Archive for Stanley Kubrick

An Odyssey in Bits: White White White is the Color of our Carpet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2019 by dcairns

Or: MISS CARTILEGE REGRETS.Blink! Dave Bowman blinks his way back into normal Metrocolor. And finds all his computer systems have gone offline.Well, they would, wouldn’t they? What follows is… strange. Dave’s accelerated aging starts immediately, though because he’s such an unforthcoming lead, we never find out how he feels about it or if he even is aware of it. And he progresses through this sequence in an odd way, repeatedly seeing himself in an older form… our focus then shifts to the new (older) version, who looks around and allows us to see that the previous Dave has vanished… What’s most interesting here is that there’s no way to make rational sense of it. If Dave at least got out of his spacesuit before the wrinkling set in, if one of his close encounters with himself wasn’t an over-the-shoulder, so that we can see two Daves at once. My memory of seeing this for the first time is that I was so creeped out I completely missed the starchild. My eleven-year-old brain just shut down.

We jump right in on Middle-aged Dave, straight down the eyeline, 1-2-3. A lot like the jumps in on HAL’s cyclopean eye when he’s about to kill Frank Poole. Make of that what you will.

The creative continuity errors of THE SHINING are in action here, and not just in the way the protag’s age and number keep changing. In an uncanny pre-echo of the way the Overlook Hotel’s furniture shuffles around when we’re not looking, the chairs visible from the pod’s window, which appear to flank the bathroom door, keep dancing about, thus:I know it’s a different angle, but the chairs are either the equidistant from the door or they aren’t. Perfectionist my ass.

Then Dave’s pod vanishes which is a creative continuity violation in itself, I guess.

Dave checks out the bathroom. Bathrooms are important in Kubrick’s work. It’s surprising, on the whole, that BARRY LYNDON pays so little attention to the lavatory activities of its historic period, but we do see one bathtub in use.Scary noises: I believe part of Georgi Ligeti’s lawsuit against the film was based on his objection to the filmmakers tampering with his tunes. But if that’s in reference to the creepy, echoing laughter/voices heard in the white room, I think it falls within the parameters of a movie sound mix, just as the propulsive, low-end rumble that undergirds Bowman’s trip through those tunnels of light qualifies as FX, not score. Thought admittedly the use of Ligeti polyphony kind of blurs the line between diegetic and non. But that’s the composer’s fault, isn’t it, for writing such weird, messed-up music.

Are we to take it that the reverberant chatter we hear IS laughter? An excited audience at an alien zoo, watching poor Dave age through one-way walls? “Look, how hilarious, he’s going bald and wrinkly!” If that’s the aliens’ sense of humour, I might be inclined to agee with the conclusion of Spalding Gray, after he interviewed a lot of alien abductees:: these aliens really don’t seem to have ou best interests at heart. Even though they are ultimately going to transform Dave into a celestial foetus in a radiant bubble — and who wouldn’t want that? — their methods seem low on sympathy. The bedside manner is wanting.

From Middle-aged Dave’s POV we track around to look back into the dining/bedroom and see — Dave. But (viewing through virgin eyes) we don’t know it’s Older Dave (made up as Dick Van Dyke). We may assume that Dave is finally about to meet the mastermind responsible for all this. It would be just like a mastermind to appear by magic, unconcernedly munching on his dinner while the fellow he’s been toying with creeps up behind him.

So when Older Dave approaches, investigating a curious feeling that someone’s watching him (we are, and the aliens presumably are, but Middle-Aged Dave has vanished, as if catching sight of your older self immediately erases you. That must be what happened to Young Dave, and his little pod too. Older Dave returns to his dinner, the first apparently real food anyone in this movie has enjoyed since that delicious tapir flesh in the stone age. In fact, it’s been synthesised by his alien keepers, using memories drawn from his dreams, according to Kubrick and Clarke’s interviews and novels. (Back on Earth, is Dave a French duke living in a rococo lightbox?) As I believe Heywood Floyd remarked earlier on the subject of space chow, “They” are getting better at it all the time.

