One of the many reasons Stanley Kubrick was such a formidable filmmaker was that he came to cinema after many years as a photographer for publications like Look magazine. Not only did that give him the kind of eye that knew how to tell (and sell) visually and with maximum efficiency, it meant that he really knew his camera and by extension his lenses. He knew what each lens could do, its strengths and weaknesses, and--as in those days, all were hand-ground--their individual personalities.
Very few directors keep up with camera tech--that’s usually the job of the cinematographer--but Kubrick did. Although he wasn't the first director to use Steadicam, he was the first (on The Shining) to get the rig modified so it could coast close to the ground.
In this video, Joe Dunton, who owned one of the major camera rental facilities in London and worked very closely with Kubrick, takes us on a tour of Kubrick’s lens collection. For those who went to the traveling Kubrick exhibit two to three years ago, a selection of these were on display, and Dunton’s interview seems to have been part of a similar show in Frankfurt.
Kubrick was a tinkerer, and many of the lenses here he modified himself, combining bodies, or changing a still camera lens so that it could mount onto his favorite film camera, the Arriflex IIc, a relatively small handheld movie camera that he often operated himself.
The director rarely rented, preferring to buy his own lenses to keep. He was also a big fan of using natural light when he could--further evidence of the influence of his photojournalism career. Natural light could be as dim as the flicker of a candle, which led to the use of a Zeiss lens designed for NASA as a way of photographing space–Kubrick used it for the evening shots in Barry Lyndon in order to capture candlelight.
Also shown, the highly coveted Angenieux 10-to-1 zoom lens, and what would a Kubrick film be without those iconic slow zooms.
If there is an unsung hero in all this, it’s a man named George Hill, who was Kubrick’s go-to-guy when he needed a lens created. It was the only guy he trusted to clean his lenses.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.