In 1962 the MGM premiered ‘The conquest of the west‘, shot in Cinerama of three panels, and that he needed to project three different projectors at the same time. At a time when the classic western was coming to an end, this ambitious project filmed by four directors was a great success, and made many businessmen believe that Cinerama could compete with television, which did not stop stealing viewers from them.
stanley kubrick he had become obsessed, during the 1950s, with the Sci-Fi hits that were slowly maturing the genre. Of course, they didn’t seem like anything special to him, but they convinced him that something important could be done, thanks to his photographic ability. Recently released ‘How the West Was Won’, Kubrick began to talk about a new project, which when it began to come true, he temporarily titled as ‘The conquest of space’. Systematic as always, he began to devour all the Sci-Fi books he could find, to find stories. Someone recommended you talk to Arthur C Clarke.
Kubrick wanted to achieve a science fiction film of colossal proportions. His ambition was to tell the reasons to believe in extraterrestrial intelligence, and the impact such a discovery would have on Earth. And he ended up merging, in a certain way, the plots of Clarke’s novels ‘Childhood’s End’ (about the end of man’s evolution) and ‘The Sentinel’ (about a seismologist who finds a pyramidal structure on the moon, which is a alarm that once activated will notify the aliens to communicate with man), and built a film that is still considered today a cinema summit.
Now, it is a film with some peculiarities that prevent one from understanding how it can enjoy such popularity.
A documentary about Sci-Fi
Clarke and Kubrick watched a documentary at the New York World’s Fair that left them impressed. It was from NASA, and it was titled ‘To the Moon and beyond’ (does it ring a bell to anyone?). Another documentary that Kubrick was obsessed with for months was ‘Universe’. The icy director would try to hire, without thinking twice, the team of that documentary to shoot ‘2001′.
Shortly after, he told Clarke that his real interest was filming a mythological documentary with dramatic inserts. There would be a voiceover, and expert astronomers and extraterrestrial life scholars, who would narrate how aliens protect us thanks to the monoliths.
And he really did. The elements of the story varied a little until the very moment of the start of filming (December 29, 1965, and it would not be released until April 6, 1968), but all the possible characters, and all the possible plots, were seen. reduced to its minimum expression. Only two interesting characters remained, the evolved ape Moonwatcher (played by Daniel Richter) and the supercomputer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain). Kubrick said it was the first $6 million religious film (in the end it cost 10.5). But we should contradict its creator: it’s the first $6 million space documentary (with very brief dramatic insertions). And I think Kubrick knew it.
The question is the following, and it is inescapable: how can such a documentary terribly boring, based on assumptions and speculation, with such a display of self-indulgence, is upheld as one of the greatest movies of all time? From my own experience, documentaries are not a genre that arouses so many passions, and I have seen them much more exciting, more true than this one. However, viewers who do not support, for example, a sequence shot of Andrei Tarkovskyare more than willing to praise several minutes with Bowman circling (12) around the housing area of the Discovery.
While in Tarkovski, one of the few great artists produced by cinema, every plane, no matter how long, offered the viewer the possibility of building their own relationship with the characters and the environment, and among them, the famous sequence (everything a technical display, of the many that there are in a technically amazing film) of the astronaut is only a guy running in a circle without a break. And nothing more.
It would be interesting if some great admirer of this work could explain what emotion, thought, reflection or shock this famous shot produces in him. Nothing to object to exquisite direction of photography, which avoided seeing the shadows of the cameraman in that plane, and which gave a legendary light to that set. So much light that one day it caught fire. Lucky there was no one inside.
Many who can’t stand, considering it a tease and a waste of money, that some directors explore and investigate new visual forms (which is mistakenly called experimenting), remain ecstatic, fascinated, with the five minutes of what in the 60s it was a reason for hippies to go to the movies high. Bowman’s Voyage (a deadpan Keir Dullea), the work of the great Douglas Trumbull, was the result of the use of the Slit-Can camera, an optical printer, which photographed a slowly moving cylinder, decorated with pop-art and architectural drawings. . In reality, it is recalcitrant that those who are never interested in forms of abstract expression feel hallucinated (in a double sense), by these images that today do not impress, and that become unbearably long.
The perfect film for Kubrick would have been one that eliminated the human factor. Both during the shooting and at the reception of the work. His film could be more enjoyable for droids that will inhabit Earth in 1000 years, than for those who, today, cry out to heaven for those auteur films that they don’t know, or don’t want, to fully understand.
Here, the protagonist is HAL, and only HAL, and his feelings of despair at knowing that his memory is going to be erased. The astronauts, however, act like automatons, almost lifeless, emotionless, sober and serene, even when they must act against an artificial intelligence that has murdered their companions.
Photography is clean, suffocating neutrality. It was shot at the maximum aperture of the diaphragm, with wide-angle lenses mostly. The white color was one of the protagonists, with a very soft light, which even today is a prodigy of photography. All ready for that sensation of coldness, remoteness, rationality what the director was looking for. A film made by an emotionless android, who observes everything as a superior entity, without passion and without getting involved, leaving evidence at all times that behind the camera is an inimitable genius. And that’s how it seems when you see it: the masterpiece of an egomaniac convinced that he is beyond all appreciation.
In addition, the symmetry of the lines in the composition of the frames is deliberately searched. And from this film it would be an obsession in the mind of the director. Like many other elements of the film. Not surprisingly, the second part of Kubrick’s career begins with this film, and the five films he directed after it are, more or less, a thematic variation with the same structure, divided into three very different acts, with protagonists little elaborate, more focused the story on achieving a world in which Kubrick felt more comfortable. But nowhere more comfortable than in the cold, aseptic, inhuman environment of ‘2001’.
2001 and Stanley Kubrick: between auteur cinema and the obsession with the box office
At its premiere in New York, numerous critics expressed a great truth, which their intellectual content did not match their technical expertise. But with little publicity, the film was a moderate success, which stretched out for several months on the bill (almost no film manages to do so today) became a resounding success that gave Kubrick wings to repeat, as we have said, the same scheme in crime movies (‘A Clockwork Orange’), period (‘Barry Lyndon’), horror (‘The Shining’), war (‘Full Full Metal Jacket’) and melodrama (‘Eyes Wide Shut’), plus or less with total freedom, although with big jumps in time.
But without a doubt, his filmography prior to this film is much more interesting, with works as powerful and interesting as ‘Spartacus’, ‘Lolita’ or ‘Paths of Glory’, probably his three best films by far.
Less than ten years later, the first installment of ‘Star Wars’ (1977) would be released, which to Kubrick would not seem as good, not even remotely, as his ‘2001’. The truth is that the first is fantasy, while the second is not, but Kubrick felt hurt in his self-respect when it swept theaters around the world while his film, which also made money, although quite less, was “simply” considered an auteur film.
Many are unaware that his reasons for making ‘The Shining’ were financial, because shortly before he had refused to direct ‘The Exorcist’ (a great public success, much more so than the film starring Jack Nicholson). Actually, I think that Kubrick is adored by those who deny true auteur cinema, perhaps not knowing that Kubrick’s greatest goal was always great financial success.
But anyway, there remains the first third (yes, the one with Moonwatcher, the pond and the tapir skeleton) as a stunning visual achievement and certainly legendary. Even today these actors with monkey costumes are maintained. And the aura of an archaic era that subjugates us.
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