2001 in 2014

In the Year 2014: “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a Hit with Males of All Ages

By Scott Sheckman, Founder & Webmaster – Kubrickian.org - December 2014

On November 1, 2014, I had the very rare pleasure of seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” via a new 70mm film print at the opening weekend of the Kubrick Exhibit at the world-famous TIFF building in Toronto. I attended the screening with my father from South Jersey, coincidentally named Stanley, who just turned 70 and traveled with me to Canada for the special events. While not as obsessed as myself with Kubrick’s full body of work, my dad is a card-carrying Kubrick fan dating back to “Dr. Strangelove”. Viewing 2001 with us was a packed theater, predominately males, most appearing under 55.

The screening was significantly enhanced with the live appearance and candid confessions of 2001’s aging stars Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, who later provided autographs for those who braved the barriers to entry. The night before, we saw a big-screen digital projection of “The Shining” featuring a brief interview with Kubrick’s longtime Executive Producer and Brother-in-Law, Jan Harlan, who later co-introduced a 35mm screening of Kubrick’s last film,“Eyes Wide Shut”, with his sister and Kubrick’s widow, Christiane. I had a chance to briefly meet Jan Harlan and ask a couple of key questions which I hope to address in a future feature-length story at Kubrickian.org – stay tuned!

I’m detailing the projection format (70mm, 35mm, Digital Projection) because I feel it is important to note that most major cinemas have practically retired their classic 35mm/70mm film projectors, and are quickly becoming 100% digital projection thanks to wide-scale industry and audience adoption. It’s actually difficult to experience a film via 35mm projection these days unless it’s being shown at a small revival or art theater. Imax 70mm still has some legs, but 4k Digital is leading traditional film projection towards functional obsolesces.

While digital projection seems superior in almost everyway compared to relatively fragile and bulky physical film, there’s a growing mound of evidence that seems to indicate that the human eyes and brain see digital and film projection distinctly differently, even to the point of affecting brain wave activity – i.e. according to some papers I’ve read, viewing a movie via 24fps flash-frame film, even an old/dirty print, is more mentally and emotional engaging than digital’s reception, which is more akin to watching interlaced moving images on a home video monitor, a facsimile of sorts, especially if the original content was recorded with analog/chemical physical film. More reading is available on the internet, and check out Quentin Taratino’s POV – hint, he’s not digging digital exhibition, like a number of purists and cinema lovers. But as with recorded music for over 30 years, Cinema is being forced to get with the digital distribution/exhibit paradigm. Fortunately, physical projection film can enjoy a long shelf-life, if stored correctly.

Now that the technical stuff is out of the way, I’ll try to focus on the heart of the matter – how was a 70mm film projection of 2001 received by a pair of related men (47 and 70 years of age) in November 2014? In short – SPECTACULARLY! Jan Harlan and the 2001 stars mentioned that 2001 was literally saved in the late 1960’s by males under 30 year of age – it was rated “G”, then and now. In other words, late 1960’s boys and young men generated enough box-office to make most 2001 investors happy, including Kubrick, after a very rocky and unsure start including premiere walk-outs and mixed critical reviews. My dad, 24 years old in 1968, seemed like he was right back there, returning to the best theater in town to see 2001 before it left the visual landscape for a long while, which at that time, could be several years. I asked Dullea and Lockwood if they realized 2001 was going to be a cinema masterpiece upon release – they said with honest surety that they had no doubts – they knew Kubrick was a unique and gifted cinematic genius before they even met him in the mid 1960’s.

I’ve seen 2001 probably 21 times on some kind of home monitor and DLP projector, but I have no memory of seeing it via physical film before this Nov. 2014 screening. So one of the things I could easily do while viewing was measure my engagement and enlightenment by seeing 2001 the way Kubrick originally intended - the way millions of people have seen the film in the “old days” when theatrical first runs lasted months and revivals were something to celebrate/attend - before home video characteristically changed the way we consume movies in the 21st Century. Experiencing 2001 via 70mm film (according to TIFF - a costly and new prime edition print) was like seeing a famous painting up-close-and-personal in a museum, when the best I could do prior was look at a picture in a book or the internet. With TIFF’s big screen, I could clearly see the brush strokes, study the paint and choices. I could hear the music in a large hall, practically a live orchestra.

