Stanley Kubrick was a director who, perhaps most prominently in the latter part of his career, came to be defined by his demanding yet mysterious persona; one crafted through years of troubled productions, and a generally reclusive nature. He very rarely gave interviews or made public appearances, preferring instead to lock himself away in his Xanadu-like home in Hertfordshire, working away on films, many of which were destined to become masterpieces. His films, as it has often been claimed, did the talking for him.

In this sense,the subject matter of Kubrick’s filmography is one of sombre, often profound observations on humanity, dealing with subjects ranging from war, social taboos, behavioural conditioning, criminal underworlds, the fragility of the family unit and, in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)‘death, infinity and the origin of time’. Can any other directorial output be said to cover so much ground? The scope of Kubrick’s films, paired with his cold, detached cinematic style certainly shapes a certain reading of his cinema; largely as very serious. 

However, alongside the serious, scholarly discourses surrounding Kubrick as an auteur,there exists a lighter, more playful body of ephemera surrounding some of his greatest films. There are a number of examples of this in The Bill Douglas Centre.

To begin this small exploration of such artefacts, one baffling example, can be seen in the 7” single for I Wanna Be Your Drill Instructor, a single which combined the military chants of Full Metal Jacket‘s Sgt. Hartman character with a pumping guitar and drum track. Composed by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian under the pseudonym Abigail Mead, this musical oddity becomes even more endearing upon learning that it reached number two on the U.K. Pop chart upon release. Certainly at odds with the kind of items one would normally associate with the work of Kubrick, its proves an interesting example of the attempt to make a notoriously difficult type of film a commercial product.

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Perhaps of greater interest, however: the aforementioned 2001, a film of great visual power and philosophical awe, spawned a Marvel comic book in 1976. It is difficult at first to grasp how a film like 2001, a film which radically departs from the more conventional adventure-based narratives of the sci-fi genre, can be adapted for the graphic novel medium which usually favours more hyperbolic content. The comic, however, does make for an incredibly interesting read, above all, as a curiosity. The bulk of Kubrick’s version is surprisingly kept intact within the (now fading) pages of the comic book. Instead of constructing its own visual style, many of the panels make direct reference to scenes from the film itself. Its a text abundant with nostalgic reverence for a film which had only come out 8 years prior to its own publication.

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Moreover, the comic makes an interesting use of original dialogue; sourced in parts from abandoned drafts of the film’s screenplay, as well as Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of the same name which was released in conjunction with the film. During scenes in which little or no dialogue is heard within the film, the comic in contrast supplements such sections with dialogue or exposition; an effect which more than often undermines the power of its filmic source material. The scene in which astronaut, Frank Poole’s oxygen supply is cut short and ejected into space by the menacing HAL 9000, a scene in which only the pacing breath of fellow astronaut Dave Bowman is heard, the panels of the comic, feature such garish lines as:

 ‘Frank Poole screams in vain! The Killing pressure increases with relentless rapidity… Then, the screams stop as life stops… Frank Poole dies in space’.

 This kind of melodramatic rhetoric is littered throughout the comic; Part 2 of its narrative outlandishly titled ‘The Thing on the Moon’. Used to initiate and promote a short-running2001 comic book series, this artefact, confusingly stands as a testament to Kubrick’s eye for cinematic visuals, whilst simultaneously undercutting his story-telling ability; the comic feebly attempting to explain and characterise the incomprehensible monolith, the enigmatic centre of 2001, in order to be more accessible to, what we can presume to be, its target child/teen demographic.

Alongside these artefacts The Bill Douglas Centre also has a range of other Kubrick related memorabilia, including posters, postcards and books on both himself and his films. The Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts in London holds a mass of material from his productions and the BDC holds some publicity cards they have produced, such as this one from A Clockwork Orange.

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One of the most poignant discoveries to come across is the souvenir leaflet from An Academy Tribute to Stanley Kubrick held at the BFI in 2007. Featured within this document is copy of a letter signed by then Prime Minister Tony Blair which begins:

 ‘Stanley Kubrick was a cinematic visionary. His films were daringly innovative and beautifully crafted. He was often controversial, but always moving and thought provoking’.

 In my opinion, whilst the aforementioned artefacts may prove interesting to academics and researchers in their rarity or peculiarity, I’m thankful that it was always the films which ‘did the talking’, even if they were ‘daring’ or ‘controversial’, and not plethora Jack Torrence action figures or A Clockwork Orange boardgames. Kubrick’s filmography is one that, broadly speaking, transcended such commercialisation leaving items like the Full Metal Jacket single or the 2001 comic book, certainly of interest, but at the same time jarring and uncanny.

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