AN INSIDER SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

By Mike Kaplan

If  “Marketing” had been an accepted term for the handling of a motion picture in 1968, my title for the two years I spent nurturing  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY would have been Marketing Strategist for Stanley Kubrick and MGM and for the subsequent two years, for Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

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Dan Chaissan’s contribution to the 2001 anniversary coverage in The New Yorker: “Anybody There?”  April 23, 2018) has occasional insights but is filled with inaccuracies and false conclusions. With the opening of “Stanley Kubrick, The Exhibition” at the London Design Museum and the two month Kubrick season at the British Film Institute, it seems an appropriate time to set the record straight.

After walking the red carpet for the last time at the film’s New York premiere, Kubrick was permanently stationed in the projection booth of the Capitol Theater once the “Dawn of Man” sequence concluded. He never shuttled back and forth to “his seat in the front row,” the last place he would want to watch any film.

The media and opinion makers attending the New York press previews and the Washington, D.C. world premiere were befuddled, disoriented and unhappy. MGM’s executives, who would normally be on edge overseeing the launch of the company’s most expensive film to date, were filled with additional worry as the company was in the midst of a proxy fight.

The projection booth was where I met Stanley, there to explain why his film had to be repositioned. We were expecting a modern FLASH GORDON.  We were confronted with a metaphysical drama encompassing evolution, re-incarnation, the beauty of space, the terror of science and the mystery of mankind that required critics and audiences to surrender to its unique rhythms. With a visual narrative that jumped millennia, the 161 minute epic (original running time) contained only 22 minutes of dialogue.

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That life-changing meeting lasted throughout the remaining two hours of the film, Stanley next to the projector, bow-tie undone, wary, absorbing, questioning; I, filled with anxiety and tension, as we played a verbal chess game, resulting in a handshake and a long friendship.

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“The Ultimate Trip” has become such an iconic phrase that it is regularly, incorrectly reported that it became the film’s tagline, if not 2001’s sub-title, shortly after its opening.  In fact, it took two years of cultural impact before that occurred, when it was introduced, coupled with the embargoed STAR CHILD image, in a new campaign. Together with the inspired  ‘Ultimate Trip” trailer created by my colleague, Mike Shapiro, it emerged, in March, 1970, for 2001’s unprecedented re-launching and is fundamental to what makes the drama of its release as “important a milestone” as its making, contrary to Chaisson’s misunderstanding of events. The 50th anniversary of that campaign, which extended and reinforced the 2001 phenomenon, will come in 2020.

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That same year saw the publication of THE MAKING OF 2001, edited by Jerome Agel, more an overview than a technical encyclopedia, adding to the conversation and controversy. It was the first of a future cottage industry of behind-the-scenes compilations and it took years before a publisher saw its potential.

There is much that is relevant in the film’s eventual acceptance as a masterpiece. But it never depended on how it is “unusually bound up with the story of how it was made,“ as Chaissan asserts.  It was never a major factor in the film’s continuing trajectory.  The choices of what, how and when Stanley made his structural decisions is of interest. But 2001’s technical secrets Stanley rigidly avoided discussing or displaying. His mantra, “that spoils the magic”.

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 1.30.34 AM.pngKubrick wasn’t “making a special effects movie of radical scope and vision”, but “an essay of time”… of radical scope and vision… to adopt Chaisson’s most thoughtful description. Though vital, special effects were only one tool he needed.

To what purpose is telling us that the lying zebra in “The Dawn of Man” was actually a painted horse carcass? Do we care? Do we need to know?  Is this essential to any understanding of 2001’s importance? It’s only an incidental example of the producer’s hat Stanley also wore, one that fit his tenet that “moviemaking is an exercise in problem solving.”

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Chaisson, whom as far as I can determine, has never written about film before, displays a strange ambivalence towards 2001. On one hand, he applauds and recognizes its stature. On the other, he’s dismissive, petty and snarky.

He writes “part of Kubrick’s genius was that he understood how to rig the results,” referencing the different companies – Whirlpool, Parker Pens, Pan Am, et.al — who contributed their futuristic designs to the epic. Rigging connotes something illegal, something stolen, when his was a practical, effective way to inform the audience into accepting the normalcy of space travel.  It was gracefully achieved, without the intrusion of current product placement.

