I have seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” at least a dozen times, but never like this. Last weekend I watched it on a big screen in Westport’s Town Hall auditorium, with Dave. Bowman, that is. Or, as he’s known in real life, Kier Dullea. And he spoke. And then I spoke to him.
This cinematic opus – a futuristic, sci-fi, mind bending, metaphysical adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of the same name – regularly appears on Top Ten Films of All Time lists. Stanley Kubrick, who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, broke the mold with this one. The film changed film and minds forever.
Its themes and images have become ingrained in our collective culture. The monolith is, yup, monolithic in the gestalt. The jump cut from the large femur bone leaving the ape’s arm to the orbiting spacecraft, accompanied by the Strauss waltz, is arguably the most famous in all of film. The prescient and at the same time nostalgic images from 1968 are all still relevant today: a Pan Am space shuttle, Hilton and Howard Johnson’s hospitality on the space station, and Kubrick’s own version of Skype.
But for me, at least, the most enigmatic and intriguing part of the film is its ability, at each viewing, to cajole me into seeing something new. About myself, my relationship to the world, and our place in the universe. About the meaning of existence. Pretty heady stuff.
This screening was no different. And, other than the lady behind me who decided it was a critical to take a large red delicious apple from her bag and crunch on it during the climactic “light show” scene (yes, really. Check out my Ten Commandments of Moving Going), it was delightful.
But even more than the movie itself, sitting only a few feet from the man who uttered those unforgettable words: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL,” and listening to him regale us with stories from the filming, was, well, out of this world.
Here is some of the inside scoop:
- When complimented on his acting finesse, he humbly replied, “It wasn’t exactly Hamlet! I mostly just talked into a camera.” I beg to differ. I think it was pretty good acting.
- Out of two hours and 41 minutes, there are only 88 minutes of dialogue.
- The renowned Canadian Shakespearean actor Douglas Rain voiced HAL. But since he was not on the London MGM set, a cockney-accented assistant crewmember did the dialogue with the actors.
- The spacecraft from the iconic jump cut is actually a nuclear weapon satellite, so Kubrick took us from the first, most rudimentary weapon to the latest and most complex.
- Dullea himself suggested that he knock the wine glass off the dining table on Jupiter to direct his gaze to himself dying in bed. Kubrick liked the idea and used it.
- During the Los Angeles screening someone jumped up during the “light show” scene, stormed the stage and ran completely through the screen shouting “It’s God!!!”
- Kubrick (unlike Otto Preminger, who Dullea also worked with) was delightful and easy to work with. And, despite rumor and speculation, was stone cold sober throughout filming.
But perhaps the most momentous revelation came from Kubrick himself, via Dullea. In response to the most often asked question: “What does it all mean?” Dullea read Kubrick’s own words. I paraphrase: He did not intend to deliver any assertion about the meaning of life, the origins of the universe, or the existence or lack thereof of god. He simply wanted to encourage further, deeper, and more inquisitive thought about these metaphysical questions. He just wanted to make us think.
And that, after all, for me, is the joy and pleasure of all art: it challenges me to reexamine and question everything, and encourages introspection.
Afterwards, Dullea signed 8x10s of the iconic movie poster for a fee to support The Westport Cinema Initiative. What a treat! When I gave him my boys’ names for personalization, he told me long stories about how Dustin was his grandfather’s middle name (and its historic derivation from Hannah Dustin) and how Devon was the name of one of his favorite roles (in The Starlost). He asked that I wish Devon success in his pursuit of the visual arts.
I could feel people in the line behind me start to shift from foot to foot with impatience. I thanked him and stepped aside to make room for other fans, and ! went home, thinking how happy Kubrick might be with me, to think.
I love that, at least for Kubrick, the monolith, the light show, the fetus, and the movie itself, signified nothing preconceived. That he intended everything as a catalyst to encourage each viewer to glean meaning – or not – on their own. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”
Photo courtesy of Diane Lowman