Adam, Ken

Adam, Ken
(1921– )
   Klaus Adam, better known as Ken, studied at Französische Gymnasium, Berlin; St. Paul’s School, London; and London University’s Bartlett School of Architecture. His interest in a film career began when he met fellow exile Vincent Zolda,William Cameron Menzies’s assistant on Things to Come (1936). During World War II, Adam was the only native-born German fighter pilot to serve in the Royal Air Force. After the war, he became the protégé of Oliver Messel, and he married the designer Maria Letizia in 1952. In the early 1960s, Ken Adam supplemented his income from films by designing London’s first coffee bars. Later, having moved to the United States in 1979, he worked briefly for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from 1983 to 1984. Aside from his two collaborations with STANLEY KUBRICK, Adam’s notable design credits include Night of the Demon (1957), Ten Seconds to Hell (1958), Sodom and Gomorrah (1962), Dr. No (1962), Goldfinger (1964), Sleuth (1972), Moonraker (1979), Pennies From Heaven (1981), King David (1985), Agnes of God (1985), and Crimes of the Heart (1986).
   Adam won his two Oscars for BARRY LYNDON and The Madness of King George (1994), both period pieces which utilized existing historical buildings. Admittedly, Adam saw his work on Barry Lyndon as being “much more reproductive than imaginative . . . We did enormous amounts of research. That’s why it was never that exciting to me as a designer, even though I won the Academy Award for it . . . We studied every painter of the period, photographed every detail we could think of. Bought real clothes of the period, which, incidentally, were almost invariably too small . . . There were enormous challenges too, such as the house of Lady Lyndon. That was like a jigsaw puzzle, a combination of about ten or eleven stately homes in England.
   Adam is much better known for his fantastic, grandiose designs for Dr. Strangelove, seven James Bond films (in which he gave the cinema some of its most famous and imaginative prop gadgetry), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Pennies From Heaven (1981), and Addams Family Values (1993). He refers to this approach as “heightened reality,” whereby a designer and director get together and totally invent a filmic world.
   Of his working relationship with Kubrick, Adam told Sight and Sound, “Though we had arguments we always seemed to work on parallel lines. Stanley is an extremely difficult and talented person. Kubrick has the mind of a chess player, and though he might instinctively know that my design was right he would say, ‘Think of something else. ’ We went through all the possible permutations until we settled on the original design. ”
   An exception to this “return to the original design” rule seems to be the famous “war room” set of DR. STRANGELOVE. Adam recalled: “The first concept was quite different. It was almost like an amphitheater, with a gallery of spectators. [Kubrick] liked that very much. I then started the whole art department drawing it out, and after four weeks— and this is typical Stanley—he said to me,‘Gee, Ken, we need a lot of extras all around. Maybe you should come up with something different. ’ . . . I came up with this triangular shape, and that was purely instinctive. And he liked it. ”
   In one of the rare instances of Kubrick’s having worked on a film other than one of his own, Ken Adam reported that Kubrick helped him set up the lighting of the tanker set of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The sets had been built, but the cinematographer was concerned about how the whole thing was going to be lit. Adam asked Kubrick to come in for some advice, and he agreed on the condition that no one know what was going on. Kubrick was afraid it might cause a scandal with the unions, and with the studio where he was supposed to be working on THE SHINING at the time. So late one night, when no one else was around the soundstage, Kubrick crept in to help with the set-ups.
   The buffet table in Ken Adam’s “war room” set, Dr. Strangelove (1964) (Author’s collection) In November 1999, London’s Serpentine Gallery mounted the exhibition Moonraker, Strangelove, and Other Celluloid Dreams:The Visionary Art of Ken Adam. Adam’s recent work includes The Out-of-Towners (1999) and Taking Sides (2001).
   ■ Adam, Ken, interview with Frank Spotnitz, American Film, February 1991, 16–21; Adam, Ken, interview with James Delson. Film Comment, 18, no. 1; Jan–Feb 1982, pp. 36–42;
   ■ Hudson, Roger,“Three Designers,” Sight and Sound 34, no. 1, winter 1964–65, pp. 26–27;
   ■ “Ken Adam,” Film Dope no. 39 (March 1988): 3.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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