Arts / Galleries

Matthew Modine Talks Stanley Kubrick as His “Full Metal Jacket Diary” Photography Provides a Rare War Movie Look

Having a Houston Moment

BY Vivian Phillips // 03.04.22

Stanley Kubrick is a notoriously private and meticulous director. It’s rare for the public to be given insight into his creative process — and rarer still for a Texas gallery to spotlight the New York City-born director in an exhibition. Matthew Modine’s “Full Metal Jacket Diary” exhibition, on view through Saturday, March 5, at Houston’s Alta Arts, puts the unseen and the intimate on display. Stanley Kubrick: his process, his set, 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 critically acclaimed movie Full Metal Jacket played on movie screens, Modine revisits these photos on the walls of Houston’s own Alta Arts.

“It was unheard of, in a Kubrick film, to document what was his,” Modine said during a panel hosted by Alta Arts on his photography. “He was allowing me — giving me permission to photograph his set … and that was unprecedented”

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

“The photographs were all taken within a movie, but they speak the same language as genuine war photography,” says Alexander Squier, Alta Arts director of programming. “The grainy images and high contrast of the photos [are exemplary of that].”

Dipo Alli and Yuan Zhang admire Modine’s work on the opening night of the exhibition.
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 “tool to bend time,” Squier says. Modine’s ability to emulate genuine photos of the Vietnam War brings questions to mind regarding photography’s performativity. “Full Metal Jacket Diary” thereby accomplishes the same work as Kubrick’s film by immersing the viewer in a fictitious depiction of a war that was all too real.

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Though many of Modine’s photos transport the viewer into scenes of war, a select few offer insight into tender moments shared between Kubrick and his crew. In one such moment, Kubrick smiles sweetly at his daughter, Vivian Kubrick, who produced the music for the film. This photo is novel on multiple accounts. Not only does it capture Kubrick engulfed in a smile (a rare sight for the very serious director), but it also captures the pride Kubrick felt in seeing his daughter thrive while working on a shared project.

Stanley Kubrick smiles at daughter, Vivian, as pictured by actor Matthew Modine.
Stanley Kubrick smiles at daughter, Vivian, as pictured by actor Matthew Modine.

“Stanley never got mad at anyone who was doing their best,” Modine says, laughing as he implies the fate of those who did less. Although Kubrick’s tough reputation for perfectionism proceeds him, “Full Metal Jacket Diary” gives viewers a deeper perspective into his famed personality.

Don’t get Modine wrong; Kubrick was tough. But just as he cared for film, he cared for his crew.

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