Matthew Modine talks Stanley Kubrick as his ‘Full Metal Jacket Diary’ photography offers a rare war movie look

STanley Kubrick is a notoriously private and meticulous director. Rarely do the public get a glimpse of his creative process. Rarer still for a Texas gallery to highlight the director born in New York in an exhibition. The exhibition “Full Metal Jacket Diary” by Matthew Modine, presented until Saturday March 5 at Alta Arts in Houston, stages the invisible and the intimate. Stanley Kubrick: his process, his decor, his daughter and even his smile.

“Full Metal Jacket Diary” is comprised of photos taken by Modine throughout Kubrick’s filming process. Using a Roliflex camera given to him by a friend, Modine chronicled the film’s development from start to finish. Years after the film review Full Metal Jacket shown on cinema screens, Modine revisits these photos on the walls of Houston’s Alta Arts.

“It was unheard of, in a Kubrick film, to document what belonged to him,” said Matthew Modine during a panel organized by Alta Arts on his photography. “He allowed me – giving me permission to photograph his set. . . and it was unprecedented”

The environments occupied by Kubrick and his film crew are organically captured in Modine’s work. Army vehicles populated by actors wearing military uniforms are offset by microphones and pieces of filming equipment that peak in the corners of his photos. At a glance, the viewer could easily mistake Modine’s work for footage taken in 1965 during the Vietnam War.

“The photographs were all shot in film, but they speak the same language as authentic war photography,” said Alta Arts programming director Alexander Squier. “Grainy images and high contrast in photos (are examples of this).”

Dipo Alli and Yuan Zhang admire Modine’s work on the opening night of the exhibition.

For better or worse, “Full Metal Jacket Diary” speaks to the nature of photography as both a “powerful documentary tool” and a “time-bending tool,” according to Squier. Modine’s ability to imitate real Vietnam War photos raises questions about the performativity of photography. “Full Metal Jacket Diary” does the same job as Kubrick’s film, plunging the viewer into a fictional representation of a war that was all too real.

Although many of Modine’s photos transport the viewer to scenes of war, a few offer glimpses of the tender times shared between Kubrick and his crew. In one such moment, Kubrick smiles sweetly at his daughter Vivian Kubrick, who produced the film’s score. This photo is unpublished in several respects. Not only does it capture Kubrick engulfed in a smile (a rare sight for the seriously earnest director), but more importantly it captures the pride Kubrick felt watching his daughter flourish while working on a joint project.

Stanley Kubrick smiles at his daughter, Vivian, photographed by actor Matthew Modine.
Stanley Kubrick smiles at his daughter, Vivian, photographed by actor Matthew Modine.

“Stanley never got mad at someone who did their best,” Modine laughs as he implicates the fate of those who do less. Although Kubrick’s harsh reputation for perfectionism prevails, “Full Metal Jacket Diary” gives viewers a deeper perspective on his famous personality.

Make no mistake about Modine; Kubrick was tough. But just as he cared about the cinema, he cared about his team.

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