An Odyssey in Bits: Keir Dullea and Gone Tomorrow

Thanks to the acid wit of Noel Coward for the title. Noel co-starred with Dullea (happily still very much here today) in Otto Preminger’s BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING.

2001’s second superimposed caption appears: it’s not altogether certain that THE DAWN OF MAN has finished (it was apparently in play all through the orbital and lunar ballet) but at any rate the JUPiTER MISSION has begun.What was strange to me, this time around, was how fast this section of the film seems to go by, when you watch it in isolation. The pace of the shots may be slowish, but the narrative is super-economical.1. The Discovery sails past us.

(Various spaceship designs were considered with various propulsion systems, but the final look chosen is less about scientific practicality and more about style. The bony colouring adds to the Discovery’s resemblance to a giant skull and spinal cord. Also a little like a spermatozoa. So it also makes me think of the miniature Spike-creatures in ERASERHEAD.) 2. We cut to inside Kubrick’s giant hamster wheel. Here’s Gary Lockwood jogging, in a whole series is striking shots, including an up-butt angle as startling as the one George Sidney devotes to Ann-Margret in VIVA LAS VEGAS. Bruce Bennett’s citation of TRAPEZE as an influence gets backed up here — not only for the earlier use of the Blue Danube, but for turning the image sideways so it can fill the WS frame. It’s true that Kubrick lingers over these images, but they’re well worth it. My problem with EYES WIDE SHUT was its, to my mind erronious, supposition that Tom Cruise walking down a street or into an apartment was worthy of the same following-too-close attention.

(How does the craft generate its gravity? It’s not rotating in the exterior shots. Is there actually a big rotating wheel inside it for the living space? Seems to be the case. Wild.) 3. & 4. Then we get a couple of video bits — Lockwood’s taped message from home, and the BBC interview with the crew and HAL, which infodumps all the necessary exposition on us in a reasonable engaging and natural way.

Bowman and Poole have i-Pads so they can watch TV as they down their space-chow (from plastic pallettes packed with nutritional coloured pastes. Yummy).5. And then HAL is glitching right away — his mental breakdown is really just as speedy as Jack Torrence’s in THE SHINING. It’s when he says, “Just a moment. Just a moment.” Computers shouldn’t repeat themselves. It feels wrong. Later, he will repeat himself A LOT, so I know I’m right.

Dullea and Lockwood are beautifully blank. GL said they looked at reports on what astronauts were like, and their inexpressive performances reflect the demands that those fired into space should NOT be hysterical, hand-flapping types of furious fist-wavers. Ryan Gosling’s unemotive Neil Armstrong in FIRST MAN makes this a big story point, whereas Kubrick and Clarke and the cast just take it for granted. The fact that HAL is more appealing and warm is certainly no accident — Kubrick liked machines. Unfortunately, the story he’s telling requires HAL to turn homicidal, so this is far from the “alternative Frankenstein myth” he hoped to achieve with A.I., proving to us that our machines might be our heirs, our best hope of leaving something of ourselves behind.HAL trounces Poole at chess.

Clarke thought it a shame that the film didn’t make clear the reason for HAL’s malfunction: mission control had instructed him to withhold the true purpose of the voyage, in effect to lie, which was against his programming. (To lie is already to err.) When he tries to sound out Dullea’s Dave Bowman about the mission parameters, he’s probably looking for a chance to open up and get things off his metallic chest. Bowman brushes him off, and so he has to kill all the damn humans who are clearly going to screw this thing up. Again, his motivation connects him with Jack Torrence’s rant about “MY responsibilities to my employers,” though he expresses himself with a less hysterical tone.

I read somewhere that all Kubrick films are about somebody being entrusted with administering a system, and then screwing it up due to “human error.” Which sounds sort of right, but then you need to get out the old shoehorn to make it fit LOLITA (how not to be a step-parent) and THE SHINING (how not to look after a hotel: a sort of Fawlty Towers with axe murders) and EYES WIDE SHUT continues to be an outlier (the system failing to be administered is what, adultery?). But anyway, mission control has screwed up royally, somewhere in between the Clavius freak-out signal and this sequence, and now our eerily calm astronauts are going to pay the price. 6. The first EVA scene, though we’re our Extra Vehicular Activity is taking place in another, smaller vehicle. Contemporary critics harped on about the heavy breathing here, as if it were a showy and clumsy stylistic touch, rather than a logical solution to the problem of What can you hear in space? Kubrick alternates bold silences with music and subjective space-suit sound, all of which are great choices.

(William Friedkin on the excellent The Movies That Made Me podcast complained of Kubrick’s extreme low angle shot in THE SHINING when Jack talks to the food locker door. “Who’s POV is that meant to be?” But it’s another logical solution: how to shoot a man talking to a door and see all of his face rather than a profile. If you just do very logical things, like a machine would do them, maybe you will develop a striking personal style, because everyone has their own logic. And that’s why there’s so much trouble in this world.)7. HAL can read lips.

(Just like in real life, as soon as somebody goes a bit wrong mentally, everyone else starts tiptoeing around and lying and humouring them and unintentionally but very effectively escalating their paranoia…)

Though his eyeball was a fisheye lens earlier, and I think he even asks Dave to hold his drawings closer, but now he has a zoom and can follow a conversation in which his two pals are plotting to murder him. Which confirms him in his decision to off them first, which presumably he was going to do anyway since why else is he tricking them into cutting off communication with Earth and going E.V.A.?

And at this point, Kubrick goes audaciously to an intermission, and so shall I.Incidentally, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY stars the Marquis de Sade; Sir George; Sam Slade; Emanuel Shadrack; Lord Beaverbrook; Off-camera voice of Jesus; Scrimshaw’s henchman; Commander Ed Straker and Hank Mikado.