Beyond the authentic spectacle of experiencing 2001 similar to audiences in 1968, I don’t want to dive into the deep layers and meanings. All I can say is Kubrick was oh-so-good at including everything we need and should want to know about mankind and the great unknown, as a boy, 2001 was fascinating to view repeatedly on crappy low-resolution home video dating back to the 1970’s. As the years went by and home video improved to standardized 1080HD, privately viewing 2001 at home has becomes more enjoyable by default. Each HD viewing is an opportunity to see, hear or realize something new, something you didn’t catch before, maybe due to just getting older and wiser, or more observant.

My longtime conclusion, with help of infinite professional references dating back to 1970, is that Kubrick was allowed to be liberally experimental with the making of 2001 – so much so, that the film is still one of the most sophisticated sci-fi dramas created, and it transcends that genre in almost every imaginable way. In short, it’s a lasting masterpiece example of film art, practically without peer – a must see for everyone who has enjoyed the fruits of Kubrick’s pioneering work, such as the Space and Sci-Fi epics of the late 20th Century (e.g. Star Wars). 2001’s vanguard narrative and subtext structure is still something most directors dream of achieving, but it seems Kubrick was always trying to top himself, even at the end of his life/career. Seeing 2001 on modern home video is perfectly fine, but seeing it on 70mm film is absolutely required reading for those who are serious about experiencing Kubrick’s art to the fullest extent. Considering that 2001 features only a handful of minor female characters and contains a significant amount of male-male interaction and violence, it’s not surprising to learn that young males “saved” 2001 in the late 1960’s, some who continue to carry the torch. Of course, females greatly appreciate 2001 – As Kubrick possibly intended, perhaps females see his film art distinctly differently?

I feel compelled to note that late 2014 also saw the initial release of Christopher Nolan’s epic “Interstellar”. I’ve seen Interstellar twice since its release, both times via digital projection - IMAX and average screen. Coincidentally, 2001 was widely re-released in the UK in late 2014, and in some multi-plex theaters, British moviegoers had the choice between seeing Interstellar and/or 2001, like any modern competing release period. I enjoyed Interstellar for the most part, especially its many obvious visual and audio nods to the Space Race, Climate/Political Change, Popular Physics, and Kubrick’s influence on Cinema and perhaps mainstream culture…but I think two viewings will be all I’ll give Nolan’s film until it’s on cable. While both films are big-budget thoughtprovoking visual spectacles, unlike 2001, Interstellar is heavily dependent on audio – either dialogue and/or scored cue music, providing information for story and/or reason to be emotional. By comparison, Kubrick uses music in 2001 sparingly and strategically – mainly stand-alone orchestra pieces created before the film, and the scant dialogue is legendary. In short, the films share similarities and qualities, especially lessons to be learned from seemingly invisible higher beings hanging out near the edge of our solar system, but Interstellar did not grab me as an definitive art-film circa December 2014, despite it’s artistically abstract CGI. However, it is surely Nolan’s homage to 2001 and its heart, and only time will tell if Interstellar is an important film worth re-watching repeatedly over the years, a label that 2001 has hard-earned over the decades. Moreover, will Interstellar find new audiences in the years ahead, especially young Americans who will no doubt first see it on home video? We’ll just have to wait and see.

In late 2014, I offered the opportunity (via Facbebook’s popular Kubrick discussion groups) for guest writers to contribute to Kubrickian.org with their reviews of 2001 in 2014. Below are the diverse responses I received - my thanks to the Kubrick fans who participated. Note: I am the only American viewer reporting – the others are from Canada and the UK. Please give their reviews/opinions a read, as you can see, they really put thought and time into their modern reflections.

Thank You and Happy New Year (2015)!