Archive for 2001: A Space Odyssey

“…lead to the grave.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2014 by dcairns

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Years ago, when I discovered Fiona hadn’t seen PATHS OF GLORY and we watched it together, she put into words something I had felt about the film but not articulated — “It’s not just a war film, it’s about really big things — LIFE and DEATH!” Indeed, for us the film really kicked into its strongest phase after the three soldiers have been sentenced to death (off-camera, in a bold elision) and have to face their mortality (calling to mind Woody Allen’s speech from LOVE AND DEATH: “Isn’t all mankind ultimately executed for a crime it never committed? The difference is that all men go eventually, but I go six o’clock tomorrow morning. I was supposed to go at five o’clock, but I have a smart lawyer.”)

Like Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey and Joe Turkel, we have three choices about facing death — we can weep and pray, we can put on a brave face, or we can be unconscious when it happens. And ultimately it could be said to make little difference. “Pull yourself together — is this how you want to be remembered?” asks Bert Freed. “I don’t want to die,” replies Meeker, reasonably.

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I just ran the movie for students ahead of a visiting lecture by Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s producer — one remarked that it was sweet to see Turkel being so nice, since in his most famous roles, THE SHINING and BLADE RUNNER, he’s kind of sepulchral and sinister. True, he does punch a priest in the face, but that’s not too unsympathetic by this film’s lights, and to be fair the priest was a bit annoying. By casting Emile Meyer, usually a heavy, with his pugilistic, clapped-in face, Kubrick somehow mitigates the anti-clerical brutality — you couldn’t slug the padre from MASH without losing audience respect, but somehow Meyer is fair game. When Meyer protests that he wants “to help you, with all my power!” Turkel responds, “You HAVE no power!” which is true, as far as the immediate problem goes. It’s the best bit of defrocking dialogue outside of  THE GREEN ROOM, where Truffaut yells that what the bereaved want from the church is the immediate resurrection of their loved ones, and anything less is an unforgivable tease. Unreasonable, you might say, but not when you take into account the authority these dudes claim to represent.

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Despite starring Chin Cleft himself (introduced shirtless, as was his wont), and being produced by his company, the film is really an ensemble piece (a fact emphasised even further by the tacked-on conclusion, in which Kirk is merely a passive witness), and everybody is really good. James Mason, impressed enought to take on LOLITA, nevertheless felt that the American accents let it down, which is objectively silly, but I guess the custom for using Brit to represent the entire non-American world was strongly established. Having gone for Yanks, Kubrick pushes it pretty far, with Meyer’s Bowery bum whine (wait, he was from Louisiana?) and Jerry Hausner’s bold reading of “What is life widout a liddle divoijshen?” and, of course, Timothy Carey.

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Listening to the film’s producer, James B. Harris, in Lyon, my NATAN co-director Paul Duane picked up lots of great stuff about Carey faking his own kidnapping on location and other typical crazy shit. John Baxter cites the story of someone questioning Kubes why he kept hiring Carey. “He can’t act!” Kubrick replied that he wanted either the best actor in the world, or a brilliant type. (Exemplified by DR STRANGELOVE — when Peter Sellers dropped out of the role of Major Kong, the director went straight for Dan Blocker and then Slim Pickens, genuine examples of what Sellers was to have imitated.) And it’s true — Carey carries his own reality with him, a beat-up beatnik doziness that anchors him in every scene. If he can’t quite do everything the script calls for, and has a slight tendency to strike poses (hilarious vanity in one with his lizard-lidded zombie face), his essential Timothy-Carey-ness keeps him credible, like the way a small child, or a very old person, or a dog is always believable on-screen even if they can’t act.

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Who else? Wayne Morris, a real-life WWII hero, is great as the drunken coward Roget (the script, partly written by alcoholic Jim Thompson, tends to equate boozing with vice, until the third act when everybody swears by it). My late friend Lawrie said used to drink with him– I can’t work out when this occurred, since Morris doesn’t seem to have had a British career. And the bad guys — Adolphe Menjou, whose rapid-fire delivery makes him the worst casualty of the boxy sound recording in vast halls — George MacReady, whose psychotic villainy keeps rising to new levels of outrageous hypocrisy, and that’s his arc — Richard Anderson, who probably oversells his sliminess early on and his doubt later — and Peter Capell, who plays the presiding judge at the court martial, and scores by buttering the most prejudiced and insanely unjust comments with a veneer of gentle, paternal reasonableness.

The full quote is “The paths of glory lead to the grave,” hence all those tracking and trucking shots — at the execution, SK dollies over gravel towards the posts the men are to be bound to, and the POV shots heading forwards seem to represent the rush towards Death — three wooden poles marking the end of everything.

