Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes
— By Anelise Chen | August 17, 2010
“Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes” is a must-see documentary for all film fans. In 2001, journalist Jon Ronson was invited to visit Stanley Kubrick’s family home at Childwickbury Manor, where he discovered dozens of trailers filled with archival boxes, some which had been unopened for decades. The boxes explain the wide gaps between each film in Kubrick’s later career, substantiating rumors of his manic meticulousness to detail.
For Eyes Wide Shut (1999), his last film, Kubrick asked his nephew Manuel Harlan to shoot the entire length of Commercial Road in England so that he could see what each storefront looked like. The problem was, he didn’t want any photos of the buildings leaning in at an angle. The solution: Harlan had to get on top of a 12-foot ladder to shoot each store front, and then tape the entire street together in an extended panorama.
For every scene, there are hundreds of accompanying photos: large estate gates, domestic interiors, hotels, the backs of womens’ heads, and, my personal favorite–the droogs in A Clockwork Orange (1962) all wearing different kinds of hats. (Kubrick was apparently looking for the perfect “sinister hat.”) The amount of research he did for each film is hard to fathom. Ronson describes how a former cinema room in the home was slowly transformed into a Napoleon library for a Napoleon film that was eventually abandoned. Historical research for it eventually went into the period piece Barry Lyndon. For The Shining (1980), Kubrick procured every ghost book ever written.
The hoarded items were not just restricted to location scouting and film ideas. He collected so much stationary he once joked he could start a stationary museum. Every single note or letter of correspondence he received was carefully stored away. Fan letters were labeled either “F-P” (Fan, Positive), “F-N” (Fan, Negative), or “CRANK.” The letters were then filed under the folder of the city where the letter came from.
This level of specificity, along with the aforecaptioned self-designed boxes, seemed to Ronson indicative of something bigger, something vastly important, and he spends the whole of the documentary trying to figure out what that is. Ronson sifts through the archives for years, looking for that essential piece of evidence that will finally unlock the enigma of Kubrick. The epiphany he settles on in the end may not satisfy everyone, but I found it to be an important reminder that great art lasts for a reason.