Adam: JB, you and I are huge fans of the 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was not always the case for me. It took a second viewing for the movie to cast its spell and has since become one of my favorites. In that first viewing, I knew what I was watching was special but had difficulty getting comfortable with its unique pacing. What was your first experience watching 2001 like?
JB: I honestly cannot remember the first time I saw 2001. I'm pretty sure that it had to be on home video. Remember, I am part of that sad generation of film lovers who did not have every film ever made at our disposal.
Adam: That’s not my fault.
JB: If the movie did not show up on Channels 2, 5, 7, 9, or 11 and did not show up at the Varsity Theater in Evanston or the Parkway downtown (two late, lamented reparatory theaters), you did not see it. So I would read about movies I could not see. I am certain that I read The Making of Kubrick's 2001 before I saw the actual film. I still remember the cover of that little paperback, which I believe I received as a birthday present after I made a specific request of my folks. Yes! Here it is.
I do remember the most impressive screening: in 70mm and a special restored print at an Ebertfest. The sound was so loud during the climactic "stargate" sequence I thought the roof of the Virginia Theater would blow off. That screening changed the way I saw, remembered and interpret the film. Yowsa!
And this leads to my question for you, dear Adam. Do you think the manner in which you see this film specifically influences what you get out of it? (i.e. How can film lovers in their right minds watch this on a laptop?). I wish everyone can see this film in 70mm on a big screen. As last February's aborted Music Box screening demonstrates, that ain't always going to happen.
Adam: Well, I agree that a 70mm screening is ideal for 2001 (and I was lucky enough to see it once that way in 2013 at a non-aborted screening at the Music Box). I have also seen it in a theater on three other occasions (in both 35mm and DLP) and found the experiences quite spectacular each time. But I honestly don't think you HAVE to see 2001 on the big screen to get a great deal out of the movie.
I became familiar with (and began to love) 2001 watching it on DVD and uninterrupted showings on PBS when I was a senior in high school. That was back in the box TV era, yo. I didn't even need HDTV! Although the movie is a visual and auditory landmark, it is as much a movie that plays in your head as it is a movie that plays out on the screen. What I mean is, unlike many other movies, it taps into my imagination and sense of wonder. Stanley Kubrick, I'm sure deliberately, gives you a great deal of time to consider what is on the screen and to trail off a bit, bringing your own interpretations to the movie and making it a deeply personal experience. I think 2001 is a miracle movie and may have actually been made by G-D. How could a person make this movie? It's unbelievable!
JB: While I agree with you in theory, (people can have a wonderful experience viewing 2001 any which way because it is that great a film) I must humbly suggest that Kubrick originally intended 2001 to be seen on an expansive, curved Cinerama screen, huge, with a superior sound system, and author's preference goes a long way in my book.
I still remember Douglass Pratt, editor of The DVD/Laserdisc Newsletter, going on and on in the introduction to one of his books, talking about impediments to watching a film. He was suggesting that the closer the screening was to matching the author's ideal, the fewer "distractions" there would be to understanding and enjoying the film.
Adam: Sometimes you just gotta do it in the car. We can’t all exist in the utopia Douglass Pratt calls his life.
JB: I also remember the first time I bought a really big TV, a 70" boxy, black rear projection set, which coincidentally resembled the monolith in Kubrick's film. My wife hated it; it took up too much space in the room. She claimed that wherever you were in the room and whatever you were looking at, that damn television would eventually and inevitably suck your attention to it, that you would have no choice but to stare at it. The first movie I watched on that big, big screen was the laserdisc of 2001.
Adam: So, JB, would you suggest to someone who has not seen 2001 to not watch it on a television and wait to see it in a theater? Luckily, it's a rep theater favorite and shows up more often than other classic movies but I can't imagine suggesting to someone who wants to watch 2001 to wait to watch 2001.
JB: Clearly, I am the stubborn, argumentative curmudgeon of this website; I am going to suggest that someone who has never seen 2001 should wait to see 2001 the right way before they see 2001. So there. Kubrick's art… is the best art… of all the art.
