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Archive for October 19th, 2016

2001-a-space-odyssey-001

By Dean Treadway

Well, we’re finally here.  This conclusion, with Stanley Kubrick’s monumental film landing at the #1 spot in WITD’s countdown of the greatest science fiction films ever made, should come as no surprise to anyone. As is likely for many others, 2001: A Space Odyssey has long been my favorite film. I first saw it at Atlanta’s Rhodes Theater early in 1977, at age ten (though I suspect I caught a glimpse of it as a younger child while visiting a drive-in with my parents). Its eloquent, overwhelming vision transformed me immensely, leading me into a life of film study, filmmaking, and film writing. After seeing it literally a hundred times (at least 60 of them on the big screen, often projected on 70mm film, though, alas, I’ve never seen the Cinerama version), I unquestionably consider 2001 the best film that has ever been made, or ever will be made in any genre, but especially in the realm of science fiction. It is resolutely successful in dramatizing the history of mankind from ape to superhuman. No other movie could complete such a feat without being compared to this looming progenitor. 

In 1998, I was commissioned by a television network to write a then-popular pop-up commentary on the film. The editors there knew I treasured Kubrick’s work and had studied 2001 closely, so they considered me the perfect person to do this. I was honored for the opportunity, but never got to see the pop-up version. I have always had the nagging feeling they didn’t have room for all the work I provided so here, now, is the complete set of notes I composed for them. This is the first time they are being seen in their entirety, and in this updated edit. They’re meant to be read along with the movie. If I had the equipment, I would have recorded this as an audio commentary, but I will have to save that for another day.

2001: A Space Odyssey begins with an overture–music meant to be played as the audience is filing into the theater. This was a common feature of the larger-scoped movies of the ’50s and ’60s, though it’s a practice that generally fell out of favor by the 1970s. This overture is not meant to be projected on-screen (unless there are closed curtains obscuring it), but these days, overtures are a thing of the past and, more often than not, filmgoers seeing 2001 on the big screen are now treated to a two-minute opening sequence of blackness, scored by the eclectic music of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti. Many are certainly confused by this, but somehow, this meditative rest, punctuated by Ligeti’s screeching score, does put one in the mood for what’s about to be witnessed.  

The famed MGM logo of Leo the Lion was modernized in 1965 by the studio’s creative consultancy, NYC’s Lipincott. The newly sleek Leo, white against a blue background, was placed before three films: Grand Prix (66), 2001, and The Subject Was Roses (68). MGM’s Logan’s Run (76) utilized it at the end of its closing credits, and then it was retired in favor of the more familiar, roaring Leo. It lived on, though, as the logo for MGM Records and the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

mgm-lion-lippincott

The short opening sequence helped pioneer movies without a full credits sequence at their fore. The 2001 theme, Also Sprach Zarathustra, was composed by Richard Strauss as an 1896 tone poem inspired by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher who composed a book of the same name. Nietzsche’s work examining the transformation of Man into Superman would similarly inspire 2001‘s maker, Stanley Kubrick (though, perhaps not so ironically, the book includes the controversial quote “God is dead”). This commanding piece’s inclusion in 2001 would forever seal the music’s meaning and strength in ways Strauss could’ve never foreseen.

The opening scene—the emergence of the Sun over the Moon and then the planet Earth—was animated with the use of photographic transparencies delicately handled, with an arc light standing in as the Sun. It remains among the boldest of all movie openings. (more…)

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