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A Legendary Contribution to the Art of Filmmaking

The Contemporary Jewish Museum plays host to an exhibition spanning the career of Stanley Kubrick

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Stanley Kubrick with his 35mm Eyemo camera on the set of Killer’s Kiss (United States; 1955). © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Photo: Alexander Singer. Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is organized by the Deutsches Filmmuseum, Frankfurt am Main, Christiane Kubrick, Jan Harlan, and The Stanley Kubrick Archive at University of the Arts London, with the support of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Sony Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc., Universal Studios Inc., and SK Film Archives LLC. On view June 30–October 30, 2016 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.

Honoring legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, The Contemporary Jewish Museum is displaying about 1,000 objects including memorabilia, letters, personal notes, production photographs, props and scripts. This is the 15th presentation of Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, taking its turn in San Francisco as of June 30 and continuing to be on display until October 30. The exhibit spans the whole career of Kubrick in film from 1945 to 1999, starting from when he was a photojournalist in the 1940s. Some fun relics from the past include the little girls’ twin dresses from The Shining, Venetian masks from Eyes Wide Shut and Joker’s helmet from Full Metal Jacket.

Kubrick immediately grew as a highly respected photographer and went on to make short films. The exhibition showcases some of his first films: Fear and Desire, Killer’s Kiss and Paths of Glory as well as the cameras used to to create these cult classics. 

The exhibition then breaks into more familiar territory with his color, mid-career films, like Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and then ends with The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. There’s also a separate small room that contains all of the research Kubrick had been doing for two years prior to his death on Napoleon. He was fascinated with Napoleon’s attitude towards Britain and Jan Harlan, an executive producer who worked with Kubrick for 30 years, said that this influence of Napoleon fascinated Kubrick in terms of foreign relations.

Harlan shed some light on not only Kubrick the filmmaker, but the man. After being prodded about Kubrick’s sometimes unusual behavior reported on-set, Harlan replied, “He’s very quiet man, hardly ever raised his voice. … He was extremely demanding and self critical. He’s difficult because he finds it very difficult to get something right.” Making films can be quite easy, but to make a film that other people want to see and that doesn’t disappear after six weeks is even more difficult. “Making great films is almost a miracle. … [He] questioned himself and he changed the script every day,” Harlan said. There were no rules with Kubrick and although he repeatedly asked actors to perform take after take after take, Harlan claimed that they were more than happy to do so because they knew what they had signed up for. After all, they had heard what Kubrick had been like during the production of his previous films.

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2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick (GB/United States; 1965–68). Stanley Kubrick on set during the filming. © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is organized by the Deutsches Filmmuseum, Frankfurt am Main, Christiane Kubrick, Jan Harlan, and The Stanley Kubrick Archive at University of the Arts London, with the support of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Sony Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc., Universal Studios Inc., and SK Film Archives LLC. On view June 30–October 30, 2016 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.

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Stanley Kubrick on the set of Spartacus (1959–60; United States) in Spain. © Universal Studios Inc. Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is organized by the Deutsches Filmmuseum, Frankfurt am Main, Christiane Kubrick, Jan Harlan, and The Stanley Kubrick Archive at University of the Arts London, with the support of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Sony Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc., Universal Studios Inc., and SK Film Archives LLC. On view June 30–October 30, 2016 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.

Harlan said, “He considered Eyes Wide Shut to be his greatest contribution to the art of filmmaking.” Kubrick had first attained the rights back in 1970 and worked on it for over 30 years. It was his first contract with Warner Brothers, but then Kubrick pulled out to do A Clockwork Orange, which Harlan described as a “cut and paste job because the novel is written in the first person.” However, Kubrick kept going back to Eyes Wide Shut and 15 years after that he attempted to write the script again, with Woody Allen in mind to play a Jewish doctor in New York. After Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick decided to work on a film he was writing about the Holocaust. It would have been based on a book he liked called, Wartime Lies, but Kubrick was halted again because Warner Brothers notified him that Steven Spielberg was just finishing up a film about the Holocaust as well—Schindler’s List. Kubrick put that film idea aside and instead decided to adopt a collaboration with Spielberg with A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Finally, after that film was completed, Kubrick then filmed his dream novel, Eyes Wide Shut. “He liked it very much,” said Harlan. “As an artist you can’t be subjective. Your last painting is always your best.”

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Eyes Wide Shut, directed by Stanley Kubrick (1996-99; GB/United States). Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Stanley Kubrick during a break in shoot on the set. © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Photo: Manuel Harlan. “Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition” is organized by the Deutsches Filmmuseum, Frankfurt am Main, Christiane Kubrick, Jan Harlan, and The Stanley Kubrick Archive at University of the Arts London, with the support of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Sony Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc., Universal Studios Inc., and SK Film Archives LLC. On view June 30–October 30, 2016 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.

Tim Heptner, curator of Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, was in charge of the conceptual planning and loves the space that The CJM provides. His favorite part of the exhibition is the last room where we can all see how dedicated Kubrick and his team were to the extensive research he was conducting on Napoleon. “It reflects upon the time and the labor of love that he was thoroughly researching and trying to figure out and how he could start his movies,” Heptner said. 

Kubrick’s step daughter, Katharina Kubrick, was an honored guest at the opening of the exhibition as well and said that she loves to see the exhibition come into its own in each new venue because each curator does it slightly differently. “We’re sort of getting to see the world and the world is getting to see Stanley Kubrick,” Katharina said. She went on to share that when she sees the early photographs of her stepfather’s films it “represents a time in my life. They’re like pages out of a diary.”

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Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson on the set of The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick (GB/United States; 1978-80). © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is organized by the Deutsches Filmmuseum, Frankfurt am Main, Christiane Kubrick, Jan Harlan, and The Stanley Kubrick Archive at University of the Arts London, with the support of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., Sony Columbia Pictures Industries Inc., Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc., Universal Studios Inc., and SK Film Archives LLC. On view June 30–October 30, 2016 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.

In addition to Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition, there will be different special events taking place at the museum, including talks and screenings. The CJM has also partnered with other arts organizations in the city to present Kubrick’s films. From July 15–31, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts will host their series of screenings entitled Kubrick in Black-and-White and will feature Paths of Glory, The Killing, Fear and Desire, Killer’s Kiss, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and Lolita. From August 28-September 19, the Alamo Drafthouse at New Mission will feature The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange. On October 13–15, the San Francisco Symphony will present a special screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, featuring music by R. Strauss, Strauss Jr. and Ligeti, performed live by their musicians. Please visit ybca.org, drafthouse.com or sfsymphony.org for more information.


Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition will be on display at The Contemporary Jewish Museum through October 30. For additional information, including related programming, please visit thecjm.org.