History, Legacy & Showmanship

Still the Ultimate Trip: Remembering “2001: A Space Odyssey” on its 50th Anniversary

April 2, 2018 - 12:30 pm   |   by
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A scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey

 

The domestic general release of 2001: A Space Odyssey commenced in autumn 1968 and continued into 1969. Numerous re-releases and countless revival screenings followed.

While not a complete listing, what follows are details of some of the key international roadshow engagements of 2001.

  • 1968-04-10 … Tokyo, Japan — Theatre Tokyo* (24)
  • 1968-04-11 … Johannesburg, South Africa — Royal*
  • 1968-05-01 … London, UK — Casino* (47)
  • 1968-05-01 … Sydney, Australia — Plaza* (12)
  • 1968-05-02 … Melbourne, Australia — Plaza* (11)
  • 1968-07-03 … San Juan, Puerto Rico — Metro**
  • 1968-07-04 … Sao Paulo, Brazil — Majestic*
  • 1968-07-25 … Dublin, Ireland — Plaza*
  • 1968-08-09 … Auckland, New Zealand — Cinerama*
  • 1968-08-24 … Vienna, Austria — Gartenbau*
  • 1968-08-27 … Stockholm, Sweden — Vinterpalatset*
  • 1968-09-02 … Brussels, Belgium — Varietes* (10)
  • 1968-09-11 … Munich, West Germany — Royal* (12)
  • 1968-09-25 … Zuerich, Switzerland — Apollo*
  • 1968-09-27 … Paris, France — Empire* (12) [Version Originale]
  • 1968-09-27 … Paris, France — Gaumont Palace* [Version Francaise]
  • 1968-10-17 … Barcelona, Spain — Florida*
  • 1968-10-31 … Mexico City, Mexico — Cine Latino***** (15)
  • 1968-11-07 … Buenos Aires, Argentina — Ideal*
  • 1968-12-11 … Milan, Italy — Alcione*
  • 1968-12-11 … Rome, Italy — Royal*
  • 1968-12-12 … Frankfurt, West Germany — MGM* (10)

 

2001: A Space Odyssey writer Arthur C. Clarke

 

THE Q&A

Chris BarsantiChris Barsanti is the author of The Sci-Fi Movie Guide: The Universe of Film from Alien to Zardoz (Visible Ink; 2014).

His other books include Filmology: A Movie-a-Day Guide (Adams Media; 2010), Handy New York City Answer Book (Visible Ink; 2017), and (with Brian Cogan and Jeff Massey) Monty Python FAQ: All That’s Left to Know about Spam, Grails, Spam, Nudging, Bruces, and Spam (Applause; 2017).

He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, Online Film Critics Society and New York Film Critics Online, and has written for Film Journal International, Film Threat and The Hollywood Reporter.

 

Raymond BendonRaymond Benson is a college-level film history instructor (who includes a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey in his curriculum) and author of three-dozen books.

He is the third — and first American — continuation author of official James Bond novels.

His new original thriller In the Hush of the Night will be published in May by Skyhorse Publishing.

 

 

Peter KrämerPeter Krämer is the author and editor of eight academic books, including the BFI Film Classics volume on 2001: A Space Odyssey (published in 2010).

He is a Senior Fellow in the School of Art, Media and American Studies at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (UK).

His other books include The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars (Wallflower, 2006) and American Graffiti: George Lucas, the New Hollywood and the Baby Boom Generation (forthcoming from Routledge).

 

 

Lee Pfeiffer is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.”

He is the author of several books including The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001) and (with Dave Worrall) The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999) and (with Philip Lisa) The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992).

Lee Pfeiffer

The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.

 

A scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think 2001: A Space Odyssey should be remembered on its golden anniversary?

Chris Barsanti: As the first time that science fiction cinema was taken seriously. The genre had taken itself seriously before and was occasionally rewarded for it — all the talk about how Forbidden Planet was inspired by The Tempest, for instance. But it wasn’t until 2001 that the genre came to be seen as a body of work that could be based as much on the wonderment of ideas as on the whiz-bang of special effects and extraterrestrials.

Raymond Benson: 2001: A Space Odyssey is a landmark film that pushed many envelopes and is still today a divisive motion picture. Any work of art that can generate debate and passionate opinions about it after 50 years must be doing something right. I’ve always felt it was much more than just “a movie.” Stanley Kubrick got us to examine and appreciate the mystery of the universe and our place in it, and he got us to ask questions about the meaning of life, our past, and our future. Heady stuff, both profound and daring for a Hollywood “mainstream” big-budget motion picture. As one critic put it, Kubrick made the most expensive “art house movie” ever.

2001: The infamous "Jump Cut"Peter Krämer: As one of the greatest movies of all time. As a key source for much of the science fiction cinema of recent decades, from Star Wars to Avatar and beyond. As a film that has dazzled and inspired people for many years.

At the same time, we should not forget that upon its initial release 50 years ago, the film reached out to, and found, a huge audience in the United States. Many people, including many film scholars, think that the film was initially rejected both by critics and by cinemagoers and only belatedly found an audience, largely composed of young people, many of which are said to have watched the film under the influence of mind-altering substances.

When I carefully examined reports in the film industry trade press, box office figures and the many letters that cinemagoers wrote to Stanley Kubrick after seeing his film, I had to conclude that in fact 2001 was a massive success from the outset, not only with countercultural youth, but also, for example, with young children and their parents.