Adam: Well, one of us is right. Switching gears, what themes or personal observations have you taken away from 2001?
JB: Hmmmmmmm. Let me see...
1. The proof of Kubrick's genius lies in how many moments have become cultural touchstones: the famous match cut where the bone becomes the spaceship, the ineffable marriage of the spinning space station to the Strauss waltz, the face of the starchild at the end of the film, so beautiful and scary at the same time.
2. Humans are tiny, inconsequential things in the big picture. Kubrick's canvas is so wide, and his reach is so long, that he relegates human beings to mere pawns in a celestial chess match. The film is humbling in the best way possible.
3. I am proud to have attended the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana, birthplace of the HAL 9000 computer.
4. Dr. Floyd's tele-conversation with his wife and daughter ("a bush baby!") is where filmmaker John Landis got the "See You Next Wednesday" refrain/in-joke that he uses in every one of his films. Strange.
6. At times, the philosophical content and pace of the film invite us all to meditate on larger issues. I wish more films did that.
These are the ones that come to mind first, Adam. What do you think?
1. The movie's ambition is what impresses me most about it. It's a huge home run cut and could have gone terribly wrong but didn't. Think about it: in under 2-1/2 hours, Kubrick dares to have an opinion and open a conversation about existence. Compare that to Transformers and it's shameful how little many movies try to tackle in their running time.
2. I find the star baby to be one of the most comforting images I can recall in a movie. I think it was in an interview with Arthur C. Clarke who said a star baby represents all of the people who have lived and died. Once you die you become a star, and since Bowman (the astronaut played by Keir Dullea) just recently passed away in his human form, he is a newborn star, thus a star baby. I think that is such a beautiful notion. Maybe it's because I'm an outer space nut, but I find that to be more appealing than the idea that we are reincarnated or nothing happens after we die.
3. The movie is certainly suspenseful. For example, the sequence where Poole (the astronaut played by Gary Lockwood) is marooned in space and Bowman has to retrieve him, or when HAL is eavesdropping on the two astronauts as they're plotting in the pod to shut him down. The entire HAL section of the movie on its own would rank 2001 as a superior thriller.
4. The ‘Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite’ sequence is arguably the greatest special effects sequence ever committed to film. I swear there's one shot where I see a giant space dolphin. It's the craziest thing!
Adam: Other things I noticed (while sober) are:
King Tut and a Nike Swoosh:
Adam: Star baby. Go on.
JB: ..is on his way back to earth with nuclear weapons to "clear the field" and start our next step of evolution. Remember, whenever the monolith appears and one of us touch it, it signals to the aliens that we have reached the next stage (create weapons, travel to the moon, travel to Jupiter) in our development. So the next stage in our development is to have star child blow everything up and start over. I do not find this comforting. I am not making this up.
Adam: That’s Prometheus. You just equated the end of 2001 to Prometheus. I can’t remember where I heard my interpretation of the "star baby." I’ve looked everywhere and can’t figure out where I got that from, but I assure you I heard that once and it stuck with me. I’ve heard your interpretation before in an interview Arthur C. Clarke did with Roger Ebert, but I believe he said in that interview that Kubrick did away with that ending because it would be too similar to his own Dr. Strangelove. As 2001 currently stands, I don’t see the movie’s intent being nihilistic enough for that conclusion to be of the piece. I find the movie mostly hopeful. If I’m being defiantly ignorant, I can live it in this case. Furthermore, I think star baby would be an F-Head. He wouldn’t try to kill us. He would probably be a lot like Sol Ott.
JB, my friend, your next question: why do you think HAL makes such a good villain?
Adam: I don’t fear the IRS because I’m not a criminal, on Earth or in outer space. Not saying you are, but I think you’re being passive aggressive against the IRS.
JB: What would draw young whipper-snappers like yourself to such an old, odd, and obtuse film?
Adam: If I am speaking for the younger generation, I think the thing that would draw them to 2001 would be that it's an experience comparable to, say, Gravity. This is the type of movie that I think could get a boost similar to Star Wars in the '90s if they put it out in IMAX 3D.
