Saturday, March 10, 2007

Open the pod bay doors HAL.

I am very conscious of the fact that if I am not careful, this blog could become the equivalent of an on-line diary, where I am continually spilling the beans about what I've been up to on any particular day. Well, not today - no sirree - I'm not going to tell you about my photography trip to Hunstanton and Wells next the Sea where the weather was wonderful and I took some fantastic photographs. No, you don't want to know about that, though the subject may well creep in on a future occasion. I will, however talk about my favourite film - "2001: A Space Odyssey", and the immeasurable loss to the world in 1999 of its brilliant director, Stanley Kubrick.

As a young lad, I became fascinated by space travel and astronomy following the launch into space in 1961 of the Russian, Yuri Gagarin. I started to read a lot of science fiction books and particularly liked the books of Arthur C Clarke. What I like about Arthur is that his books are what I call "proper" science fiction, rather than fantasy. Star Wars, for example is a fantasy because it is not set in any particular reality where the discoveries and technologies resulting from science are fast forwarded into future outcomes. It's more a "Good versus Evil" comic strip fiction morality tale set in a galaxy far, far away! In this sense, Clarke's books (in the main), follow the "proper" sci-fi pattern, though it could be argued that his early work "Childhood's End" is more of a pseudo-religious fantasy. If any of you have read this book and seen "Independence Day", you might have spotted a slight overlap in their respective plots. If you don't know what I'm on about, I'll leave it to you to find out for yourself - far be it from me to quench the spirit of enquiry! There's also a rather BIG overlap between "Independence Day" and Clarke's final "Odyssey" book, "3001". I won't give the game away on that one either!

Following his success directing some brilliant films, like "Dr Strangelove" and "Paths of Glory", Stanley Kubrick, in the early 1960's set about producing the "Proverbial Science Fiction Film". It was from this that "2001: A Space Odyssey"" was born. The story has its roots in a short story by Arthur C Clarke about an alien artifact planted on the Moon . The story was called "The Sentinel". The basic idea was developed and expanded in collaboration with Stanley Kubrick. What I find really interesting is that Kubrick was well into the making of the film, and still didn't know how to end it! Apparently, he discussed the possible endings with Arthur Clarke over a meal. The final scenes of the film are so mind - blowing, you could be forgiven for thinking Kubrick was on drugs when he filmed it. The film was released to an unsuspecting public in 1968, after 4 years of filming and an expenditure of some £10 million, an enormous budget for the time. The timing of the release could not have been better, with the astronauts of Apollo 8 due to circumnavigate the Moon that December, and the first manned landing on the lunar surface the following year.

2001 set new standards for film making in the 20th Century. No one before Kubrick had managed to produce such realistic and believable, not to mention beautiful, cinematic scenes depicting space flight. It knocked all previous films into a cocked hat, and at a stroke ensured that the cinematic experience of such themes would never be the same again. I liked the film so much, I went and saw it at the cinema no less than 15 times. Some of those viewings were at the "Casino Cinerama" no longer extant, in the West End of London. A copy of the film is now sat proudly, along with a bunch of other Kubrick masterpieces on my DVD rack.

Following 2001, Kubrick went on to direct other brilliant and memorable works, such as "A Clockwork Orange" "The Shining", and "Full Metal Jacket" - all of which, to my mind are classic masterpieces which people will continue to enjoy into the distant future. There is a certain, almost indefinable quality about all of Kubrick's films. He was an absolute perfectionist, who insisted on filming scenes over and over again, until the result was as close to perfection as the actors could achieve. There is also a certain atmosphere - longer than usual lingering shots, pregnant pauses where people say nothing, but rather contemplate. His scenes are never rushed, but always carefully judged to convey the intended impact. In "Barry Lyndon", for example, he only filmed in natural lighting to maintain a complete sense of realism in the atmosphere of each scene. He even had special very wide aperture lenses made up for filming scenes using only candle-light. His style was entirely his own - an almost indefinable atmosphere and quality watermarked into each work.

I was shocked and very saddened when Stanley Kubrick died in his sleep in 1999 shortly after completing filming of "Eyes Wide Shut", a psychological and erotic drama starring Tom Cruise and Nichole Kidman. As film directors go, Kubrick made relatively few films. Even so, the films which he did make, are classics of their genre, and will live on as a testament to this truly great film maker.


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