Stanley Kubrick’s work is polarizing; viewers of his work tend to love it or hate it, with not a lot of in-between. Regardless of where you stand, his name amongst 20th century film giants is undeniable, easily mentioned alongside the likes of Chaplin, Hitchcock and Fellini for his long-lasting pop culture influence. Unlike some other greats still with us and producing new work like Godard and Scorcese, Kubrick passed away in 1999; just days after submitting the final edit of his last film, Eyes Wide Shut, to the studio. This allows fans of cinema to examine his collective work and contributions to the field as a whole. The TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of its’ ongoing mandate to screen retrospectives of past masters, now pays tribute to Kubrick with an ongoing exhibition and film series until January 25th of next year.
So as with other potentially large subject matters I’ve visited in the Watchtower, I need to make a clarification – that I’m talking about the Kubrick exhibition and not his filmography. Any one Kubrick film could generate waaay more than one column of discussion and exists to be perused elsewhere. This show however, serves as a nice, concise overview for previous fans and perhaps as an introduction for newer ones who might not have realized Kubrick is responsible for many of their favourite films. Surprisingly, Kubrick’s body of work consists of only 16 feature films spanning over almost 50 years; which demonstrates how strong his influence on some current filmmakers may be. Touring the world, the Kubrick show meets the high standards set by similar prior shows at the Lightbox, with an impressive array of props and wardrobe, models, design drawings, production stills and film/soundtrack clips to take in. I’ve seen recommendations to give yourself an hour, but if you’re a little on the detail-obsessive side like me, you’re gonna want to book yourself a little more time to give everything a thorough look.
It’s broken up into separate rooms for each film, each with its own distinct colour scheme and décor. Not surprisingly, the most real estate is allotted to 2001: A Space Odyssey. My only complaint might be that I found it light on factual details. While other elements, like production stills, abounded, the nerd in me likes to read every placard and learn something new, even if it might be considered trivial. Stuff like, for instance, that for Barry Lyndon, Kubrick commissioned the development of special lenses able to adequately film scenes lit solely by candlelight (via triple-wick candles that burn brighter) for total period accuracy. Uhh…hello? Well, for those of you still here, that’s the kind of factoid I eat up and I could have used more along those lines. A confession – I thought Kubrick was British. American-born, he moved to and based his operations out of the U.K. (some say out of a fear of flying) from the 1960’s until he died. Another aside: there is a pre-exhibition warning that some content might not be suitable for viewing by younger children. Aside from some of the overtly sexual images in the Clockwork Orange display, I didn’t come across anything that I think would be too traumatic for anyone growing up in 2014. So if you can’t find a sitter, I think it’s safe to bring a kid along if you remember to cover their eyes and whisk them through that section; unless you’re prepared to have a long discussion with them at home!
TIFF also offers a combo package deal; if you see the Kubrick exhibition the same day as the screening of one of his films, you’ll pay a slightly reduced price. I plan to see 2001 in its’ full 70mm glory and have my mind blown all over again. So overall, the Kubrick show gets top marks and a full recommendation. A lot of folks might list the aforementioned 2001 and Clockwork, or Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket as personal faves, able to recite scenes and their dialogue word-by-word. But there is a fuller appreciation to be had in their context as part of a body of work. In his career, Kubrick experienced success in multiple genres including noir, historical epics, drama, black comedy, sci-fi and war; while many aspiring directors dream of hitting that bulls-eye with any of them just once.
From a young maverick known to alienate actors and anger studio heads with higher-than-normal multiple takes and perfectionist tendencies, to the respected auteur left to his methods because he had proven they generated spectacular results. Whether the everyday mundane or the fantastic, Kubrick was able to graft a sense of intense realism to whatever vision he was sharing with his audience. His patience and meticulousness paid off as it always seemed believable. Hand-in-hand with this, he helped advance use of tech that reset the bar and made modern filmmaking possible. An early champion of the Steadicam, it’s now a staple everywhere. Without the FX for 2001, Star Wars and its’ modern blockbuster progeny would not exist – let the debate begin. The Kubrick exhibition is quite an impressive journey & testimonial that deserves to continue being enjoyed.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!!!