MASTER OF SET DESIGN: KEN ADAM “BERLINER” CINEMA SUPERSTAR! Ken and his strange relationship with Stanley Kubrick
Berlinare 2015 is coming , Don’t Miss This Great Opportunity to discover an unbelievable artist.
KEN ADAM‘S FILM DESIGN EXHIBITION
11 December 2014 – 17 May 2015:
Bigger Than Life. Ken Adam’s Film Design
Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum für Film und Fernsehen
Potsdamer Straße 2
Set design is one of the most complicated elements in film. Basically, it’s meant to serve the story and not call attention to itself, while still adding to the mood of the film.
Berlinale is coming and Don’t Miss This Great Opportunity to discover a Berliner Cinema Superstar: Sir Kenneth Adam the most influential film production designer of the last half of the twentieth century.
Born to a wealthy Jewish family in Berlin in 1921 ( his birth name was Klaus Adam), Adam had a privileged childhood but fled to London 1934 when the Nazis cracked down on Jewish businesses, including his father’s firm. After studying architecture, he served as a fighter pilot for the British during World War II, then wangled a job as a junior draftsman on the otherwise forgettable 1947 film, “This Was A Woman.” Adam worked his way up the ranks to become a production designer, a role that didn’t exist until 1938 when William Cameron Menzies was given the title on “Gone with the Wind.” It was still so peripheral that Adam’s name was misspelled in the credits of “Around the World in Eighty Days” (1956), the first film where he felt he made a creative impact.
He most famous for ‘Dr Strangelove’ and the James Bond films of the 60’s & 70’s. He is also one of only two German nationals who flew for the RAF in World War II.
In London, Adam flew for the RAF – the first German fighter pilot to do so – and he claims that this experience, fraught with action and danger, played a huge role in his design work, particularly the Bond films. Although he still lives in London, Adam has never forgotten his Berlin roots.
There is no doubt that Adam was influenced by the Bauhaus and German Expressionism and the architects who he admired most are Mies Van Der Rohe, Mendelsohn, Gropius and Le Corbusier, and also, in some way, Frank Lloyd Wright .
The mastermind behind seven of the first eleven Bond films, including Dr. No, Adam has been lauded as one of the world’s greatest production designers. First recognized during the filming of Around the World in Eighty Days, he has managed to cultivate a rapt following in one of the cinema’s most underappreciated professions, and with it a reputation for grandly expressionistic sets, such as the war room in Dr. Strangelove and Blofeld’s volcanic headquarters in You Only Live Twice.
By the early 70s, Ken’s imagination had made him Hollywood’s most celebrated production designer, and in 1975 he got another call from Mr Kubrick who was preparing to come out of hiding after the fallout from Clockwork Orange. He wanted re-tell Barry Lyndon, Thackeray’s candle lit ode to the regency period. Ken reluctantly agreed. He had happily passed on the opportunity to work on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Adam said: “Stanley had got very nasty menacing letters from people threatening his life, so when we were preparing for Barry he wouldn’t move out of his house for 5 or 6 months. I said ‘how can you make a film on location when you don’t go out?’ So he employed an army of young photographers to take pictures of stately homes. But you couldn’t say anything about his paranoia to anyone otherwise he would be on the phone the next day. He controlled everything you said in the press and on set.”
Physically exhausted, Ken had a nervous breakdown, and Kubrick fired everyone on set for six weeks to re-think the film’s strategy.
“It wasn’t normal pressure, I can cope with normal pressure,” he says, with a gutsy laugh. “I had to go into a clinic. Stanley was more worried than I was, but I was beyond worrying really. He rang everyday but wasn’t able to talk to me because my psychiatrist wanted to cut this umbilical chord between us. Which he never managed to do actually. When I finally came back to this house, he rang up and asked me if I wanted to direct a scene over in Germany. The moment I heard that I was back in the clinic. Crazy.”
“Kubrick had seen Dr. No and loved it,” Ken says, tugging back a lungful of cigar smoke. “He asked if I would be interested in doing a picture for him. I went to see him and he had a lot of charm and curiosity, but I felt he was also very naïve. Little did I know that there was this gigantic computer like brain functioning all the time!”
He sketched out an idea for the film’s centrepiece – a split-level war room. Kubrick liked it at first but scrapped it after wondering what he would do with the second level. Ken then drew an imposing triangular design, with the director standing behind him commenting on every stroke.
“We were too close. It was like a marriage. He was unbelievably possessive and very difficult to work with because he knew every other part of filmmaking, but not design. He was suspicious and I had to intellectually justify every line I drew. That can be so destroying to deal with day after day.”
In 1966, he returned to the city to work on the film Funeral in Berlin and 2001 for collaborating on Taking Sides by Istvan Szabo ; and in 2012, he donated his entire life’s work of over 5000 objects (including nearly 4000 sketches of his film sets) to the Deutsche Kinemathek. This donation forms the basis of the new exhibition.
He also worked on film as Addams family and The Madness of King George.
Don’t Miss This Great Opportunity to discover a great artist.
Confidential source Kubrick-Adam : “TIM NOAKES 2008 “