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Inside the Works of Stanley Kubrick

LACMA-KUBRICK-EXHIBITION-PHOTO-17 I had the pleasure of visiting the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) last week and I have to say it was incredible.

To those of you in L.A… if you haven’t seen it, go now before this exhibition closes. The final day is June 30th. I spent a couple of hours and wish I would have had more time. To see the breadth of Kubrick’s career laid out in set stills, costumes, production notes, cameras, lenses and a myriad of artifacts dating from his early days as a photographer for Look magazine to his very last film, “Eyes Wide Shut,”  was fascinating to say the least.

From the sheer aspect of filmmaking, it was fun to see the march of time through the changing technology Kubrick utilized. Long before the light-sensitive digital cameras of today, Kubrick made cinematic history by shooting “Barry Lyndon” by mere candlelight and natural light. The famed Mitchell BNC Camera and the super-speed Zeiss lens developed for NASA are part of the treasures to be ogled.

But you don’t have to be a film enthusiast or even a Kubrick fan to appreciate the exhibition. The literary set will find much of interest as well.

Ten of Kubrick’s films were based on novels and one on a short story by a novelist. And in an industry where the novelist is usually discarded for the screenwriter as soon as the film rights are signed over, Kubrick chose to co-write seven of his screenplay adaptations alongside novelists. This was a filmmaker who placed tremendous value on literature. That’s not to say his films are mirror images of the novels from which they were adapted.  They are not.  And in my opinion, they can’t be. Film and literature are two different mediums and can’t possibly impart the exact same experience. A novel is a solitary work, whereas a film is a collaboration of many artists guided by the vision and interpretation of the director.

And now the big question every Kubrick fan asks: What is your favorite Kubrick film? Mine? It’s not  Kubrick’s most acclaimed film (that would probably be “2001: A Space Odyssey”), or his most beautifully stunning (no doubt “Barry Lyndon”) or his most politically electrifying (toss-up between “Paths of Glory,”  “Dr. Strangelove,” and “Full Metal Jacket”). As a writer who sequesters herself in remote places for long stretches of time, it has to be “The Shining.”  And on “The Shining” front, the exhibition does not disappoint.

What I love most about King’s novel is that Jack Torrance has one of the widest character arcs possible. It’s not easy to start a character as the protagonist (albeit troubled) to have him end as one of the darkest antagonists imaginable. To the disappointment of some, Kubrick took a much straighter shot toward the mad Torrance. But while Kubrick’s interpretation strays considerably from the book, it excels in its own right, such as its brilliant and chilling use of visuals and space. Through the use of wide open spaces juxtaposed against the confines of the Torrance’s tiny apartment and the hedge maze, it creates the imprisonment that separates Jack Torrance and his family from civilization and ultimately from reason. It captures what a writer is up against when sequestered for weeks or months on end in a remote setting with only their thoughts for company. Solitude can be the writer’s best friend, but after only a couple of weeks of isolation, things can start to unhinge. And while most of us don’t turn into axe-wielding lunatics, I would say most ultimately feel the madness of the words rolling through our heads again and again and again.

To see Jack Torrance’s typewriter with the infamous proof of Jack’s unraveling still hitched beneath the keys brought a wide smile to my lips. I stood for a long while staring at it as if I were looking at the original Mona LisaStarry Night, or more appropriately, The Scream.

Writing a novel can be dangerous territory.  One goes in alone and wrestles with their demons and hopes to emerge in one piece. Thus enters the Spanish artist, Francisco de Goya, and his 1799 etching, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.  The exhibition draws visual similarities between the etching and the shot of the unconscious, or the simply mad Jack Torrance slumped over his writing desk.

By this time in the exhibition I had nearly filled a notepad in an attempt to capture the brilliant and intriguing “chain of influence” the exhibition had drawn between Kubrick and the artists who had inspired him. Of most titillating note, was the intersecting lines drawn between Kubrick and the famed photographer, Diane Arbus. The exhibition poses a compelling link between Arbus’ eerie “Untitled Twins,” and Kubrick’s Grady sisters who were not twins in the novel.

Perhaps my favorite piece of “The Shining” installation was King’s open-faced manuscript marked by adaptation and production notes–the most basic of junctures between literary and film.

But in spite of my enthusiasm, there is so much more than “The Shining” to the Kubrick exhibition. It’s a single gallery among many depicting the diverse range and timespan of the filmmaker’s work.

In the end, what struck me the most about the exhibition was seeing how passionately Kubrick embraced other artists and art forms. The paintings, music and literature from which Kubrick drew inspiration are an integral part of the exhibition.

While life inspires art, art also inspires art. Experiencing the work of others pushes us into new territory, expanding our thoughts and driving us in new directions we never imagined.

The exhibition is said to be a mere glimpse into what the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be once it opens in the historic May Company building right next door to the LACMA facilities. Something tells me I will be lost in there for days.

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