0D90 Stanley Kubrick: a retrospective
 

Stanley Kubrick: a retrospective

The filmmaker's first retrospective in the United States breaks with strict chronology and instead creates clusters of visual and informative "microclimates" within the exhibition hall — a different weather for each film.

 

Art / Katya Tylevich

At the entrance to the impressive Stanley Kubrick retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), a small sign announces the current efforts of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (co-presenting the show) to create "the world's foremost motion picture museum" — to be located next to LACMA, and designed by Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali. The sign is there as if to whet the palate for Kubrick 4F4A , the filmmaker's first retrospective in the United States, and to raise awareness and generous support for the museum endeavour. The announcement underscores the importance of film as art and the need for a place to "hang" it, especially in a place like Los Angeles. Because, come on, Los Angeles should already have a foremost motion picture museum.

All this to say that I certainly hope we're past the point of having to defend film as an art form — though what better way to beat that dead horse than by looking back at the remarkable works of Kubrick? However, we may not be past the point of discovering new ways to present that art form within the static confines of white walls. Short of screening Kubrick's opuses in full, how can an exhibition do justice to the atmospheres, techniques and perhaps even neuroses created by a director, without deviating from the works in question, oversimplifying them or, God forbid, hyper-intellectualising?

Stanley Kubrick, installation view at the LACMA. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA

Stanley Kubrick breaks with strict chronology and instead creates clusters of visual and informative "microclimates" within the exhibition hall — a different weather for each film discussed, as it were, with meaningful asides to present Kubrick's work as a photographer for Look magazine in the 40s and his research for two unrealised films, referred to as Napoleon and Aryan Papers. In doing so, the retrospective conveys quite well the "bodily" experience of immersing oneself in a world or point of view through film. At the same time, it provides a necessary cerebral lifejacket: just enough background text, comparison, and thematic cohesion to buoy the viewer from drowning in the various dramas on display.

Stanley Kubrick, installation view at the LACMA. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA

Although the exhibition takes care to remain inviting to those uninitiated in the films of Kubrick, the show is, of course, most satisfying for those who come to it having seen at least some of his masterpieces. Half the fun is staring at familiar scenes in this unfamiliar context, wherein the heavy chewing has been taken care of already. Looking at a gorgeous scene from Barry Lyndon (1975), for example, one need only turn an eye to the ready-to-think text outlining how the film "offers a stunning arrangement of symmetries and doublings, of intense colours and perfectly realized tableaux copied from eighteenth-century paintings by Joshua Reynolds, Johann Zoffany, William Hogarth, Jean-Antoine Watteau, Thomas Gainsborough, and George Stubbs." Visual examples are likewise provided by way of history and art books, flipped to just the right pages. Well, that's one less trip to Wikipedia! Other such nuggets matter-of-factly discuss the colour red in Kubrick's films, stating that he "developed a constellation of meanings and sensations surround the colour" and offering a very convincing palette of stills as example. The matter of fact tone and direct nature of such captions throughout the show do well to allow Kubrick's work to do most of the talking, and refrain from clashing with the artistic flourishes of the director or the personal reactions of the viewer.

 
The matter of fact tone and direct nature of such captions throughout the show do well to allow Kubrick's work to do most of the talking, and refrain from clashing with the artistic flourishes of the director or the personal reactions of the viewer
 

Stanley Kubrick, installation view at the LACMA. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA

The retrospective, which originated in Frankfurt's Deutsches Filmmuseum, has already been traveling Europe for years, and its arrival in Hollywood seems a no-brainer, albeit an exciting one eliciting long lines and positive reviews. Like flies in honey, people in attendance seem to clump most notably around projections of A Clockwork Orange (a looping segment of Alex slumped at the Korova Milk Bar) and Full Metal Jacket ("this is my rifle, this is my gun"…). The garland of humans around these projections, and others, underscores just how mesmerizing they are. But perhaps the most moving element of the exhibition is those pages ripped from various scripts, heavy as they are with Kubrick's notes, his handwriting, his changes, his thoughts. This might be as close as we can get to putting a frame around a process, or entering that limbo wherein internal thoughts and ideas hang out before they're edited and articulated and handed to the public in that final, irreversible step.

Stanley Kubrick, installation view at the LACMA. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA

On the LACMA website there is a free app available for download, which allows for more in-depth, documentary-style discussion of Kubrick, his life and his works. Addressed in some detail is Kubrick's physical separation from Hollywood via a life in the UK, as well as the "myth" of Kubrick as an introverted genius… a separation of the director as he was from the director as he was imagined. After all, those who worked with Kubrick depict him as demanding, yes, a perfectionist, but certainly a warm and engaged human. Such depictions, discussed in the app but also running subtly throughout the exhibition by way of quotes, small facts, and many photographs of Kubrick on set, allow the auteur to play the role of human, even on a stage shared with his legendary work. Katya Tylevich

Stanley Kubrick, installation view at the LACMA. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA

Through 30 June 2013
Stanley Kubrick
LACMA
5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles

Stanley Kubrick, installation view at the LACMA. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA

Stanley Kubrick, installation view at the LACMA. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA

Stanley Kubrick, installation view at the LACMA. Photo by Museum Associates/LACMA

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