A day at the archives… The Stanley Kubrick Archives, University of Arts London (UAL)

James Fenwick, De Montfort University

5 December 2017


Tucked deep in the bowels of the London College of Communication is a discreet room behind frosted glass. Stepping into this room, first time visitors can be forgiven for thinking they are stepping onto the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). A sterile white environment with bold red furniture, this is the home of UAL’s University Archives and Special Collections Centre and the resting place of the Stanley Kubrick Archive. I have spent many hours at the Kubrick Archive over the past seven years, first visiting it as part of research for my Master’s degree and, more recently, for my PhD research into Kubrick’s role as a producer. But all these years later I still feel a shiver of excitement as I step into the Archive and find myself immediately confronted with the weight of cinematic history that it holds. Small glass cabinets are positioned around the central reading room and contain props and other ephemera from the Kubrick Archive: face masks worn during the orgy sequence of Eyes Wide Shut (1999); a 1964 letter from Kubrick to Arthur C. Clarke proposing a collaboration on a science fiction project; or Kubrick’s personal working copy of the A Clockwork Orange (1971) screenplay, replete with his handwritten notes on inserted music sheets for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.

 

Figure 1: © Luke Potter, 2007, courtesy of the Stanley Kubrick Archive/Figure 2: © Paul Heys, 2012, courtesy of the Stanley Kubrick Archive

Kubrick retained the majority of his business papers, correspondence, and production documents from the 1960s onwards (the Archive does house material from the 1940s and 1950s, but the documentation for the likes of Fear and Desire (1953) through to The Killing (1956) are more sparse compared to Kubrick’s later films), all filed into a system at his home at Childwick Bury Manor. Upon his death it became apparent that this material was of such cultural historic importance that it needed archiving with a scholarly institution. And it is to the great fortune of the academic community that the Kubrick family allowed the Archive to be opened to the public in 2007.

The popularity of the Archive combined with the small space of the reading room means that anyone wanting to visit is advised to contact the archival team several weeks in advance to secure an appointment (archive-enquiries@arts.ac.uk). Reading times are between 1pm and 5pm Monday to Friday, with boxes being retrieved until 4pm. There are locker spaces for any personal items and I’ve even been allowed to store my suitcase at times. The Archive does have a strict copyright policy and I strongly suggest any researcher wanting to visit read it in advance (here). Photography is not permitted of any items that are part of the Kubrick Archive due to an agreement with the donors. Therefore, a laptop is highly recommended to take as many notes as possible.

I would also strongly advocate planning your trip using the online catalogue (here). The sheer size of the Archive is overwhelming (over 800 linear metres of shelving) and I have witnessed many rookies to the Archive over the years expect to find the Holy Grail to Kubrick’s genius. That is until they realise just how much Kubrick hoarded and how much of it is seemingly trivial in nature (financial receipts, commercial catalogues, dispatch notes, order forms etc). The online catalogue is easy to navigate and is broken down into nineteen separate categories, thirteen of which relate to Kubrick’s feature films, while the remaining six categories include entries such as ‘Unfinished Projects’ (contains material on projects such as Aryan Papers and A.I.), and ‘Documentaries’ (this contains material on the two projects Vivian Kubrick directed: Making the Shining (1980) and the unreleased Making of Full Metal Jacket). I usually make meticulous notes of the boxes that I want to look at in order to form the basis of a particular case study, but it does pay to sometimes select random boxes and to peruse their contents. I’ve often come across surprising revelations this way, such as a letter from Peter Schnitzler, the grandson of Arthur, written to Kubrick in 1959. Peter had visited Kubrick on the set of Spartacus (1960) and the two had clearly talked about the prospect of developing one of Schnitzler’s novels into a film (something not realised until Eyes Wide Shut (1999)). As such, Peter offered his grandfather’s notebooks to Kubrick for further research (SK/9/4/1).

