As part of their fabulous 70 mm film festival, Cinerama is showing several of film history's most gorgeous movies. Even if you're somebody who can't ordinarily tell the difference between a digitally projected movie and a movie shown on film, a 70 mm film at the Cinerama is an absolute delight. And perhaps no movie is a better example of what the Cinerama does best than Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. It screens this Friday and again on Sunday night as part of the festival.
If you've only seen 2001 on TV or — choke — a laptop screen, you are missing a true cinematic experience. The film's analog special effects are more convincing than just about any digital effect you've ever seen. The designs are gorgeous, the story is thought-provoking, and the slow pacing of the story is hypnotic. Put simply, there's more thought put into each square inch of 2001 than just about any other film.
Last week, I listened to an audio book version of Michael Benson's Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece. (I listened to a download from the Seattle Public Library, though you can also buy a copy of the audiobook from your local independent bookstore through Libro.fm.) It's a bracing account of the making of one of the best movies in the history of film.
2001 began as a collaboration between Kubrick and Clarke — the novel 2001 was conceived by both the director and the novelist, and written, in a unique circumstance, as kind of a pre-novelization of the motion picture. Both men were at the height of their powers, and they egged each other on into making the film bigger, more portentous, higher-concept.
Benson's account of the making of the film tracks 2001 from its very first conception through its release, and it's a loving biography. Kubrick is a complicated character; some accounts portray him as a merciless asshole while others position him as more a tortured genius. Benson falls somewhere in the middle: the interviews he relays in the book argue that Kubrick is so detail-obsessed that he's almost impossible to work for, but most people understood that this difficulty was the price you paid to take part in something great.
To hear Benson tell it, just about everyone involved with the making of the film — from the least respected assistant to the underpaid Clarke to the terrorized prop manufacturer — seemed to understand that they were working on something special: a sci-fi film that was "serious" and tackled adult ideas with respect and intellectual rigor. Surely, some of this can be waved away as the glow of hindsight, but even the contemporaneous accounts — mostly letters from Kubrick and Clarke — indicate that 2001 was always warm from a heat of genius.
Space Odyssey is a great book to listen to as you're walking or bicycling around; the stakes are low, the characters are interesting, and the book is packed with bizarre anecdotes about the lengths the two men went to bring their vision to life. And by the end, you'll be filled with an insatiable desire to watch 2001. In other words, it's the perfect audiobook for this week in Seattle, when the best movie theater in town prepares to show what many argue is the best movie of all time.