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'2001: A Space Odyssey' Creation and Legacy Probed in 50th-Anniversary Book
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a425couple
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'2001: A Space Odyssey' Creation and Legacy Probed in 50th-Anniversary Book

(go to the original site, the http is at bottom of this,
for good graphics.)

By Sarah Lewin, Space.com Associate Editor |
April 3, 2018 07:00am ET

"Space Odyssey" (Simon and Schuster, 2018) by Michael Benson
Credit: Simon and Schuster
"2001: A Space Odyssey" premiered 50 years ago today (April 3), making
now a perfect time to look back on the key personalities that created
the iconic film.

In his new book "Space Odyssey" (Simon & Schuster, 2018), author Michael
Benson digs deep into the making of the film, profiling the writer
Arthur C. Clarke, the director Stanley Kubrick and the nuances of their
partnership, which created the "proverbial 'really good' science fiction
movie." Along the way, readers tour the groundbreaking technological
developments that made the film possible and the creativity of the large
team that lent its ideas and expertise to the project. Readers also get
a sense of why the movie remains such a cultural touchstone today. You
can read an excerpt from the "Space Odyssey" book here.

Space.com caught up with Benson to discuss his new book, the benefits of
the perspective granted by time and the legacy of "2001." [See
historical images of the films creation in this "Space Odyssey" gallery]

Space.com: When did you first see "2001: A Space Odyssey"?

Michael Benson: My mom took me to see that film when I was 6 years old,
in 1968. I keep on hearing similar stories lately, by the way, about
similar life-transforming exposures to "2001" at a young age. It really
impressed me on multiple levels. When you're 6 years old, basically,
you're very open to new experiences. And it was my first exposure to a
masterpiece in any media that really got me where I lived. I didn't come
to the idea of writing a book about it until much later.

Space.com: And how did you get that idea?

Benson: I got to know Arthur C. Clarke — I first met him in the year
2001 — and we talked about the film quite a bit. In fact, he wrote the
forward to my first book. And I thought, probably right around then, I
was thinking maybe I could write something about Arthur and "2001" and
so forth. Then, when the 50th anniversary started appearing on the
horizon, I thought it might be a good thing to do — it might be, in a
way, cathartic, and help me understand the film better [to] write about it.

Space.com: For the book, you tracked down most of the key players who
were still alive and you pored over earlier interview transcripts,
letters and even edits to previous work — like Stanley Kubrick's notes
on drafts of articles and books about the filming process. Did you get
to interact with any physical objects from the filming or from that time
period?

Benson: When I was in the Clarke archives at Dulles [the Smithsonian
National Air and Space Museum], I opened a folder and there was the
original letter, written March 31, 1964, from Stanley Kubrick to Arthur
Clarke, proposing that they work together to make the first — he wanted
to discuss the possibility of doing "the proverbial 'really good'
science fiction movie." I suddenly realized, there I was, holding the
actual letter — it just kind of — I personally believe "2001" will be
talked about in 500 years, that it's going to be one of those works of
art that will represent the species in the mid-20th century.

Just to hold the thing, which had some mildew on it because it was in a
tropical environment for 45 years or something — it was just amazing. In
that sense, I held an artifact. But in a way, I was consciously steering
away from film-geek fetishism of object, and I was looking at the
written record of what happened: letters, the [telegraph] cables.

At 38 feet in diameter and 30 tons, "2001"’s centrifuge, seen here from
outside, was one of the largest and most expensive kinetic sets ever
built. The centrifuge allowed actors to be filmed walking fully around
the "walls" and "ceiling" of a round spaceship with artificial gravity.
At 38 feet in diameter and 30 tons, "2001"’s centrifuge, seen here from
outside, was one of the largest and most expensive kinetic sets ever
built. The centrifuge allowed actors to be filmed walking fully around
the "walls" and "ceiling" of a round spaceship with artificial gravity.
Credit: Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty
Space.com: Does that approach set your book apart from previous coverage
of the film?

Benson: Jerome Agel did this book in 1970, [a] very image-heavy,
innovative book. When I was a kid, I read this cover to cover many
times. It has interviews, it has reviews, it has all manner of vectors
into "2001." So, you have Jerome Agel's masterpiece … but it was 1970.
There wasn't that much distance from the film. And Piers Bizony did a
couple of books, one of them quite good — a lot of images and lots of
good research in it. Very image-heavy, with drawings and everything.

