‘2001: A Space Odyssey’: Kubrick’s Pioneering Achievement As One of the Most Significant Films Ever Made

2001: A Space Odyssey is a pioneering work of filmmaking art, Kubrick’s greatest achievement and certainly one of the most influential exhibits of filmmaking craft in the history of cinema. Just as bedazzling as it was back in the sixties, this film is an experience unlike any other, regardless of the angle you approach it from. Production still photographers: Kevin Bray & John Jay
2001: A Space Odyssey is a pioneering work of filmmaking art, Kubrick’s greatest achievement and certainly one of the most influential exhibits of filmmaking craft in the history of cinema. Just as bedazzling as it was back in the sixties, this film is an experience unlike any other, regardless of the angle you approach it from. Production still photographers: Kevin Bray & John Jay

Considering the fact we’re discussing a wondrous work of art continuously labeled as one the most significant and influential films ever made, it seems only befitting that the story behind the camera, of the laborious effort put into its production, matches the magnitude of the final product. It took Stanley Kubrick and his crew no less than four years to make 2001: A Space Odyssey. Upon finishing Dr. Strangelove, the legendary filmmaker felt he wanted to do a “good science fiction film,” and on Columbia Pictures’ Roger Caras’ advice, he contacted the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke with the idea of joining forces to make a film about “man’s relationship to the universe.” Frightfully interested, as he put it himself, Clarke agreed and the two of them started brainstorming and carving out the skeleton of the idea they wanted to transfer to the screen. Clarke offered Kubrick six of his short stories, with the filmmaker soon settling on ‘The Sentinel.’ The following two years were spent on transforming the short story into a novel and a screenplay simultaneously. While the novel exhibits a clearer, tighter, more solid narrative structure, Kubrick claimed that film is basically a visual experience and opted for a far more cryptic presentation of the story.

He wanted the film to hit the audience in their hearts, minds and stomachs unlike all any other film primarily concentrated on the story and economic, practical ways of telling it to the viewers. 2001: A Space Odyssey, therefore, has more in common with the art of music or painting, as many experts pointed out long before we did. The obvious lack of dialogue and the structure at first glance incoherent and incomprehensible meant the audience had to match the demands of the film and invest themselves fully in it, which is probably why the initial response from the critics was so diverse. More than a few audience members were left puzzled and disappointed, feeling Kubrick dedicated far too much attention to the impeccable technological aspect of 2001, at the expense of dehumanizing the characters and abandoning character development. This is a film that is meant to be experienced, not merely watched; a film that asks to be felt, not only seen and heard. The initial reactions are, for that reason, an expected response considering the extent of Kubrick’s departure from traditional, orthodox science fiction films of the time.

The true perfectionist that historical facts and folk legends turned him into, Kubrick was in complete control of every single aspect of the film, his interest and focus ranging from ape mask development and costume fabrics to editing, music and special effects. One should not, of course, ignore the talent and effort of the likes of Douglas Trumbull, the renowned special effects supervisor, the masterly editor Ray Lovejoy or the experienced and famed director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth. The visual side of the film was something unprecedented, the special effects were astonishing and breathtaking, while many experts hailed Kubrick for the incredibly accurate depictions of space flight. Each and every detail during production was supervised by the filmmaker, each and every problem that occurred in the creative or practical phase of development was surmounted by Kubrick with the help and ingenuity of the experts he surrounded himself with. For example, astronomer Carl Sagan was contacted while Kubrick mused over the best possible depiction of extraterrestrial intelligence. Sagan advised him not to use actors to portray humanoid aliens, claiming such a move would “introduce at least an element of falseness” to the story, and Kubrick made the wise decision of keeping the extraterrestrials unseen.

