You’ve heard all the Stanley Kubrick legends: how he’d grind his actors down with umpteen takes until they didn’t know who they were or what day it was. How he spent his later years holed up in a huge Hertfordshire pile, making late-night phone calls to various experts and extracting their knowledge like some kind of vampire. How he once faked the Moon landing for the US government. Here to separate truth from fiction (and lunar myths) is this dazzling foray through the great man’s work, housed in the suitably symmetrical surrounds of the Design Museum and door-matted by a patch of that famous orange carpet from ‘The Shining’. Fittingly, you’ll need umpteen visits just to take it all in.
The exhibition does the big ticket stuff as impressively as you’d expect with the whole Kubrick archive to cherry-pick from. Discrete space is dedicated to virtually all of Kubrick’s key movies (bad news, ‘The Killing’ fans) with original props, posters, costumes and storyboards, but it’s also beautifully curated and teeming with little curios and a tonne of tidbits to get lost in. Next to his old director’s chair are shelves stocked with the books he used to research his never-made Napoleon epic, the polite letter Audrey Hepburn sent to turn down the role of Josephine, and the filing cabinet he filled with cards charting every day of Napoleon’s life.
The attention to detail is mind-blowing – from both director and curators. Improbably, that famous Kubrick perfectionism extended even as far as his bespoke storage boxes on display. ‘Lid to be not too tight, not too loose, just perfect,’ read his instructions, the demands of an auteur Goldilocks.
The films themselves are ordered in loose thematic grouping rather than chronological order, so ‘Lolita’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’, his two controversy magnets, are paired up, and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ provides a final showstopper. Look out for Laurence Olivier’s armour from ‘Spartacus’, a scale model of the maze from ‘The Shining’ and at least one giant phallus from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ along the way.
It’s sheer heaven for Stan stans, but there’s loads here for design enthusiasts too. Kubrick’s pioneering collaborations with graphic designer Saul Bass, costumier Hardy Amies and set designer Ken Adam each get their due, as does his use of brutalist architecture in ‘A Clockwork Orange’. You’ll also be reminded what a huge role London played in his career, with the city standing in for upper-crust New York and war-torn Vietnam on screen. He had a stretch of Commercial Road photographed while location scouting for ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and that panorama is painstakingly reassembled along an entire wall here. ‘Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition’ has been travelling the globe for 15 years, but this definitely feels like a homecoming.