In the midst of grappling with end of year assignments, I took time out to join a CILIP in Kent visit to the Stanley Kubrick Archive which is located at the University of the Arts London Archives & Special Collections Centre, which providess a fascinating glimpse into the life and work of celebrated filmmaker.
Stanley Kubrick made a total twelve films between the 1950s- 90s, spending an increasing amount of time on pre-production and research. Not long after completing post-production on Eyes Wide Shut(1999), Kubrick passed away in his sleep, after suffering a major heart attack, the archive spans his entire career.
The Archives and Special Collections Centre
Opened in 2007, the centre was specially constructed to house the vast quantity of material Kubrick accumulated for his films during the course of his life time and which had previously been located at his home in Hertfordshire. Realizing that there was a great deal of interest in his work, the family sought to ensure the archive stayed in the UK and was made available to a new generation of film makers.
The archive documents Kubrick’s work and includes material from both released and unmade films, including draft and completed scripts, research materials such as books, magazines and location photographs. It also holds set plans and production documents such as call sheets, shooting schedules, continuity reports and continuity Polaroids. Props, costumes, poster designs, sound tapes and records also feature, alongside publicity press cuttings.
The archive was designed to meet the British Standard for the Storage and Exhibition of Archival Materials and includes a reading room that can accommodate up-to six researchers at a time. Along with the Kubrick Collection the archive provides access to more than seventeen other collections and archives, receiving around 1700 visitors a year. Alongside the Archives and Special Collections Centre, other collections are held by the individual colleges of the University.
We were shown around by Georgia and Sarah who provided us with the history of the archive and a selection of material from the archives.
Stanley Kubrick’s films
After his father gave him a camera for his seventeenth birthday, Kubrick became an avid photographer and was offered an apprenticeship with ‘Look’ Magazine.
Whilst there he began to develop an interest in cinema. He produced his first short film, the documentary Day of the Fight in 1951, followed by two further documentary shorts Flying Padre (1951), and The Seafarers (1953). After producing The Killing (1956), for United Artists, he worked with Kirk Douglas on Paths of Glory (1957) and Spartacus (1960).
Lolita and Strangelove
His first UK feature film was Lolita (1962) was based on Vladimir Nabokov’s novel about a College Professor who develops an infatuation with a teenage nymphet, starred Peter Sellers who would take the leading role in his next feature Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb a satirical black comedy about nuclear war.
The material displayed included a cube featuring promotional photos of Sue Lyon as Lolita by Bert Stern. A copy of the screenplay with highlighted passages that were deemed problematic for the censors, underneath Kubrick had written his responses.
Elsewhere we saw slides featuring Stern’s photography for the film.
The press pack for Dr Strangelove was sent out in the form of a top secret dossier. Also on display was a Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer which can be seen in the final scenes of the film.
In 1968 Kubrick collaborated with science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke on 2001: A Space Odyssey regarded as one of the most groundbreaking and influential films of all time, its true meaning is still the subject of great debate.
Here we saw material related to the production of the film including memos related to the loan of IBM computers for the film and the infamous HAL, whose name was a dig at the company after they decided they didn’t want to be associated with a killer computer!
Kubrick approached several companies to work on the film in order to make it as realistic a vision of the future as possible. In addition to IBM, Bell Labs and General Electric were consulted for various aspects of the films design
A Clockwork Orange
Kubrick’s next film, A Clockwork Orange (1971), based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, was the source of such controversy, for its depiction of sex and violence, that it was pulled from circulation by the director himself.
On display was an annotated script featuring Kubrick’s annotations to the initial treatment. A handwritten note featuring the earlier title ‘The Ludovico Treatment’ has been crossed out, along with the words ‘based on a novel by Anthony Burgess’, evidence of the period in which Kubrick fell out with Burgess.
Barry Lyndon (1975) a period drama about an Irish rogue, based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. The film won four Academy Awards, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Musical Score, more than any of his other films.
When filming Kubrick used candlelight for interior scenes, in order to cope with the low-light he used specially modified lenses which had been developed for NASA.
we see evidence of Kubrick’s meticulous research with a ring binder full of material for costume designs and hair styles, some pieces have annotation such as character names, others have raffle tickets attached to them the meaning of which is unknown. Note the annotations in the margin ‘convalescence no.4’
The Shining (1980) was the directors first foray into horror, and featured Jack Nicholson in the iconic role of Jack Torrance, a writer who takes a job as winter caretaker at the remote Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Disregarding warnings that the last caretaker went mad due to isolation, Jack moves in along with his wife Wendy and son Danny, whose paranormal abilities make him aware of an evil spiritual presence. As the hotel gets cut off by winter storms, the family must face Jack’s descent into madness and the malevolent supernatural presence that resides in the hotel.
