2001: A Space Odyssey ★★★★★

2001: A Space Odyssey – TIFF screening introduced by Kier Dullea and Gary Lockwood

Be still my heart. Here is the gushing of a fanboy.

After this year’s TIFF drew to a close, I happened to browse to the TIFF site to check up on details about upcoming Stanley Kubrick exhibit. There were a fresh batch of announcements about it, and the Kubrick retrospective film screenings. As expected there were going to be 70mm screenings of 2001; I had attended one there a few years ago, but what I didn’t expect was that the opening screening was to be introduced by Kier Dullea and Gary Lockwood. I knew this had happened in L.A. some years ago, and a few other major U.S. cities, and I was green with envy of those who saw the presentations. Needless to say I snatched up tickets immediately.

As many of my Letterboxd friends here know, I’m an unabashed Kubrick fan, and in particular a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey, my favourite film. I first saw it back in 1968 when I was nine years old, and it forever changed what I thought about film. Since then, I’ve watched it dozens of times and read everything about the production that I could get my hands on. Back in 2010, I had the good fortune to hear a talk by pioneering special effects artist Douglas Trumbull, one of the four Special Effects Supervisors on 2001. Elation. Seeing the fine details of the deceptively simple but mind bogglingly brilliant techniques used to create 2001’s stunning effects shots was manna from heaven. Now, for the other side; the stories from the stars.

Dullea and Lockwood did both a moderator driven opening talk, and then an audience Q&A after the film. I have to admit that I scanned YouTube for their previous appearances before seeing them here today. While that was kind of like peeking through the wrappings of the Christmas gifts under the tree after your parents went to bed, I just couldn’t help myself. Kier Dullea opened the ceremonies in a way which I had seen before in previous engagements, he asked how many in the audience had not seen 2001 on the big screen. The resultant number of hands was surprisingly large, which was the case in the previous engagements. He, like before, said they were in for a treat.

I then was expecting to see a rehash of what had come before, and I didn’t have a problem with that; it was enough to just see them and hear them say the same things live. It didn’t go that way though; our TIFF moderator asked how they first met Stanley Kubrick, and the answers were the first treat of the evening. Kier Dullea and Gary Lockwood were given the starring roles in 2001 without an audition; without any single indication that they were even being considered for the roles. The offers just showed up. Both were already Kubrick fans and couldn’t believe it. Lockwood commented that he asked his agent ‘how much it was going to cost him’. Lockwood’s agent urged him to fly to New York to meet Kubrick, even though he already had the job. They met at a bar, and Lockwood, being kind of star struck, asked Kubrick ‘what are you into’, and Kubrick replied, well, I like football. Lockwood, being a former football player felt immediately at ease, and they discussed football for the rest of the night. Dullea arrived in England, and after his first acclimation sleep received a phone call. The caller was asking if they could speak to Kier Dullea, to which he replied, ‘that’s me’ .. Kubrick, in an exuberant voice, said, oh, great, it’s me .. Stanley. Dullea espoused how, particularly in the early going, he was incredibly nervous. He told how Kubrick took him aside one day and said that he had studied hundreds of actors performances, and that he chose him for the part because he considered him a great actor, and the best actor for the part. Both Dullea and Lockwood paint a picture of a warm and enthusiastic leader, one who was both accommodating and encouraging.

In the Q & A afterwards, someone asked about Kubrick’s notorious proclivity for extreme numbers of re-takes. They both looked at each other, with a kind of honesty you can see, and they agreed that the scene in the pod where they discuss HAL’s disconnection was the scene that Kubrick wanted the most re-takes of. They estimated about 30 takes, but that was over multiple days. After a day’s shooting, he had them ad-lib the scene in his office while another setup was taking place. He had those ad-libs typed up and re-shot. He said that Kubrick was always asking for suggestions … he didn’t necessarily take them, but he was always asking. Lockwood noted that on one of the takes, after Kier delivered the opening line of the scene, ‘What do you think?’, he responded ‘Frankly, I don’t give a damn’. Kubrick cut the take and offered that he couldn’t have the audience taken out of the moment to think of Gone With the Wind.

Keir then countered with an example where Kubrick, mercifully, required only one take. He described the air-lock entry scene. As Dave had forgotten his space helmet, it would have to be Dullea playing the scene. He described a 30 foot vertical stage. He was attached to a rope which was held by a circus wrangler at a platform at the top of the set. The wrangler tied a knot at the point where Dullea would be just about to hit the camera at the bottom of the set, and other at the point where he would be near the top of the set. Dullea, who hadn’t previously performed any stunt work, leapt off the platform, plummeting down in free fall towards the camera. He was then suddenly jerked ( presumably when that wrangler felt the knot in his gloved hands ) by the wrangler jumping off the platform and hauling him back up to the top. Lockwood noted that, although he wasn’t there for the filming of the scene, that Dullea had told him about the scary experience, and when Lockwood watched the finished film, saw a hint of a smile on Dullea’s face when he hit the top; Lockwood, a stuntman himself, always attributed that to the feeling of being Lucky To Be Alive.

Although there were quite a few more stories, some I already knew, but still more I didn’t, the one thing that came shining through is that Kier Dullea and Gary Lockwood were as much fans of Stanley Kubrick as I was. Probably even more. There was a reverie in their voice that you can’t fake, even if you’re great actors.

I, of course, bought the photo merch so I could get autographs, but more than that, just so I could simply shake the hands of the ones who created the characters that, over the years, have now become close to family. As I inched forward in the line I could see and hear how both of them weren’t just smiling politely and proffering their signature, but rather engaging with everyone they met; asking how they came to the film, what they thought, telling little stories. This was annoying the TIFF handlers, as the line was quite long, but it didn’t seem to bother the two of them. When I arrived I asked each of them a couple of questions, and I could tell they really wanted to talk, and were genuinely in awe of outpouring of love from the crowd. As a fanboy, I was simply happy to have had a tiny point of contact with my favourite piece of cinema.

My favourite moment of the night was at the talk before the screening started, and the mod asked Kier and Gary if there’s something the audience should watch out for. Kier told a story of seeing some of the early assembled footage of Heywood Floyd meeting the Russian delegation on Space Station V. He noticed that one of the non-speaking Russian women had a blue sweater on the back of her chair in some shots, but not others. He said Stanley lamented that he saw it too late, as the set was already struck, but had a plan to mitigate it.

In the final film, just before the encounter, there’s an announcement over the space station PA. ‘A blue ladies cashmere sweater has been found in the restroom’. At our screening everyone in the audience laughed when they heard that. They were now in on the joke. They were now closer to the film.

I learned a few more things about Stanley Kubrick tonight. One of them being that his sense of humor is even more wry than I thought.



My other musings on 2001

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