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2001: A Space Oddity

2001 Dave

I’m 46 tomorrow. Perhaps because of that I’ve spent a lot of the past couple of years working my way back through a lot of the books and music I loved as an adolescent. For the most part that’s been a fascinating and often genuinely exciting process: rediscovering The Beatles after 25 years was magical, as was working my way through the backlists of New Wave writers such as Robert Silverberg (if you haven’t read Downward to the Earth, run don’t walk).

But one of the most unexpected – and joyous – moments was watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey again as research for a piece for The Australian.

Like many people I’ve seen 2001 a number of times, and each time it’s been a different film. The first time, as a 13 year-old in Adelaide in 1980, I found it majestic but baffling, the second, in my late teens it seemed dated and odd, the third, about 15 years ago (when I sat next to George Miller at the Cremorne Orpheum) I thought it was a boring and portentous exercise in 1960s faux-profundity.

Yet this time (or times, actually, since I ended up watching it three times) I found myself transfixed and astonished, right from the first moments. As I half-understood 15 years ago what I was seeing was very much an artefact of its times, but it was also much, much more than that. The music, the imagery, the strange plasticity of the environments, Keir Dullea’s brilliantly minimal performance, the wonderful, nested imagery of eyes and observation, Ligeti’s shimmering music, all seemed part of a seamless whole. Even the pacing, which I had mistaken for an exercise in Kubrickian perversity seemed visionary, an attempt to push past everything we know about the rhythms of cinema and demand we see again (to be honest I suspect the pacing is also Kubrickian perversity, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive). And although I’ve mentioned its effect on films like Prometheus before, it was also startling to be reminded how deeply it has influenced science fiction film and television over the past four and a half decades.

All of which is a long-winded way introduction to my piece about the film, which I’ve just posted in the Non-Fiction section. You can read a little bit below, alternatively just hop over and read the whole thing.

And since I’ve completely failed to write the piece I meant to write about David Bowie’s The Next Day I’m going to take a moment and point you to the Bowie2001 project, which mixes footage from the film with remixed version of a series of classic Bowie tracks. You can download the remixed tracks, the mixtape or torrent the movie from the Bowie2001 website. Alternatively I highly recommend Rick Moody’s encyclopaedic article about The Next Day.

And here’s the introduction to the piece itself:

“Even 45 years after its release it is difficult to know what to make of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Is it, as polls such as Sight & Sound’s recent survey of the greatest films of all time declared, one of the most important cinematic works ever created? Or is it, as Pauline Kael, who described it as ‘monumentally unimaginative’, and Rock Hudson – who surely spoke for a great many when he leapt to his feet at one early screening and demanded ‘Will somebody tell me what the hell this is about?’ – believed, a baffling, over-long exercise in directorial hubris?

“The answer, of course, is that it is both. Stretching from the dawn of time to (what was then) the future, from the Earth to the moons of Jupiter and (as the title of its dialogue-free fifth and final section, asserts) ‘Beyond the Infinite’, it is a film that demands the viewer give away many of their assumptions about what they are watching and how to watch it, to surrender themselves to its rhythms and its mysteries. It is a point Kubrick himself made in an interview at the time of the film’s release, when he  ‘You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film – and such speculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level – but I don’t want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he’s missed the point.'” Read more …

And finally, here’s the extraordinary scene in which the Monolith on the Moon communicates with its twin in orbit around Jupiter.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. So if he didn’t use the commissioned soundtrack, what’s the extraordinary accompaniment to that clip? Is it actually a piece of pre-existing music? If so, my mind is blown … Someone actually created that for people to listen to, independently of the film?

    May 15, 2013
  2. It’s from Ligeti’s Requiem (I think it’s the Kyrie), so yes, it was composed independently. Oddly enough one of the things that really blew me away watching it again recently was Ligeti’s music, which I didn’t really know, and which is so extraordinary, both here and in the long sequences at the beginning and end. Since seeing it I’ve been listening to him a bit and he’s pretty remarkable.

    May 15, 2013
  3. Goes to listen to Ligeti on YouTube. *Brain explodes.*

    May 16, 2013
  4. Lee #

    What do you like about Downward to the Earth? I’ve started it and find it a bit dull so far – though admittedly I’ve only read 60+ pages.

    May 17, 2013
  5. I’m sorry you don’t like it. And I suppose the passage of the years means the questions it’s grappling with are less urgent than they were when it was written (although I think that’s a problem for a lot of older SF). But I still found loved it for the language and the strangeness and intensity of the world itself, and for the way it plays with Heart of Darkness. But horses for courses, I suppose.

    May 19, 2013
    • Lee #

      I’m not sure I don’t like it. I need to read it through – preferably twice, and I’m a terribly slow reader – before deciding. The language, though, is one of my main concerns so far. Hmm…

      May 19, 2013
      • BTW, I don’t particularly need to like something to appreciate it.

        May 19, 2013

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