Euphoria #26: “Throw me a frickin’ bone here!”

bonnie scotland? 

Newly-declared Shadowplayer Mike Paterson writes from the other side of the planet to suggest this slice of Cinerama Euphoria, a brilliant example of cinematography and editing with awe-inspiring scale and scope, and one of the most daring and imaginative transitions in film history.

“There’s something about the scale of the cinema experience that seems to heighten our emotional response isn’t there? One that gets me every time is the famous edit in 2001; A Space Odyssey where the ape, triumphant (euphoric even) flings the bone into the air for it to become a satellite floating in stately orbit. Cue big lump in the throat and welling of the eyes at the greatness of it all. Actually, when I saw the re-released, restored version at The Curzon, Mayfair in 2001 I began to lose it from the first frame when the opening throb of Thus Spake Zarathrustra announced itself. It’s all a childhood thing. Like Life on Mars. And yes, The Iron Giant gets me too.

“2001 is a film that has haunted me every since I was taken to see it in glorious Cinerama (I think) at the old Colosseum in Glasgow’s Gorbals (now a Bingo Hall I think) in 1968 as a five year old. Its images seared themselves onto my consciousness. In 2006 I was lucky enough to attend a screening of a new print at St Kilda’s Astor Theatre here in glorious, cinema-filled Melbourne and met Keir Dullea. He was charming, courteous and patient as was his wife who chatted with us about the art galleries they’d visited.

David, your blog is like some Elysian afterlife. Thank you.”

Thanks! But — “afterlife”? You’re not dead, I hope? Not that there are any prejudices here at Shadowplay.

(Stanley Kauffman, who sneered at this “dissolve” when it is, in fact, a breath-taking instantaneous CUT will burn forever in the legendary Critics’ Circle of Hell.)

I couldn’t resist leaving the whole of the Blue Danube space station docking scene attached too.

Where did the idea for the bone to spaceship cut come from? Where do ANY ideas come from? The most one can do is trace the moment of inspiration, which Arthur C. Clarke helpfully does for us in The Lost Worlds of 2001:

‘The skull-smashing sequence was the only scene not filmed in the studio; it was shot in a field, a couple of hundred yards away–the only time Stanley went on location. A small platform had been set up, and [ape-man] Moon-Watcher (Dan Richter) was sitting on this, surrounded by bones. Cars and buses were going by at the end of the field, but as this was a low angle shot against the sky they didn’t get in the way–though Stanley did have to pause for an occasional aeroplane.

‘The shot was repeated so many times, and Dan smashed so many bones, that I was afraid we were going to run out of wart-hog (or tapir) skulls. But eventually Stanley was satisfied, and as we walked back to the studio he began to throw bones up in the air. At first I thought this was sheer joie de vivre, but then he started to film them with a handheld camera–no easy task. Once or twice, one of the large, swiftly descending bones nearly impacted on Stanley as he peered through the viewfinder; if luck had been against us the whole project might have ended then. To misquote Ardrey [author of African Genesis] “That intelligence would have perished on some forgotten Elstree field.”‘

(If you watch FILMING THE SHINING you can similarly see the exact moment when Kubrick thinks of filming Nicholson from the floor of the food locker as he talks to Shelley Duvall through the door.)

It’s amusing to note that when Kubrick was looking around for some sci-fi writer to write with, and Clarke’s name came up, his reaction was, “But isn’t he a crazy recluse?”

Clarke, it turned out, was not living “up a tree in Sri Lanka” because, like some aloof Garbo of SF,  he wanted to be alone — he was delighted to collaborate with the Great Stanley K.

Fastward to decades later (I hurl a can of film in the air, and we jump cut to a flying DV tape): when the Prince of Wales was about to present Clarke with an award, rumours spread that Clarke’s real motivation in moving to Sri Lanka was the plentiful supply of affordable boys. Clarke issued an odd non-denial-denial: “I haven’t been sexually active in years,” and the matter was dropped.

Perplexing. But in the absence of any actual aggrieved Sri Lankan ex-rentboys baying for his blood, I think Mr. Clarke deserves every award the British Empire can cough up, in recognition of his major contribution to the Greatest Science Fiction Film Ever Made.

Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World of Boys

“I can feel it. I can feel it.” ~ H.A.L.

11 Responses to “Euphoria #26: “Throw me a frickin’ bone here!””

  1. And I was 21 in ’68 when it opened at the Capitol in New York. The reviews were lukewarm at best but this was the 60’s so word got out and 2001 became a hit. Saw it there many many times and like all true fanatics made a dive for the front row seats for the grand finale (suitably juiced on controlled substances du jour/i>)

    This film doesn’t work for me if it isn’t projected in Cinerama.

