Favourite Films- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I’ve been wondering where to start with my ‘Favourite Films’ series of posts and the answer was staring me in the face, as this month is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s monumental movie, so here we go-

2001paperbThere isn’t really much new that I can say about this extraordinary film, a film that exists as a piece of culture almost beyond cinema itself, a film whose impact resounds even today, some fifty years later. Where to begin? Well, I’m one of the Star Wars generation, too young to have seen the film when it first came out in 1968 (oh what it must have been like for those first audiences) but old enough to have been around when the film was still part of the then-recent cultural zeitgeist of the 1970s. I’d read the book by Arthur C Clarke, seen some images from the film. I read the Marvel comics 2001: A Space Odyssey by Jack Kirby, one of the strangest, weirdest comic book series anyone might ever see, certainly at the time. It all added to the strange mystique surrounding the film. It was something enigmatic, something I’d heard and read about but never seen. Of course, little did I realise it would remain just as enigmatic even after I had seen it, only maybe even more so.

So yes, eventually the stars aligned and I saw it, on its first UK network screening, which was, I think, sometime around Christmas 1979 or 1980, I’m not certain which it was. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to think. Which was as true of audiences back in 1968 or indeed in  2018- the first time you see 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Its only on the second viewing, or the third or  fifth that you really ‘get’ it. Or maybe you don’t really ‘get’ it  even after the fiftieth time. Maybe you’re not supposed to ‘get’ it. Arthur C Clarke said “if you understood 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise more questions than we answered.” There, in a nutshell, is the magic and fascination of the film and why it still remains the very antithesis of traditional cinema, and particularly current cinema which feels the need to force feed audiences everything. Most every film these days feels the need to explain, rationalise, feed endings or tease new beginnings/sequels.

I read a comment back when BR2049 came out last year, about the ending where K and Deckard reach  Dr. Ana Stelline’s office, and they stand in the snow and Deckard asks K why he has done what he did, what Deckard is to K. Following a pause, K just smiles and tells Deckard to go see his daughter, and they part. What was interesting is that this really pissed off the guy writing the comment. “Why doesn’t K say something?!” railed the guy. “Its stupid! I want K to tell us why!” To me, this is the genius of the film. Attentive viewers will know why K did what he did, and what Deckard meant to him, what Deckard represented. We don’t need it spelled out for us. Well, some of us don’t.

Which is the deepest heart of 2001. Its never got the slightest intention of explaining anything or everything. In a way, it rather does, but it leaves it up to the viewer to extrapolate meaning or sense from the film. So anyway, when school resumed after that Christmas holiday, members of my form came over to me (as the class resident sci-fi geek and film nut) and asked me what the hell 2001 was on about. I remember shrugging my shoulders and giving some general summary of the plot and what I thought but didn’t feel entirely sure myself. 2001 wasn’t Star Wars. 2001 was something else.

So began a fascination that followed for all the near-forty years since.

2001vhsI re-watched some of 2001 in art school, particularly the effects shots. Even back then, the film seemed particularly slow (God only knows what it seems like to new viewers coming to it now). I remember how control of the image, fast-forwarding and rewinding the VHS tape still refused to reveal the films secrets to me. I remember that the film was one of the first catalogue films sold on VHS in the very earliest days of affordable sell-through, and it was of course an inevitable Christmas present to me. Of course it was pan-and-scan version that mutilated the framing and the image quality was typically poor of VHS, colours blooming and dropouts etc. Well, it was long before DVD and even Blu-ray, and no doubt a 4K UHD is due eventually.

2001abelAll the books. I have read so many books about 2001. There’s still books coming out about it, fifty years later, and surely in another fifty years time there will be more.

The first and probably best was ‘The Making of Kubrick’s 2001‘ edited by Jerome Agel. Its a paperback published in 1970 which is utterly brilliant in its approach. Its basically a compilation of quotes and reviews and articles surrounding the film from its genesis and the months immediately following its release, complete with a 96-page insert of b&w stills and behind-the-scenes images explaining some of the technical aspects of the production. It includes Arthur C Clarke’s original story The Sentinel which formed the basic foundation of the plot, sections from the MAd magazine parody, the instructions from a model kit of the Orion Pan Am clipper. Letters to Kubrick from confused/angry/ecstatic viewers. Its a brilliant book, and I only wish someone had done something similar for Blade Runner.

The funny thing about 2001 is that it was never about prediction. Even the rosiest predictions from the mid-sixties with the manned moon landings planned and NASA’s huge budget at the time couldn’t really have led to the films visions becoming reality by the year 2001. But as the years and decades passed everyone was making the comparison of fiction vs reality.  Probably pissed Kubrick off no end, and how unkind and yet almost fitting, that Kubrick himself didn’t live to see the real 2001? So in a weird way, passing the real year 2001 was something rather liberating for the film, far as I’m concerned. Yes, the film is partly a fascinating glimpse of what the future looked like from the optimistic and thrilling vantage point of the 1960s, when everything was possible. And yes, it also looks rather quaint and retro-’60s, now, from our 21st Century perspective. But it’s really only reinforced the mythological intent of the film all the more clearly. As such it feels all the more powerful and allows fresh insights. Its cinema as art. Its Pure Cinema. Its a timeless masterpiece.