Imagine you somehow find yourself watching a sixties Canadian TV play and the off-camera voice of Jesus rings out and it’s instantly, chillingly recognizable as the dulcet tones of HAL-9000.

Also, you should see the 1957 version of OEDIPUS REX directed by Tyron Guthrie and Abraham Polonsky, in which among the voices issuing from behind Greek tragic masks are those of Douglas Rain and William Shatner. Sophocles has never seemed so interstellar!

20 Responses to “An Odyssey in Bits: Keir Dullea and Gone Tomorrow”

  1. If you twist it far enough, you can probably trace the whole astronauts should be emotionless trope to Cordwainer Smith in “Scanners Live in Vain” ;)

  2. I dunno… I think Kubrick was looking to NASA reality rather than sci-fi for that aspect of the movie. It’s grounded in hard science at one end and myth at the other. I’d be curious as to what sf he read besides Clarke, though.

  3. A book I read about the making of 2001 included a short list of technical ‘mistakes,’ such as the fact that at one point in a zero gravity scene, liquid retreats back down a straw, affected by gravity. But in the Discovery, only the Ferris wheel part of the ship should have ‘gravity’ — we see the astronauts enter or exit it at least once. Elsewhere, such as in the pod bay, there’s no explanation at all for the apparent gravity. Nobody walks as if using magnetic shoes, something that works well in an off-ship scene in IKARIE XB 1. This doesn’t diminish the incredible realism of the show in toto, of course.

    From an earlier Shadowplay about ‘influences’ on 2001, I think the brainwashing sequence in THE IPCRESS FILE and the simple wide angle speed shots in GRAND PRIX may have salted some thought processes for Kubrick and Trumbull (who I got to talk to at length about the Star Gate). The zoom-in zoom-out effects in IPCRESS do a definite mind-bending trip on Michael Caine. When Frankenheimer was inventing new ways to make the same kinds of car races look different, I’m surprised that they didn’t do tricks with the shutter speed, selectively blurring the feeling of following a wide-angle perspective into infinity.

    Hi David !

  4. This time round I noticed some awkard walking that seems to suggest that the guys are maybe using “grip shoes” in the pod bay. And this would seem the only explanation for the shot where they’re at ninety degrees to one another — a slow zoom-out very typical of later Kubricks (esp. Barry Lyndon). So maybe Kubes had it all worked out, he just isn’t telling us.

    There’s even a possible explanation for that drinking straw, if the drinker created a vacuum in the container…

    Hi Glenn!

  5. Tony Williams Says:

    Can’t believe you did not abbreviate to “Keir Today and Gone Tomorrow”?

  6. “I think you missed it,” as HAL says. Pronunciation-wise, it’s “Kere Dull-ay” = “Here today.” Noel knew what he was about.

  7. eht--%/%--eht Says:

    In 2019 it is reported –over– one third of the public is now
    100% awake to the –HOAX– of Nasa, ‘space’ and space travel.

    Seems we really are set immovably on a deep and under
    a deep – -firmament – -under heaven.

    Remarkable that ‘2001’ comes thru it all.

    Kubrick was basically delivering propaganda combined
    with an allegory, critique of propaganda.

    The treadmill romance of going absolutely nowhere
    and, in the end – -back to the womb – -back to the
    blue ball – – back to the drawing board.

    Famously, Kubrick filmed his ‘dawn of man’ sequence last
    — – – and intentionally made it stage bound –monkey suit stuff.

    Making a MONKEY out of you – right in your face.


  8. As I’ve said before, if you want evidence that Kubrick did NOT fake the moon landings, see how he stages the lunar sequences here with full gravity.

    Slow motion is readily available technology, and attaching wires to people is commonplace stuff going back to Peter Pan on stage, so I’d like to see a conspiracy nut reproduce the unique way of movement demonstrated by men on the moon.

  9. I would enjoy a conspiracy theorist who proposed Bert I. Gordon was the one who faked the moon landing, for one.

  10. Ha! Well, who knows what Mr. B.I.G. could do with those NASA billions?

  11. David Ehrenstein Says:

    I’m sure Gary Lockwood’s hamster-wheel jogging got him the lead im Demy’s “Model Shop”

  12. I thought it was his shorts?

  13. The combination of the two, I expect.

    Lockwood is just as emotionally blank in Model Shop, but Demy seems to have liked that in his male leads (cf Nino Castelnuevo in Umbrellas of Cherbourg). Whereas Kubrick only allows that sort of thing in this one film, elsewhere he likes his perfs BIG and BROAD.

  14. I see the “ball deniers” are here…

    (Allegedly how some of the flat-earthers refer to themselves.)

  15. Kubrick has to be the unlikeliest icon for that crowd imaginable.

  16. David Ehrenstein Says:

    You’re right about Jacques’ leading men. See also Marc Michel in “Lola” Claude Mann in “Bay of the Angels” and Richard Berry in “Une Chambre en Ville.” Their reserve stands in contrast to the liveliness of their leading ladies — Anouk Aimee Jeanne Moreau, and Dominique Sanda.

  17. A cynic would accuse Demy of being seduced by talentless but pretty young men, but I think it’s more that he wants them blank because he wants to be able to project himself onto them.

  18. Demy wanted to cast Harrison Ford in MODEL SHOP; the studio insisted on Lockwood.

  19. Ford woulda been EVEN BLANKER. Think Rick Deckard blank. Think Rick Deckard VOICE OVER blank.

  20. […] JUPITER MISSION: Keir Dullea and Gone Tomorrow […]

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