Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kubrick at LACMA

I managed to rush down to Los Angeles to visit the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the L.A. County Museum of Art before it closed at the end of the month. It was a bit of a pain to get everything to work out on short notice, but the payoff far outweighed the cost.

The Kubrick exhibit takes up the first floor of the Art of The Americas hall, and is arranged like all good museum retrospectives: chronologically, starting with an overview, a short visit to his earlier works, and on chronologically through his highly singular ouvre to Warsaw Diaries, a project he was just in the early stages of researching when he died.

There are a few situational ironies about this exhibit. Stanley Kubrick only shot one film in California: The Killing (1956), his second feature-- and most of that was filmed in the Bay Area, around the former Bay Meadows racetrack in San Mateo. He scrupulously avoided spending time in Hollywood. Los Angeles put on quite a tribute for an outlander-- but then again, it's all one big business. The money that financed his films flowed for the most part out of studio gates. If he was not one of Hollywood's own, then he is widely considered one.

What I found especially pleasing is how hard the curators strove for authenticity in all the sections: there are very few reproductions, aside from amazingly detailed ones, like the model maze from The Shining or the hanging 10-foot model of Discovery One. But Jack Torrance's typewriter and axes, Private Joker's helmet, Barry Lyndon's costume: all the genuine deal. Someone had reproduced the sexy milk-dispensing mannikins from A Clockwork Orange, which struck me as an odd thing to do.

I was very gratified to see that the part of the exhibit concerning 2001: A Space Odyssey was by far the largest in space and number of artifacts. I had read in Piers Bizony's excellent, definitive book 2001: Filming The Future that Kubrick had deliberately destroyed the sets, props, spaceship models and costumes after wrapping 2001 to keep them from being used in cheesy sci-fi films afterward. (This happened to George Pal's Forbidden Planet (1956): those crazy grey jumpsuits showed up on TV shows well into the 1960s, as did Robbie the Robot). I was amazed even a little of it survived.

We visited LACMA on a Friday: there was a comfortable amount of other visitors there, no real crowding. Therefore, I was able to take as much time as I wanted in the Kubrick exhibit. I circled around and took it all in again.

It was an incredible culmuination for me. It was nothing short of awe-inspiring to be in the presence of the artifacts of Kubrick's works. It allowed me to slip through the gossamer veil of the cinema screen: while you're in there, among the hand-written script notes and props and lenses, you're on Kubrick's side of the camera. You stand with Kubrick, see what he saw and wrote and imagined. A powerful, unforgettable experience.

If you missed this retrospective, feel free to kick yourself.
Outside the exhibit space.

A dark room just inside the entrance. It shows side-by-side clips from his films,
one side overlaid with pithy quotes. This goes a long way to show the
breathtaking span of Kubrick's auteur vision.

This is on the wall just past the main entrance. It makes no sense here.
Makes all kinds of sense once you've gone through the exhibit.

Stuart Freeborn's articulated
Australopithicus makeup.
Part of the 2001 exhibit. The Discovery model is a reproduction: the
Space Station 5 chairs are authentic.

Fairchild-Curtis fisheye lens-- This is HAL's eye, the one they used
in close-ups and as a filming lens for HAL's POV.

They displayed the HAL Lens behind glass, but on both sides. All you have to do
is point your camera up to the back and you could shoot right through it.
This is a picture of me as HAL would have seen it, taken straight through
the Fairchild lens. Just amazing.

An actual production Discovery space helmet. This was Dave Bowman's: He wore it on the first EVA to replace the "faulty"
AE-35 unit, and unfortunately forgot it later on. I stared at this for at least ten minutes: I never, ever thought I'd
see something like this in person.

A detail from a surviving spacesuit costume, one of
the silver ones worn on the Moon. This is the
data pad, and there is supposed to be a number
of buttons on it. They must have fallen out.

There was other stuff there too: Here is Private Joker's helmet from
Full Metal Jacket. His gold wire-frame glasses were on display just
below as well.

All work and no going to LA to see a once-in-a-lifetime
museum retrospective make Jack a dull boy. The actual prop
Adler typewriter from The Shining.

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