REPS Recommends: Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes

Rose Oliveira is a library student at Simmons College and currently works at Tufts Digital Collection and Archives. In her free time she likes to watch as many movies as possible.

Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes by Jon Ronson

Image credit: Rose Oliveira
Image credit: Rose Oliveira

Jon Ronson’s connection to Stanley Kubrick began with two phone calls (the recounting of which is perhaps one of the best introductions to a documentary that I have recently seen). These phone calls led to a five year involvement with what would become the Stanley Kubrick Archive and resulted in the 2008 BBC documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes.

Stanley Kubrick, one of the great directors of the 20th century with films such as Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, was known equally for his remarkable films and his extreme privacy and perfectionism. The ever lengthening gaps between his films only added to his mystique. Jon Ronson (journalist, author, and documentary filmmaker) explores the enigmatic director through the thousands of boxes he left behind. Through interviews with the Kubrick family, his assistants, clips from Kubrick’s films and archival footage, the story of both Stanley Kubrick, and the creation of the boxes themselves becomes clear. The documentary also captures the final move of the boxes from their final home on the Kubrick estate in St. Albans, England to the University of the Arts London.

Ronson’s documentary offers insight into Kubrick’s life and artistic process but it also illuminates people’s relationship to what is left behind. As Ronson explores the boxes, he unveils the level of detail that Kubrick invested into all aspects of his work and life. For example, Kubrick even went so far as to create and manufacture perfectly fitting archival boxes, a touching feature close to many an archivist’s heart. Ronson’s movie connects directly to the archivist work; he shows what it means to be intimately connected to boxes and difficulties of trying to make sense out of what is left behind.

Not only does the movie deliver an avenue into Stanley Kubrick’s artistic world, it also offers a reminder of the experience of the donor. I was particularly moved by Kubrick’s wife, Christiane. She eloquently notes the sadness of the absence of Kubrick confirmed in the yellowing of pages but also the impossibility of throwing the boxes away: that it would be like burying the person twice. Her observation on the material was a poignant reminder that these boxes are not just containers of stuff but they are connected to people both living and dead.

For cinephiles, this documentary offers a glimpse into the life and work of a great director. For archivists, it is an engaging look at the archival process from an outside perspective. Ronson gets across the mysteries of looking at someone’s life in boxes and asks similar questions we have all asked about our own collections. The thousand boxes left behind tell many stories but most importantly they give us a look into the obsession, detail, and organization needed to make the masterpieces that Kubrick created. As Ronson notes “the boxes contain the rhythm of genius.”

Image credits for photos used in collage:

  1. Mask from Eyes Wide Shut By Marcel Oosterwijk from Amsterdam, The Netherlands [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Twins from The Shining By Yaffa Phillips (Eye, Amsterdam Uploaded by SunOfErat) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
  3. Peter Selllers in Dr. Strangelove By Directed by Stanley Kubrick, distributed by Columbia Pictures [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  4. “Stanley Kubrick Exhibit 008 (8771537660)” by Matthew Gallant from Santa Monica, California – Stanley Kubrick Exhibit 008 Uploaded by SunOfErat. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  5. “Kubrick – Barry Lyndon candid” by Unknown photographer – eBay. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
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