2001: A Space Odyssey is my favourite movie. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that before in an article, although I honestly couldn’t say which one. When I say it’s my favourite movie, I mean that in a fairly specific way. When people find out I’m interested in film there’s a ticking clock that starts up in my mind, one that counts down to the inevitable question “well, like, what’s one of your favourite movies.” To which I answer, “2001: A Space Odyssey for pretentious film-nerd reasons.” Or something of that nature. I’m not lying when I say that, but honestly I don’t put a lot of weight behind those sorts of lists. 2001 is easily one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. And there is a certain satisfaction in maintaining a mental top ten list of the best movies you’ve ever seen, but that list can only ever be an exercise, and throwing that word “favourite” into the mix only muddies the waters. Zombi 2 isn’t one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but is it one of my favourites? And if so should it make the list? It’s a messy waste of time. But I try to keep a little mental list anyways, with certain rules. I try to keep the list populated by movies that are both “better” than other movies I’ve seen and “liked” by me. I also try to keep the list diverse. So while The Shining might also be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, I’d rather not have half my list be Stanley Kubrick movies.
Although it could be.
Which brings me to my point. The point being that I fucking love Stanley Kubrick. I’ve seen everything he’s made, from The Killing on, and all of them are brilliant, though some are more brilliant than others. I’m a proud owner and avid reader of The Stanley Kubrick Archives and rabid devourer of interpretations of his work. (I especially recommend Rob Ager’s which I tend to either violently disagree with or maintain are brilliant.) Stanley Kubrick is, quite simply, an utter genius whose filmography is almost entirely populated by masterpieces. When he made a film in any particular genre, it’s almost inevitable that it ended up known as one of the best films in that genre. 2001 might well be the greatest science fiction movie ever made, just as The Shining is still the best horror movie I’ve seen. Even an early film like Paths of Glory is still routinely touted as “one of the greatest World War One movies ever made.” Kubrick’s movies all reflect his rumoured 200+ IQ. They are the works of a grade A genius.
So when the TIFF Lightbox, the physical building/theatre built for the Toronto Film Festival, announced they were going to host an exhibit devoted to Stanley Kubrick (one that had previously been at the MOMA) I was immediately keen on attending. I’d previously seen the Tim Burton exhibit at the TIFF, which was a great exhibit. However I don’t think I’m going to blow anyone’s mind when I say that Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick aren’t even remotely on the same spectrum. Clearly Planet of the Apes is so good it would be a waste of time to even vocalize the fact that it’s my favourite movie, it’s just so clearly the crowning achievement of the art form. Regardless of that fact, personal preference meant I was even more excited to see the Kubrick exhibit.
Southern: You have won ‘unreserved critical praise for a least three of your pictures. At 33 you have already directed one of the biggest pictures ever made. Will success spoil Stanley Kubrick?
Kubrick: Fifth Amendment.
The exhibit did not disappoint.
There was a plethora of set photos, many of which I’d never seen before. Others I’d seen reproduced in various books, but got to see either original photos or superior quality versions. There were original costumes from Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut. There were props from Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and Full Metal Jacket. Each film had a whole host of notes, shooting schedules, and scripts. These were especially rewarding if you took the time to take in the jotted pieces of writing. Kubrick’s script for Lolita, for instance, had a note scrawled across the top that read, “These are the games the geeks play, plaster faster you bastards.” If you’d gone to the exhibit without knowing Stanley Kubrick at all (and indeed it seems like some did) then you’d easily know which of his movies are most loved. 2001 got two rooms, and The Shining got one large room. Eyes Wide Shut and Barry Lyndon were blink-and-you’d-miss-it type situations. Same with Full Metal Jacket for that matter.
While I love all these movies and would have happily taken in more props and other ephemera related to them, what was there was more than enough to satisfy. The Spartacus section had some of Saul Bass’ storyboards, which were massive and dynamically designed marker illustrations. Dr. Strangelove was incredible. There was the entire emergency kit from the plane (one combination bible and Russian phrase book). There was also a notebook page adorned with potential titles for the film. “Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus.” The bigger sections were admittedly even more incredible. There were masks from Eyes Wide Shut. A helmet and flags from Full Metal Jacket. Candles from Barry Lyndon. The cane from Clockwork Orange (possibly the sparsest section). The Shining is a masterpiece, hands down the best horror movie I’ve ever scene. This whole section of the exhibit was wonderfully presented, with a faux-carpeted floor and a miniature maze in the centre of the room. (Most of the exhibits were wonderfully presented, from a fake monolith in the 2001 section to electric candles in the Barry Lyndon section.) I got to see the typewriter Jack uses, prop axes, prop knives, Danny’s Apollo sweater, and the twin’s dresses. All basically incredible pieces of film history.
But 2001: A Space Odyssey was easily the most jaw dropping section. In no small part because of my fondness for the film. They had a series of incredible props, from some minutiae like a watch (that was actually sold) and some cutlery to a space suit. More importantly they had a mask and complete Moonwatcher (the chief monkey from the opening) costume. They had the model of Discovery One and a series of photographic stills of other models that were used to animate scenes. There was a collection of negatives of individual op-effects that were composited to create the stargate sequence. It was somewhere here, between the stargate effects and models, that seeing this stuff was briefly overwhelming. It was also somewhere in here that I heard a man explaining 2001 to his partner “so you see the computer goes crazy” and then a little later she asked “like Star Wars?” I sort of wished I could’ve heard the entirety of that exchange, but I was admittedly distracted by the incredible series of artifacts around me. It’s hard to tune into passerby’s conversation when the lens used to capture HAL’s POV shots is RIGHT THERE. Of course the crowning glory of this section was the true-blue Starchild model. There aren’t many situations where seeing a life sized mutant-baby model is a breathtaking experience, but this was one of them.
Southern: I understand that you cut and edit your own pictures — don’t you feel there are experienced editors who could do this?
Kubrick: I feel that the director, or the film-maker as I prefer to think of him, is wholly responsible for the film in its completed form. Making a film starts with the germ of an ideal continues through script, rehearsing, shooting, cutting music projection, and tax-accountants. The old fashioned major-studio concept of a director made him just another color on the producer’s palette — which also contained all the above “colors”. Formerly, it was the producer who dipped into all the colors and blended the “masterpiece”. I don’t think it so surprising that it should now fall to the director.
There was also a section devoted to Kubrick’s unfinished projects and poster and lenses. The specifically designed lens from Barry Lyndon was set up in the centre of the room. There was a signed 2001: A Space Odyssey poster – which all but made me salivate. This section had an insanely complete collection of lenses that Kubrick had actually used. There was a large collection of research for his famously unfinished Napoleon project. This included a shelf full of the books that made up Stanley Kubrick’s personal collection on the topic. There was a series of drawers filled with note cards that Kubrick had a group of grad students assemble. Supposedly there was a card for every day in Napoleon’s life. This section also had a letter from Audrey Hepburn turning down a role in Napoleon. There was a wall of storyboards for AI and a series of photos related to the Aryan Papers (Kubrick’s unfinished holocaust project that was scrapped after the success of Schindler’s List). This little window into Kubrick’s research process was phenomenally awe-inspiring.
Which is a good way to describe this whole exhibit. This retrospective of one of the greatest ever directors. Awe-inspiring.