by Gary Meyer
I will never forget the day. June 19, 1968.
I was already a Stanley Kubrick fan. My parents took me to SPARTACUS at the San Francisco roadshow engagement on the big screen of the United Artists Theater. I sneaked into LOLITA when I was fourteen. And then DR. STRANGELOVE came to town. I went every day it played, the unusual full week booking at the Uptown Theater in Napa. I had never seen anything like it and each viewing revealed new surprises, laughter and chills. I heard screenplay writer Terry Southern on a Pacifica Radio symposium about DR. STRANGELOVE where he discussed the proposed “follow the bouncing ball sing-a-long” of We’ll Meet Again at the end over the mushroom clouds. There was the rumored wild custard pie fight finale that was cut. I wished I could see those missing parts but the movie seemed perfect to me.
And thanks to the late, great Surf Theatre’s repertory programming I saw KILLER’S KISS, THE KILLING and PATHS OF GLORY. Only the unavailable shorts and FEAR AND DESIRE eluded me.
Originally scheduled to open in the Spring of 1967, MGM had to delay the release as Kubrick went over budget and needed an extra $1 million. “Stanley is an honest fellow,” MGM executive Robert O’Brien told Variety, explaining that Kubrick had been up front about cost overruns. “Now for $6,000,000 we could have had a Buck Rogers sort of thing, but . . . why have Buck Rogers at $6,000,000 when you can have Stanley Kubrick at $7,000,000?
In December 1967 he notified the company that two years after shooting started he was ready to edit and score his film with the budget having grown to $9.5 million.
As 1968 progressed it seemed every magazine and newspaper wrote about Stanley Kubrick and his new movie, 2001- A SPACE ODYSSEY.
Read American Cinematographer on the making of 2001.
It was really going to happen. I went to the college library to keep up on press coverage and was anxious to see the film. It was reported that Kubrick was checking each print and had his team doing thorough testing of all projection and sound equipment at theaters scheduled to open it.
In those days a movie opened in New York and Los Angeles possibly months before the rest of the country.
2001 had its world premiere in Washington D.C. on April 2 followed by New York and Los Angeles in the next two days. The opening night did not go well with people leaving during intermission and no applause after. “Well, that’s the end of Stanley Kubrick,” author Clarke reportedly overheard the MGM suits say.
The reviews were all over the place.
“Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is the picture which science-fiction enthusiasts of every age and in every corner of the world have prayed (sometimes forlornly) that the industry might one day give them.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times
“2001: A Space Odyssey is a thoroughly uninteresting failure, and the most damning demonstration yet of Stanley Kubrick’s inability to tell a story coherently and with a consistent point of view. His film is not a film at all, but merely a pretext for a pictorial spread in Life magazine.” — Andrew Sarris, Village Voice
“A fantastic movie about man’s future! An unprecedented psychedelic roller coaster of an experience!” — Life
“The movie is so completely absorbed in its own problems, its use of color and space, its fanatical devotion to science-fiction detail, that it is somewhere between hypnotic and immensely boring.” — Renata Adler, The New York Times
“The fascinating thing about this film is that it fails on the human level but succeeds magnificently on a cosmic scale.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
A week later Variety reported that Kubrick and his editor watched the film at each showing in New York’s Capitol Theater and felt the pacing was off. This resulted in the director cutting somewhere between 17-20 minutes from the version reviewed by the press and seen by those first audiences. Each theater already showing it was given specific instructions about the edits. Under no circumstances was that footage to ever be seen again he insisted. Until recently it was thought that those trims were gone.
“Once he released a movie, that was it,” longtime Kubrick colleague — and subject of Tony Zierra’s recent documentary FILMWORKER— Leon Vitali told Yahoo Entertainment. “There’s a place in London where all the city’s refuse is taken, and I remember taking van loads of outtakes and stuff that was never used and burning them, because he did not want any of his old material.” (But those scenes were recently found in a Warner Brothers salt-mine vault in Kansas City. Don’t expect to see them as Kubrick’s contract will prevent them from ever being edited back in. A little bit of info has been leaked. Maybe they will become future extras on some future 2001K home video release.)
Despite the studio’s fears the public wanted to see 2001 and it was a huge hit.
I wrote for my college newspaper and had become friends with MGM publicist Walt Von Hauffe, coordinating campus appearances with visiting filmmakers. He knew how anxious I was to see 2001 and made sure I got invited to the San Francisco opening on June 16. It was a week when I was at an American Friends Peace Symposium in Saratoga and needed to hitchhike to the city. I arrived early and got a perfect seat about ten rows back in the center. 2001 did not disappoint. It was overwhelmingly beautiful, loud, puzzling and more wondrous than I could have imagined. We sat there with big smiles on our faces watching something totally new. Perfect? Maybe not but what a great show.
Like others I would return many times, gladly paying the $3 admission. We learned that there was a more perfect place to sit and people arrived early enough to get a front row seat. It was rumored that Kubrick himself preferred the front row (those who worked with the director refute it).
