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As if a genuine Smell-O-Vision film and an unfilmed Hammer Dracula script hadn't been enough, last weekend's journey of cinematic wonders ended on the Sunday evening in Bradford with 2001: A Space Odyssey, seen as it was originally intended to be seen - that is, in the full glory of Cinerama. I watched, rapt, alongside minnesattva, magister and Andrew Hickey, as the wonders of space opened up before us, and pondered idly what it must have been like to live in those heady days of the late '60s White Hot Technological Revolution, when the world of normalised space travel which it depicted might really have seemed like a plausible likelihood for the far-distant future of 2001.

I have seen the film before, of course, but believe me when I say that seeing it in Cinerama is an entirely different experience. Kubrick designed it specifically to be seen on a curved screen, and once you see it that way it becomes so painfully, searingly obvious that he did that you realise you simply haven't experienced the film he thought he was making until that moment. This was perfectly clear to me already in the first half, when I realised exactly why the location chosen for the ape-creatures drinking from their water-hole was a rounded geographical bowl, and why so many scenes of the lunar landscape are designed the same way - because, of course, in Cinerama they would appear to be actually curving out towards the audience, as though we were sitting ourselves on the far side of that very bowl. In Cinerama, when the idea occurs to one of the ape-creatures for the very first time to pick up a large thigh-bone, and use it to smash up the smaller bones of the animal skeleton lying in front of him, the pieces which fly up into the air appear as though they are coming right out of the screen at you. And as for the space stations and planets which cartwheel by to the music of the Blue Danube - watching them is like looking out from the bridge of your own vessel, as vast bodies thousands of miles away float balletically across your field of vision.

Then in the intermission, Andrew too commented that he had never realised before just how much of a Cinerama film 2001 was. Fresh from having seen The Best of Cinerama that morning, he meant something more than my simple observation of curves, space and quasi-3D. Rather, as he pointed out, Cinerama travelogues of the type he had seen that morning regularly introduced their viewers to a rather surreal combination of the wonders of nature, followed by the wonders of technology - exactly like the early ape-creatures followed by the pirouetting space stations we had just seen. What's more, although 2001 was not shot using the three-strip camera technique which The Best of Cinerama used (and which I have experienced myself for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)), he had noticed that some of the shots were composed as though they were going to be - that is, with strong verticals positioned 1/3 and 2/3 of the way across the screen, exactly where the joins between the strips would have been visible. I settled down for the second half with his comment in mind, and he was absolutely right - for example, Kubrick had shot the room on the Discovery One containing the three EVA pods exactly and precisely with its two far corners at the 1/3 and 2/3 positions, just as I remember noticing for every scene which ever featured a room in it during The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. I wasn't particularly surprised later on, when checking the Wikipedia page for the film, to learn that it was indeed originally planned to be shot in three-strip Cinerama, exactly in line with what Andrew had noticed.

Truly, truly spectacular, then. A film with an almost boundlessly-ambitious vision, making the fullest possible use of the technology available in its day, stretching it to create a cinematic experience which would actually do justice to the nature of the story. In fact, we were lucky enough to enjoy not only the film, but (part of) an after-show chat from Douglas Trumbull, who did the special effects for the film, and who articulated exactly the vision Kubrick was trying to create. He explained that Kubrick wanted to create a film which was less concerned than usual with the characters on screen, or the experiences and dramas they are having. In fact, this was deliberately minimised by pointing the cameras relatively little at the actors, and having only fairly limited and largely banal dialogue. Rather, he wanted to put the audience and their experiences at the forefront. This is particularly clear at the climax of the film when the last surviving crewman of the Discovery One, David Bowman, comes face to face with the monolith in orbit around Jupiter, and falls into the strange and psychedelic star-gate which it opens up. During this whole sequence there is actually very little screen-time devoted to David's reactions, and as Trumbull put it, this was because Kubrick didn't want this sequence to be about David experiencing the star-gate - he wanted it to be about the audience, in the star-gate. And in Cinerama, boy, is it!

