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Kubrick’s Photographic Location Research
Image: Manuel Harlan
T he medium of photography is essential to an understanding of Stanley Kubrick’s work from its earliest beginnings as a young photojournalist for Look Magazine between 1945 and 1950. As author Philip Mather has observed, these early photographic images in which he documented the urban life of post war New York city with its boxing matches, news stands, half way houses, fairgrounds, subway trains, street life and street urchins, urban architectures and built environments are of intrinsic value to an assessment and understanding of the later cinema where these images are recycled, restaged and reproduced. The photographs are formative and they connect the poles of his career in both image and theme – Children for instance, are a frequent presence in these images of urban street life, as they are in his cinema where childhood (and the corruption of youth) is a dominant theme. As Mather notes, these photojournalistic images taken for Look, “shed light on the aesthetic and ideological factors that shaped the development of Kubrick’s artistic voice as well as our own understanding of his later film work” (Mather, 2013, 3)
However, in this paper, I hope to offer some notes and observations, based on my own research (predominantly around A Clockwork Orange) in the Stanley Kubrick Archive (UAL), on the practices surrounding another photographic aspect of Kubrick’s work ( and across which I will note imagistic and thematic consistencies with the Look photos): the pre-production location photography/research pertaining particularly to A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket and to a lesser extent – Eyes Wide Shut. The material pertaining to these films is the most self-evidently London-centric (in comparison to the other films) and it is with A Clockwork Orange, the only film to be produced outside of a studio, where this photographic location research becomes more pronounced and prolific. These images of London document areas of the city, its architectures, environments and its outlying locations. In discussing the earlier Look photos, Rainer Crone observes that they ‘Transcend the then current mode of WPA-Style documentary image making” and that “Kubrick’s photography created no only visual archives of the time but also social critiques that expressed his intuitive mind and subversive sense of humour” (Crone, 2018, 7). Like the Look photos these later pre production images are also not simply a record or document of potential shooting locales, they are themselves carefully composed images worthy of close critical examination in their own right and as with the Look photos, in which Kubrick attempted to reveal, photographically the thrumbing life and identity and of New York City – to get to its truth (although we must recognise that, according to Kubrick scholar Nathan Abrams, some of the photographs were set up to give the impression of ‘capturing “the moment”), these location photographs with their fetishisation of brutalist and (post) modernist architecture; post industrial decay; images which incorporate the gothic (an underwritten aspect of Kubrick’s cinema) – uncanny forests and landscapes etc all contribute to a sense that getting to the truth of space and place via the photographic image was increasingly central to Kubrick’s pre-production practice, particularly from 1970.
With the photographs for A Clockwork Orange, there is also a sense that not only do the photos work as an urban record or document of the time, capturing (and fetishizing) the proliferation of urban brutalism, but as with photographs of the Thamesmeade Estate, frequently ‘civilians’ wander into shot or are caught in the image, freezing them in time ( Elsewhere, like several of the Look images they are deliberately posed ) Here also we may see evidence of the sustained interest, carried over from Look, in capturing ‘street life’, young urchins. In another image, of an bedroom interior on a council estate, the room’s occupant, a young girl has wandered into shot and is presented in looking directly into the camera.
Yet this sense of placehood, identity nad ‘truthfulness- is immediately and deliberately problematized and compromised in the location research for both Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, where locations such as the decaying post-industrial Gothic ruins of Beckton Gasworks in East London or the declining Commercial Rd in Tower Hamlets become stand ins for other locations – war-torn Vietnam or bohemian Greenwich Village. Duality is, of course another dominant Kubrickian theme [Pile / Animal Mother; the two opposing halves of FMJ; the Shining Twins etc etc] thematically, narratively AND within the mechanics and processes of production.
When addressing this location research, however, we should remember that unlike the earlier Look photos these images where NOT actually taken by Kubrick. As we heard from Milena Canonero yesterday, it was she as well as production designer John Barry and production manager Terry Clegg that were tasked with going out with the camera, finding locations and photohraphing them. Furthermore in her interview with Deborah Nadoolman, Canonero indicates that ACO was her first major project and Kubrick trained her in in the practicalities of photography, what to look for, what he wanted from the image in order for her to undertake the photographic costume research for A Clockwork Orange.. And as Filippo Ulivieri has noted it was Martin Hunter, who worked in the sound department in The Shining and then edited FMJ, as well as others in the art department, who were responsible for most of that film’s location research and for EWS it was mostly Manuel Harlan who photographed that film’s UK locations (for example, taking the panoramic shot of the Commercial Rd, on display here at the Kubrick exhibition), Kubrick’s influence and presence is nevertheless felt across the photographs and while there little in the archive to indicate which (if any) photos he took himself, he certainly curated and chose the shots taken.
This of course raises all sorts of questions over the authorship of the image, and its tempting as well to consider Kubrick working in the manner of a Renaissance artist presiding over a workshop of assistants. These images, as we will see, may be taken by his associates and colleagues but they are rooted in his own photographic and cinematic perspective.
Consistencies and Trends
Film and Fan studies scholar Rod Munday has previously observed the presence of a “Kubrick Cinematic Universe” in which the films segue and intersect via image, theme and narrative, I propose here, however, that there is another level of interconnectivity beneath this that exists in the mechanics and processes of pre-production, particularly the location research photography where we may observe some trends and consistencies in image type, content, framing, in the duplication of locations scouted across different films – for instance the archived photographic files for Eyes Wide Shut show that there were a large number of London bars and clubs scouted for the Sonata Café scene in which Dr Bill (Tom Cruise) is first given the password, Fidelio, for admittance to the mysterious Orgy. The scene was filmed at famed Soho burlesque club, Madam Jojos but the files tell us that while this was the chosen locale, other venues such as the WAG club (Shaftesbury Avenue) and Soho Jazz venue Ronnie Scott’s were also considered – two venues which also were considered as locations for The Korova Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange. Production here came the closest to filming at Ronnie Scott’s [Slide 15] as it would also with Eyes Wide Shut, before another location was eventually chosen. Although it seems natural, expedient and efficient, however, that Kubrick would return to locations for other films and refit their purpose accordingly, it also helps us to map the connections and inter-relatedness of the films, and how one production comes to inform another.
