2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★½

Big screen. Live orchestra.

11 likes overnight before I have even put down further thoughts!

Anyway, here they are. The London Philharmonic provided the music at last night's screening of Kubrick's seminal sci-fi film, made by MGM British at Borehamwood.

The Dawn of Man sequence is the one which shows the evolution of apes (played by Daniel Richter and a group of actors who were slight enough to pass as animals, and who trained for their parts by observing apes and chimpanzees in captivity). The leopard is real, from a Chippendale circus, and the attack is on a stuntman who had earlier staged the scene as a 'play fight'. The glowing eye effect was caused by the big cat reflecting the set lights, but it is very effective.

After the appearance of the mysterious monolith, and the cut between bone and spaceship representing a leap in time, we move into full sci-fi mode to the strains of Strauss and the Blue Danube. Kubrick takes every journey slowly and carefully, with superb model and matte work (every window has different activity). He is also good at the mundane details - the stewardess and her grip shoes, the floating pen, the Hilton lounge, the Picturephone, the voice recognition security.

We are led to believe that Dr Floyd (William Sylvester) is the main character but he is just a catalyst for later developments. Following the monolith's second appearance, giving out its ear-piercing wail, the action jumps forward 18 months to a ship heading for Jupiter, with three scientists in deep hibernation, and two alert: one (Dave Bowman, played by Keir Dullea) choosing breakfast, sad eyed; the other (Frank Poole, played by Gary Lockwood), jogging, playing chess, almost catatonic at a message from his parents singing happy birthday - itself a difference to Dr Floyd's video call with his young daughter in the film's second scene.

The other member of the crew is 'HAL', an intelligent computer who even handles an interview from the BBC. He even makes his orange light seem sinister, and when his perceptive lip reading (first spied in his demolition of Frank's chess game after reading his moves) leads to murder, we, and Bowman, are propelled into the final, trippy, section of the film where a high speed flight into the future and a final point at the monolith reveal the Starchild to the triumphant strains of the other Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra.

What does it all mean? The film is loosely based on a novel by Arthur C Clarke, but Kubrick took his own liberties. An early scene with Russian collaborators (led by Leonard Rossiter) feels like a red herring. HAL's dying lament of 'Daisy Bell' is satisfyingly creepy. The birth of the infinite and all knowing baby is strangely beautiful.

To see an orchestra and chorus engage with these powerful visuals was a real treat. Ligeti's Atmospheres is especially effective.

Kubrick's film, made just before real-life engagement with the Moon, is still futuristic (and one suspects some IBM sponsorship was going on) but it is technically brilliant from a cinematography point of view. It still feels unique in terms of cinema.

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