Exhibition celebrates the 50-year career of the enigmatic, genre-hopping American filmmaker.
“Meet you in Room 237,” TIFF Director of Film Programmes Jesse Wente ominously announced late in the media tour for “Stanley Kubrick,” an exhaustive and masterfully designed exhibition devoted to the nearly 50-year career of the enigmatic, genre-crossing, and by all accounts virtuoso American filmmaker. Of course, the grim allusion to the forbidden room from the horror masterpiece The Shining, famously derided by its author Steven King, wasn’t just a reference but a literal invitation. The exhibition designers have laid out the interiors of TIFF Bell Lightbox’s HSBC gallery as a smart and intuitively arranged topographic tribute to Kubrick’s cinematic spaces, each room a recreation of a specific film’s most distinctive haunt.
The exhibit, TIFF Director of Exhibitions Laurel MacMillan indicates, is the organization’s largest to date. The HSBC gallery displays nearly 1,000 artifacts in a series of thematically clustered rooms, which have been laid out so that the spectator can progress chronologically through Kubrick’s career—from his early work as a street photographer for Look magazine to 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut. Walking through the exhibition’s pristinely organized spaces—a minimalist, grey-themed war room in the case of Dr. Strangelove and a kitschy motel for Lolita—is a bit like reenacting one of the filmmaker’s famed tracking shots.
While TIFF’s last major exhibition, devoted to David Cronenberg, registered mostly for its grisly tactility, “Stanley Kubrick,” as you might expect from his body of work, is a comparably cooler affair. We were struck by sights such as the full-scale Star Child model that welcomes you to the room devoted to 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as the impeccably designed, period-accurate costumes from his 18th-century epic Barry Lyndon. Casual fans and The Shining–obsessives will have a field day with the Overlook Hotel–themed carpets and props such as Jack’s typewriter and Danny’s Apollo launch sweater.
For more diehard Kubrick fans, though, the most impressive material here may be the reams of notes and correspondence the famously obsessive, micromanaging director left behind. We were particularly taken with the Lolita room, which neatly archives a one-sided conversation between the filmmaker (who appears to have stayed mum) and a Christian Action Network representative, who derided him for daring to direct a film that will surely “have deleterious effect upon our society … and therefore ought not to be made.”
On hand to vouch for the exhibition’s closeness to the spirit of the departed filmmaker, who died suddenly in 1999 only days after delivering his cut of Eyes Wide Shut, were his widow Christiane Kubrick—the German actress, dancer, and singer who famously closes out Paths of Glory with a mesmerizing folk song—and brother-in-law Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s longtime producer and director of Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. In his introductory comments, Harlan struck at critics’ habit of fetishizing Kubrick’s refusal to repeat himself as an artist, suggesting that there is an under-explored consistency to his filmography. “The form is different” from film to film, he noted, pointing to his range from war movie to political satire to science-fiction epic, “but in substance, it can’t be.” Kubrick, he added, looked at human folly and vulnerability regardless of the genre he worked in at any given time.
Christiane Kubrick, meanwhile, emphasized that, despite public’s perception of him as a ghastly perfectionist, her partner was profoundly humane. Kubrick, she argued, wanted everything in his films to be perfect, but “not in an awful sense”: he was never a bore, she insisted—just an artist who wanted total involvement in the works to which he signed his name. What better proof of that can there be than the exhibition?