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The genius of Stanley Kubrick

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Film stills including an an image of Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Stanley Kubrick on the set of “Eyes Wide Shut” are on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. (Courtesy Manuel Harlan/Warner Bros.)

With “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining” and “Full Metal Jacket” to his credit, the late Stanley Kubrick was one of the most seminal figures in filmmaking history.

He also was a remarkable father.

“He taught me how to use a camera and would endlessly answer any questions we might have had,” says his stepdaughter. Katharina Kubrick. “If he was in the middle of something, he always had time for us and our problems. He had enormous capacity for concentration, so even if he was interrupted it didn’t seem to affect his flow. His stock phrase was: ‘You either care, or you don’t,’ and this attitude was his modus operandi, whether it was his films, his family or his pets.”

Those attributes are illustrated in “Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition,” an exhaustive collection of materials from the director’s private estate in London, organized by Deutsches Filmmuseum in Frankfurt, opening today and running through October at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

A mini Kubrick museum, the show boasts more than 800 objects, including annotated screenplays, production photography, posters, storyboards, budget documents, correspondence, lenses, cameras, set models and costumes from Kubrick’s 16 films (including several unfinished projects) from 1953’s “Fear and Desire” to 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” (He died in March 1999, at 70, before the film’s July release.)

The director’s attention to detail and precision comes through, from candles created to flicker brightly on film (for the period piece “Barry Lyndon”) to a model of the 30-ton rotating ferris wheel-centrifuge he commissioned to simulate the lack of gravity in the capsule for his sci-fi masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” (for which he won an Oscar for special effects).

It also includes photographs Kubrick took for Look magazine, as a staff photographer, as well as the 1945 shot he took of a mournful newspaper vendor next to Daily Mirror with the headline “F.D.R. Dead” he sold to the publication for $25 when he was just 16.

Jan Harlan, an executive producer who worked with Kubrick for 30 years — beginning with the epic unfinished project “Napoleon” — says while Kubrick’s films have different forms, they’re united by a common theme: humans’ propensity for self-destruction.

As for the ongoing allure of her father’s work, Katharina Kubrick says many people realize he was a great artist: “The same is true of Van Gogh, Picasso or Ingmar Bergman and many others. I think every generation produces some immortals. Great art survives.”

Being the first Jewish organization to host the show, the CJM notes Kubrick’s connections to Jewish culture and concerns, from his upbringing in a middle-class Jewish home, to his interest in Jewish intellectual writers as a young man, to characterizations in his films, from Kirk Douglas in “Spartacus” and “Paths of Glory” to Peter Sellers in “Lolita” and “Dr. Strangelove.”

Related programs include screenings of Kubrick’s movies at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Alamo Drafthouse and the CJM, as well as talks with Kubrick experts and colleagues.

IF YOU GO
Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition
Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except closed Wednesdays and to 8 p.m. Thursdays; through Oct. 30
Admission: $8 to $15
Contact: (415) 655-7800, www.thecjm.org
Note: Jan Harlan speaks on “The Life and Legend of Stanley Kubrick” at 6:30 p.m. June 30 and hosts a gallery chat at 12:30 p.m. July 1.

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