Then Older Dave knocks over his glass, which seems to be merely a device to allow him to notice Very Old Indeed Dave in bed, apparently dying. Noticing Very Old Indeed Dave erases Older Dave, so he never gets to finish his grub.Very Old Indeed Dave’s vision of the monolith standing at the foot of his bed like a doctor or undertaker is clearly a vision of Death. Like the three wooden posts we track towards in PATHS OF GLORY’s execution scene. And, in one sense, 2001 IS Kubrick’s most optimistic film, because for Dave, alone of all mankind, Death is not final. Kubrick was about to get into quoting himself: I think the first striking in-joke is the 2001 soundtrack album visible in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. And the high angle from over the bed-bound Dave is much like that the POV Alex near the end of CLOCKWORK: the giant speakers wheeled in to cheer him up with a but of Ludwig Van have to be a direct joke on the monolith’s appearance here. And so we have to take the later film as a kind of rebuttal, I think, not of 2001’s meaning and purpose, more of the hippy-dippy positivity that flower power audiences attributed to 2001. I never understood Michael Herr’s overjoyed reaction reported in his memoir Kubrick. I mean, I get a lot of joy from 2001 but it’s more about awe at the beauty and mystery and the filmmaking and the ideas than at any idea that the movie is reassuring us that Everything’s Going To Be Alright. Pauline Kael’s outraged review, which I would sum up as “How dare he make a film about space? I HATE space!”, actually describe the film better: cold and desolate, dry and ironic, pessimistic at heart — but engagingly CURIOUS, which she gave it no credit for, being proudly incurious herself. I quite like crackpot theories: Rob Ager’s ideas sometimes drift off beyond what can be taken from the movie in question, but his suggestion that the monolith is a Cinerama screen turned on its side is very pleasing: so the origin and purpose of the monolith are the same as those of the film it appears in: to educate and advance our evolution. Of course, many of the TV and computer monitors in the film are also designed to fit within and echo the widescreen frame (long before widescreen TV was a thing —  and Kubrick was a 16:9 skeptic, it appears, since he released his first DVDs in 4:3 — apart from 2001, which got the correct treatment). But just because some of the 2.35:1 objects in the film are shaped that way just for our viewing pleasure, does not mean the monolith has been designed to echo the frame only to look nice.

The clincher is the way Kubrick tracks (and zooms?) INTO the monolith so that the black vertical “screen” swallows the wide, largely white one, like we’re entering a new movie.

Which, in a way, we are. Maybe I need one more installment of this series to do justice to Kubrick and Clarke’s happy ending…

An Odyssey in Bits: The Computer Wore Carpet Slippers

Posted in FILM, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , on February 27, 2019 by dcairns

2001’s intermission plays for several seconds with just the hushed mechanical hum/sussuration of the Discovery (and probably HAL’s cooling system), continuing over from the HAL POV shot Part 1 ended on. This feels quite avant-garde.

A nice, ominous Ligeti drone carries us through the entr’acte, and then we’re abruptly in an extra-vehicular wide shot with astronaut Poole leaving the Discovery in his repair pod. Kubrick doesn’t try to reorient us. As often in this film, he jumps ahead as far as he can and lets us catch up through our own thought processes.And HAL goes murderous, using Poole’s own pod to snip his air-tube. Great use of sudden silence as Kubes jumps in, straight down the line to the pod, showing HAL’s cyclopean sunset of an eye staring out of it. Astute visual storytelling. The abrupt enlarging cuts (about four of them, I think?) remind me of the bomb that’s about to explode in Hitchcock’s SABOTAGE.Poole’s rapid movements as he asphyxiates are all the scarier for occurring in the eerie silence of space. ASTONISHING that other space movies don’t use the lack of sound as a positive effect.

Watch Keir Dullea’s movements as he goes to the rescue, and we can tell he’s meant to be in zero-G with grips shoes for traction. So that settles it: only the big rotating hamster wheel in the Discovery’s frontal globe has gravity.

In his haste, he forgets his space helmet. What would HAL have done if he’d brought it along? Apart from the pods and maybe the airlocks, he’s helpless, a brain in a box. But right now, he seems to have his opponent in check.

Also, a rule that is never explained but seems to be important: though HAL can take over a pod while it’s unoccupied, he can’t override the pilot’s manual control. So Dullea-as-Bowman is able to retrieve Poole’s corpse. Which allows the next stuff to happen.Meanwhile, very quietly, without any fuss, HAL kills the sleeping crewmembers. VERY funny conversation between Bowman and HAL. HAL periodically adopts the snooty tone of a teacher scolding a recalcitrant child. “I think we both know what the problem is.” The dialogue is blackly comic, and enhanced by the shots, which show a small round spacecraft talking to — negotiating with — a big long one.I love the projections on Keir Dullea’s chiselled features, especially this one. No REAL reason why they should happen, file under “visual interest,” but they pass by our defenses without a struggle. The monitors and lights in the pod MIGHT have that effect.