I saw my opportunity in a prose-forward, images-following-behind type
treatment. It really looked at backstory, got at the detail about the
personalities. … That's where I think it's somehow different, taking 450
pages to investigate personalities and the thinking behind it. [Best
Space Books and Sci-Fi of 2018: A Space.com Reading List]

Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke stand with a Celestron telescope on
the patio of the Kubrick penthouse on Lexington Avenue, New York City, 1964.
Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke stand with a Celestron telescope on
the patio of the Kubrick penthouse on Lexington Avenue, New York City, 1964.
Credit: Courtesy Christiane Kubrick and Jan Harlan
Benson: It was really useful to have a record of what people said over
decades. It was very interesting. It was kind of a tunnel of gradually
deteriorating memories. … It was fun to triangulate between different
people's memories. As for the distance — I guess the only way I can
really answer your question is to say that I was really grateful that
people like Dan Richter [who choreographed the prehistoric segment of
the film and acted as the lead man-ape] and Dave Larsen [who co-created
a "2001" documentary and provided his transcripts] had really managed to
sit down with people who are no longer with us, back when they were
still around, and really ask good questions.Space.com: Is there a
trade-off between the immediacy of earlier books and the sort of
distance you had?

For example, Dave sat down with Bill Weston, the stuntman. That whole
section of my book, with Bill Weston dangling 30 feet [9 meters] above
the concrete floor on a single wire and almost dying because the wire
almost parted, and Bill Weston going unconscious because Stanley
wouldn't let him punch holes in the back of his helmet, and therefore he
had carbon dioxide poisoning while he was hanging on there — it's just
unbelievable — all of that I owe to Dave Larsen providing his interview
with the man.

Another point I would make that connects to this question of how much
time has passed and, therefore, can you perhaps get to more truth. …
When Dave was interviewing him [Weston], Dave referred to Agel's book,
stating that [the book said] he [Weston] almost went unconscious, and
Weston said, "No, no, I was unconscious. I went unconscious." He
corrected it twice. In that sense, sometimes, the more time passes, the
closer you can get to accuracy.

I had a lot of fun with Kubrick's notations [on a draft of Agel's book].
You could see stuff he really didn't want to be phrased in a certain
way, and that was a telling indicator of some of what he thought, his
phobias, his way of being.

Stuntman Bill Weston filming a spacewalk scene from "2001."
Credit: Courtesy Doug Trumbull
Space.com: How do you feel about our progress in space compared to what
was portrayed in "2001"?

Benson: I'm with Elon Musk — I think we should be a multiplanet species.
Of course, my sensibility was forged by seeing "2001." It seemed like,
of course, we're going to expand into the solar system: "Earth is the
cradle of the mind, but humanity cannot remain in the cradle forever"
[Editor's Note: This quote by Soviet rocket scientist Konstantin
Tsiolkovsky was an inspiration for "2001".] And I still feel like that.
Unfortunately, we have descended into this — the expense of being so
tribal and so warlike has siphoned money from doing such a thing. My
ideology, if I can even call it that, from the '70s on: If we could only
channel some of this aggression that we exhibit toward each other, if we
could just channel it into further expansion, at least we'd be doing
that — we'd be going out into the solar system rather than trying to
mess with each other all the time. It didn't quite work out that way.

On the other hand, I've found [that] people like Musk, some others,
their work to find other reasons to go up there, in other words,
commercial — to find reasons other than state-supported, ideologically
constrained human space exploration — I find that to be really
interesting, and we'll see where it goes.

And then, when it comes to interplanetary, robotics-based exploration,
it's been the most extraordinary story. It deserves a lot more
attention. It may be that that drama at the heart of "2001" between the
computer and the human, with the computer losing — maybe the opposite
has happened in actuality, and we're going to have more- and
more-sophisticated AI systems going out into space, and that's going to
be the way it is. It will be our successors that go out, and they will
be AI.

It's already heading that way, isn't it? [The Most Exciting Space
Missions to Watch This Year]

Space.com: After writing this book, how do you see the film's legacy?

Benson: I think the film is so much more than just being science fiction
and so much more than just being about spaceflight. It's really about
our existential position in the universe and our existential position
not just in space but in time.