JB: I would pay a lot to see a pristine print of 2001 in IMAX.
Adam: This might be the wrong answer, but I also think if you gave them weed it would probably turn into one of their favorite movies. Test it out in Colorado is what I’m saying.
On the whole, do you think the movie has any flaws?
JB: Yes, at times it is overly obtuse for no clear purpose. Kubrick gives the audience so much credit that they can figure it out (or that there was no one meaning -- it's simply something to be EXPERIENCED) that he sometimes makes things needlessly complicated.
Of course, I'm just remembering my first viewing. The many appearances of the monolith certainly nudge us in a specific direction, don't you think?
Adam: Yes, I would agree that the monoliths are signifiers representing major developments #PatternsBoom. They are almost narrative flags if you, as a viewer, have trailed off too much.
I want to get your opinion on something. I have never watched 2010 because I don't want answers to the open-ended aspects of 2001. Would you recommend I watch it? Does 2010 enrich the 2001 experience or detract from it by revealing some of the mysteries?
JB: Clarke's book is better, but the film is entertaining. I do not think it will retrospectively shit on your previous 2001 experiences.
Adam: If you had to pick one sequence/moment from 2001 that is your favorite, what would it be? While not my favorite, I still geek out that the movie has an overture and an intermission. It’s so great for setting the mood and making the movie feel that much more of an event.
JB: Every sequence is so damn good that it is hard to pick just one. I would probably say the scene where Dave is dismantling HAL ("Stop, Dave, Stop.") and HAL starts to sing "Daisy." Wow. Also, we learn in that scene that HAL was programmed at the University of Illinois, my alma mater. Go Illini!
Adam: Where would you rank 2001 in Kubrick's filmography from your favorites to least favorites?
JB: I think I am alone in the way in which I rank Kubrick's movies, but here goes:
2. Dr. Strangelove
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey
4. The Shining
5. The Killing
6. Paths of Glory
7. Full Metal Jacket
8. A Clockwork Orange
10. Barry Lyndon
11. Fear and Desire/Killer's Kiss
12. Eyes Wide Shut
I actively hate Eyes Wide Shut.
Adam: That looks too fun to pass up. Here are my rankings. I have not seen Fear and Desire or Killer’s Kiss. I at least appreciate every movie on this list.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. Paths of Glory
3. Dr. Strangelove
4. The Shining
5. The Killing
6. A Clockwork Orange
7. Barry Lyndon
8. Full Metal Jacket
10. Eyes Wide Shut
JB: Last questions for you: what draws you to 2001? What specifically do you like about it?
Adam: A filmmaker like Stanley Kubrick -- and especially a movie such as 2001 -- is atypical of what I'm usually drawn to. I normally respond much more to a movie that is trying to provoke me emotionally rather than intellectually.
So in the case of 2001, I would have to say:
1. It taps into my curiosity and (this is going to sound douchey, sorry) do-it-yourself spirituality. I'm not a religious person, but I am a person that is in awe of the universe and I love considering the big questions about existence.
2. I admire that the movie doesn't have answers, but rather poses a topic and lets you ruminate on it.
3. The movie makes me feel smart and deep but not in a way that strikes me as pretentious or heavy-handed.
4. 2001 is a great world-weary mood movie, and I am a big fan of the good old ennui.
5. I'm a little weird and 2001 is a weird, weird movie.
I relish being in amazement of things whether it's big dinosaurs, outer space etc. and 2001 is a movie for people similar to me.
One reason Gravity doesn't appeal to me is because I cannot fathom wanting to try to get back to Earth when facing imminent death in space. I would milk that shit for all it's worth. You get to die in space! That's amazing. I would go crazy with the rocket boosters and float around like Clooney checking out Earth from views hardly anyone has ever seen. When that can't last, you just have to take off your helmet and boom! You're dead immediately. Not so bad in my opinion. There are lots of worse ways to go. And then you become a star baby!