"2001": She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s Opinion
OK, it’s Paulene Kael. She hated all of Kubrick’s work after “Lolita”. We did a meetup on her that helped us have a much greater respect for her writing, and her historic (mostly good) influence on movies and the public’s perception of them, during the era after the collapse of “Old Hollywood”.
Although I can’t find her official review of “2001” on-line ( it was done before she started writing for the New Yorker), our co-SKM organizer John found Paul Rossen’s website on Kael, with a relevant essay, “Trash, Art, and the Movies”, from her book, “Going Steady”.
Here are some excerpts, along with discussion questions for our 2001 Meetup tomorrow.
It’s preposterously egocentric to call anything we enjoy art—as if we could not be entertained by it if it were not; it’s just as preposterous to let prestigious, expensive advertising snow us into thinking we’re getting art for our money when we haven’t even had a good time. …“2001” has that new-techniques look, which combined with “swinging” or “serious” ideas, often passes for motion picture art.
Clarification: if we enjoy something, we may claim that it is “art”, therefore if ads, stylish looks, and “swinging” or “serious” ideas mislead us into thinking something is “art”, we may also be fooled into thinking we are enjoying it.
Discussion question 1): how often have you yourself been fooled in this way?
“2001” may be no more than trash … using “artistic techniques” to give trash the look of art. All that “art” may be what prevents pictures like these from being enjoyable trash; they’re not honestly crummy, they’re very fancy and they take their crummy ideas seriously.
2) give an example of a “crummy” idea in 2001. Would it be more enjoyable if presented in an honestly crummy manner?
It’s fun to think about Kubrick really doing every dumb thing he wanted to do, building enormous science fiction sets and equipment, never even bothering to figure out what he was going to do with them.
3) The most enormous sets in 2001 were the monolith pit on the moon, the curved space station, and the centrifuge that Poole jogs around in. The latter took up a LARGE chunk of the movie’s entire budget.
If Kubrick built them with no thought for their purpose, could he have still have done a better job using them, since he was stuck with them?
Kubrick never really made his movie either but he doesn’t seem to know it… In some ways it’s the biggest amateur movie of them all, complete even to the amateur-movie obligatory scene—the director’s little daughter (in curls) telling daddy what kind of present she wants.
4) In what sense would you agree that 2001 was never really “made” by Kubrick? Was it only after he faked the moon landings that it was really made?
5) Besides Vivian Kubrick’s cameo (in curls), what other aspects of “2001” make it “the biggest amateur movie of them all”?
6) If it is preposterously egocentric to call anything that we like “art”, what about calling anything that we don’t like “amateur” ?
There was a little pre-title sequence in “You Only Live Twice” with an astronaut out in space that was in a looser, more free style than “2001”—a daring little moment that I think was more fun than all of “2001.” It had an element of the unexpected, of the shock of finding death in space lyrical. Kubrick is carried away by the idea.
7) View clip above, starting at the 0:40 mark, to see this unexpectedly fun and lyrical sequence.
In comparison with the same scene in 2001 — where Kubrick was sadly carried away — describe several ways in the Bond version is less amateur.
The light-show trip is of no great distinction; compared to the work of experimental filmmakers like Jordan Belson, it’s third-rate. If big film directors are to get credit for doing badly what others have been doing brilliantly for years with no money, just because they’ve put it on a big screen, then businessmen are greater than poets and theft is art.
8): Should Kubrick have hired Jordan Belson (work example), even though he was still technically an amateur despite years of work, instead of a “third rater” like Douglas Trumbull?
Or, given that he had crummy ideas to work with, would the “You Only Live Twice” production team have at least presented them more honestly?
9) 2001’s Special Effects won an Oscar. Was this a big win for businessmen and thieves over the poets and artists?
“2001” is a celebration of cop-out. It says man is just a tiny nothing on the stairway to paradise, something better is coming, and it’s all out of your hands anyway. There’s an intelligence out there in space controlling your destiny from ape to angel, so just follow the slab. Drop up …Trip off to join the cosmic intelligence and come back a better mind. And, as the trip in the movie is the usual psychedelic light shows, the audience doesn’t even have to worry about getting to Jupiter. They can go to heaven in Cinerama.
10) Should the audience have worried about getting to Jupiter?
11) With “drop up”, Kael alludes to Timothy Leary:
(from Wikipedia) In his speech, Leary stated:
"Like every great religion of the past we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present — turn on, tune in, drop out."
Leary later explained in his 1983 autobiography, “Flashbacks”:
”Turn on” meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. “Tune in” meant interact harmoniously with the world around you - externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. “Drop out” suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. “Drop Out” meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean “Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity”.
Arthur C. Clarke ended “2001” as follows, with the Star Child floating above Earth:
There he waited, marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers. For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next.
But he would think of something.
12) since Bowman did NOT use drugs to become the Star Child, what are the chances that the Star Child’s next idea will be a seriously crummy one?