Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Kubrick Crash Course

From across the River Ij, standing lone and distinguished, EYE Film Institute Netherlands looks like a geometrized fish, or an upside down yacht, or the elongated helmet of a Stormtrooper. A center for film culture and history, EYE links film with other audiovisual media through its innovative exhibits and aims to bring film and conversation about film to the forefront of the arts scene in Amsterdam.
If the museum looks like a helmet, in its cranium resides a temporary exhibit on Stanley Kubrick (until September 9, 2012), one of the U.S.’s most eminent filmmakers of the 20th Century. In fact, EYE’s is the first international exhibition on Kubrick’s work. While EYE also has a standard movie theater with current, mainstream movies, a trendy restaurant, a gift shop, and a permanent interactive film art exhibit in its basement, the Kubrick exhibit is the museum’s current focal point.
What makes this exhibit exceptionally successful is how well it conveys Kubrick’s filmmaking style and influence on the film world; both Kubrick and the exhibit pay close attention to aesthetics and import principles from visual art to blur the boundaries between visual art and film. Apparently Kubrick was extremely meticulous, perhaps even obsessive, in preparing for and executing production; this is demonstrated by the color-coded spreadsheets for each film displayed throughout the exhibit. But this perfectionism was an indication of an eye for the aesthetic quality of storytelling; he carefully planned cinematography to reflect the mood of the scene and drew from visual art influences in the set, prop, and costume design of his films. For instance, he uses a variety of distorted camera angles in reference to the dystopian world of A Clockwork Orange, shaky handheld perspective during a war scene in which soldiers are running through a minefield in and out of trenches (Paths of Glory), and scenes heavily shrouded in darkness to convey mystery in a film noir scene of a ballet dancer in almost complete darkness, save for her pirouetting back and forth across the screen in all white (The Killer’s Kiss). In addition, Kubrick was extremely conscientious of design and aesthetic value; he hired a graphic designer for the storyboarding and fight scene choreography for Spartacus, he was inspired by the Pop Art scene and commissioned sculptors to create iconic pieces for A Clockwork Orange, and he would make meticulous design sketches for fairly insignificant props. Kubrick even went as far as to commission a life-size centrifuge for the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey; it cost more than $750,000 to engineer but allowed him to alter the camera angles to create the illusion of weightlessness aboard the ship. Clearly Kubrick highly valued design down to the last detail in creating the worlds within his films.
This value for aesthetics is echoed in the exhibit. Like the rest of EYE, the exhibit is clean and modern, but the Kubrick exhibit displays superb, conscientious design intended to frame and augment his style and skill as a filmmaker; after a short introduction with a brief history of Kubrick’s early life and career, the main body of the exhibit is a series of thirteen spaces each devoted to a different film. These are partially separated by charcoal-colored dividers set at oblique angles to create the sense of individual galleries; however, sound, light, and people are easily able to move between adjacent spaces. The exhibit takes great care to create a complete, multidimensional experience of the artistic value of Kubrick’s films; it allows the visitor to see how interrelated different mediums such as art and music are and how important each is in producing a film. In addition to the film itself, each gallery has a combination of sculpture, photography, costume and set design, and history. Beyond original artifacts from the film, the curators have added unique touches that make the exhibit feel like an art exhibit as well. For example, in reference to the iconic Star Child, a plastic fetus hangs from the ceiling over visitors’ heads as they enter the 2001: A Space Odyssey gallery, and a stylized banner hangs behind the typewriter from The Shining with the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeated down the height of the wall, alluding to the psychopathic delusions of Jack. The creators even created a wall piece with translucent photographs of outer space illuminated from behind; although inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, it stands on its own as an autonomous work of art. These choices by the curators solidify that EYE not only intends to display film as art, but to enhance it so that it transcends the confines of the screen by utilizing visual and audio media as well.
Walking through the exhibit, I was struck by how many people were there on a weekday afternoon; one man, a self-admitted film buff, commented that he had made a special trip to see the exhibit and was impressed. The crowd varied in age, from young, edgy teenagers to older, conservatively dressed couples who looked out-of-place sitting in a gallery amongst props from A Clockwork Orange (which include naked female mannequins and an oversized sculpture of male genitals). Yet, with the amount of overt sexual stimulus one encounters walking around the streets of Amsterdam, these objects of graphic eroticism do not seem surprising or vulgar here. Perhaps it is the tradition of openness of the Red Light district or Amsterdam’s rich art scene where art on almost any subject is accepted, but the most popular films in the exhibition, the galleries with the largest groups of people watching the film clips, were Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, and Eyes Wide Shut, three of Kubrick’s most erotic and controversial films.
The exhibit was successful in conveying Kubrick’s talent and impact as a director, the range of his films, and his creativity in manipulating visual and audio elements to create a novel viewing experience. This exhibition portrayed Kubrick and his work in a unique light, enhanced by the museum’s own artistic choices in how it chose to present his work. 

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