LACMA: Stanley Kubrick

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

This past weekend your friend and humble narrator (sorry) took in the new grand deluxe Stanley Kubrick retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

It’s an impressive show that I’d recommend to anyone who’s a fan of movies. His entire career is surveyed, from his days at Look magazine to Eyes Wide Shut and includes a generous sampling of the work and research he did for never-completed projects like Napoleon and The Aryan Papers.

This is the main hall.

A diagram neatly and helpfully sums up the auteur theory, so you can appreciate his genius.

The show features lots of props, pre-production materials, and other tools of the trade.

Here are some wide shots of the galleries.

Stills were blown-up and displayed like paintings.

This is the area for Dr. Strangelove. In addition to the usual stills, flatscreen TVs were playing clips. Below is Ken Adam’s model for the War Room.The show pays a lot of attention to 2001. Science fiction movies have all those models you can display.

Others get short shrift, like Eyes Wide Shut, which was pushed in a little dark corner. These were the only two displays for it.

The camera on the right has the fancy, specially-made lens that he used to capture the candlelit scenes in Barry Lyndon.

Much is made of Kubrick’s research process. The bookcase in the lower right contains the over 200 books he amassed for Napoleon. The card catalog broke Napoleon’s life down into minute detail.

The props from The Shining, like those from 2001, are especially cool because they’re so iconic.
The show got me thinking of a favorite pastime among many of us here at UR: gauging the critical and popular consensus of an artist over time. Or, more specifically, why does a certain artist’s stock seem to rise while another’s falls?

Kubrick died in 1999 but, if this show is any indication, his reputation is as solid as ever. His major work is in print and available on Blu-Ray. (Of course, it helps that he didn’t make that many films over his career.) A quick check of the recent Sight & Sound poll puts 2001 at #9. A number of Kubrick bios and analyses have been released since his death. Taschen produced two deluxe Kubrick books which have both sold well.

In contrast, Taschen’s book on Bergman was one of its biggest losersPersona is #17 on the Sight & Sound poll, but he’s one of those directors you hear less and less about. I asked a co-worker of mine who was a film major his opinion and, while he raved about Kubrick, he said the only Bergman he’s seen is Fanny and Alexander. “I remember learning how [Bergman] was Larry David before Larry David, i.e. he let his actors improvise as much as they wanted,” he said. How on earth do you get a film degree without watching The Seventh Seal?

So why do you think Kubrick’s stock continues to rise? As I noted, the LACMA show makes much of his extensive and comprehensive research for each of his projects and knowledge of the filmmaking process. Is he the geekiest director ever? You get the impression that he could personally run and repair any camera or piece of equipment on set. (His only Oscar was for the special effects in 2001.) Maybe DIYers love him b/c he was off working with his team in London far away from the Hollywood establishment, jealously guarding final cut, and overseeing every aspect of the film, up to and including the marketing campaigns and personally tracking the grosses. Lots of movie buffs around here, so I know you guys and gals have some thoughts.

Oh, one last thing. Fabrizio turned up this recent reddit AMA with one of Kubrick’s daughters and grandsons. Apparently Stanley liked tuna sandwiches, watching the NFL, and White Men Can’t Jump. A much more ordinary, down-to-earth, and charming portrait than you get at the LACMA show.

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
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6 Responses to LACMA: Stanley Kubrick

  1. agnostic says:

    Kubrick’s movies provoke a visceral, immediate response, so you feel more involved, and it leaves more of a lasting impression afterwards. Static shot compositions are more striking, action sequences feel more dynamic, the soundtrack is more rhythmically assertive, and even the dialog lines are more hard-hitting and quotable.

    Whether you’re being grabbed by the collar or pulled along by the hand, you feel like you’re being guided through a journey with little control over what’s happening. We remember the out-of-the-ordinary more, and being out of control while still navigating a course is quite extraordinary. Usually if you’re out of control, you’re bumping around the world at random, or if you navigate a course, you’ve got decent control over the process. A great movie feels more like going on a roller-coaster ride, almost like an out-of-body experience.

    Bergman films feel more like solving a bunch of math problems for homework — it’s more self-conscious, effortful, and emotionally detached. Way more cerebral than corporeal. I sat through at least half a dozen for a freshman course on Scandinavian Lit, and don’t remember much at all, although my impression is that Fanny and Alexander was more enjoyable than the others. I had to do a double-take when I checked the running times for The Seventh Seal and Persona — about an hour and a half, or less? Man, it felt a LOT longer than that, again like doing homework. You only spent 45 minutes on the problem set, but it felt like you were drifting into all-nighter territory.

    So Kubrick must still be popular because his movies are just plain ol’ easier to get into — just sit back and have a fun ride, whether or not you’re going to reflect on what it all meant afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Blowhard, Esq. says:

      You watched Bergman movies in a Scandinavian Lit class? Huh, interesting.

      But are Kubrick movies really that easy to get into? I think most people would say “2001” is a lot like homework.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    Cool snaps. I really like the gallery design. That Auteur Theory diagram is a hoot. What a load of shit…

    Kubrick is the ideal “art” director for the age of Reddit and computer programmers as not-dorks. He’s always been a big deal in the nerdier corners of the internet. The Usenet newsgroup focused on his work was a pretty lively hangout years ago, long before most people had made the internet part of their daily lives. The folks on there would endlessly dissect the meanings of individual shots. For them, Stanley was clearly the greatest movie director of all time. I mean, he built whole houses and villages in England just because he didn’t want to travel to America to shoot. Who but a genius would do such a thing?

    I think his imperious perfectionism and opaque braininess appeals to these folks in the same way that Bergman’s mix of sexiness and spiritual agony appealed to high-minded coffee house dwellers in the ’60s. People want to see their predilections reflected back at them. And for many brainy programmer types Kubrick is exactly what they’d try to be if they could get into making movies. You may be onto something when you mention the DIY aspects of his work. Holing up in England and sweating over tiny details until everything is JUST RIGHT probably appeals to folks accustomed to the worlds of programming and video game design.


    • Blowhard, Esq. says:

      >>That Auteur Theory diagram is a hoot. What a load of shit…

      I took that picture specifically for you. “[Fabrizio] is gonna love this.”


  3. Fenster says:

    I think of, say, Oliver Stone as visceral, for good or ill (usually the latter) but not Kubrick. I am usually aware of distance from the proceedings in watching his films–distance he brought to his direction and which he invited the audience to share. So I think he not only appeals to technical nerds but also self-conscious types who take more satisfaction from observing the whole mess than jumping in the slurry themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: “The Shining”: Stephen King v. Stanley Kubrick v. Conspiracy Theorists | Uncouth Reflections

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