And then the irritating assertion that the main section of 2001, when we are always in space, was “swept away…wedged” between the discovery of weapons in “The Dawn of Man” Prologue, and the evolutionary “Star Child” Epilogue.  That long section, from Dr. Heywood Floyd’s journey to the international space station through the astronauts’ life on Discovery, is filled with an inspired use of sounds, sets, images, and music, counterpointing Floyd’s diplomatic evasions and the seemingly flat interactions between astronauts Bowman and Poole. It transports us and transforms us into space passengers.

In that section, Chaisson discusses the disconnection of HAL, the sabotaging computer, correctly calling it “one of the most mournful death scenes ever filmed.”

It is visually stunning, red and pinks highly lit inside the workings of HAL’s brain, as his essence is removed.  What grounds us is Kubrick’s ingenious use of a cultural commonality, the nursery rhyme we sang as children, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do” as HAL’s voice slowly disappears. Chaisson then undercuts himself by calling it “a sentimental trope out of Victorian fiction.”

HAL’s slow, weakened recitation of “Daisy” is a jolt of recognition after hearing Keir Dullea’s emotionally exhausted breathing dismantling HAL. The grounding by a cultural touchstone is a unique Kubrick trademark and skill, appearing unexpectedly and often juxtaposed after or within a startling sequence, be it the spacecraft waltzing to The Blue Danube” in 2001; the ironic sexuality of a mid-air refueling  to “Try A Little Tenderness”in Dr. STRANGELOVE;  Jack Nicholson’s manic “Here’s Johnnnny” cry in THE SHINING;  the soldiers spelling out the “M-i-c-k-e-y M-o-u-s-e Club Song ” in FULL METAL JACKET; the William Tell’s ménage a trois Overture in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

Aside from STRANGELOVE and CLOCKWORK, Chaisson appears to chastise Kubrick for “infinite futzing,” holding audiences “in eager suspense by PR campaigns that often oversold the film’s commercial appeal.” The ‘futzing,” a quality I submit most major artists have in common, can vary with the perfectionism each wants to achieve. Arthur C. Clarke, the esteemed scientist and science fiction writer, who co-wrote 2001, said through the years Kubrick immersed himself in space technology, he was on a par with the most knowledgeable rocket scientist.

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Kubrick would wait until he knew he had what he wanted. He never let his ego interfere with a good idea.  A week passed waiting for the dance attack to emerge in CLOCKWORK, Malcolm McDowell kicking/singing to SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN once Kubrick asked, ‘Can you dance?’ Another week spent searching for a cinematic way to address HAL’s breakdown until Gary Lockwood proposed the lip-reading solution. Nicole Kidman suggested Chris Isaak’s “Baby Did A Bad Thing”, a favorite, as the background to the Harford marriage in EYES WIDE SHUT.

As for overselling his films’ commercial appeal, it was soon apparent that a Kubrick film was an event and that its success wasn’t dependent on its initial reception but on multiple viewings and contemplation.

Whether prescient or coincidental, there is one scene in which a signal from outer space might be in play, camouflaged in one of the two scenes participating on Earth 2001 and involving another cultural commonality – a birthday. Dr. Floyd is on the space station calling his daughter via what we’d recognize today as Skype. He asks her what she wants for her birthday. Played by six-year old Vivian Kubrick, she replies on a video screen, “A Bush Baby.”

The scene was filmed in 1966. It is set in 2001…the year George W. Bush assumed the Presidency.

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The New Yorker accorded the film a most meaningful tribute with its 2001 New Year’s cover illustration. The diapered/top-hatted New Year’s baby is touching
the Monolith, signaling we have reached another stage of advancing development…though the mysteries remain.

It’s unfortunate that the magazine’s misguided acknowledgment of the seminal fifty year anniversary of 2001 lacked the insight and intelligence that created that inspired cover.

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For his insider story of working with the director we suggest you read Kaplan’s “Kubrick: A Marketing Odyssey” in the London Guardian and How Stanley Kubrick Kept His Eye on the Budget, Down to the Orange Juice.