One other example of a crucial decision reached in the course of production was the music. Initially commissioning a score from Alex North, the composer who worked on Dr. Strangelove and Spartacus, Kubrick realized such music wouldn’t fit in perfectly with the astonishing visuals, believing it would prove to be too suggestive for the audience, artificially leading them to experiencing emotions that Kubrick believed should be reach organically. Kubrick used classical compositions as guide pieces for the soundtrack, and felt they complemented the film so well he simply chose to keep them in, with North finding out his score was cut only at the premiere. The compositions such as Richard Strauss’ ‘Also sprach Zaratustra’ or Johan Strauss II’s ‘The Blue Danube’ therefore found their way into the film and now seem an essential part providing 2001 the strength no other score, whatever the mastery of the contemporary composer might be, could possibly produce.

The bottom line is practically identical to the introductory paragraph. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a pioneering work of filmmaking art, Kubrick’s greatest achievement and certainly one of the most influential exhibits of filmmaking craft in the history of cinema. Just as bedazzling as it was back in the sixties, this film is an experience unlike any other, regardless of the angle you approach it from.

A monumentally important screenplay. Dear every screenwriter/filmmaker, read Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke’s screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey [PDF1, PDF2]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

 
In 1964, Stanley Kubrick wrote to author Arthur C. Clarke about the possibility of collaborating on “the proverbial ‘really good’ science-fiction movie.” Dated 8 April, Clarke’s response was immediately enthusiastic, expressing a mutual admiration. “For my part”, Clarke wrote, “I am absolutely dying to see Dr. Strangelove; Lolita is one of the few films I have seen twice—the first time to enjoy it, the second time to see how it was done.” This exchange of letters between Clarke’s home in Ceylon and Kubrick’s offices in New York led to a meeting just a few weeks later, on 22 April at the Plaza Hotel in New York, where the two talked for hours about the genre that had brought them together. The wheels were in motion for their alliance on what would become perhaps the finest science fiction film in the history of cinema—2001: A Space Odyssey, which was released four years later, in the April of 1968. Courtesy of BFI, SK Film Archives LLC, Warner Bros., the Kubrick family, and University of the Arts London. —The letter from Kubrick that started 2001: A Space Odyssey

“September 25. Visitors from NASA—Dr. George Mueller, Associate Administrator, and ‘Deke’ Slayton (Director of Flight Crew Operations). Gave them the Grand Tour—they were quite impressed. George made several useful suggestions and asked wistfully if he could have the model of the Discovery for his office when we’d finished with it. Deke was later reported to have said: ‘Stanley, I’m afraid you’ve been conned by a used capsule salesman.’ An improbabable story—I suspect the fine Italian hand of Roger Caras, Stanley’s vice-president in charge of promotion.” —Arthur C. Clarke

ARTHUR C. CLARKE’S ‘2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY’ DIARY

The ultimate trip began with a story called ‘The Sentinel’ by Arthur C. Clarke. It took flight when Stanley Kubrick asked Clarke to write a novel of space exploration unpon which the acclaimed director would base a movie. The result was one of the most extraordinary films of all time. Now for the first time the reader is taken on every stage of this great adventure. Here is the original story. Here are the different versions of 2001 as they evolved in the interplay between two brilliantly charged imaginations. And here is Clarke’s own intimate account of the unique chemistry between author and director which created—2001: A Space Odyssey. Lost Worlds of 2001 consists of behind-the-scenes notes from Clarke about screenwriting and production issues. Sadly, this book is no longer in print. You can download the PDF version, courtesy of Universidad del Magdalena.

“The announced title of the project, when Stanley gave his intentions to the press, was Journey Beyond the Stars. I never liked this, because there had been far too many science-fictional journeys and voyages. (Indeed, the innerspace epic Fantastic Voyage, featuring Raquel Welch and a supporting cast of ten thousand blood corpuscles, was also going into production about this time). Other titles which we ran up and failed to salute were Universe, Tunnel to the Stars, and Planetfall. It was not until eleven months after we started—April 1965—that Stanley selected 2001: A Space Odyssey. As far as I can recall, it was entirely his idea.” —Arthur C. Clarke

