A collection of almost 1,000 artifacts telling the story of one of the most original minds in movie history, Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition opened at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox on Friday.
Originally conceived a decade ago by Germany's Deutsches Filmmuseum, the exhibition includes letters, costumes, research materials, sets and cameras from the late filmmaker's 50-year-career. It is, says Laurel MacMillan, director of exhibitions, "by far the most ambitious project" in Lightbox history, "taking over every bit of our space." While his medium was the cinema, Kubrick drew inspiration from literature as much as anywhere else.
All 13 of his full-length films, with the exception of his little-seen debut feature, began life as books; sometimes the authors whose work he adapted wished he'd left their work on the page. To coincide with the exhibition's opening, Globe Books editor (and Kubrick fan) Mark Medley considers five of the director's most famous adaptations.
Book: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
The film in 10 words or less: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
What Kubrick thought about the book: "Well it's certainly one of the great love stories, isn't it?"
What Nabokov thought about the film: "I thought the movie was absolutely first-rate."
What Jesse Wente (director of film programs at TIFF Bell Lightbox) thinks: "It was an incredibly daring adaptation to undertake. In fact, most didn't believe that the novel could be adapted and get through censors. … He more subtly portrays the relationship between Humbert Humbert and Lolita."
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Book: A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess (1962)
The film in 10 words or less: There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs.
What Kubrick thought about the book: "My principal interest in A Clockwork Orange wasn't the language, however brilliant it was, but rather the story, the characters and the ideas. Of course the language is a very important part of the novel, and it contributed a lot to the film, too. I think A Clockwork Orange is one of the very few books where a writer has played with syntax and introduced new words where it worked."
What Burgess thought about the film: "Kubrick's achievement swallowed mine, whole, and yet I was responsible for what some called its malign influence on the young."
What Wente thinks: "It's easily the most controversial movie he made, and still, after all these years, it remains one of the most controversial movies ever made. … It's still, I think, ahead of it's time. … I'm still amazed they ever made that movie. I'm shocked by it."
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Book: The Luck of Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray (1844)
The film in 10 words or less: He really wanted to make Napoleon.
What Kubrick thought about the book: "As soon as I read Barry Lyndon I became very excited about it. I loved the story and the characters, and it seemed possible to make the transition from novel to film without destroying it in the process. It also offered the opportunity to do one of the things that movies can do better than any other art form, and that is to present historical subject matter. Description is not one of the things that novels do best, but it is something that movies do effortlessly, at least with respect to the effort required of the audience."
What Thackeray thought about the film: Dead for 112 years when the movie was released, Thackeray didn't say much.
What Wente thinks: "It might be his least talked-about masterpiece. … Every shot in that movie is a stunner. It's a remarkable piece of work, and I think is true to the novel, certainly in spirit."
The Shining (1980)
Book: The Shining, by Stephen King (1977)
The film in 10 words or less: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
What Kubrick thought about the book: "I thought it was one of the most ingenious and exciting stories of the genre I had read. It seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural."
What King thought about the film: "What's basically wrong with Kubrick's version of The Shining is that it's a film by a man who thinks too much and feels too little; and that's why, for all its virtuoso effects, it never gets you by the throat and hangs on the way real horror should."
What Wente thinks: "It is a source of utter fascination. … It takes extensive liberties. … I see Stephen King's complaint, because it's not the book at all. … To me, though, the movie is such a remarkable stylistic construction and deconstruction of horror movies and ghost stories and fantasy. I think that's why it endures. So in a lot of ways, I think they've become almost unrelated."
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Book: The Short-Timers, by Gustav Hasford (1979)
The film in 10 words or less: What is your major malfunction, numbnuts?
What Kubrick thought about the book: "It's a very short, very beautifully and economically written book, which, like the film, leaves out all the mandatory scenes of character development: the scene where the guy talks about his father, who's an alcoholic, his girlfriend – all that stuff that bogs down and seems so arbitrarily inserted into every war story."
What Hasford thought about the film: "[They] retyped my book and wanted to put their names on it. So I told Stanley, either give me my credit or I'm going to the press … and say, 'Hey, I'm a Vietnam veteran and Kubrick's ripping me off.' It would've killed the movie, so Stanley saw his way clear to cut me some slack."
What Wente thinks: "Kubrick was looking to say something on the Vietnam War. He really connected with [co-screenwriter] Michael Herr more than the author of the book the film is ultimately based on. … I think he was seeking a final statement on war. … I think he found the source material that allowed him to make those statements, and then brought in the writers he thought would add to the realism of it and built out from there. I think it's a very Kubrick-style approach to how you adapt a story."
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition runs at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto until Jan. 25 (tiff.net).