Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Stanley Kubrick: A Cinematic Odyssey. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
I have to admit, in all honesty, that writing about my experience at TIFF’s Stanley Kubrick exhibit was overwhelming. I had a bit of a block in sitting down to write the experience, not because it was earth shattering or anything, but it was the end result after a year of anticipation. It’s like waiting for the amusement park to open after the winter thaw, and then suddenly your rode the rollercoaster and now you get to write about it.
When I arrived at the press preview, I didn’t expect to meet Christiane Kubrick, (actress dancer, singer, and Stanley Kubrick’s wife – the one who sings that haunting song at the end of Paths Of Glory), and Jan Harlan (film producer, Kubrick documentarian, and brother of Christiane) right off the bat. But it happened. As the press filed past the pair, there was little time for questions. I was pretty tongue-tied and all I could muster was, “It’s an honor to meet you both. I would love to shake your hand and ask you one thing.”
Christiane graciously asked, “Ask away.”
I asked, “What do you think Stanley would make of all this, the young fans he continues to influence?”
Harlan was the first to respond, “Oh he would have loved the attention, but most of all the wonder that every was capable of doing what he did with a simple computer.”
Christiane added, “I think he would have loved that, but it also would have meant a lot of competition. But he would have stood in awe of the technology today for it.”
We were then all whisked away into the exhibit for an opportunity to photograph the exhibit along with a personal tour with Jesse Wente, Director of Programmes and Laurel MacMillan, Director for Exhibitions at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Jesse Wente: “This giant of cinema revolutionized the imagination of the film going public and created an incredible body of work that continues to inspire us to this day. It’s reflective of ourselves, our human condition, and our place in the world. I discovered his films when I was twelve years old in Toronto and became obsessed with them. Watched them over and over again in many years since. And it was a great pleasure to watch them again and again for the show and call it my job.”
Laurel MacMillan: “Stanley Kubrick is one of our largest exhibitions to date. There are over a thousand artifacts covering seven thousand square feet of our exhibition space at TIFF Bell Lightbox. In collaboration with our talented exhibition designer Barr Gilmore we’ve carefully created specialized rooms for each of Kubrick’s major films. The exhibition is organized chronologically and we did this intentionally. We wanted to show the evolution of his technique throughout his nearly fifty-year career. We took care that each room had an atmosphere reminiscent of the film it represents.”
Throughout the tour we were given involved summaries for each of the rooms. The genuine care for each of the pieces and settings were very much apparent throughout.
In The Shining room, MacMillan explained that they had researched the design and found a textile place in the U.S. that made it to their detailed specifications. The reality is, these considerations are incredibly important to both honor the filmmaker, but fans notice these things. If that carpet were to have the pattern in the wrong way, they’d notice.
That room held my attention not just for the carpet, but the recreation of the hedge maze on the table, the door leading to Room 237, and the Alder typewriter at the far end of the wall.
This same care went into the 2001 room (the actual “Starchild,” Dave’s spacesuit), which is divided into two rooms to recreate the two acts; the Full Metal Jacket room (Joker’s helmet), Lolita (letters church groups boycotting the film, a touching letter from Sue Lyon to Kubrick); the War Room (photos of the legendary pie fight that was cut out of the film); and all of the other great films that Kubrick left the film world. From Kubrick’s early photography career, his first films, and his unmade/unfinished projects there are finer points among the exhibit that paint a fantastic portrait of the filmmaker. There’s entirely too much to extol and a ridiculous amount of Kubrick filigree.
At the core, the whole exhibit attempts to elucidate the heart of the matter which is Kubrick ultimately being himself, an artist on a mission:
Jan Harlan: “I was asked to tell you what you’ll see in this exhibition and I’ve been asked this many times. Many people refer Stanley Kubrick as someone who never repeated himself. Every film is so different; it’s different genres. That is quite correct. But there was only one person. It was always the same artist. Therefore, you have to look a little bit deeper. You will find out that while form is different from film to film, in substance it can’t be because it’s the same man. And he always looked at it, from the beginning to the end of this career, at human folly, human vanity, and our vulnerability as people. At the same time, while he was not at all religious, he had tremendous respect for life and for the unknowable, which is so beautiful expressed in his film 2001.
Napoleon interested him because he represented so fabulously well this mixture of genius and fool. It’s a topic that goes through all of his films.”
Christiane Kubrick: “I think Stanley was always very preoccupied with the fact that we are, as far as we know, the only animal that has been formed and cursed with the knowledge that it has a brain big enough to know that it is far too small. That’s a huge burden. It has made us very strange and has caused us much unhappiness. And, of course, great ambition. I think a little bit of this is in all of his stories, the enormous mistakes we make; the fact that we can’t think our way through our normal every day problems. Stanley was fascinated by that and very much hoped he would make too many mistakes himself. This preoccupation was huge in his life. It gave him probably more fun at working really hard at everything he tried to do. He wanted to be perfect; not in the awful sense of perfectionists. But just totally one hundred percent involved. I think that’s what makes life far more interesting.”
In retrospect there is a lot of material to digest and render in the exhibit, but there two things of note and must see for those who are fans, and those who very well become new fans. There’s a chess set on display at the entrance. It’s a simple wooden chess set, finely polished, and you can tell it was used often. This chess set is one that Kubrick would use to play with his cast and crew between shots.
Kubrick started playing chess when he was twelve years old, even playing for change in Washington Square Park. He was quite adept at it and there are many photographs in the exhibit of him playing. One poignant one in there is of him with George C. Scott playing while covered in cream from the epic Dr. Strangelove pie fight.
The other element in the exhibit is the treat at the end. More often than not, I’m not big on moving images in gallery spaces. However, as I had a seat, I watched as the screen melted into different shots, all similar, synched in, from different Kubrick films. They were all underscored with each other’s soundtracks. This display at the very end is a work of love in its curation. I wanted to sit there all day enthralled, but alas the press scrum had to continue. There’s a windowed display of movie clapperboards for Kubrick’s films. It’s like a cut the end of the scene. Perfect.
I had so much fun and went back after with friends for TIFF’s BOOMBOX event for the opening of the exhibit. I will most likely go back on my own to explore on my own time, since there are extended displays throughout the Lightbox itself.
I highly encourage fans, film students, and anyone with any interest in Kubrick’s films to take in the exhibit. You never know when you’ll get the chance again to witness these historical artifacts. Stanley Kubrick wasn’t just a filmmaker. He was a thinker, an innovator, and most of all, someone who liked to explore and play.
This way you can too. I mean, you can through his films already: forever, and ever, and ever….