In the summer of 1968, science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke sat down with Patricia Marx to discuss the upcoming release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Recorded just a year shy of the iconic moon-landing, this interview captures a singular moment of prescience and optimism for a world entering into the future. Clarke’s more spirited predictions for the coming century include the development of space industry and tourism replete with colonies on the moon and Mars, the establishment of contact with extraterrestrial entities, and the potential for human immortality. Even amid fantasies of celestial grandeur, Clarke expresses hope for human civilization grounded on Earth: he envisions a stable world society wherein information is communicated instantaneously, forecasting the realization of Marshall McLuhan’s Global Village. While we have yet to conquer the New Frontier in many of the ways Clarke anticipated, his enthusiasm for the future throughout this interview is infectious. At a time when information and new technology constantly abound, this unique interview captures a refreshing moment of novelty.

This 2001: A Space Odyssey original premiere program from 1968 was printed for UK theatres. In the US, the booklet had the same content in terms of texts and images, but was designed with a “wide-screen” layout, conforming to the Cinerama 70mm film format used for the shooting and projection. The peculiarity of this booklet lies in the paper quality which is used: the cover is metallic silver printed with actual metallic ink and some of the pages are made of translucent paper, with the texts to be read in transparency. Designers Otto Storch and Pasquale Del Vecchio created a high  impact program which cleverly pairs with the stunning visual quality of the film. A hat tip to Filippo Ulivieri’s ArchivioKubrick.

“HOWEVER VAST THE DARKNESS, WE MUST SUPPLY OUR OWN LIGHT”

Stanley Kubrick on mortality, the fear of flying, and the purpose of existence: the complete 1968 Playboy Interview. Courtesy of archive.org. You can also download the PDF file directly to your computer, from where it can be opened using a PDF reader.

Thanks to those special effects, 2001 is undoubtedly the most graphic depiction of space flight in the history of films—and yet you have admitted that you yourself refuse to fly, even in a commercial jet liner. Why?
Kubrick: I suppose it comes down to a rather awesome awareness of mortality. Our ability, unlike the other animals, to conceptualize our own end creates tremendous psychic strains within us; whether we like to admit it or not, in each man’s chest a tiny ferret of fear at this ultimate knowledge gnaws away at his ego and his sense of purpose. We’re fortunate, in a way, that our body, and the fulfillment of its needs and functions, plays such an imperative role in our lives; this physical shell creates a buffer between us and the mind-paralyzing realization that only a few years of existence separate birth from death. If man really sat back and thought about his impending termination, and his terrifying insignificance and aloneness in the cosmos, he would surely go mad, or succumb to a numbing sense of futility. Why, he might ask himself, should he bother to write a great symphony, or strive to make a living, or even to love another, when he is no more than a momentary microbe on a dust mote whirling through the unimaginable immensity of space?

Those of us who are forced by their own sensibilities to view their lives in this perspective—who recognize that there is no purpose they can comprehend and that amidst a countless myriad of stars their existence goes unknown and unchronicled—can fall prey all too easily to the ultimate anomie… But even for those who lack the sensitivity to more than vaguely comprehend their transience and their triviality, this inchoate awareness robs life of meaning and purpose; it’s why ‘the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,’ why so many of us find our lives as absent of meaning as our deaths. The world’s religions, for all their parochialism, did supply a kind of consolation for this great ache; but as clergymen now pronounce the death of God and, to quote Arnold again, ‘the sea of faith’ recedes around the world with a ‘melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,’ man has no crutch left on which to lean—and no hope, however irrational, to give purpose to his existence. This shattering recognition of our mortality is at the root of far more mental illness than I suspect even psychiatrists are aware.

If life is so purposeless, do you feel it’s worth living?
The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism—and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong—and lucky—he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death—however mutable man may be able to make them—our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

On 22 September 1965, during early production on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick fired off this short memo to his collaborator Roger Caras, then vice-president of the director’s production company Hawk Films. Kubrick was himself fascinated with advancing computer technology and consulted with IBM on details for HAL, the film’s sentient mainframe, which malfunctions during a US mission to Jupiter.

