As you may have gathered by now, I’m a HUGE horror fan. Many of my fondest memories are connected to horror films in some way; they are the blood-splattered backdrop of the story of my life. One of my favourite horror films, which occupies several of those memories, is The Shining. Often cited as one of the most terrifying films of all time, if not the most terrifying, The Shining's striking imagery has become cultural shorthand for the horror genre in its entirety. The typewriter, the twins, the axe - visual signifiers of a work so revered and respected, they are the avatars of horror cinema. The chance to view some of these iconic props was too good to pass up; it felt almost like a rite of passage for me. Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition gave me that chance.
The exhibition, at London's Design Museum, is a sprawling treasure trove of original scrapbooks, concept art, storyboards, notes and screenplays, all littered with Kubrick's fervent scribbles and annotations. Seeing the simple REDRUM doodles in Kubrick's handwriting was an extraordinary experience in itself, and that was before I'd even entered The Shining exhibit. The whole collection paints a picture of an enduring perfectionist; a creative genius for whom compromise was simply not an option. The pre-production artefacts alone convey the dizzying level of detail in his work; a borderline obsessive approach which allowed Kubrick to execute his vision flawlessly, to the betterment of modern cinema.
The linear layout of the exhibition is engaging and surprisingly immersive. Entering through a walkway between wrap-around screens showing clips from Kubrick's films, the message is loud and clear: you are stepping inside the mind of the director. Our journey began with a simple chessboard, which served as a humble introduction, before progressing through Kubrick's history and filmmaking methodologies. We found ourselves surrounded by the milieu of the individual films via their own dedicated exhibits, each one brought to life with astonishing behind-the-scenes stories, photographs, props, artifacts and conceptual poster designs. There are screening booths showing various scenes on a loop, which made the experience even more immersive for us. The exhibits even have their own colour schemes in line with the films they're presenting.
As much as I adore Kubrick's work in general, particularly 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, The Shining exhibit was of course my favourite. The bright red walls signalled our arrival into this section, surrounding the The Overlook's miniature hedge maze, which takes centre stage beneath a glass case. One of the walls features a large scale piece of Kubrick's handwriting; his musings on character motivation, perhaps a glimpse into Kubrick's initial interpretation of the source material. I found myself huddled around a screen with a group strangers, each of us gawping at the baseball bat scene as if we were seeing it for the very first time. Our perceptions had been altered by everything we had learned thus far; our engagement renewed.
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition is an absolute must for any horror fan, film fan, or lover of art and design. Booking in advance is highly recommended, and you can do so here. The exhibition runs until 15th September 2019.