Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life... in Pictures


I don't think I can ever adequately express the feeling I had the first time I saw '2001: A Space Odyssey.'

Tenth grade, 1982. My English Lit teacher, Mr. Kachargo(sp), showed us a horrid, non-letter boxed, pan&scan version of the film on a twenty-four inch, 4x3 TV, to kill the last few days before Christmas break. Despite the lousy format, I was floored.

I remember having seen a few photo stills of 2001 in my various scifi/special effects genre books, but was never engaged by them, flat as they were. Without music, and motion, they had no depth.

Kachargo couldn't stuff the whole film into a fifty minute class. But on first viewing he managed to get to the Great Transition before the lunch buzzer rang; that four million year giant leap where the flying bone turns into a space weapon. That was it... I was hooked. I couldn't wait to get to school the next day, a rarity for me.

I've seen it a zillion times since. But strangely, when thinking back on my first few viewings, I had the distinct impression of having seen the film in black and white. Maybe my brain misinterpreting its starkness, and desaturated my memory. When I watch it now I am often surprised by the amount of color it contains.

I don't ever remember feeling empathy for a Kubrick character. (Spartacus aside: which was more a contract job and vehicle for advancement) Kubrick doesn't do that. I am always very intensely interested in who they are and what they're doing. But I never subsume their emotions, ever. I felt as strong an emotion as I could feel at the end of 2001, but it wasn't the kind of emotion one could properly call... affection, or compassion, or sympathy. It was more akin to vertigo, the kind I get when I look at those amazing Hubble images; human insignificance in the face of enormity. It's a cold lonely feeling that I warmly relate to the emptiness of the void.

There's an imaginary narrative at the beginning of each chapter of the book 'Galaxies,' by Timothy Ferris. It describes a relativistic, near-light speed spaceship journey across the universe. The explorers outlive the Earth and Sun, not to mention their loved ones, by trillions for years as they plow through intergalactic space toward the edge of the ever expanding visible universe which by then will be so close that its featureless blackness will negate and mask the beauty of the universe for which they set off.

That feeling. I love that feeling.

After we finished the movie I went straight to the school library and found the book upon which it was based. I tore through it, and everything else I could find by Arthur C. Clarke. I didn't realize it at the time, but while Clarke certainly contributed, he wasn't actually the person responsible for the visual mind trip that was the movie. It was Stanley Kubrick who made this thing possible. I can't say how much I enjoy his films any better than the people who knew him, and won't try. I invite the reader to watch, 'A Life in Pictures,' which beautifully details his technique and works.


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