A later memo from Kubrick to Caras on 31 August 1966 expressed concern that IBM were fully aware that his film’s super-computer wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “Does IBM know that one of the main themes of the story is a psychotic computer?” he wrote. “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, and I don’t want them to feel swindled. Please give me the exact status of things with IBM.” It has often been suggested that HAL’s name was derived from a one-letter shift of the computer company’s name, but both Kubrick and Clarke strenuously denied this: in Clarke’s novel, HAL is a derivation of Heuristic ALgorithmic computer. As HAL itself nearly says, the misapprehension “can only be attributable to human error.” —Stanley Kubrick seeks ‘mad computer expert’

Cinematographer Bryan Loftus talks with TV Store Online’s Justin Bozung about getting his start with Stanley Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“Stanley would come in and say, ‘Try it again. Do it again.’ Then they would either do it or they would forget to do it. If you forgot to do it, then he would get annoyed. So he developed this memo system where if he needed you to do something he would send you a memo. Then if you forgot to do something he woulds say, ‘Didn’t you get the memo?’ People started telling him, ‘I’m sorry Stanley, I did not receive that memo.’ So Stanley created a new system where if he had sent you a memo you had to write a memo back to him confirming that you received his first memo! It was extraordinary. Everyone was typing memos. It got out of hand to a certain extent. He was so wonderful at devising systems like that on the spot. He employed three girls to type memos for him while we were shooting 2001.

When handheld tape recorders first came out, Stanley got a hold of two of them while we were shooting the film. I remember one day while we were in the rushes theater, he had one recorder in his left hand, and the other in his right. He would speak into one recorder, and then play it back while recording it with the other. I saw him doing this and I said, ‘What the hell is he up to now?’ What he wanted to know what how many times he could record backwards and forwards before the audio became unintelligible. That was typical Stanley. He always had to push technology to realize its limitations.” —2001: A Space Odyssey Interview Series: Bryan Loftus

KUBRICK: L’ODYSSEE D’UN SOLITAIRE

Complete digitization of 1999 Les Inrocks magazine, ‘KUBRICK: L’Odyssee D’un Solitaire.’ What a goldmine!

A gem embedded below features behind-the-scenes footage of 2001: A Space Odyssey as well as a very insightful interview by Kubrick at the premiere of the film. An interview with proposed star of the unmade Aryan Papers, Johanna Ter Steege, who talks about how Schindler’s List effectively caused Kubrick to cancel his own Holocaust epic and Malcolm McDowell talks about working on A Clockwork Orange whilst in Venice in 1997. Interviews: Stanley Kubrick, Peter Delpeut, George Sluizer (Kubrick thought Sluizer’s The Vanishing the most terrifying film he had seen—even more frightening than The Shining, and it led to Kubrick phoning the Dutch filmmaker to discuss editing), Harry Kumel, Johanna Ter Steege and Malcolm McDowell.

 
If you were nineteen and starting out again, would you go to film school?
The best education in film is to make one. I would advise any neophyte director to try to make a film by himself. A three-minute short will teach him a lot. I know that all the things I did at the beginning were, in microcosm, the things I’m doing now as a director and producer. There are a lot of noncreative aspects to filmmaking which have to be overcome, and you will experience them all when you make even the simplest film: business, organization, taxes, etc., etc. It is rare to be able to have an uncluttered, artistic environment when you make a film, and being able to accept this is essential. The point to stress is that anyone seriously interested in making a film should find as much money as he can as quickly as he can and go out and do it. And this is no longer as difficult as it once was. When I began making movies as an independent in the early 1950s I received a fair amount of publicity because I was something of a freak in an industry dominated by a handful of huge studios. Everyone was amazed that it could be done at all. But anyone can make a movie who has a little knowledge of cameras and tape recorders, a lot of ambition and—hopefully—talent. It’s gotten down to the pencil and paper level. We’re really on the threshold of a revolutionary new era in film. —Stanley Kubrick, excerpted from The Film Director as Superstar

Portraits of Kubrick on set during filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Production still photographers: Kevin Bray & John Jay.

