Writing about his 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," Stanley Kubrick wrote, "In the context of impending world destruction ... even reasonableness can evoke a grisly laugh."
No one would have accused the acclaimed filmmaker of being a jokester, but he did have a sense of the absurd, something that squeezed through in movies as diverse as "Lolita" (1962), "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), "A Clockwork Orange" (1971), "The Shining" (1980), "Full Metal Jacket" (1987) and "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999).
Kubrick, who died in 1999 at age 70, created his art on a big canvas. His moving pictures were on a grand scale, filled with fascinating abstract parts.
So a major exhibition devoted to the legendary filmmaker at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art seems like a natural fit - if a bit ironic, in that during the making of "Spartacus" (1960) he clashed repeatedly with Hollywood executives, sending him scurrying to England, where he set up shop for the rest of his life.
Among the more than 1,000 objects on display in the "Stanley Kubrick" exhibition are drawings and pictures from "Spartacus," including a shot of the Roman senate floor, which resembled a chessboard. The strategic game was an important part of his life, and his personal chessboard is on display.
His affinity for chess is not surprising, considering Kubrick spent a long time contemplating every move and every detail of his films.
"Eyes Wide Shut" screenwriter Frederic Raphael, in his book "Eyes Wide Open: A Memoir of Stanley Kubrick" (Ballantine, 1999), describes his collaboration with the filmmaker as a series of chess matches, with Kubrick always having the white pieces.
That type of control over his films is evident in the exhibition.
Kubrick began as a photojournalist at age 16, and the early black-and-white images on display - many taken for Look magazine - of boxers, showgirls, celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift and street kids, give clues to his filmmaking style: dramatic, dynamic, bordering on over the top.
The filmmaker only made 13 features during his career. Late in his life, he pretty much disavowed "Fear and Desire" (1953), "Killer's Kiss" (1955) and, of course, "Spartacus." However, they are represented in the exhibition, as are two documentary shorts - "The Seafarers" and "Day of Flight" - and the features "The Killing" and the anti-war film "Paths of Glory."
LACMA is co-presenting the show in conjunction with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is providing some of the financing. It is the first formal collaboration between the two institutions since they announced a new academy museum will be constructed as part of the LACMA campus. It is set to open in 2016.
"Stanley Kubrick represents the perfect opportunity to collaborate with LACMA on the presentation of film in a museum setting," Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said in a statement about the exhibition. "It is a taste of things to come when we open the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures."
One fascinating part of the exhibition is devoted to a film Kubrick never made, a biopic of Napoleon that was a pet project for the filmmaker but one he was forced to abandon in the '70s because of budget and production problems.
Interestingly, there are more than a few pictures of Kubrick looking like a general on the set of his pictures.
The exhibition is a window into the life of an extraordinary artist, an immensely private individual about whom the adjectives brilliant, genius and legendary often are bandied about.
One of the exhibit's objects is the typewriter used by Jack Nicholson's would-be novelist character in "The Shining." In a documentary made on the film by Kubrick's daughter, Vivian, the filmmaker is shown banging away on a bright yellow typewriter as the film was being made. Nicholson has said he never bothered to memorize his lines until after he got them each morning, implying that Kubrick never stopped tinkering.
Obsession or perfection? Undoubtedly, both. Kubrick presented moviegoers with some of the most indelible images in film history, and the exhibition stresses the connection to other art forms. Many of the gorgeous scenes in "Barry Lyndon" (1975), which was partly shot in candlelight, are based on 18th-century paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, William Hogarth and others. Then there are those eerie twins of "The Shining," and nearby hangs a print of Diane Arbus' famous photograph that inspired them.
Some, though, see Kubrick as too cerebral, cold. The violence of "A Clockwork Orange" was condemned, and the film was linked to real-life acts of violence. "No one is corrupted by watching `A Clockwork Orange' any more than they are by watching `Richard III,"' Kubrick defended himself in an interview that is part of the exhibition.
"He'd like to remove the human element from his movies as much as he could," "Clockwork Orange" star Malcolm McDowell said in an interview a few years ago. "The hero of `Clockwork Orange' is such an immoral character - a murderer, a rapist - but we end up liking him somehow."
The exhibition is filled with behind-the-scenes stills of Kubrick and his collaborators - including "Strangelove's" Peter Sellers and famed crime photographer Weegee (Arthur Fellig), who chronicled the making of the film. There are scads of scribbled notes and research papers, as well as artifacts from the films, including models of sets and the masks from "Eyes Wide Shut."
There are also works of art that may have inspired the movies, including a Cold War- themed screen print by Robert Rauschenberg, "Stoned Moon Series: Sky Garden," which is in the "Strangelove" display.
Nicholson talked about how actors strive for years trying to get something real in their acting, and then there is "someone like Stanley who says, `Yeah, it's real but it's not interesting."'
No one would call Kubrick not interesting. What he gave us was ultra-real visions that reshaped perceptions.
"Audiences have changed so much," noted McDowell, a fan of Kubrick. "When `Clockwork Orange' opened, people ran out of the theater and threw up in the lobby."
They have changed because of Kubrick's movies - his influence on film can't be measured. We may never get the whole picture of this complicated artist, but this exhibit, which runs through June 30, is a major contribution in putting his legacy in perspective.
Rob Lowman 818-713-3687 email@example.com
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What: Legendary filmmaker's artistic sensibility is focus of new exhibition.
When: Through June 30; hours are 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.
Admission: $15; $10 seniors and students; free for museum members, children 17 and under, weekdays after 3 p.m. for Los Angeles County residents, and for everyone the second Tuesday of the month.
Information: 323-857-6000 or www.lacma.org.
Also: "2012: A Kubrick Odyssey," a retrospective of Kubrick films, is being shown in conjunction with the exhibit. Next on the schedule is "Spartacus" at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the museum's Bing Theater. Tickets are $10; $7 for museum members, seniors and students; $5 LACMA Film Club members. Call 323-857-6010 or go to the museum website.