Today! Because I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal –
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick (x5)
Starring Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rain (x2), William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter (x2), Robert Beatty, Margaret Tyzack, Vivian Kubrick
Look, I’m not saying there aren’t boring movies out there. Hell, I can’t stand Lawrence of Arabia, even though I kinda recognize the inherent greatness in it, because that movie is so goddamn boring. And like, I get that 2001 doesn’t rip right along. Those astronauts walking toward the monolith really take their time. The outer space ballet of ships passing each other to the classical tunes soundtrack is a little languorous, I’ll grant you. The vaunted light show journey through Dave’s mind is pretty comprehensive when it comes to the color wheel and scenic vistas and multi-shaded eyeballs. But I would like to refer you to the above statement, which I’m like 80% still in the camp of believing – 2001: A Space Odyssey might be the best movie ever made.
I’ve said before, this list is in no way arranged by my estimation of film quality. I fully understand that tomorrow’s movie (wait for it) is not superior to a great number of films that have come before, or that didn’t make the list at all (Sorry, Gone With the Wind! And fuck off, Lawrence of Arabia!). I also said that maybe someday I’d try and put some half-assed version of my Best Movies Ever list together, but honestly, I’m never going to see all the movies I should to even begin to compile that list. Like, I’ve been meaning to watch The Red Shoes for decades now, and I’m never up for it. I know I should, I’m sure it’s great, everyone says so, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. So how could I make a Best Of list if I can’t even bring myself to watch The Red Shoes, for Chrissakes?
But if I had to put that list together right this minute, with the viewing I’ve already done as the only guide, 2001 is right there near the top. It’s the most innovative film of all time, and propelled cinema into a new age unlike any film since Citizen Kane. Look at other movies from 1968 alongside this – they feel like they were made 20 years before. Look at science fiction contemporary to this – it appears to have been filmed in someone’s backyard. Couple the revolutionary effects with the complex, cerebral storyline, the head-trip final act, man vs. machines, man’s place in the universe, and the predictions about how much video calling your relatives sucks, and 2001 stands up to any film you can think of in terms of quality. Okay, maybe those ape costumes could’ve been a little better, but they’re still fairly decent.
Star Wars is credited (and rightfully so) with creating the modern sci-fi blockbuster, but Star Wars doesn’t exist unless on the shoulders of this film. Sure, you can enjoy exciting action space flicks more than this – I enjoy quite a few myself – and I’ve never been one to overly credit films with getting somewhere first as a sign of their greatness. The Jazz Singer just happened to be the first sound film – someone would’ve gotten there within months if they hadn’t – and Avatar made great use of a revived 3-D, but they hardly were breaking ground that was untrod by doing so. The effort on 2001, though, is evident in every frame of the movie. The effects purportedly took 18 months to get right, and filming proper started a full 30 months before the movie was released in June of ’68. And you think the movie is slow now – allegedly Kubrick cut some 19 minutes out after the premiere “to improve the pace”! Good lord, what was the film like before? Kubrick was one for a lot of takes, but I’ve heard told that they shot hundreds of times the length of film making the final cut. Hundreds! How didn’t this bankrupt everyone involved? It wasn’t a huge hit when first released, but them hippies had the right idea seeing the film stoned and it had a strong afterlife to get it into the black.
As mentioned last week in Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick won his only Oscar for the Visual Effects on this movie (he was the only credited person, which is pretty weird, considering how many folks must’ve been responsible), and the movie also garnered Best Director, Screenplay, and Art Direction-Set Direction nods. It won a bunch of other technical awards here and there, was named a top ten film by the National Board of Review, and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 1991. In the most recent Sight & Sound survey – the best regarded cinema historian survey there is – 2001 was named the sixth best film in history. So I’m not, like, super radical in my thinking, but here in the household, we’re split evenly between Greatest Movie Ever and Total and Complete Garbage.
Kubrick is only the third Five-Timer director so far, joining Spielberg and Allen, with #95 Full Metal Jacket, #245 Lolita, #178 The Killing, and #121 The Shining. And even though there are a few new Two-Timers, the spotlight today is going to Kubrick himself – the driving force behind this absolute masterpiece. Even if it’s a little boring, here and there.
Coming tomorrow! He had a voice that could make a wolverine purr and suits so fine they made Sinatra look like a hobo –
(Also, complete side note – I once saw Gary Lockwood give a Q & A at the Music Box in Chicago, where he used the time basically just to boast about nailing Tuesday Weld. This doesn’t detract from 2001, or Tuesday Weld for that matter, but it sure detracts a bunch from fucking Gary Lockwood. Bad form!)