Last week I went to the L.A. County Museum of Art to check out its Stanley Kubrick exhibit, an exhaustive collection of props, concept art, scripts, correspondence, set photos, costumes, and other cinematic footnotes that has been on display since November. It was originally scheduled to run until the end of January, but was extended through the end of June due to popular demand. A representative from LACMA told me that on weekends, the exhibit averages about 8,000 visitors a day.
Stanley Kubrick never won an Academy Award for directing, but Meryl Streep never got the final rose on The Bachelor, either. I don’t know if it counts as a travesty if you’re not playing the game to begin with. Kubrick moved from Los Angeles to the English countryside right before preproduction started on Lolita (the first film he would receive an Oscar nomination for, for Best Adapted Screenplay) and was famously private, ever-resistant to the Hollywood publicity machine. He was more interested in making the best pictures than winning Best Pictures. Principal photography on Barry Lyndon took 300 days. (I would tell you how many days principal photography took on Driving Miss Daisy, but nobody on the Internet has cared enough to put that number on Wikipedia.)
[Thats one of Kubrick’s insanely intricate shooting schedules, not a seismograph reading, in case there was any confusion.]
Stanley Kubrick never won an Academy Award for Best Director, but last Saturday 8,000 people paid $20 to be in a space and see this collection of physical evidence of his genius, to surround themselves with objects that made them feel closer to movies they already had longstanding relationships with. The museum allows for photography at the exhibit, and everyone with a smart phone was taking full advantage.
Why would you Instagram the typewriter from The Shining when you could Google image search it? (This is a rhetorical question.)
My favorite Kubrick film is 2001: A Space Odyssey. The first time I saw it, I was a freshman in high school, babysitting at some well-to-do friends’ house in the country. The family had a DVD player and a large-screen TV, two things I had never operated before. The kids were asleep, and for about a half hour I found myself poking and prodding at the black box, trying to get it to show me a picture (I eventually figured out I had to switch the input from the PlayStation). I didn’t really get the movie the first time, but I liked that it was about infinity. I also knew how to work a DVD player flawlessly after that night.
Much of Kubrick’s career was a space odyssey — he’s shown us some of the most unnerving four-walled environments in film history: the Dr. Strangelove War Room, the restroom in The Shining, The Bedroom. In a future life, I could see him designing the most architecturally cutting-edge nightclubs in Dubai.
History is filled with stories of artists who struggle their whole life and never achieve contemporary success, dying poor and alone and unknown, only to be lauded posthumously. For all his personal anonymity, Kubrick’s films were high-profile, buzzy events, even if critics and social pundits were not always charitable.
Stories of Kubrick’s creative process (many of which are filled with misinformation and gossip, since his sets were almost always closed to outsiders) often carry a narrative of practical obsession — creating his own extremely fast lenses so that he could film Barry Lyndon by candlelight, personally developing the visual effects for 2001, for which he won his only Oscar — but the technique was always in service of ideas that were every bit as rigorous. Kubrick never felt he had to choose between one or the other.
By the end of his career, Kubrick’s films were financially sound and artistically revered. What more would an Oscar prove? Is it a great shame that we can’t place Dr. Strangelove in the same category as Dances With Wolves? Would you pay $20 to Instagram a prop gruel bowl from Oliver? I mean, Oliver‘s fun, but 2001 took us to infinity. They just didn’t have awards for that in 1968. They still don’t.