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For the first time I really thought about what the film would have been like without the musical number from the future Mrs Kubrick at the end. Ending on Kirk’s rugged face as he says, “Because you don’t know the answer to that, I pity you,” would be very strong indeed — the only note of grace being supplied by the lighting, which makes of him a lambent gargoyle-saint. What follows is a brilliantly judged attempt to soften the conclusion without softening the film, beginning with a sequence which actually makes us dislike the French troops we’ve been rooting for all along, developing into the musical montage of faces, magnificently lit again — I wonder how Kubrick got on with his German cinematographer, Georg Krause, who had been active all through the Nazi era? They do great work together. Most of the previous imagery has been figures in landscapes or interiors, Kirk’s big CU at the end of the “real film” starts this cascade of portraits. The best thing about it is it does almost nothing — it doesn’t alleviate the sense of injustice, it almost universalizes it. The final shot of Kirk leaving is pretty bleak and ugly — but isn’t even the last shot, since the end creds are a bunch more portraits.

Obviously PATHS OF GLORY is an emotional film, but it defies WWI movie convention by stirring up our sense of moral outrage rather than trying to break our hearts with the pity of it. It gives the lie to the cliché of Kubrick the emotionless. My friend B. Mite strongly argued that Kubrick was interested in “the emotions that don’t have names” — 2001 stirs up a kind of awe and terror that’s closer to the romantic poets’ response to nature than to anything in Spielberg. It’s cold in a tactile sense — all that black space and ll those white surfaces — but nobody, surely, could watch it without emotion. Even Pauline Kael felt claustrophobic.

The movie has been used by scientists testing the physiological effects of film — it has been shown to make people physically angry. Script guru Phil Parker once pointed out that injustice is a great plot engine, because it seizes and inflames everyone. As the line in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS goes, “When a child says, ‘This isn’t fair,’ the child can be believed.”

Belated Sequels

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2014 by dcairns

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I think belated sequels are great! Doesn’t everybody? Like remarriage, they represent the triumph of hope over experience, as studios pray that for once the desperate target of making a follow-up to a film their audience only vaguely remembers, with clapped-out stars or new nobodies, will respark fading careers and fill box office tills. Here are some that should happen.

LAST TANGO IN PARIS 2. Admittedly, both stars of the original are dead, but Jean-Pierre Leaud is still clinging to life and sanity and Bernardo Bertolucci may be poorly but it’s not like we’re asking him to do the shagging. Would necessitate retroactively retitling the previous installment, George Lucas fashion — something like NEXT-TO-LAST TANGO IN PARIS. So maybe the new one could be POSITIVELY LAST TANGO IN PARIS, though that would be a hostage to fortune come the inevitable Part III. Still, even if we’re unsure about the title and cast, we have a slogan and so the thing should immediately be greenlit: “LAST TANGO II: Just when you thought it was safe to whack off in the butter.”

DR STRANGELOVE II: DR STRANGERLOVER. It might seem that destroying the world at the end of the first film would preclude a follow-up, but there is precedent here — EVIL DEAD II opted to pretend the first film never happened, and stage a mini-remake with Bruce Campbell and a new co-star. So the urgent need to address global warming, the new end-of-the-world peril, can be assuaged with a film in which, I don’t know, Eddie Murphy or somebody puts on some masks and pretends to be different people while we all boil to death in our own industrial effluent. And Kubrick’s heirs can reassure us that it’s what Stanley intended all along.

BIRTH OF A NATION II: AFTERBIRTH OF A NATION. Cinephiles have long agonized over the fraught position of DW Griffith’s epic. Historically and artistically significant, yet morally and politically abhorrent. Could not the problem be solved altogether with a belated sequel? In this thoughtful reworking by Ron Howard, the second half of BOAN, which contains all the really unspeakable stuff, turns out to have been a dream sequence. The Little Colonel comes out of the shower and realizes it was all just an overheated fantasy brought on by the trauma of losing the Civil War and eating too much cheese. Then he fights the Klan, possibly by joining the FBI or something. We can get a CGI Lillian Gish. It’ll be super.

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SE7EN 2WO. The hard-hitting sequel to SE7EN in which Kevin Spacey plays the nicer brother of his character from the David Fincher classic, Jim Doe, who is out to kill people in ways reflecting ironically on the Seven Cardinal Virtues. “It’s a less dark, less rainy film, and Jim Doe is really a positive guy,” explains Spacey. “Instead of trying to point at all the evil in the world, he wants to use his murdering to highlight the good things.” Baz Luhrmann will direct, as long as they agree to add an exclamation mark.

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2005: SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE. This one would be exciting because it’s not only a sequel to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY but also a prequel to 2010: ODYSSEY II. It’ll also be a futuristic science fiction film set in the past, which is obviously twice as exciting. “It’s what Stanley would have wanted,” say heirs. It’s set after astronaut Dave Bowman disappeared near Jupiter, but before he turned up again, so I guess he won’t be in it. Mostly I guess it would be about Dr. Heywood Floyd relaxing at home. Since he has a dolphin in his living room (and possibly a bush baby by now) it’ll be by far the cutest film in the series.

BARRY LYNDON II. Basically three hours of a one-legged Ryan O’Neal losing at cards. Kubrick’s heirs voice quiet doubts.

