Archive for 2001: A Space Odyssey

Come Fly With Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on February 7, 2014 by dcairns

I’ve always been curious to see some of Richard Lester’s TV ads. There were the caroselli, short visual comedies with a product tagged on the end, made to be shown once on Italian TV and then destroyed. I know there’s no chance of seeing those. But the frustration was that, since ads don’t have credit sequences, I was undoubtedly seeing his work without knowing it. Occasionally I might recognize a composition or an approach to gags and think “This COULD be Lester,” but I could never be sure.

I found this one by researching the boss of the company Lester worked for — an article published at the time of his retirement, and made available online, listed some of his most acclaimed productions, naming the directors, and lo and behold this one was on YouTube.

A utopian vision of air travel. The film isn’t actually that inaccurate about  what’s technologically possible — in other words, the film could all have come true. But instead of trying to make air travel attractive to the rich, the airlines have concentrated on making it affordable to the moderately well-off. This has led to a policy of treating their customers really badly, which has combined handily with the threat of terrorism to create an environment in which all travelers are treated as if they’re being admitted to prison. I guess for those in first class and its euphemistic variants, flight is still a little more like the Braniff dream vision, but it’s dragged closer to reality by the fact that anybody not in the Lear jet class still has to use the same aeroplanes as us plebs.

The ad has a strong resemblance to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and the world of advertising probably did move fast enough for Lester and co to have a commercial knock-off onscreen the same year Kubrick’s film opened. But I guess it could also be coincidence — the 60s approach to sci-fi costuming existed outside of 2001, though that was the only place where it didn’t look kitsch. We do know Lester admired 2001, since one of the Making Of books includes a congratulatory telegram he sent to the hermit of Abbots Mead: “YOU’VE GIVEN US ALL SOMETHING TO AIM FOR.” He doesn’t quite say he’s already aiming for the two-minute version.

If anyone else has any leads for tracing Lester’s commercial work, I’m all ears!

Lost in Time and Lost in Space… and Meaning

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2013 by dcairns

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I was impressed by a shot in Adam Curtis’s free-form documentary found-footage mash-up IT FELT LIKE A KISS in which Doris Day closes a hotel room door in our face and the room number on it is 2001. Curtis uses this to evoke thoughts about the events of 9:11 and the more innocent-seeming world we dream existed before that act of unscheduled demolition opened the  war on abstract concepts. I became convinced that it might also be possible to draw connections between Kubrick’s film 2001 and the actual events on September 11th of that year. If, as ROOM 237 shows, THE SHINING can be bent this way and that to support an apparently unlimited range of unrelated theories, surely the even more open text of 2001 can act as a lens through which to view events which were still in the almost-unimaginable future when Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke conceived their space odyssey?

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Kubrick begins with a desert landscape populated by aggressive cave-dwellers. Al-Qaeda? Racist to conflate arabs and ape-men, but in a way we’re only following the racist logic of much media reporting to see where it leads. 2001 begins with a land that doesn’t need to be bombed back to the stone age because it’s already there. The simians are visited by a shiny rectangular artifact, which we’ll spuriously claim represents the Twin Towers. Gazing at it in awe, they are inspired to discover weapons and kill.

Of course, the connection between apes and the World Trade Center is really made by the DeLaurentiis KING KONG, in which Kong scales one of the towers before leaping to the other, driven by some primal urge (he apparently relates the towers to a geographical feature of Skull Island). Attacked by helicopters, Kong (like the 2001 man-beasts, an uncredited actor in a costume) is shot down. KING KONG is directed by John Guillermin, who had considerable skyscraper experience, having just made THE TOWERING INFERNO. Thus Kubrick’s film, without containing any shots of large-scale destruction, calls to mind the events of 9:11 in a variety of ways in its very first sequence.

In Steve Bell’s newspaper strip in The Guardian, entitled If…, George W Bush was always portrayed as a simian. And IF… is also the title of the film starring Malcolm McDowell which got Little Malcolm the lead role in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. (CLOCKWORK ORANGE can be seen as a black parody of 2001: a barbaric savage is reprogrammed by a higher power. In both cases, the primitive being is shown a film accompanied by German classical music — Moonwatcher the apeman perceives this with his mind’s eye, whereas Malcolm watches it on a traditional screen. The protagonists of both films end up in bed, transformed.)

In a justly famous transition, Kubrick match-cuts from a hurled bone to a spacecraft, cementing the notion of flying vehicles as weapons. Later we will meet spacecraft identified as belonging to Pan-Am Airlines, confirming that spacecraft are just evolved aircraft (and both are just evolved ape-weapons).

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Now we meet Space Station V, an orbiting base composed of two wheels, each constructed like a skyscraper swallowing its own tail. Parts of the station are apparently as yet incomplete, exposing red girders. To a Strauss waltz, we watch as a spacecraft flies directly into the station, but rather than causing destruction it is simply swallowed up. Like the twin towers of the World Trade Center, this space base has a restaurant and an unbeatable view. The WTC boasted of its top floor “observatories” and its “Windows on the World” restaurant and “Cellar in the Sky” bar. The SSV actually does feature windows on the world, through which the Earth can be seen, apparently spinning below.