The archived location photography also alerts us to some interesting parallels and contrasts between ACO and FMJ, and offers a pictorial juxtaposition between the ordered and minimalistic architectural brutalism of the first film and the evanescing post-industrial architecture of the second. Both images however are imbued with a sense of the Gothic – the imposing and towering concrete architecture of the ACO and the post-industrial gothic ruins of Beckton Gasworks with FMJ. Setting both images side by side allows us not only a snapshot of the proposed locations but also a condensing of the transition from forward looking utopian and utilitarian urban design and architectural practice at the end of the 1960s/ start of the 1970s to post industrial decline and decay towards the end of the 1980s. Here we can also hark back to the Look photographs, several of which, similarly looked to architectural decay and decomposition in the post war Manhattan slums. Interestingly despite the architectural constrasts, we may note consistencies and trends in the framing of these architectures: through the prism of doorways, windows and apertures. The view through the doorway, locates the photographic image here within the two distinct and overlapping traditions where such framing devices proliferate – fine art / painting and cinema (Flemish renaissance and Hollywood cinema). In one photograph we view the tower block through the aperture of the door and through a circular aperture – the circle is a recurring motif in Kubrick in films like Strangelove, Eyes Wide Shut and Full Metal Jacket. From a photographic perspective, framing in such a manner also allows one to experiment with depth and perspective.
If the images frame such architectures through the lens of the ‘Gothic’ then we should also consider the presence of nature in the photographic research images – the files for A Clockwork Orange, contain location research taken in woods and forests (for the sequence in which Alex is tortured and beaten by his ex-droogs), a common gothic trope and a locale of uncertainty and anxiety, and the photographs (sadly not present here frame them as such). Similarly, the photographs of Cliffe Marsh in Kent (now an RSPB sanctuary), offer a similarly bleak and blasted ‘Gothic’ image of the landscape.
The archived material for A Clockwork Orange, also houses a folder containing a small envelope of photographs taken of commuters on the Victoria line (for ACO) and an accompanying hand written document of train times, when trains and stations are at their busiest, when they are at their quietest and other such information. These images are notable for their striking similarity to the early Look photographs taken on the New York Subway, another clear indication of how the later work is informed not only in the cinematic image but how these early photographic images are embedded within the photographic research for the films. They are at their root. The archive holds a wealth of location photographs which were taken as part of the pre-production research and which indicate both alternative locations for scenes in A Clockwork Orange which DID make the final cut (the tunnel at Battersea Train station, for instance was scouted for the scene in which Alex and his Droogs beat up the old tramp) and for scenes from Burgess’s novel which were never filmed The photographs of Friar’s Square in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire are of particular interest, intended for the scene in which Alex and the droogs threaten the old man leaving the ‘Public Biblio’ (Library). The square (now a covered indoor market) was a public space dominated by a monolithic, overhanging futuristic modernist cafeteria, below which sat some moulded plastic ducks (here being ridden by some mini droogs) – a location suited to the film’s integrating of both modernism, kitsch and the gothic.
One final example of pre-production photographic practice that we note really starting with A Clockwork Orange and recurs across subsequent films, connecting them, is the use of the panoramic (even annotated shot) – this TYPE of shot is used to frame both architecture and landscape – the key example of this is of course, Manuel Harlan’s celebrated panaroama of the Commercial road in East London. But it is also interesting to note that if the these expansive images (often comprised of several photos fixed together) experiement with scope of vision, there is also an evolutionary process in the way Kubrick experiments with depth. The archived panoramic image (not present here) of the F.Alexander’s house are affixed with “stuck on grease proof paper indicating manipulations to the location that need to be made to achieve the desired look for example, to cover up scaffolding on a house in the background.” (quote from the archive catalogue) These are 3 dimensional adornments/ drawings of proposed set dressing and by time Kubrick was in pre-production for Eyes Wide Shut, he would employ the use of 3 dimensional models and dioramas as part of the pre-production practice.
Talking it’s starting point as A Clockwork Orange, this paper has focused predominantly on three films, ACO, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, to the exclusion of both Barry Lyndon and The Shining. In taking the discussion further, we could also point to corroborations and connections in terms of locations types scouted: the mutual exploration of the country estate, stately home across BL and EWS – the home as a built environment is one that Kubrick has a keen interest in, for Kubrick the home is a site of anxiety – the elegant surfaces and surrounding locations of the stately home masking the deviant and sinister goings on of the interior. In A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick specifically references Richard Hamilton’ s Just What makes the modern home so different, so appealing? [Slide 17]. Here though the modern home may be contemporaneously designed, but it is anything BUT appealing – it is a site of invasion, assault, displacement and replacement and torture. It has a DUAL identity. In A Clockwork Orange, the books of slides containing location scouting photographs for Modernist houses can be set in contrast and parallel with the country houses scouted for Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut. Sadly time has not allowed a fuller account here.
To conclude, this paper has attempted to give an overview of Kubrick’s pre production photography, to observe its trends, practices, modes and interconnectivity, and it has also attempted to demonstrate the resonance of the early Look photos across these later images.
With many thanks to Georgina Orgill and the staff of @ual_archives