Or its breathtakingly self-indulgent, boring, slow, frustrating, stupid.: the film still maintains the ability to thoroughly piss people off. I’m not going to suggest that those people are wrong and that I’m right about it being a masterpiece. Oh, go on then.

Marking 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of my favourite films is almost redundant and almost as boring and predictable as had I started this series of posts with Blade Runner. But the fiftieth anniversary of this film clearly is apt excuse to start with this particular film. How many films that are made today will still be so hotly talked about/praised/hated in fifty years time as this one? How many films have really measured up in the years since? When Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar came out a few years back, so many people were comparing it favourably to Kubrick’s 2001 that it drove me nuts. People thought Interstellar was groundbreaking and intelligent and thought-provoking, but it’s nowhere near the same league as 2001, no matter its ambitions. No sci-fi film director has really come close to what Kubrick achieved in 1968. No-one has pushed the envelope, challenged how people ‘see’ sci-fi or that genre as a whole, or what it might be capable of.  It is one of my saddest observations that for all the technological breakthroughs we have seen from CGI etc, that no-one has carried it through to some new Odyssey for our own age.

Stanley Kubrick said “How could we possibly appreciate the Mona Lisa if Leonardo had written a the bottom of the canvas: ‘The lady is smiling because she is hiding a secret from her lover.’ This would shackle the viewer to reality, and I don’t want this to happen to 2001” There’s not many films that could possibly ever be compared with the Mona Lisa, as a piece of art of such magnitude, but 2001 surely can. A film for the ages then, and yes, one of my very favourite films.

 

 

The 100 and 2017

success

Hey, I got there. With that last review, for The Secret Life of Pets, I’ve managed to hit my 100 target for 2016. While it may seem easy for some (Richard has somehow managed over 180 this year) its been a down-to-the-wire odyssey for me, mostly due to missing a whole month back around June when we lost our dog, but a few other trials and tribulations through this rather horrible year haven’t helped either.

I used to think 100 would be easy. I seemed to watch loads of stuff during a year. Maybe trying to keep up a quality-level, being picky what I sit down to watch, is what makes it tricky; lord knows there’s plenty of junk I could have watched to make up the numbers (some would argue I already did, judging from some of the films I watched over the past twelve months). Of course, the real trick isn’t watching them, its writing about them.

And who knows? There’s a few days left of this deeply unpleasant 2016 so you never know, I may yet add to the list with one or two others for good measure, but at any rate, the 100 target was eventually met. Job done. It’s certainly been my busiest and most prolific year of blogging ever, and as always I’d like to express my appreciation for all those of you who have read it and care to comment on it. We’ve never met, but I consider all of you to be good friends.

About that; I have the digital footprint of a gnat. I’m not currently on twitter or facebook or anything. Other than my wife (and she doesn’t even read it), none of my family or friends or work colleagues even know of this blog or how long I’ve been writing it. The Ghost of 82 really is almost like an alter-ego. So anyway, this brings me to my plans for 2017.

For a start, I don’t think I’ll try for 100 again (and no, that doesn’t mean I’m going to try for a darn fool target like 150 instead). I think I may keep a running total as I go, just incase, but I’ll just see how that goes. Instead, I have the rather more troublesome intent to perhaps try posting something everyday. Reviews are all very well, but in my original blog Musings of the Ghost of 82 a long time ago, I pretty much concentrated on writing down observations, memories and thoughts/opinions etc, and I used to enjoy that. So I thought I’d try it again but on a rather more regular basis. Not necessarily long posts, sometimes they might amount to  something like a tweet whenever something occurs to me. I know I’m likely making a rod for my own back and a daily blog is hardly realistic with life pressures etc but we’ll see. It might be boring and if so I’ll stop and go back to just the reviews, but you never know. At the very least it might mean some more stories/pics of young Eddie (he’s doing pretty well, by the way).

As for 2017… We have a new Ridley Scott Alien movie (caught that new trailer? Wasn’t that a weird Christmas Day present?) and something called Blade Runner 2049 which is going to loom a rather exciting/worrying shadow over my year. Back in 1982… well, the thought that I’d be seeing a sequel 35 years later after Blade Runner disappeared into obscurity and box-office failure… my impossibly young self would have been astonished, amazed. Right now? Well, 1982 seems both a long time ago and only yesterday, and I’m pretty appalled at this Twilight Zone I’ve fallen into. Lets see what happens, eh?

