First things first, let me just say that I am no great expert on Kubrick. I’ve seen his major films (with mixed reactions) and I’ve read articles with a passing interest, but he’s not a director for whom I’ve scrambled though library back catalogues to find first edition copies of his work. So I am thrilled to report that the Cinémathèque Francaise’s Kubrick exhibition left me inspired by and in awe of such a dedicated, passionate and experimental filmmaker.
The Cinémathèque walks us through, room by room, a timeline of Kubrick’s work. Starting with his earliest documentaries ‘Day of the Fight’ and ‘Flying Padre’ through to his most famous films such as ‘Spartacus’, ‘A Clockwork Orange and ‘The Shining’, then leading us through a corridor of his photography for ‘Look’ magazine (he started age 16) and ending with detailed reports from films that never made it into production: ‘Napoleon’ and ‘Aryan Papers’. The entire exhibition covers two floors and is filled to the brim with information, photos, props and accessories. It seems not a cm of floor space goes to waste.
What really gives life to this exhibit, and what raises it above your run-of-the-mill iconic filmmaker retrospective is the attention to detail for all aspects of his work and the sheer number of personal items that convey Kubrick’s personality and immense passion for his work. Annotated scripts, personal correspondence, set sketches, location stills, production timelines and photos of the director on the set of nearly all his films demonstrate the time and care that went into all of his work and serve as historical evidence of the filmmaking process from the 1950s onwards.
As for the films themselves, they are presented in imaginative ways against brightly painted walls with detailed information of the shooting process and audience reactions. The ‘Clockwork Orange’ room for example (orange walls, of course) includes newspaper clippings of the original ‘Alex’ case, fan letters (one that reads ‘there wasn’t enough sex and there was too much violence!’), the iconic female nude design furniture and Phillip Castle posters. Further on in ‘The Shining’ section you can see the original costumes as worn by the creepy murdered twins and a secret black room showing the films bloodiest moments with the real knife and axe from the set.
The technical side of the exhibition is equally informative and proves what a technically accomplished filmmaker Kubrick was. Examples include the ‘Eyemo’ camera (a 35mm camera used to film fight sequences in The Killing), an explanation of front projection simulation (to shoot the opening ape sequence in ‘2001: Space Odyssey’), and Carl Zeiss lenses (for candlelit scenes with no artificial lighting in ‘Barry Lyndon’). Technical drawings detailing special effects show innovation and daring, non more exemplary than the ageing sequence from ‘2001: Space Odyssey’, which for its time, was about as modern as you could get.
Don’t miss this chance to get closer to one of the greatest filmmakers of the last century. The exhibition runs until the 31st July and I also recommend the audio commentary (narrated by Malcom McDowell in English and Marisa Berenson in french) available for €3 which goes into even greater detail as you walk around the exhibition. Finally the Cinémathèque is also showing a retrospective of Kubrick’s films and Kubrick-inspired films (including Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’, Spielberg’s ‘A.I’ and Pixar’s delightful ‘Wall-E’) until 2nd May.