Space for oddities

A carefully catalogued archive of Stanley Kubrick’s possessions offers an insight into the director

Stanley Kubrick's majestic, mysterious films were underpinned by his insatiable desire to consume, store and understand. Kubrick didn't just research, he built three-dimensional worlds for each of his films as if he felt they must survive some kind of deep forensic scrutiny. Small wonder that before his final work, Eyes Wide Shut, was completed, rumours started to circulate that he had become a hermit - anyone attempting the same amount of rigorous pre-production might earn the same label.

With the research, photographic assignments and location scouting, it took longer and longer, particularly in his later years, for Kubrick to begin shooting his films. Many did not get that far: more than once, a Kubrick project was gazumped by a similar film shot and released in half the time. This aura of mystery hanging over Kubrick's almost-movies, and the legacy of the 13 that he did complete, is captured in the fascinating archived material stored in the new, purpose-built Archives and Special Collections Centre at the London College of Communication.

As a hoarder, Kubrick had a lot to bequeath. Originally stored at his residence in Childwick, Hertfordshire, in more than 900 boxes (custom-made to his painstaking requirements) piled into stable blocks and cabins, the Kubrick Archive is a gargantuan collection of scripts, books, photo graphs, letters, costumes and props. A New Yorker by birth, Kubrick made Britain his home from the 1960s onwards. After his death it was the intention of his estate holder and widow, Christiane, that the archive remain in the country. So it was that, in March 2007, the LCC Archive team began the three-year task of cataloguing what was in those boxes. The archive was opened to researchers and students in October 2007, but last month was the first time that public visitors were allowed inside.

Knowing that the items on display spent a great deal of time lingering in Kubrick's own house makes viewing and handling them all the weirder. The archives' entry lobby, stark hospital white, has a few gems on display tables - the only items that can be handled freely. Among photos of Kubrick on the set of Killer's Kiss (1955) and snapshots of vehicles from 2001 lies a forlorn but familiar muddy brown and green sweater. Its wearer was Danny Lloyd, who played the tormented Danny in The Shining. A Venetian mask from the erotically charged thriller Eyes Wide Shut stares blankly upwards nearby.

Beyond the next door lie the movable storage shelves that look like they've come off Kubrick's sets for 2001: a Space Odyssey. Kubrick probably would have loved their design, all blinking status light panels and smooth hissing movements through chilled air. The labels on the unit doors display the legendary titles chronologically: Day of the Fight, Paths of Glory, Dr Strangelove.

The material shown to visitors (the choice is in the hands of the archive staff) reveals details of Kubrick's films that must have been barely noticeable on screen. An example: holed up in the Overlook Hotel, Jack Nicholson's disturbed character in The Shining pieces together a scrapbook of news articles relating to cabin fever-type murders in isolated places. The scrapbook is there on the shelves, every page full of genuine articles cut out and pasted in with Kubrick's handwriting appearing in the margins. In the film, this must have been on screen for a few seconds at most. A blue-and-white disc turns out to be Dr Strangelove's Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer slide rule; the quintessential cold warrior's tool, finely detailed down to the minute printed numbers. A giant library of books on the Holocaust lies in one shelving unit, the result of years of prep work into the never-made Aryan Papers (Steven Spielberg's acclaimed Schindler's List, released while Kubrick was still researching, is one reason why the project was abandoned).

Aside from preserving the history of some of the most iconic images in popular culture, the archive testifies to Kubrick's astonishing degree of control over his own work. It was this control that ensured so much material was created in the first place and survives to be stored and made accessible to an international audience today. In an era where the process of making and preserving films engages audiences as never before, where the market is flooded with special "making-of" documentary-laden DVDs, the Kubrick Archive feels like an original and genuine special feature.

Public tours of the Stanley Kubrick Archive by appointment are planned for later in 2008. For further information log on to: http://www.arts.ac.uk/kubrick.htm