We also have to remember that in the United States the film was first presented as a so-called roadshow, which meant that it was initially shown, at raised ticket prices, in only very few cinemas, most of them Cinerama theaters with their huge curved screens; the show began with an overture and included an intermission. This way of presenting a film was typical for Hollywood’s biggest productions, and it actually was a special occasion for all those people who had lost their cinema going habit to return to the big screen. This film was really meant for everyone!

Finally, going against all those critics who understand the film as being infused with Kubrick’s characteristic pessimism, we should really remember it as a statement of hope. Kubrick made 2001 in response to the utterly devastating conclusion of his previous film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb from 1964; this film ends with the explosion of a nuclear “doomsday device” which will bring an end to all human life on the surface of the Earth.

My research in the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts London strongly suggests that Kubrick intended 2001 to offer an optimistic vision of the future to counter the deep pessimism of Dr. Strangelove. And that’s exactly how many people writing to Kubrick about their experiences with the film understood it. It gave them hope about their own future, their ability to change, to renew themselves, and about the future of humanity as a whole. We should remember 2001 as a hopeful vision of boundless human potential.

Lee Pfeiffer: 2001 is innovative, inspired filmmaking at its zenith. Kubrick wanted to make the most unique, intelligent take on the science fiction genre and he truly succeeded. It’s easy to see why the movie initially alienated audiences that were probably expecting another film about little green men with ray guns. What they got was something that made them think. For that reason, the movie wasn’t shaping up as a major hit until young people discovered it and relished the technical aspects of it. The film fit right in with the hippie drug culture of the late 1960s. I’d like to think many of the people who made the film a major success were actually looking beyond the apparent achievement in special effects and tried to diagnose what it was all about. The beauty of 2001 is that there are no easy answers. It parallels Patrick McGoohan’s classic TV series The Prisoner, which was telecast a year earlier, in that the answers lie in the mind of the individual viewer, thus it can mean completely different things to different people. I’m not sure what the hell it’s all about, either...but it’s a fascinating experience each time I see it. The effects were state-of-the-art in 1968 and are even more impressive today. We live in an era in which effects can be generated on computers, whereas Kubrick and his team achieved everything the old-fashioned way — and it’s never been equaled.

A scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Coate: What did you think of 2001 when you (first) saw it?

Barsanti: I can’t [recall when I first saw it]. Like other big-screen classics of the 1950s and ’60s like Dr. Strangelove or Bridge on the River Kwai, to me, 2001 was just always part of my movie consciousness. I was definitely very young when I first saw it, which is not a bad thing. While the movie is devilishly complex in some of its thinking, it’s also incredibly simple: Aliens come to earth and help humans evolve. Later, humans go to space and get a little ahead of themselves. They meet an alien — or aliens. Cue lightshow. Even a five-year-old gets that. Also, the scene of the primate hurling the bone into the sky and having it return as a spacecraft was probably my first awareness of what editing could do.

Stanley Kubrick directing a scene from 2001Benson: I saw it on first release in Odessa, Texas, with my father, in 70mm. I was 13 years old. I already loved movies and was just beginning to have an appreciation for the many aspects that went into the making of a film — not just whether or not it entertained me. I believe that 2001 gave me a better understanding of what “Directed By” means. From that point on, I became interested in who Stanley Kubrick was. As I grew older, I sought out his earlier films and kept up with his career until the end. Curiously, when I first saw 2001, I had no problem “getting” it. As we were leaving the theater, my father asked me if I understood the movie — he hadn’t, although he found it amazing and was entranced by the picture all the way through. I explained my interpretation to him, and he was impressed. During that first release, all my friends my age “didn’t understand it,” but they all liked it. It was too much of a never-before-seen cinematic experience not to like.

Krämer: I first saw 2001 as a teenager at a small-town cinema in Germany in the late 1970s. I really did not know what to make of it, although I had already long been a science fiction fan, mostly of novels, though, not of films. I was strangely moved, and, I think for the first time in my life, I went back to the cinema to see the same film again. I also read Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, which explained everything that was going on in the film. But somehow these explanations weren’t very satisfactory. The mysteries of the film were more interesting and engaging when left unexplained.

The whole experience was so unusual for me that I started to think more seriously about films. Round about the same time I also watched Kubrick’s next film, A Clockwork Orange, which blew me away, but also unsettled me. Together, these two cinema experiences are probably the main reason why I eventually decided to study film and become a film scholar.

Coate: In what way is 2001 a significant motion picture?

Benson: As has often been said, Kubrick set out to make a non-verbal, visual experience that would fill an audience with awe. He experimented with the narrative structure and told the basic story in strictly visual terms — which people in 1968 were not really used to since silent films ended in the late 1920s. The dialogue in the movie barely informs on the story. It’s all visual clues that tell us what’s going on. Add to that the technical perfection that Kubrick brought to the production...nothing like it had been done before. With his obsession for scientific accuracy, the ground-breaking visual effects work, the use of classical music as a soundtrack that previously really hadn’t been utilized in this way, the courageous use of sound (or silence) in the space sequences, and the existential themes inherent in the story — 2001 is truly one of the most outstanding achievements in cinema history.

A scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey

 

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