself plenty of time to explore this exhibition. It’s massive, and it’s full of details you won’t want to miss. It’s as meticulous as the man himself and a real portrait of the artist.

Exhibition Highlights

Stanley Kubrick, Exhibition, Design Museum, LondonThis isn’t just any red carpet: it’s the retro-chic pile from hotel corridor in The Shining. The entrance to the exhibition has been decked out in Kubrick’s famous one-point perspective camera angle, a technique which has since been copied by Wes Anderson.

Stanley Kubrick, exhibition, design museum, Probe 16The Probe 16 from A Clockwork Orange  (1971), designed by Dennis and Peter Adams. Only three of these were manufactured, making it one of the rarest cars ever made.

Stanley Kubrick, exhibition, design museum, Clockwork Orange, rocking machine, Allen Jones, Korova Milk Bar

Herman Makkink’s Rocking Machine (left) from the rape scene in a Clockwork Orange,  Alex’s costume and the Allen Jones-inspired Korova Milk Bar mannequin. The iconic sets in the film were designed by John Barry and the Milk Bar mannequins were produced by Liz Moore. The pair would work again on Star Wars  when Moore designed C-3PO and the famous Stormtrooper helmets.

Stanley Kubrick, exhibition, design museum, Jack Nicholson, typewriter

Photo: Ed Reeve

Yes, that’s the one: Jack Nicholson’s “all work and no play” letter from The Shining.

Stanley Kubrick, exhibition, design museum, Overlook Maze, ShiningThe model for the Overlook Maze in the final scenes of The Shining. “It consists of over a mile and a half of pathways and can take up to 90 minutes to find your way out of the center.”

Stanley Kubrick, exhibition, design museum, Grady, Diane Arbus

The Grady daughters in The Shining  are thought to have been inspired by Diane Arbus’s iconic “Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J, 1967.”

Stanley Kubrick, Design Museum, Mitchell BNC Camera Barry LyndonThe Mitchell BNC Camera was an industry standard from the 1940s to the 1970s, but Kubrick had the lens rebuilt for the filming of Barry Lyndon. The new highspeed lens was made by NASA for space photography, and Kubrick used it to re-create his famous candlelight scenes. No electric lighting was used in the film.

Stanley Kubrick, exhibition, design museum, Space Odyssey 2001, Hilton lounge, Star ChildThe Star Child from Space Odyssey 2001 gazes down at the Hilton lounge. That’s good product placement if ever I’ve seen it! In the foreground, the model for the Pan American Orion III space plane.

Stanley Kubrick, exhibition, design museum

Barry Lyndon was a portrayal of life in 18th-century Europe and almost every scene is a translation from a well-known piece of art. Kubrick’s archive includes 120 boxes filled with references torn from art books featuring paintings by Joshua Reynolds, Johann Zoffany, Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth, Jean-Antoine Watteau and George Stubbs. “The designs for the clothes were all copies from drawings and paintings of the period.”

Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is on at the Design Museum until 15 September.

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A London arts and culture blog featuring articles about art, theatre, opera, dance, music and design.


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