 

The Films We Love- (yes, even Lifeforce…)

Its funny the films we love. Ignoring those ‘classics’ that are widely considered great films (you know the usual suspects, Citizen Kane, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, The Apartment, 2001 etc) there are those that we just fall in love with anyway, just because, well, we like them, whatever critics and anyone else says. Some are rather good films deserving our fondness, while others are guilty pleasures that we enjoy perhaps for reasons outside the films themselves- reasons like nostalgic memories of the times we saw them, the way we were. Some films we carry torches for from our teenage years all the way through adulthood and old age. I guess I’d count many of the late ‘seventies/early ‘eighties films that I love in that category. Blade Runner is my favourite movie partly for the experience of watching at just that time when it was new and breathtaking, and for that period when it was like the ultimate cult film that no-one had seen or heard of other than for hardcore sci-fi nuts like me. Its clearly not the greatest film ever made- indeed it was horribly flawed, damn near broken on its first theatrical version. But even though the versions have changed on its many re-releases, and I have seen it countless times -surely more than a hundred- in the 30 years since that first time back in September 1982, I still love that film as much as I ever did. Revisiting it is like revisiting an old friend.

But its like that sometimes even with those old films we didn’t like back when we first saw them. Perhaps we were too young to appreciate some films and we find that re-watching them when older and wiser we ‘get’ them and enjoy them. Maybe some films are just as bad as they were back in the day but in hindsight don’t seem quite so awful as the current crop of films for some reason or other. I’ve found I quite enjoy some older, pre-cgi films precisely because they are pre-cgi… as if the matte lines and dodgy effects and actors unfortunate hairdos give the films a charm and affinity it lacked originally. Is that more the charm of the old days, memories of the times, than anything in the film itself? Certainly a lot of older films lack the artificial sleekness of current films, as I find that there is a ‘perfection’ in how actors look these days, and how modern films are obviously co-designed by marketing departments and aimed with chilling sophistication at particular demographics. Older films seem more innocent shots-in-the-dark in that respect.

lifeforce

I must admit to a certain thrill at the news that Arrow is releasing a special two-disc edition of Lifeforce later this year (ain’t that steelbook a peach?). I saw Lifeforce at the cinema back on its original release. I think I was in college then. Saw it in town in the old picture-palace that was the ABC cinema- back in that huge, red-plastered, cavern-like Screen One that seemed like a theatre of lost silverscreen dreams, the dog-eared worn seats shadows of earlier, more prosperous times, back when The Sound of Music  and Zulu ruled the box-office.  Well, even inspite of Mathilda May’s obvious charms, Lifeforce was a complete stinker. As a horror film it was shockingly silly.  At the time I dismissed the film but as the years have passed and I’ve watched it several times, I actually have grown to like the film. Its a lousy horror film but it is so bad its actually rather funny, and I find I can giggle at the bad dialogue and cheesy performances and inept direction. So bad its good? And of course its all pre-cgi make-up and optical effects, the over-the-top music score is over-ripe Hammer… its a great bad movie.  To think after all these years someone is working on a two-disc special edition of the film with commentaries, docs etc.. well it restores my faith in humanity when a film as bad and broken as this one gets that kind of love and care. I’m just surprised some people still maintain its a horror film- if they marketed it as a deliberate comedy I think it would get a wider audience and recognition. No accounting for taste, eh?

But anyway, I’d hardly cite Lifeforce as a great film, but I love it all the same. Legend is one of Ridley Scott’s more lamentable misfires, but I have found that my affection for it has increased over the years. Partly because I remember seeing it back in its cinema release when it seemed to slip by unnoticed by most people, partly because its real-world sets/make-up/miniatures give it a ‘look’ utterly alien to the cgi wonders of The Lord of the Rings films and the recent The Hobbit.

Maybe part of it is how modern films are so obviously colour-graded in post, whereas the ‘look’ of older films is from the actual on-set lighting, lenses, filmstock…  maybe thats why when I rewatch these older films I feel something in them. Conan The Barbarian (the 1982 version) was a film I didn’t even particularly enjoy back when I first saw it, but nowadays I thinks its up there with Spartacus– its a bold, gritty, real-world movie that, in spite of its dodgy acting, mixed effects work etc, feels like exactly the kind of film they can’t make anymore (and the recent remake proved it). Bear in mind its also got a fantastic soundtrack score, which is something that a lot of older films have but current films usually lack. Indeed most of the older films I love have great music scores, while most current films ditch melodies in preference for ‘mood’ and ambience, or sound like Hans Zimmer/Media Ventures muzak.

So anyway, if it takes your fancy, please leave a comment regards the films you love that you just know aren’t great, or indeed perhaps even any good. I figure that every film out there has at least someone who loves it. I’m just curious how bad some of them are!