Los Angeles

Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange, 1971, 35 mm, color, sound, 136 minutes. Detail of contact sheet showing “the droogs.”

Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange, 1971, 35 mm, color, sound, 136 minutes. Detail of contact sheet showing “the droogs.”

Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange, 1971, 35 mm, color, sound, 136 minutes. Detail of contact sheet showing “the droogs.”

Once poised as the medium best suited to bridge high and low cultures, film is now, arguably, more divided against itself than ever; and what remains of art according to this new configuration is increasingly confined, or so it seems, to art-specific spaces. Thus, notice was taken whe the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, hot on the heels of its celebration of James Bond, unveiled a survey show of that preeminent twentiethcentury filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Though no doubt a concerted effort on the museum’s part to appeal to Hollywood (whose support the local art establishment has long sought but never substantially secured), these successive shows have another, perhaps more compelling rationale: to nurture the nascent affinity between cinema—or at least what cinema formerly was and no longer is—and the museum’s rarefied context of preservation.

Embracing both contexts, the Kubrick exhibition (on view through June 30) is installed so that visitors enter via a dark antechamber/movie theater. Within, clips from a succession of the director’s classic titles, from Spartacus (1960) to The Shining (1980) and onward, loop on two screens. Beyond this threshold, however, the lucid dreaming encouraged by celluloid quickly gives way to a much more conscious and simultaneously embodied experience as one enters a room crammed with auratic objects: artifacts of production (a collection of the director’s favored lenses) and distribution (a floor-to-ceiling hanging of film posters) alongside the archival residue of his early still-camera work. Wall texts inform viewers that in 1945, at the tender age of sixteen, Kubrick began shooting for Look magazine, which partly explains his curious relation to the image-language dilemma so germane to the medium he would later dominate. In print, pictures always appear alongside text, and Kubrick never quite left this template behind.

Passing through the exhibition, one encounters an onslaught of physical remains: correspondence, production notes, shooting scripts, film tests, storyboards, set models, costumes, prop designs, and so on. For another director, such stuff could be written off as tangential to the work, but in connection with Kubrick, a notoriously meticulous planner of every aspect of a shoot, these materials are key. In one of the show’s videotaped testimonials, Steven Spielberg makes an illuminating distinction between Kubrick’s preparations and those of his colleagues: While most directors start with very detailed pencil sketches of what they aim to create, Kubrick would begin with “large, primary-colored brushstrokes,” a broad concept, working every sequence until he “hammer[ed] its points home.” That’s to say that Kubrick upended the long-held bias that film must attend to life in its unfolding indeterminacy rather than to the prescriptive finitude of the idea. Here, ideas came before images, and that these ideas were typically derived from bookspositioned his oeuvre all the more fully in contradistinction to the teachings of theorists such as Siegfried Kracauer and André Bazin, who maintained that cinema should both subsume and jettison the written word.

In fact, everything in this exhibition is to some degree an outcome of texts read and reread, read into and around—a modus operandi that is especially apparent in the areas given over to three of Kubrick’s aborted projects: The Aryan Papers, A.I., and Napoleon. The display for the last even features a massive bookshelf stocked with titles from the director’s library as well as an extensive card catalogue. Pointing to films Kubrick left unfinished (n.b., he handed A.I. to Spielberg, who completed the movie in 2001), these artifacts assume the sort of autonomy that one might associate with Conceptual art, and in this are among the show’s most revealing and context-appropriate offerings.

That Kubrick was partial to the art of his time is suggested by the inclusion of works by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and John McCracken, but it is above all his mania for research that connects him to contemporary art. It’s as though Kubrick read in order to wrest from the book something supremely nonliterary, anti-subjective, and almost brutally concrete. On banners promoting the show up and down Wilshire Boulevard, the sinister/seductive gazes of Lolita, The Shining’s Jack Torrance, and Alex from A Clockwork Orange confront us once more. The instinctual cruelty that radiates from their eyes bespeaks a systemic breakdown of knowledge, and it is the knowledge of this breakdown that Kubrick, like so many artists working today, sought above all to communicate.

Jan Tumlir