We saw a variety of material related to the film including correspondence with Saul Bass, advertising and poster designs. Also on display were Danny’s jacket (with fake snow still preserved in the zip) and jumper. Both were stored in archival boxes developed by students.
Jack’s manuscript, hand typed by Kubrick’s assistant, featuring the phrase ‘”All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeatedly. He had separate versions made for the international release of the film, the Italian release used the phrase “Il mattino ha l’ oro in bocca” or “He who wakes up early meets a golden day”. In Germany it was “Was Du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf Morgen” (“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today”). The Spanish version reads “No por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano” (“Rising early will not make dawn sooner.”). For the French version, it was “Un ‘Tiens’ vaut mieux que deux ‘Tu l’auras’” (“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”).
Full Metal Jacket
It would be seven years before Kubrick released another film, 1987s Full Metal Jacket,closely based on Gustav Hatsford’s novel The Short-Timers. The two part story portrays the dehumanizing effect of military combat on a platoon of US Marines during training and through the experience of two of the Marines on the battlefield during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War.
We learnt that the Beckton Gas Works, in Docklands was used as the location for the City of Hue, and Kubrick deliberately used low angles to hide the London skyline. Various location photographs were on display with annotations.
Eyes Wide Shut
Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut (1999) starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, was released just a short while after his death. Adapted from the 1926 novella Dream Story, the film sees New York City doctor Bill Hartford, who after learning his wife once considered an affair, embarks on dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery, during which he infiltrates the masked orgy of an unnamed secret society.
The photograph above shows a highly detailed model from Eyes Wide Shut, right down to the newspapers in front. There was also an entire box full of photographs of iron gates which was used as research for just one scene.
The majority of the collection has not been digitized, although some material with images and metadata is available on request and they occasionally digitize material for students. Researchers must obtain permission to use photographs of items in the collection as the rights are held by the Kubrick state.
The archive participates in global and national exhibitions and symposiums. A selection of material forms part of a touring exhibition currently on display in San Francisco, following which it will move to Mexico City.
During his lifetime Kubrick worked on a number of projects which never made it to production. The archive includes scripts, story treatments, research and more for several projects:
Napoleon a biographical epic based about Napoleon Bonepart
The Aryan Papers a film based on the novel ‘War Time Lies’ about a boy and his aunt as they try to hide from the Nazi’s during the Holocaust using falsified papers.
A.I Artificial Intelligence development for the film later produced by Steven Spielberg in 2001 began with Stanley Kubrick who after many years of development passed the project on to Spielberg.
Projects based on the Archives
The archives are used in teaching and learning at the University for example some students had produced a set of colouring books for Kubrick’s films using material from the archives.
In 2009 Turner Prize nominated artists Jane and Louise Wilson were commisioned by The British Film Institute and Animate Projects to produce Unfolding the Aryan Papers a film based upon material in the archive relating to one of Kubrick’s unfinished works The Aryan Papers. Follow this link for more details.
Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives a new book features a collection of essay by scholars who examined the archives, gaining a new understanding of his methods.
The archive holds a number of other collections, including:
Comic book collection: a collection of British, American as well as European comics graphic annuals and graphic novels including mainstream titles such as Batman, Star Trek and artists such as
Tom Eckersley Collection: material produced by the graphic designer including posters for the Ministry of Information.
Clive Exton Archive: a screenwriter for Jeeves & Wooster and Poirot TV series the archive contains draft screenplays and press packs.
Above: A selection of material on display from other collections included works by Charles Addams and Edward Gorey
The tour concluded with a look inside the archive itself, where we were able to get a glimpse of many more items that form part of the collection, including props, papers and film posters. Material being returned to the archive must be re-acclimatized before being shelved, to ensure its continued preservation.
All in all it was a great visit which provided a fascinating glimpse into the work of director Stanley Kubrick and the archive is undoubtedly a unique resource which deserves to be showcased.
Many thanks to CILIP in Kent for organizing the visit.
To learn more about the history of the archive I recommend the Jon Ronson’s documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes:
The Archives and Special Collections website:
- IMDB – Stanley Kubrick
- Wikipedia – Stanley Kubrick