It’s a testament to the breadth of the genius of film director Stanley Kubrick that even the most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to his work barely touches on one of his most extraordinary ancillary talents: the uncannily perfect choices in music he so exquisitely utilized for his classics, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to his final opus, Eyes Wide Shut. Just this aspect alone would probably require an exhibit in itself.
So we’ll leave his brilliant musician’s ear for another occasion and take in some of the visual-arts influences that permeated his films and are among the themes explored in Stanley Kubrick, which has opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for a six-month residency, after appearing at a number of European cities before landing in the U.S. this month.
An installation comprised of over 600 objects and materials including props, cameras, scripts, and sketches, it’s the largest compilation to date of the director’s contributions to modern cinema. (Kubrick died at the age of 70, in 1999.)
It’s no surprise that the relationship between the filmmaker and art would pervade any examination of the Kubrick legacy. A striking example is revealed in the ghostlike twins, top, who made a memorable appearance in The Shining; it’s safe to surmise that the seminal photograph, Identical Twins by Diane Arbus, above right, made an impression on the director, who was a photojournalist early in his career.
Likewise, another scene from the same film, which has Jack Nicholson slumped over next to his typewriter before he begins a nightmarish descent into psychosis, harbors elements of the creepy 1799 etching by Francisco Goya, with the unforgettable title, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. (Also featured in the collection are the geometric planks by artist John McCracken that are believed to have influenced Kubrick in the creation of the mysterious black monoliths that figured so prominently in 2001.)
But the artistic apotheosis is probably the long-neglected masterpiece Barry Lyndon, now considered one of Kubrick’s greatest achievements, where the 18th Century was brought gorgeously to life in settings — inspired by such painters as Gainsborough and Watteau — that are stunning in their period beauty. Kubrick scoured numerous art books devoted to the epoch in order to accomplish the effect.
I can’t think of another director with quite as many levels of sensibility as Kubrick. I ran across a quote from colleague Martin Scorsese where he said, “Watching a Kubrick film is like gazing up at a mountaintop. You look up and wonder, how could anyone have climbed that high?”
And how lucky for film lovers, who’ve been privileged enough to share the incomparable views.