2001: An Odyssey in Bits #1

(So, OK, there’s an overture — a bit of Ligeti used as build-up — played over a black screen for a minute or so before this shot.)

Hello! I thought I’d blog my way through 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and see if I can surprise myself with any fresh discoveries.

Kubrick was prone to speaking of his films being based around “non-submersible units” — “give me six non-submersible units and I’ll make you a film!” Suggesting he may have been confusing films with pontoon bridges, possibly. But 2001 really is based around big cinematic set-pieces, and Kubrick’s rejection of the theatrical act structure adopted by Hollywood and most other movies is significant. It ties him into the sixties art cinema of Fellini, Antonioni, etc. I’m not quite clear who first developed the more abstract, musical or free-form patterns we see in art movies of the time…

Anyway, after the Ligeti we get Richard Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra, and a sunrise in space. In fact, a simultaneous planetrise and sunrise.Sunrises are important in this film. See how many of them YOU can spot.

The FX still hold up, partly because they’re beautiful as well as convincing. This one arguably is a little flat — a shame they couldn’t have made moon more dimensional. There is a slight feeling of the rostrum camera about the movements. It’s the authentic BRIGHTNESS of the sun that makes it feel more real than cut-out animation — the bit of lens flare that will appear just before the main title really sells it.The big crescendos and cymbal-clashes on Kubrick’s name and the title are almost too much — I don’t think anybody laughs at 2001 except for the zero-G toilet instructions and some of the late Douglas Rains’s lines, so they get away with it, but really… you must have a healthy ego to put your name up there at this exact moment in the music. It’s good showbiz though, clearly.Reading the contemporary critics is a little dispiriting. They seem so determined not to be amazed. Like they all drank their sense of wonder to death long before. Those words “sense of wonder” may have been overused to death also, but they really apply here. The film does allow room to wonder — your questions have a good chance of being worth asking. I think I may have first heard the expression around the time of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, and in that film, there aren’t really any questions that’ll make you think. There’s mystery — what are the aliens up to? — but no useful answers present themselves. Stealing and returning aeroplanes and small children, swooping about, implanting images in brains… they’ve come a long way just to fuck with us, it seems.

Kubrick’s aliens are less whimsical. It seems they have a definite end in mind. They are playing a long game. But does it work?

Tune in next time…

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3 Responses to “2001: An Odyssey in Bits #1”

  1. You forgot to mention the MGM Lion! Not the usual roaring Leo but a drawing of Leo that doesn’t roar.

  2. Not present on my DVD, damnit! I need an upgrade.

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