LACMA Takes a ‘Look’ at Kubrick

Courtesy of LACMA

Courtesy of LACMA

It’s a busy Saturday afternoon at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Families, couples and singles alike pour into the museum’s Art of the Americas building, which, since November, has had written on its twin pairs of glass doors, the name “Kubrick.”

In the first retrospective art museum exhibition of his work, from his photography to his iconic feature films including “A Clockwork Orange,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Shining,” legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick is represented by an extensive collection of production stills, film clips, actual-size scene replicas, scripts marked-up with his own handwritten notes and props from his most famous films.

In 1945, a teenage Kubrick sold his first photograph — a representation of a melancholy newspaper vendor beside stacks of papers with the headline “President Franklin D. Roosevelt Dead” — to Look magazine. In the years that followed, Kubrick became an apprentice and later staff photographer for Look, before eventually turning to feature films in the early 1950s. Some of Kubrick’s photographs from his Look years are on display in the exhibition’s first large gallery.

On the opposite wall hang mysterious movie posters for each of his films, inspiring a wide range of questions from the eager viewer.

“The screen is a magic medium. It has such power that it can retain interest as it conveys emotions and moods that no other art form can hope to tackle,” he once said.

A room themed “ESP and the Limits of Reason” features props, scripts and haunting stills from Kubrick’s 1980 movie adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining.” Projected on one wall is a large black and white close-up photograph of the Grady sisters, the two young twin sisters who haunt the halls of the Overlook Hotel in the film.

Opposite this wall are the matching blue dresses worn by the child actresses in the film and on the adjacent wall are three still photographs of Jack Nicholson as the demon-possessed Jack Torrance. A wall description of Kubrick’s vision for the film reveals the writer-director’s interest in expressing the combination of the supernatural and the psychological.

The opening frame from “A Clockwork Orange” is recreated in a gallery encompassing “A Violent Dance/Discourse on Violence.” Opposite this display features a life-sized replica of a Droog and a selection of some of the original newspapers created for the movie, with headlines such as “Cat-Woman Killer Alex Freed” and “Government is Murderer.”

“Stop. My mind is going. I can feel it,” cries the HAL 9000 computer in a room devoted to “Phenomena and Silence,” which features props and photographs from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“It avoids intellectual verbalization and reaches the viewer’s subconscious in a way that is essentially poetic and philosophic,” Kubrick said about “2001.”

The exhibition also includes smaller galleries and screening rooms exposing several characteristic aspects of Kubrick’s style, such as eerie background music choices, precise emulation of clothing worn by individuals in 18th-century European paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and others and significant use of the color red in many of his films, symbolizing rapid technological advances in “2001,” the bloody outpouring of the Overlook Hotel’s evil and the color of the curtains behind Nicole Kidman’s striptease in “Eyes Wide Shut” respectively.

“I think it’s really cool to see a lot of his work, and scripts, and everything,” Crissy Kikkawa, a student from the USC School of Cinematic Arts spending a day off at the museum, said. “It’s really inspirational.”

The exhibition almost seems intentionally disorganized, as if to parallel Kubrick’s own scattered genius and ability to cover an extensive range of themes in his work, from the war scenes of “Dr. Strangelove,” “Full Metal Jacket” and others, to the futuristic anxieties of 2001: A Space Odyssey, to the “ultra-violence” of “A Clockwork Orange.” Though a lot to take in, the exhibition is well worth a trip to L.A.