    Ideal if double-billed with its Evil Twin: 2 ou 3 Choses Que Je Sais D’elle

  2. I was 12 or something when it was re-released on the back of Star Wars. Had I been younger, I might have appreciated it MORE. As it was, my rather rational brain struggled to cope with it — I think I MISSED the starchild as I was still reeling from what had passed before! I mean, I was looking right at it and somehow didn’t see it.

    So it was coming to the film again as a teenager than enabled me to appreciate it. What was baffling before became UTTERLY CLEAR.

    Agree that it really needs to be seen on the big screen. hadn’t thought of pairing it with the Godard, but yeah…that could work!

  3. I can’t not link to the wonderful analysis of 2001 by Rob Ager. He presents the most plausible theory for the monolith that I’ve heard so far.

    Regarding Clarke and allegations of paedophilia (pederasty would probably be a more appropriate term) then I remember hearing rumours about some other top sci-fi author also having been a paedophile. I think it was Stanislaw Lem. But then again, those guys grew up in a different time when this sort of stuff wasn’t exactly illegal, so who knows.

  4. The Ager thing is nice, but I’m glad he didn’t try to explain EVERYTHING. I think the film is meant to have some mystery. When I say it became “clear” to me, I mean I realised which parts were meant to bypass rational explanation.

    I don’t THINK the monolith is as tall as the Cinerama screen is wide, btw.

    The imdb trivia at the end is wrong, since the film doesn’t have “a composer”.

  5. Concerning the bone/satellite edit; there’s a moment near the beginning of Powell & Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale (sidenote – have you heard the wonderful use of P&P samples in Dreadzone’s Second Light CD?) where one of the Pilgrim’s falcons gracefully soars in the Kent sky to become in the blink of an eye a Spitfire roaring overhead. Instant edit to cross several centuries. Familiar?

    The Astor Cinema event with Dullea and Lockwood (Dullea called his costar “Lockwood” – “maybe Lockwood would know..”) was highly entertaining especially for some juicy banter on radio 3Triple R’s Film Buffs’ Forecast concerning Gary Lockwood, Cary Grant and some LSD.

  6. I don’t know Dreadzone at all, but Big audio Dynamite sampled “This is the universe. Big, isn’t it?” way back when.

    Yes, the falcon is the closest thing to the bone/spaceship out there. I love the way the pilgrim and the soldier are played by the same guy!

    Wow! I knew Grant tried it, I didn’t know Lockwood was involved. Dullea would make a better “spirit guide” though, since he did the whole tunnels of light thing and became a Starchild!

  7. “What would it be like to grow old in a place like this” and “Follow the old road, and as you walk, think of them and of the old England” to a lulling loop of Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending overlaid with a metronomic dub beat. Other tracks include samples from Thief of Bagdhad, If and Captain Blood. Dreadzone had a crossover in personnel with BAD (Don Letts) and had a similar pioneering cinematic aesthetic. I don’t think any other outfit has combined dub, classical music and off-the-beaten-track film quotes as cleverly as they did on “Second Light”.

  8. I’ll watch out for it! I like BAD, especially the Nic Roeg song, “E=MC2”. The Canterbury Tales track sounds beautiful, I can already imagine it!

    Been meaning to post more of my Michael Powell stories…

  9. […] hits from people typing in variations of the query “Arthur C Clarke pederast” due to a casual statement I made in an old Euphoria post. […]

  10. Yeah, so I was led here by the whole “Arthur Clarke pederast” thing, which is unfortunate because he wasn’t one but fortunate because I have something to add.

    The bone-satellite cut is actually a direct link between man in prehistoric times and man in the future because the bone was the weapon of the ape-man and the satellite is actually a space-based nuclear weapon of the space-man.

  11. dcairns Says:

    Yes. And I guess this would have been made crystal clear if they’d retained the voice-over they were thinking about, but I’m incredbly glad they didn’t.

    I guess they could have made the satellite more missile-y. But the good thing is, they didn’t make it too much like a bone, which would have been awful. The TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 did have a bone-spaceship, which was amusing.

    I do love the Jupiter mission ship, with its aspects of spermatozoa and skull + spinal column. And although it wasn’t based on the most accurate scientific evidence, it does have a good deal of sense to its design — “Let’s put the living quarters as far aways as possible from the atomic engines!”

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