THE GREAT ESCAPE II. Contemporary setting. POW camp is still running, having somehow been missed at the end of the war. Producers are determined to unite as many of the original cast as possible, including those whose characters died in the first film. So, David McCallum, who is basically immune to old age it seems. Expect extensive flashbacks.

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KING KONG DOESN’T LIVE. In an effort to expunge the memory of his misguided sequel to his KONG remake, John Guillermin will return to the director’s chair to lens this epic production. “It starts with Kong coming out of the shower,” he explains, “Which is the waterfall he bathes in with Jessica Lange, and then we realize that the last half of KONG and the whole of KONG LIVES were a dream. A giant gorilla’s dream.” Guillermin hopes to reunite Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange and Charles Grodin, “Because they’re all still alive, unlike that GREAT ESCAPE crowd.” The sequel will pick up exactly where the middle of KONG leaves off, with Guillermin explaining the cast looking 36 years older as “The effects of the shock of seeing this giant gorilla. I mean, I aged ten years when I saw that stupid heap of junk Carlo Rambaldi had built.”

Space Envy

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , on August 4, 2014 by dcairns

YES, it is tatty British TV scifi (TBTVSF for short). Which is, in itself, admirable. But note the date! 1967 — BEFORE 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was in cinemas but undoubtedly WHILE Kubrick was working on it. And watch the space station-space shuttle link-up at the start! Highly reminiscent. What must Kubrick have felt when he saw this?

Well, we need not wonder, since I have here Kubes’ notes, dictated to personal secretary Isadore “Beeves” Krassovitz as he watched the show (Kubrick always had a short-hand typist on hand as he watched television, in case he made any remarkable observations during Crown Court), then recorded onto quarter-inch tape by voice artist Martin Jarvis, attempting a Bronx accent.

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0.16 Shit. This is EXACTLY like our first space sequence. Only… so much better! We are dead. DEAD. How do we top this? The music — it’s goddamn magnificent! The majesty of interplanetary travel, and yet, so perky! I’m gonna really have to shuffle through my record collection. It’ll never be as good as this.

0.28 Even their title’s better than ours.

0.35 Special effects by “National Interest Pictures.” Make a note of that. We have to get a spy in there to find out how they’re doing this stuff. We have traveling mattes and Schuftan and slitscan but this is WAY ADVANCED. It’s almost like they have access to alien technology or something.

1.22 The heroes are called Power and Tempo. And what do we got? Dave and Frank. We are boned.

1.36 Note how the stars are twinkling in a realistic fashion even though we’re in space and there’s no atmosphere to make them twinkle. That’s the kind of detail 2001 has got to have.

1.55 Actors are too emotional. But wait — that guy poking an ice cube tray with a pen light is Derek Fowlds, future star of Yes, Minister! I’m gonna have to cast the future star of a rival sitcom to compete. Maybe I can get the guy from Rising Damp? Or the guy from The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin? Hell, I’ll get both. That’ll make it really futuristic.

2:06 I like how the TV monitor is in black and white. No way they could afford colo(u)r TV in space. Still, better look into it.

2:13 Their chairs are made of egg cartons. Nice.

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2:48 Look at the size of that TV set! Is that realistic? Why don’t I have one that big?

2:56 Mini-skirts are never, ever, going to go out of style.

3:46 When the Discovery enters the “tunnels of light” it’s gonna have to look every bit as good as this dry ice fog effect they got here or we’re gonna be laughed off the screen.

3.50 Hey, the set’s bouncing up and down as if they were actually moving! How the hell are they doing that?

4.00 A masterstroke. Only now, four minutes in, do they tell us the name of the episode, “CLOUD OF DEATH.” Maybe I could use text on screen to introduce the various “chapters” of my film. Like at the beginning, it could say “DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES” or something. But I know what’ll happen — they’ll say I stole it from Solarnauts.

4.25 Now they’re blowing shit up! How come I never thought of that? We got all these models, and we never thought of doing some kind of space dogfight and blowing them up. First thing tomorrow I’m gonna find Arthur C Clarke in that tree in Ceylon he lives in and smack his stupid face. Even if I have to fly there!

5.00 Those zigzag wipes are awesome. I would never be that bold. I go from a monkey tossing a femur to a nuclear missile station in space and what do I do? I cut! What a goddamn tragic missed opportunity. Still, I guess those wipes might get tiresome over the course of a movie that’s 141 minutes long as mine is destined to be.

5:24 Jesus, that bald guy’s head is coming right out of the TV. What an amazing way to visualize an alien intelligence — a guy with no hair! That’s it, I can’t compete. We’ll just have to keep our aliens offscreen. I was gonna use guys with no beards, but this show has me licked. I don’t think I can watch anymore (sob!)

TAPE ENDS.

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I find Kubrick an irresistible comedy character. He did try to sue the makers of Space 1999 for infringing his title… “That date is only two years away from 2001!” One sees his point, but he does rather miss the crux of the matter, legalistically, that you can’t copyright a title.

 

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