The movie caught the film industry off guard and became a smash success playing long engagements. The Golden Gate Theater was still doing boffo box office after 73 weeks but had to come off for another film and it moved upstairs for another 15 weeks.
Jump forward eight years. When a group of film lovers took over the 1917 U.C. Theatre in Berkeley to become a repertory cinema we were thrilled that there was a very big, wide screen and magnetic stereo.
Some say we were foolish to open on April 1, 1976. Of course 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY was on the first weekend paired with John Carpenter’s low budget spoof DARK STAR. It resulted in our first sell out—1600 seats.
The film always played to big audiences in a variety of double features including THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, Fritz Lang’s silent classics WOMAN IN THE MOON and METROPOLIS, THINGS TO COME, BLADE RUNNER, KOYAANISQATSI, FORBIDDEN PLANET, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, ZARDOZ, WIZARDS, INVADERS FROM MARS, FANTASTIC PLANET, WAR OF THE WORLDS, THIS ISLAND EARTH, THX 1138, BARBARELLA, FLASH GORDON, FLESH GORDON, THE PLANET OF THE APES, THE MYSTERIANS, SILENT RUNNING, ALIEN, THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE, SOLARIS, THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE, YELLOW SUBMARINE, and of course DR. STRANGELOVE and CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Plus selected short subjects by Chuck Jones, Max Fleischer, Sally Cruickshank, Tex Avery, John Whitney, Jordan Belson, Georges Melies, Charles and Ray Eames, Ernie Fosselius, Chris Marker and the odd BUCK ROGERS or FLASH GORDON serial chapter.
The pairings may have been predictable but none compared to “the ultimate trip” promised on the marquee of the Drain Theater (really) in Oregon that I passed in 1970: 2001 and MA & PA KETTLE AT WAIKIKI. That would be quite a vacation.
Repertory cinemas became popular all over North America but in the early 1980s they were being challenged by home video. VHS rental stores were everywhere. An employee at one near the UC Theatre admitted the reason that he was always taking stacks of our calendars to the store was that customers circled what they wanted to see and requested those titles to take home. As attendance fell off the distributors no longer wanted to replace worn prints giving film lovers one more reason to rent a usually better copy to watch at home. But no home viewing of 2001 or other Kubrick epics could compare to seeing it on our huge screen.
One night a friend invited us to dinner with a lawyer visiting from London. Inevitably movies came up and I was telling him about our dilemma. He asked what were some of the biggest problem titles. I explained that the more popular films got the most use and not all projectionists were as careful as ours to inspect them and demand better prints if appropriate. Prints were often missing dialogue or complete scenes, had big scratches called “rain” and torn sprocket holes that result in a jumpy picture on screen. DR. STRANGELOVE, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BARRY LYNDON and 2001 were among the films I mentioned and out of nowhere he said, “Well I am Kubrick’s lawyer. Send him a letter care of me and I will forward it to him. No guarantee he will even read it much less answer.”
A few weeks later this envelope arrived.
And for the first time I am publicly sharing what was inside.
There is so much history and background to the life of 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY now celebrating its 50th year and for those who are interested I have gathered a range of fun and fascinating materials.
EXHIBITOR’S CAMPAIGN BOOK
The studios made elaborate promotional booklets with ads, press releases and pre-written newspaper articles. They also revealed the many tie-ins with businesses including airlines, hotels, retailers, restaurants and often the unexpected plus ideas to garner attention for your engagement. This was when showmanship was valued on a local level.
Enjoy some samples.
The entire pressbook can be viewed on Zombo’s Closet.
There was a tie-in with Howard Johnson’s. A special 2001 Kid’s Menu included games and a comic book adventure.
Read the entire comic, play the games and order from the special menu at Howard Johnson’s menu.
Marvel got into the act with a popular comic book series based on the film.
See more Jack Kirby art and the complete first issue. And more about the series.
And of course Mad Magazine had their say.
The entire Mad spoof is online.
The New York Times discusses their favorite 2001 pop culture references.
The Zero Gravity Toilet is in the film and we used to frame copies in the theater bathrooms. Arthur C. Clarke said it was the only intentional joke in the film. David Spalding reports, “The instructions are seen only momentarily during Dr. Heywood Floyd’s flight to the Clavius base on the Moon. Aboard the Aries spacecraft, he’s seen sleeping, enjoying a meal and schmoozing with the (presumed) commander of the craft. And, during one brief shot, he anxiously reads these instructions. According to Jerome Agel, these instructions were authored by Frederick I. Ordway III, the “Scientific Consultant” for 2001.
As you can see, they’re not only remarkably detailed, but they actually describe a plausible lavatory suited for “Zero G” flight. For all we know, very similar instructions are posted somewhere on NASA’s Space Shuttles, which are descended from the same designs upon which 2001’s Pan Am space clipper was based.”
A fancy souvenir program book was sold in the theater lobby. You can see the entire book.
