2001: a space odyssey -- 11/06/20

Today's selection -- from Stanley Kubrick by David Mikics. At its initial release, attendance at the film 2001: A Space Odyssey was disappointing. Then, bit by bit, younger moviegoers began showing up:
"[Stanley] Kubrick's spectacular vision of the future [in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey] was costly. When the shooting was done, he had spent more than two times 2001's projected budget of five million dollars. The future of MGM was balanced on the fortunes of 2001, since the studio was still hurting from a series of big-budget flops in the early sixties. When Kubrick unveiled his masterpiece, studio executives, bored to tears by the movie, were sure they were doomed. Droves of MGM suits walked out during the first New York screening in April 1968.

"A disheartened Stanley retreated with Christiane to a hotel room, where, she remembered, he 'couldn't sleep and couldn't speak and couldn't do anything.' She told him that the movie would find its audience, even though the middle-aged Hollywood brigade didn't get it.

"Christiane was right. By the next afternoon reports started to stream in: audiences under thirty were flocking to 2001. Word of mouth spread like a fever, and soon an advertising team devised a new slogan for the film: 'the Ultimate Trip.' People were watching 2001 over and over, and always, it seemed, in an altered state. Before long John Lennon remarked, '2001, I see it every week.'

The monolith

"2001 premiered in 70mm Super Panavision with a 2.21:1 aspect ratio at a series of theaters that had a special curved screen with five stereo speakers hidden behind it. The best approxi­mation to this experience is seeing the film in IMAX: you will feel you are hanging off the edge of space with the stranded Frank Poole. An IMAX viewing of Christopher Nolan's re­stored 2001 reminds us how Kubrick's outer space vistas com­bined the ideas of harmony and abandonment, like no other movie before or since. Grand and eerie, the planets turn, their movements precisely calculated like fine watchworks.

"2001 also opened in regular 70mm and, later on, in 35mm. It became one of MGM's five top-grossing films, joining Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind, and The Wiz­ard of Oz. Four years after its opening, the movie was still in release, playing every day across the country. In the seventies, MGM rereleased 2001 five times.

"With 2001 Kubrick became against his will a prophet for sixties youth culture, though a rather wary and skeptical one. As usual, he refused to appear on television, make speeches, or otherwise pronounce on the Zeitgeist.

"The New York critics were not nearly as impressed by 2001 as its youthful audiences who saw it again and again. Kael sav­aged the movie remorselessly, and Andrew Sarris was also doubt­ful about the merits of 2001, though after seeing the movie a second time 'under the influence of a smoked substance,' he wrote that he had started to appreciate Kubrick's vision.

"Stanley Kubrick's 'mythological documentary,' as he called 2001, will probably live on as long as movies are made and watched. It's one of those achievements that Ardrey talks about in Kubrick's favorite passage of African Genesis:

We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles and irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties, whatever they may be worth; our symphonies, however seldom they may be played; our peace­ful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams, however rarely they may be accom­plished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen.

"2001: A Space Odyssey is evidence of that brief transcendent el­evation." 

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David Mikics


Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker


Yale University Press


Copyright 2020, David Mikics


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