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2001: a space odyssey

“President Lyndon B. Johnson shocked the nation when he announced that he would not seek re-election. The country’s political system was in turmoil, and, increasingly, young Americans expected their artists to address the chaos that roared all around them. Kubrick had done this brilliantly with his last film. But as American involvement in Vietnam escalated and domestic unrest and violence at home intensified, Kubrick seemingly buried his head deeper in his work than ever before. Even before he had started on the project Lew Wasserman had passed on the movie with the words, ‘Kid, you don’t spend over a million dollars on science-fiction movies. You just don’t do that.’ Kubrick forged ahead with his experiment in film form and content. He once again exploded conventional narrative form, restructuring the conventions of the three-act drama. Unlike The Killing, the film’s narrative was linear, but in a radical way, spanning aeons of time and ending in a timeless realm— all this without a conventional movie score.

“On its completion. Kubrick returned east, where he screened the first cut for MGM’s executives on 31 March at the imposing Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. The backdrop was not auspicious. Still reeling from Johnson’s shock announcement, the capital was preoccupied and eager to gossip. It was not the best background for screening a challenging film for a WIP audience.

The theatre was filled with middle-aged politicians and top industry figures in suits. Expectations were high as MGM had placed a tremendous amount of confidence in Stanley Kubrick and his vision, but the atmosphere was extraordinarily tense, not just for Kubrick but also for those MGM executives whose futures, which they had gambled on the success of the movie, hung in the balance. They were still suffering from the effects of a series of big-budget flops in the early sixties.

“As the lights went down, very few people knew what was about to transpire and they were certainly not prepared for what did. One of those was Arthur C. Clarke. He had not yet seen the final cut, and was shocked by the film’s transformation. In the absence of alternative collaborators, without consulting or confronting Clarke, Kubrick had cut almost every element of explanation and all of Clarke’s voice-over narration during the final edit. What Clarke envisaged as a pseudo-documentary was now elusive, ambiguous, and thoroughly unclear. Having nothing better to offer in place of the ‘Star Child’ ending, Kubrick kept it, and the last sequence of the film would become its most discussed.

His decisions contributed to long silent scenes, offered without elucidation, that contributed significantly to the film’s ultimate success. Clarke says that he overheard one MGM executive say to the other, ‘Well, today we lost two presidents’ – referring to MGM’s Robert O’Brien as well as LBJ. 

“A press preview screening was held the following day, and on 2 April 1968, 2001 opened to the world. In its advance review, published on 3 April, Variety wrote:

2001 lacks dramatic appeal to a large degree…leaving interpretation up to the individual viewer. To many this will smack of indecision or hasty scripting. Despite the enormous technical staff involved in making the film, it is almost entirely one man’s conception and Kubrick must receive all the praise and take all the blame. 

“That evening, the film opened at the Loew’s Capitol Theatre on Broadway in New York with the cast and crew in attendance. It was an invitation-only affair, and the theatre was crammed with 1,500 of the ‘best people’: mid-level to senior MGM staff and such celebrities as Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Henry Fonda. Outside, a predatory press pack and paparazzi caused a red-carpet frenzy as they snapped the arriving celebrities, hungry for news and gossip about the film. Accompanied by Christiane and their three daughters in their ‘glad rags’, Stanley had been persuaded to dress up and wear black tie for the evening. Appreciating the gravity of the event, he even consented to give a rare on-camera interview in the lobby.”

“‘We started in 1965, early 1965. Well, I became interested in the idea that, eh-em, the universe was full of intelligent civilizations, which is a current scientific belief. Well, the facts in the film only help you believe the story. But, uh, the, uh, the… Scientists know now that there are about a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, and about a hundred billion galaxies in the visible universe. The point is that there are so many stars in the universe that the likelihood of life evolving around them, even if there were possibilities of one in a million, there would be hundreds of millions of worlds in the universe. '

“His tension was palpable.

“As the lights dimmed, Christiane looked around her and saw an audience of people mostly in their fifties and above. She thought to herself, ‘Lots of alte kakers here’ — literally ‘old shitters’ in German and Yiddish, but more accurately translated as ‘old farts’. As the film played, the audience was twitchy, muttering impatiently for the next scene. There were even giggles, recalling Kubrick’s first feature film, Fear and Desire. Fidgety and agitated, his bow tie undone and his dinner jacket unbuttoned, Kubrick paced back up and down the side aisles and across the back of the cinema, as well as back and forth between the projection booth and the auditorium to check focus and monitor the sound on the Cinerama equipment. The middle-aged audience was puzzled, edgy, derisive, and finally outright hostile. There were boos, hisses, and catcalls. Bored to tears and certain they were doomed, the middle-aged MGM executives walked out in their droves. ‘I’ve never seen an audience so restless,’ Kubrick commented. ‘He was very upset,’ an observer recalled. ‘Very, very upset.’

During the intermission, coming just after we see HAL read the lips of Bowman and Poole, who are preparing to dismantle him, Stanley was silent, grim-faced, and lost in thought. When he returned to his seat, he muttered terse comments to Christiane, who recalled, ‘It was really frightening.’ Christiane described the atmosphere in the theatre as oppressive coupled with a tangible feeling of schadenfreude. The wunderkind had been cut down to size.

“Kubrick had posted an aide at the entrance to count the walkouts. It began as a trickle, escalating to a river and then a floor during the intermission. By the end, 241 walkouts had been recorded — more than one-sixth of the audience. One of those was Arhur C. Clarke who, although having seen the film already, was by now humiliated, disappointed, and close to tears. As he left the theatre, Clarke said he’d overheard an MGM suit pontificating: ‘Well, that’s the end of Stanley Kubrick.’”


John Bellamy Comments: As usual, I have a comment on anything and everything, and so we all should, - it's that - or stay dumb.

Loved this film when I first saw it but was as confused by the ending as anyone else and it needed to sit with me for a while, - actually a long while - and let the pieces of the storyline fall into place to make some sense out of it.

A bit like The Matrix films - confused - or what ...

While being slow - it does tell a deep story line that does take some understanding and is worth watching if only for the horrible little man - Leonard Rossiter - who is briefly in the film ( Rising Damp was his famous TV role years later ) being a few years prior to his TV show. ( In the TV adverts for Cinzano he did with Joan Collins, he considered himself the STAR and referred to Joan Collins as THE PROP. - er - and who - exactly - was the bigger STAR ????? )

The film was beautifully directed - filmed and the music - well we now all call it - ' the music from 2001' - rather than give it it's correct name - Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss - CLICK HERE

Compared to action sci fi with tons of battles and death, this slow paced movie takes you on an inner journey and is a head scratcher.


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