Read this to see if Kubrick invented the iPad?
There were other early ideas considered like a form of the Internet and self-driving cars.
Following the success of MGM’s Cinerama HOW THE WEST WAS WON, Kubrick and Clarke privately referred to their HOW THE SOLAR SYSTEM WAS WON in the early days. And MGM had a short list of possible directors in case Kubrick was unable to make the picture. Find out more in 19 things you probably don’t know about ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ by Michael Cavna, Washington Post drawing from Michael Benson’s latest work, “Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke and the Making of a Masterpiece”(Simon & Schuster), excerpted on EatDrinkFilms.
To celebrate 50 years of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Peter Hogenson takes a look at two forgotten films by Pavel Klushantsev. These films show a clear influence on the visuals and special effects which made 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY the groundbreaking work we know which so brilliantly stands the test of time.
Stanley Kubrick explains the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey
The above video has been removed but here is the text of his comments.
But it can be found in this interesting feature-length film of behind-the-scenes and interviews with daughter Vivian Kubrick and a phone interview with Stanley by filmmaker in documentary by Jun’ichi Yaoi. While focused on THE SHINING, 2001 is also discussed. 45:24 Telephone interview with Stanley Kubrick where he discusses the ending.
Excellent article by Sven Mikulee in Cinephilia & Beyond.
Special effect master Douglas Trumbull talks about working on 2001.
Meet Hal 9000– Read this interview with the voice- classically trained actor Douglas Rain
Director Stephen Soderbergh did his own 110-minute recut of 2001. Unfortunately the Kubrick estate and Warner Brothers requested it be removed. At least you can read about it in Jackson Arn’s Film Comment article “The Soderbergh Variations: 2001, Recut.”
Remembering 2001; Michael Coates gathers facts and figures on Digital Bits.
Alec Baldwin recently spoke with Kier Dullea and Gary Lockwood discussing working on 2001. Watch the interview.
Thus Steak Zarathustra takes the discussion further.
Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) gets to sample an airline meal from a sectioned tray where the food is hidden under covers bearing pictograms of the contents and accessed through feeding tubes.
My Dinner with Stanley: Kubrick, Food, and the Logic of Images
by Mervyn Nicholson in the Literature/Film Quarterly
And you can’t have food without a drink. Try one of these Kubrick film inspired cocktails for the holidays from Luma in Toronto.
K-9000, A SPACE ODDITY is a lovely and loving animated spoof.
MGM made several posters for the release of 2001 and subsequent reissues. Kubrick films have become popular subjects for artists to make their own interpretations. There are dozens to discover on the Internet. Some of our favorites are below.
When MGM decided to re-launch the 70mm prints of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey into New York theatres, the studio decided to revamp the ad campaign as well. The film had been in continuous release since April 1968 and due to that popularity, the studio decided it was time to refresh the ads. The two new posters that were created capitalized on the film’s surreal ending and the news that young people were flocking to the film.
“I chose The Star Child image to re-launch Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece in its full 70mm technical presentation, the format in which the film was meant to be experienced by new and returning audiences. Kubrick had placed an embargo on using the Star Child in any publicity so its appearance in print and poster a year after 2001’s premiere was startling, conveying an immediate human dimension to his epic vision. The unprecedented re-launch was enormously successful, and with THE ULTIMATE TRIP slogan, cemented its recognition as a cultural phenomenon.” –Mike Kaplan, The Movie Posters
Fans and artists keep creating their own versions. We offer a sampling. From Mondo as part of a new 2021 Kubrick collection.
Artist: Tim Doyle
To see many more posters go to Poster Posse, Alternative Posters, Spoke Art for 2001 and Kubrick .
Internet and Pinterest searches bring up all kinds of goodies. I especially like Q-brick.
The Stanley Kubrick Exhibit continues to travel around the world. Visit the official site.
50 Years Later, the World Is Finally Catching Up With ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ By Owen Gleiberman, Variety
10 Things You Didn’t Know About David Bowie’s SPACE ODDITY.
Space Oddity Official Video
The Secret Literary History of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’
Space Oddity live
In 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield published a recording of himself singing ‘Space Oddity’ while in the International Space Station. It was, and still is, the first music video ever created in space. David Bowie approved of the project.
William Shatner had to get into the act.
Fan Tristan Gough paired Bowie’s song with Kubrick’s images.
Don Chiasson of The New Yorker tells us what 2001 means and how it was made.
Vanity Fair takes us Behind the Scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Strangest Blockbuster in Hollywood History
There is a lot of odd schwag for sale online. Here is an example. Do your own Internet search and you will see things you didn’t know existed.
2 thoughts on “CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE KUBRICK KIND: A Letter from Stanley, Mad Spoofs, Monolith Jewelry, Zero Gravity Toilet, 2001: A Picasso Odyssey, David Bowie and other Unexpected Surprises.”
I love seeing that letter with Kubrick’s response
The letter to and comments from Kubrick was incredibly impressive! Only you Gary!!