Figure 3: © Paul Heys, 2012, courtesy of the Stanley Kubrick Archive

As a confessed Kubrick obsessive, I take absolute pleasure in coming across handwritten letters from the likes of Sir Laurence Olivier (turning down the role of Humbert Humbert in Lolita (1962)), or Vladimir Nabokov (insisting he must be present at the casting of the title role of Lolita). But that is not to suggest the Kubrick Archive is a depository of materials that will easily illuminate the processes of a Kubrick production. Firstly, and perhaps most frustratingly, is the illegible scrawl of Kubrick’s handwriting, which can be found on many items in the Archive, right down to some innocuous requisition form. Senior Archivist Richard Daniels may be at hand to attempt to decipher Kubrick’s writing, though more often than not I have abandoned such hope in ever understanding what on earth he was writing. Similarly, catalogue entries may build up your hopes of coming across an item that will utterly revise the scholarly approach to Kubrick, only to find that the item is in fact just a dog-eared old note filled with doodles and other musings rather than any kind of Rosebud. I found myself so duped at the beginning of my PhD when I came across a catalogue entry that read ‘Kubrick job list’, with a description that suggested Kubrick had outlined by hand a ‘Kubrick company chart’ (SK/16/2/15). I went into a nervous sweat feeling that this could be it; this could be the key to unlocking my PhD research in revealing Kubrick the producer. I made an advance order of the box and arrived prompt at 1pm. I watched one of the staff wheel out the box on a metal trolley ready for its dissection by me. I opened it up and rummaged through the files until I came to it, ‘Kubrick’s job list’, a slice of yellowing, crumpled A4 paper filled with more of Kubrick’s spidery handwriting. Four company names were listed next to a wonky table that had two black dots placed inside of it. Only two companies were decipherable, Peregrine and Polaris. The file told me nothing. My heart sank and, after several more hours in the Archive, I consoled myself in a nearby Elephant & Castle pub with a tepid beer.

This has pretty much been the pattern of my time spent researching at the Archive. I wade through boxes of dusty, dog-eared business papers while a group of students grin as they open a box that contains a jumper worn by Danny Torrance in The Shining (1980). I have to give myself a moment for pause as I gleefully join the students to gaze upon this battered, forty-year old piece of clothing, momentarily dropping my researcher façade and becoming just a fan. And this exemplifies the two halves of the Archive: one is the exciting journey of new ways to engage with Kubrick’s life and work, to touch the objects and clothes that animated his films, and to experience a tangible connection to the man himself. The other is boxes and boxes of paper that document the laborious process of actually making the films we now enjoy. My thesis has drawn heavily on the financial papers, business and production correspondence, distribution reports and other such material to piece together the managerial and administrative structures and functions of a Stanley Kubrick production. And it has revealed just how difficult and exasperating a process this could be for both Kubrick and for those who worked with him.

The hours I have spent researching have been alleviated by the surroundings of the Archive itself, where at any one time there is a hive of activity. If you like a quiet, peaceful research environment, then the Archive may prove quite distracting. I personally thrive off of the activity and at seeing the various researchers, journalists, and students respond to the items they find. Occasionally, Jan Harlan (Kubrick’s brother-in-law and long time executive producer) may stroll in, or you may encounter a volunteer with an amazing story to tell (Joy Cuff volunteers at the Archive and worked as a model maker on 2001: A Space Odyssey). And there is a team of helpful and insightful archival staff on hand to guide rookies around the catalogue and to lend an insight into the Kubrick mind.

I’d like to end by just pointing out a few helpful travel tips. The Archive is conveniently located next to the Elephant & Castle tube station, served by the Bakerloo and Northern Line. First time visitors may get confused at the tangle of subway tunnels at Elephant & Castle. The easiest thing to do is follow signs for the London College of Communication / the Imperial War Museum. The entrance to the University is set back a little from the roundabout, as if you were to continue onto St. George’s Road. During term time it is impossible to miss – just look for the gaggle of staff and students outside smoking. The University does have café facilities but I prefer to maximise my time in the Archive and leave refreshments until the end of the day. After all, the BFI Southbank is but a ten-to-fifteen minute walk away. What better way to end a day trawling through the Stanley Kubrick Archive than catching a 70mm screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey and finally realising just how much paper went into the making of it.


James Fenwick has been researching Stanley Kubrick’s role as a producer and of those producers Kubrick worked with. He has published several articles on Kubrick, including ‘Curating Kubrick: Constructing ‘New Perspective’ Narratives in Stanley Kubrick Exhibitions’ for Screening the Past. He has recently undertaken a research trip to the Kirk Douglas Papers in Madison, Wisconsin, funded by the EAAS.


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