Kubrick Box

This was written for New Escapologist‘s now-defunct Patreon situation in 2020. It was part of a show-and-tell series called ‘Hypocrite Minimalist’.

Object Number 3 in our inventory is my Kubrick Box. All will be explained. I have written a thousand words here about a cardboard box. No, it’s you who is weird.

Sixteen years ago, I sat in an office canteen on my lunch break and read a story by Jon Ronson in the Guardian. Pre- smartphone ubiquity, the paper was in print and my eyes were on stalks.

Ronson told the story of how he’d visited the English estate of Stanley Kubrick after his death and been confronted by boxes and boxes and boxes.

“There are boxes everywhere,” wrote Jon Ronson, “shelves of boxes in the stable block, rooms full of boxes in the main house. In the fields, where racehorses once stood and grazed, are half a dozen portable cabins, each packed with boxes.”

Kubrick, famously obsessive, had kept almost everything from his life in film.

As well as being a Kubrick fan, I also had a slightly complicated relationship with stuff. By 2003, I already had a tendency towards Minimalism but this had come after an early life of collecting things. I still liked material objects, especially when they were archived or organised in some fussy and logical way. I loved (and still love) libraries, museums, storehouses and collections, so long as I don’t have to own them myself, and I admired Kubrick’s demented, almost religious, maximalism.

A few years passed and I escaped office life. In a bookshop in New York, I picked up a collection of Jon Ronson’s journalism. I wondered if the Kubrick article had made the cut. It had. So I read it again. I bought the book and took to reading the Kubrick piece every so often. I found it soothing. All that nicely-organised cardboard. Ah, lovely.

When I told someone this, they looked at me askance and said, “do you mean the film about Stanley Kubrick’s boxes?” A film? Well, no it was in the newspaper ages ago. But it turned out Ronson had made a film about it in the meantime.

In the film, there’s picture after picture of the boxes. Some of them are opened in what is essentially a really good unboxing video. At the end, the boxes are shown being taken away to the University of the Arts London. I was a bit sad to see this, preferring to think of the boxes in their original home, but at least you can go and look at the boxes now if you want to, without even having to be Jon Ronson.

A filmmaker friend AJ (Hi, AJ!) went to see the archive a few years ago and there’s a Taschen book about it too, full of photographs.

Ronson says in his film that he’d been looking for a “rosebud” in the boxes but that, actually, the boxes themselves were the key to Kubrick’s character. Apparently, Kubrick hadn’t been willing to settle for the standard archive box you can buy from stationery stores (though it’s on record that he loved commercial stationery from his local Rymans) and went to the lengths of commissioning the perfect archive box from a box manufacturer.

There’s a memo from the box maker in the archive with a note about the “fussy customer” who wants the lid to slide off without a struggle but not to fall off by chance. Also on that memo was the name of the box company: G. Ryder and Co.

I wonder if they’re still in business, I thought one day. I Googled. They are. I called them, a man picked up the phone, and I asked if he could make me a box exactly to Stanley Kubrick’s specifications. He laughed at me.

“I’m researching a book about Stanley Kubrick,” I lied.

“Well,” he said, we don’t normally take orders for a single box. We have to make a whole run of them.” And if they did that, he explained, it would cost thousands of pounds for loads of unwanted boxes.

“But since you’re working on a book,” he said, “I’ll do you a box for forty pounds.”

Forty pounds. After embracing and selling off all my CDs one by one, was I really going to spend forty actual quid on a cardboard box?

“Okay,” I said.

A couple of weeks later, the boxes arrived. Two of them! A steal at twenty quid apiece.

I now use them as, well, archive boxes. The box maker, meanwhile, now sells them as a featured product with a clip from Ronson’s film.

Showing my boxes off to Landis one night, (Landis being easily as fussy as Stanley Kubrick and didn’t think it was strange that I wanted to show him a cardboard box) we wondered if one day “a Kubrick” could be a standard measure of stuff.

People could say “yeah, I’ve got 736 Kubricks at home” or “did you know Bill Gates has an estimated three-million Kubricks spread over six different homes?” or “I have whittled my life down to three eminently-portable Kubricks.” It’s a lovely dream.

Inside a Kubrick:

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