 
Robert McCall’s concept artwork for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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2001: THE MAKING OF A MYTH

An exquisite 43-minute documentary produced in 2001 which wonderfully covers the movie’s themes and technique. Introduced and narrated by James Cameron, the piece includes new interviews with author/screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke, members of the crew and cast (not just the obvious like Keir Dullea, but even a space stewardess and two apes), and critics. They all shed lots of light, from interpretations to production tales.

 

VISION OF A FUTURE PASSED: THE PROPHESY OF 2001

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick showed us what the future might look like. Discover how much of Kubrick’s vision predicted a world of fantasy—or today’s reality.

STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF KUBRICK: THE LEGACY OF 2001

For filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was life changing, redefining what cinema could be.

Universe, a 26-minute masterpiece about astronomy that heavily inspired Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, Kubrick was such a huge fan of the film that he even solicited the talent of the artists who worked on Universe to work on 2001. Although co-director Colin Low declined the invitation, Wally Gentleman, the special effects creator, directed some of the most spectacular scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Another, lesser known (but incredibly cool) connection between the two films: the narrator of Universe, Douglas Rain, is also the voice of HAL 9000, everyone’s favorite sentient computer villain. —The Movie That Influenced Kubrick’s 2001

2001: A Space Odyssey–A Look Behind the Future is a vintage featurette with some amazing behind-the-scenes footage.

 
From one master to another. A telegram received in 1968 by Stanley Kubrick shortly after the release of his cinematic tour de force, 2001: A Space Odyssey; sent to him by fellow filmmaker, Federico Fellini.

Visual effects legend Douglas Trumbull on working with Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

THE MAKING OF KUBRICK’S 2001

There have been countless words written about Stanley Kubrick’s visionary masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey—some good, some bad—but after 45 years, this superb book, edited wonderfully by Jerome Agel (1970), remains the only one you’ll ever really need. It is such a shame that this book is out-of-print. It is filled with everything you ever wanted to know about 2001. It leads off with Arthur C. Clarke’s short story ‘The Sentinel’ and closes with a complete reprint of Stanley Kubrick’s interview with Playboy magazine. In between are profiles, interviews with technical advisors, effects secrets revealed, letters to Stanley from the moviegoing public, as well as reviews of the film, both good and bad. A fascinating snapshot of a moment in history when the world was caught off guard by a motion picture. Search your local used book stores, like we did. If you’re a Kubrick fan, it’s worth the effort.

SIX KINDS OF LIGHT: JOHN ALCOTT

John Alcott, the great cinematographer who worked with Stanley Kubrick for some time, speaks at length about Kubrick and his additional work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, for which he took over as lighting cameraman from Geoffrey Unsworth in mid-shoot, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, the film for which he won his Oscar, and The Shining. Kubrick promoted Alcott to lighting cameraman in 1968 while working on 2001: A Space Odyssey and from there the two created an inseparable collaboration, in which they worked together on more than one occasion. In 1971, Kubrick then elevated Alcott to director of photography on A Clockwork Orange.

Alcott studied lighting and how the light fell in the rooms of a set. He would do this so that when he shot his work it would look like natural lighting, not stage lighting. It was this extra work and research that made his films look so visually beautiful. Along with his Academy award for Barry Lyndon, the film is considered to be one of the greatest and most beautiful movies made in terms of its visuals. Not one, but three films worked on by Alcott were ranked between 1950–1997 in the top 20 of ‘Best Shot,’ voted by the American Society of Cinematographers. Yet another great accomplishment made possible by John Alcott.

 
Here’s another fascinating compilation of photographs taken behind-the-scenes during production of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Production still photographers: Kevin Bray & John Jay. Courtesy of BFI, SK Film Archives LLC, Warner Bros., the Kubrick family, and University of the Arts London.

 
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  • lucky gmail

    Every question answered. Another brilliant piece!