And there is much more below. Keep scrolling.

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 1.59.28 AM.pngMike Kaplan has worked closely with directors Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Lindsay Anderson, Mike Hodges, Barbet Schroeder, Alan Rudolph and Abraham Polonsky, serving in various capacities as producer, distributor, marketing strategist, actor and campaign designer. He was an innovative marketing executive at MGM and Warner Brothers and an independent distributor in the United States and the United Kingdom. Kaplan produced the criticality acclaimed The Whales of August, starring Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern, and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead starring Clive Owen, Charlottte Rampling, Jonathan Rhys-Myers and Malcolm McDowell. As a documentary director, Luck, Trust & Ketchup recorded the evolution of Short Cuts marking the first time Altman allowed his creative process to be documented. His Never Apologize, Malcolm’s McDowell’s celebration of Lindsay Anderson and his circle, was an official entry at Cannes.

He has been collecting vintage movie posters for over 35 years during which time his wide-ranging experience in the creative areas of production, marketing and distribution have offered a unique perspective on the motion picture industry and they have been exhibited at numerous museums and festivals including

Lincoln Center, Jacob’s Pillow and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art are among the numerous museums and festivals where the collection has been exhibited. Currently, his ART OF THE DANCE: POSTERS FROM HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE, will open on May 10 for one year at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, NY, marking Fred Astaire’s 120th birthday. It is his largest exhibit thus far, with over 100 posters from 16 countries, continuing the recognition of movie posters as a legitimate art form and illustrating the universal appeal of dance imagry for both musical and non-musical films.

Cover_Front_FinalHis books: Gotta Dance: The Art of the Dance Movie Poster and Gotta Dance Too are available at www.LAGOONPRESS.com in a limited edition. They can also be ordered from MOMA in New York,The Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Arcana Books In Culver City, Larry Edmunds Bookstore in Hollywood, The Pillow Store at Jacob’s Pillow and the National Museum of Dance, among other independent bookstores around the country.

Read about the collection.

Kaplan’s writings have appeared in EatDrinkFilmsThe Guardian, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Film Comment. He began his career as associate editor and film critic for The Independent Film Journal.

Stanley Kubrick, The Exhibition” is at the new London Design Museum April 26-September 15, 2019.

“The exhibition tells the story of Stanley Kubrick, exploring his unique command of the creative design process of film making, from storyteller to director to editor.

You’ll see step by step how Kubrick created genre-defining worlds for his films and relive iconic scenes from The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Get an exclusive insight into his mind through rare objects, projections and interviews exploring Kubrick’s special relationship with England and particularly London, as his primary film location and source of inspiration.

The exhibition features about 700 objects, films, interviews, letters and photographs. Expect to see a detailed model of the Centrifuge-set that Kubrick had developed for 2001: A Space Odyssey; film props such as the infamous Born-to-Kill helmet worn by Private Joker in Full Metal Jacket, costumes designed for A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon and much more.”

Taschen Books published “The Stanley Kubrick Archives,” a treasure trove of rarities.

The private Kubrick archives were made available for “Stanley Kubrick, The Exhibition” but back in 2004 Guardian writer Jon Ronson got a look at some of the treasures.

“Anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that, although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling.” Stanley Kubrick

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Read what other filmmakers have to say about Kubrick and 2001.

And eleven top directors including Guillermo del Toro and Edgar Wright discuss their favorite Stanley Kubrick films.

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And what were Kubrick’s favorite films by other directors. Read here.

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EatDrinkFilm’s ongoing coverage of 2001 has included an excerpt from Michael Benson’s outstanding SPACE ODYSSEY: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece (2018); Lincoln Spector’s 2001: A PROJECTION ODYSSEY where he compares screenings in various formats from the Chris Nolan’s supervised 70mm prints, IMAX and the 4K digital; and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE KUBRICK KIND, a huge collection of rare posters, clips, spoofs, promotional materials, food themes and instructions for the Zero Gravity Toilet.

Cinephilia & Beyond has rare and fascinating stories, diaries, interviews, videos and photos.

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