The cosmic doors of perception are sprung wide open during the famous Start Gate sequence in "2001," where Bowman is shown hurtling through a phantasmagoria of space, thanks to a new "slit-scan" technique pioneered by Kubrick. The film's special-effects wizard Douglas Trumbull developed the method by placing a large piece of glass with a 4-foot vertical slit in front of various backlit pieces of moving op-art and graphical patterns. The camera, positioned on a length of track in a dark room, could then film the shifting shapes through the slit, making possible an extended exposure that went from 15 feet to one-inch from the slit in the span of a minute. The resulting psychedelics, not surprisingly, proved popular with the decade's acid droppers. Image courtesy of LACMA
As you wander through the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s sprawling new exhibit on Stanley Kubrick, it’s hard not to marvel at how utterly distinct each of the legendary American film director’s imagined worlds were: Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, <2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut, each a meticulously crafted cinematic cosmos unto itself. As Kubrick über-fan Steven Spielberg once noted, Kubrick was a chameleon who never made the made the same movie twice. What did stay constant, however, was his pioneering embrace of cutting-edge technologies, from Steadicams to NASA satellite lenses and more.
“In making a film, I start with an emotion, a feeling, a sense of a subject or a situation,” Kubrick is quoted in the exhibit, his first U.S. retrospective. “The theme and technique come as a result of the material passing, as it were, through myself and coming out of the projection lens.”
What a lens it was: Kubrick gave life to his haunting scenes and uncanny visions by constantly seeking out new tools that would explode earlier limits of what could be projected onscreen. Kubrick inspired new technological leaps in film, and new technological leaps inspired Kubrick. He was a relentless innovator and tinkerer, a point the LACMA exhibit makes by stuffing a 20-foot long case of some of director’s beloved experimental lenses. His knowledge of still photography (he began his career shooting photos for Look magazine in his teens) traveled with him as he segued into film, and he found he could film exciting new perspectives by taking powerful still photography lenses and having them jury rigged onto traditional film cameras.
“Kubrick always reworked his material and mise-en-scène so that the technology became essential to the telling of the story and this defines his relationship to innovation,” says Patti Podesta, a Hollywood production designer who’s worked on films such as Memento and Bobby and designed the LACMA installation. “He sought out new technologies but also had a kind of technological patience, the discipline to wait until innovation caught up to his imagination.” Check out the gallery above for a look at some of Kubrick’s signal advances.
Stanley Kubrick runs at LACMA until June 30. More information here.