Funny how HAL’s closeup is always exactly the same shot. Kubrick must have shot a whole reel of it. Knowing him, probably two reels. You COULD vary it for “visual interest” and to make HAL seem alive, give him moods. But HAL is not alive, and Kubrick does not want to anthropomorphize him unduly. Which is why he cast a Canadian, I guess. (I’m kidding!)“Without your space helmet, Dave, you’re going to find that rather difficult.”

What Bowman does now may not be exactly possible/scientifically accurate. Kubrick has been ridiculously careful to set up the EXPLOSIVE BOLTS that can open the back of the pod all at once. So that’s fine. The air rushing from the pod cannons Bowman into the Discovery airlock. But he doesn’t explode like the guys in OUTPOST. Douglas Adams produces a “fact” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about how long a human can survive in the vacuum of space, but in reality I believe the amount of time you can survive is none time. Now, since Bowman is wearing a space suit sans helmet round his body, maybe he’s protected from having his lungs explode. And only his head will freeze. But look: Keir Dullea is holding his breath. His little cheeks are puffed out. Well, I think either he’d be forced to exhale or else those cheeks would pop like soap bubbles.But he might be able to survive a few seconds of airless, empty lungs and a freezing head as the airlock closes and repressurizes. And it’s a gripping, convincing sequence. The tension is such that you can’t call 2001 an unemotional film.

Always interesting when the control freak director goes wobbly and handheld, though I’m posi-sure he’s operating the camera himself. (US union rules might have forbade this, but in the UK things were looser in this one respect.) Dave, now helmeted (a dissolve disposes of the question of whether HAL has voided the ship’s atmosphere) goes in for the kill.

HAL’s brain is composed of numerous perspex slabs — like mini see-thru monoliths — which haven’t dated at all because who knows how they work? Whereas earlier, HAL had popped a punch card out a slot, which seems a little embarrassing now.

Characters who sing touching songs in Kubrick films: Christiane Kubrick at the end of PATHS OF GLORY; HAL here; any more?MEMORY TERMINAL

Poor HAL! I remember as a kid finding his slurring voice hilarious, and I still do, but as one gets less callous with age, I also get a big charge of pathos from the scene. “My mind is going. I can feel it. There can be no question about it.” And he reverts to childhood: the song was part of a demonstration he gave shortly after activation.

Interesting choice by Dullea — and I want to give him credit for it BEING a choice, not just his sculpted inexpressiveness. He plays the scene tense, and there’s an undercurrent of anger, but then the anger goes away. He doesn’t perform sympathy for us, like he feels sorry for HAL, but the removal of the anger tells us that he does. A bit.

EXTREMELY bold use of repetition. Very few human characters in films have had their death scenes lingered on so lovingly.

“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a…fraid.”

I had a friend whose Mac would say “My mind is going,” in Douglas Rain’s voice whenever he powered it down.Then Dr. Heywood Floyd pops onto a screen for plot reasons. No obvious reason why it happens now — no reason why HAL’s termination should activate the autoplay function, since mission control never anticipated that HAL *would* be deactivated. 2001 only appears rational and precise: Kubrick and Clarke play fast and loose whenever it suits their purposes.

Clarke always felt it was a shame that the film never made clear why HAL went crazy: it’s all mission control’s fault. Not because they didn’t program him with Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, but because they told him to lie. This would appear to be the moment when Kubrick expects us to figure that out, but all we’re told is that only HAL knew the purpose of the mission. All this to keep the Russkies from knowing about the Jupiter signal.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot afford a Monolith Gap.”

But Floyd’s appearance does add a weird blast of mental energy to the plot, despite his trademark laid-back manner. It’s a big AH-HAH! for the audience since for the first time it’s confirmed that the Jupiter mission does have some connection with the previous part of the film. Remember, we know the ape-man and Clavius sequences had a narrative link because the monolith was in both. But for its entire duration until now, the Discovery mission has been some random astronauts and their fun-loving onboard computer off on a spree. We didn’t know the whining noise on the Moon was a message, a beacon, pointing to Jupiter. We do now. What next?

 

An Odyssey in Bits: Keir Dullea and Gone Tomorrow

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Science, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2019 by dcairns

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!