On board, things are seething with international tension — in Kubrick’s vision of the future, Perestroika never happened so the Russians are still the threat. There’s also news of a strange discovery on the moon –

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The floodlit excavation sight is almost a dead ringer for New York’s Ground Zero, only with a skyscraper (the monolith) still rising out of it, impossibly. It’s existence causes another flight, this time to Jupiter (and beyond the infinite), which incidentally is one of the dozen places President Bush was flown to after the towers collapsed.

Now we find ourselves on a spacecraft on a secret mission, hijacked by a terrorist which started out disguised as a legitimate passenger on the craft (the shipboard computer). HAL kills the crew members in order to take over the ship, but he does it because “this mission is too important to allow you to jeopardise it.”

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Repeated image of a body tumbling through space.

Like the passengers on the hijacked planes, Kubrick’s astronauts can phone home. One receives the message “See you next Wednesday,” a line quoted in every John Landis film. Landis’s career has been marked by fatal aerial catastrophe. His movie SPIES LIKE US deals with a team of idiots deployed by corrupt commanders to distract attention while a war is started. His first movie, SCHLOCK, features numerous parodies of the apemen from 2001.

Like the passengers of United 93, Dave Bowman destroys the hijacker, resulting finally in his own death — but this is played in stylised form, first as a flight through distorted, psychedelic landscapes, then as an accelerated aging process, then with the traditional death-bed. In a white room whose floor is illuminated panels like the sides of a skyscraper.

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But at the foot of that death-bed, the monolith appears yet again, and once more we move inexorably towards its smooth surface, repeating yet again the collision with the WTC, an event which killed, among thousands of others, the sister of Marisa Berenson, who starred in Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON. She was also the wife of Anthony Perkins, best known for playing a knife-wielding killer who struck in disguise, and who appeared in Disney’s THE BLACK HOLE, which shares with 2001 a climax in which a passage through a space portal leads to a mysterious spiritual experience.

From the impact with the monolith, something new is born, but the movie is vague about what, exactly, can be expected from it…

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In a way this is a thought experiment, to see how many meaningful-seeming coincidences can be drawn between an event and a film which actually preceded it by decades and could not have been influenced by it in any traditional cause-and-effect way. In a way it’s a parody of such academic exercises. It’s also inspired a bit by the fancy footwork in this remarkable piece.

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Charles Aznavour’s Sex Dungeon

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2013 by dcairns

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From THE ADVENTURERS (1969).

I’d read about this movie in two places — one was Robert Evans’ autohagiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, where he blames Paramount CEO Charlie Bluhdorn for choosing to make this bloated, old-fashioned Harold Robbins adaptation with untested star Bekim Fehmiu, much against his wishes. The movie tries to compensate for its dated approach by pouring in sex by the bucketload, with decorous nudity provided by the gorgeous Delia Boccardo and Leigh Taylor-Young, but to no avail. There’s a rather zany, zoomtastic sex scene with the former and Fehmiu which must have been startling stuff in ’69.

The other place I read of it is Lewis Gilbert’s autobio, All My Flashbacks, where he bitterly bemoans being removed from his dream picture, OLIVER! and forced to make this pile of tat. The fact that Carol Reed won the best directing Oscar for OLIVER! in his stead perhaps has something to do with the intensity of his regret: if Reed could win for the rather tired job of work he put in, surely an eager hack like Gilbert could do likewise.

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Gilbert seems to have put all he could into the turkey he was handed, stuffing it with orgies, battles, proto-disco fashion shows (with UV lighting and splitscreen) and star cameos. Claude Renoir shot it and Anne V. Coates cut it and it still sucks. “It was a bullshit story,” is Gilbert’s own, accurate, description.

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Also included — Charles Aznavour’s sex dungeon, a groovy, queasy palace of porn. Tony Masters, who had just designed 2001 (and would go on to DUNE), created the sets, and one feels Kubrick must surely have been watching. In fact, Masters creates an even more stylish, beautiful and sinister objectification parlour than John Barry (not the composer) would achieve for CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Both designers must surely have been influenced by the kinky sculptures of Allen Jones (in fact Kubrick admitted it and initially tried to buy Jones’ work) but Masters’ versions are BETTER — they throw in a Hans Bellmer influence, merging body parts and furniture together in a way HR Giger would approve of (the HR stands for Human Resources, in case you wondered).

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The groovy entrance hall gives way to a more dungeon-like stage, with soft screens hilariously distorted by mannequin breasts which press against them from behind, making pseudo-erotic bulges in the fabric. It’s a ludicrous and tragically mechanistic parody of sex, and fills one with pity and revulsion for Aznavour’s character — the thought of anyone going to all that trouble to so little effect. I have no idea if that was the emotion we are supposed to feel, but there it is. I don’t mean the red room with the white sculpture furniture, which would suit an erotomaniac Bond villain — we’d all like one of those. I mean the green-tinged dungeon stage set with the titty wall.

THE ADVENTURERS may be three hours of mainly tedium, and an embarrassment to everyone who worked on it (certainly to Evans and Gilbert), but you have to admire this one setting. Or maybe you don’t. I’m not you.

All My Flashbacks

The Kid Stays in the Picture: A Hollywood Life

The Adventurers

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