Even without the Cinerama, though, the care, detail and ambition put into the model-work and the special effects is so impressive that even now, almost 50 years after its release, the only thing which really gives the film away as not having been made this year are some of the fashions worn by the female members of the cast. I'd love to say the treatment of gender was a give-away too, given that women appeared almost (though not entirely) exclusively in subservient roles (daughter, mother, air-hostess, receptionist), and that by the time you get to the elite crew of the Discovery One, they have (of course!) vanished altogether. But the sad truth is that there are more films which still do exactly that today than don't. Only two years ago, Geena Davis (Thelma of Thelma and Louise fame) suggested that modern Hollywood films consistently depict women to men in supposedly mixed groups at a ratio of 1 to 5 or 17%, and that what's more men perceive this as a 50:50 balance, and anything more as female-dominated. Here, too, I noticed that in the board-room scene where Heywood Floyd explains to the Clavius base personnel why it is so important to maintain secrecy around the monolith found on the moon, there were two women and ten men: exactly the 1 to 5 or 17% (to be precise, 16.67%) ratio which Geena Davis pointed out. So, in other, words, the gender balance of 2001 may be heavily patriarchal, but it certainly isn't dated! We're still doing it, just the same. :-/

That is on us, though. While we're working on it, a late 1960s film which makes you feel as though you are actually floating in space remains very much worth watching, and I am once again awed by the power of Cinerama.

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Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
andrewducker
Oct. 25th, 2015 11:26 pm (UTC)
I don't even like 2001, and I'd love to see it this way!

Sadly, that's rather unlikely.
strange_complex
Oct. 25th, 2015 11:37 pm (UTC)
I was so-so about it before I saw it this way, but it really does make the difference. No wonder David Bowie was so inspired by it!

As for getting to see it, yep, not easy. But I think the key point for all of us is to take advantage of the stuff that is on our doorsteps. Edinburgh may not have Cinerama, but it clearly has a lot else that's equally awesome.
strange_complex
Oct. 26th, 2015 01:40 pm (UTC)
Oh, and thank you for the top-25 LJ notification which has just appeared on this post! I don't think I've ever had one of those before, and it's definitely because of your link. :-)
andrewducker
Oct. 26th, 2015 01:48 pm (UTC)
My pleasure - thank you for making me think about 2001 differently!
matgb
Oct. 28th, 2015 08:29 pm (UTC)
I didn't get to see it, but if they do it again (which given the museum's cinemas are now run by Picturehouse who are normally quite keen on anything that gets bums on seats is more than possible), we'll prepare more in advance, and we can normally arrange spare beds and similar.

Because everyone that went made me regret very much that I'd not done so.
andrewducker
Oct. 29th, 2015 09:18 am (UTC)
That would be aweosme!
newandrewhickey
Nov. 3rd, 2015 02:21 pm (UTC)
I'd bet they'll be showing it within the next three to five years as part of the annual Widescreen Weekend, if not sooner. And the Media Museum, where they show it, is a great museum worth a visit anyway, and it'd be great to see you in person.
andrewducker
Nov. 3rd, 2015 02:59 pm (UTC)
It's a (nebulous) date!
livejournal
Oct. 26th, 2015 12:00 pm (UTC)
Interesting Links for 26-10-2015
User andrewducker referenced to your post from Interesting Links for 26-10-2015 saying: [...] ) You have almost certainly not seen 2001 the way it was meant to be seen [...]
livejournal
Oct. 26th, 2015 01:26 pm (UTC)
Hello! Your entry got to top-25 of the most popular entries in LiveJournal!
Learn more about LiveJournal Ratings in FAQ.
coyotegoth
Oct. 26th, 2015 09:40 pm (UTC)
Oh, I wish I could have seen that. (I once went half an hour out of my way in DC to visit the theater where 2001 had its world premiere.)
strange_complex
Oct. 26th, 2015 09:53 pm (UTC)
Well, I see from your LJ profile that you are based in California, and actually one of the other two Cinerama screens in the world besides Bradford is in Hollywood. I don't know anything more about it, what it shows, or how that relates to where you actually live - but it seems worth keeping an eye out. You have more chance than most people, anyway!
newandrewhickey
Nov. 3rd, 2015 01:57 pm (UTC)
(Finally looking here after having done my own review -- didn't want to be too influenced by Penny's)

Being on the West Coast, you're in a better position than most -- both the other two working Cinerama screens in the world are on the West Coast (Seattle and Hollywood) -- though I'm aware that's a little like saying "well, it's in Western Europe!"
I know the Hollywood Cinerama Dome has shown 2001 fairly recently -- I have friends in LA who went (in fact I have one friend who's seen it there *and* in Bradford -- he moved from Bradford to LA and said at the time he wouldn't move to any city where there was no Cinerama).
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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