Science fiction is a genre that is considered one kind of thing that
doesn't really speak so much to core human concerns in some ways. But
science, of course, is so much bigger than science fiction. And science
fiction is using science to try to tell stories. It's just up to how
skillful you are as an artist, to what extent you can use science to
tell a story. What these guys did was so extraordinary. To look back
into 4 million years and bring it off, to evolve forward 33 years into
this near future, but then to use that as a launching pad to go across
space and time in that stargate sequence and the so-called trip
sequence. It's occurred to me many times that, in a way, that was a
precursor, or premonition, of the Hubble Space Telescope's extraordinary
images. When they made that film, we just had grainy color shots from
the big Earth terrestrial telescopes where you could sort of sense that
… you could get the sense of what's out there, but it was too grainy and
fuzzy and all that. What Kubrick himself did with those tanks, the
fluids, shooting at high frame rates under bright lights, [mixing]
liquids and paints and paint thinner, almost killing himself with the
fumes of this stuff, was a precognition of what Hubble brought us and
what the bigger telescopes will continue to bring us about the greater
universe. All of that, it's just so extraordinary what they brought on.

Stanley Kubrick on the set of "2001" at the MGM British Studios in
Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, 1966. On the left is American actor Keir
Dullea in a spacesuit.
Credit: Keith Hamshere/Getty

And to end the whole thing — I mean I'm still blown away by it … It was
so visionary and allegorical in the way that a great epic poem can be.
No one fixed meaning. That's the reason why we're talking about it now
rather than it being some quaint curio of the '60s. There are a number
of other science fiction films from the '60s that are not just quaint
curios — it's interesting. It's not the only one. But it's just an
extraordinary work of art.

I think it belongs in this great tradition of our attempts to grapple
with our position in the universe. I did a book a few years ago called
"Cosmicgraphics" [Abrams, 2014] which is a look at our attempts to
visualize the universe in graphic form. It ["Space Odyssey"] belongs in
that tradition, even though it's cinematographic, moving pictures rather
than stills. Eventually, we're going to do 3D, three-dimensional
visualizations, and all that stuff. But I think it's worthy of it's
using the word odyssey. It's kind of worthy of its legacy. Homer would
be proud.

This interview has been edited for length.

Email Sarah Lewin at ***@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains.
Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on
Space.com.

https://www.space.com/40176-2001-space-odyssey-50th-anniversary-book.html
Peter Trei
2018-04-04 13:46:54 UTC
Permalink
Post by a425couple
'2001: A Space Odyssey' Creation and Legacy Probed in 50th-Anniversary Book
(go to the original site, the http is at bottom of this,
for good graphics.)
By Sarah Lewin, Space.com Associate Editor |
April 3, 2018 07:00am ET
"Space Odyssey" (Simon and Schuster, 2018) by Michael Benson
Credit: Simon and Schuster
"2001: A Space Odyssey" premiered 50 years ago today (April 3), making
now a perfect time to look back on the key personalities that created
the iconic film.
In his new book "Space Odyssey" (Simon & Schuster, 2018), author Michael
Benson digs deep into the making of the film, profiling the writer
Arthur C. Clarke, the director Stanley Kubrick and the nuances of their
partnership, which created the "proverbial 'really good' science fiction
movie." Along the way, readers tour the groundbreaking technological
developments that made the film possible and the creativity of the large
team that lent its ideas and expertise to the project. Readers also get
a sense of why the movie remains such a cultural touchstone today. You
can read an excerpt from the "Space Odyssey" book here.
Space.com caught up with Benson to discuss his new book, the benefits of
the perspective granted by time and the legacy of "2001." [See
historical images of the films creation in this "Space Odyssey" gallery]
Space.com: When did you first see "2001: A Space Odyssey"?
Michael Benson: My mom took me to see that film when I was 6 years old,
in 1968. I keep on hearing similar stories lately, by the way, about
similar life-transforming exposures to "2001" at a young age. It really
impressed me on multiple levels. When you're 6 years old, basically,
you're very open to new experiences. And it was my first exposure to a
masterpiece in any media that really got me where I lived. I didn't come
to the idea of writing a book about it until much later.
Space.com: And how did you get that idea?
Benson: I got to know Arthur C. Clarke — I first met him in the year
2001 — and we talked about the film quite a bit. In fact, he wrote the
forward to my first book. And I thought, probably right around then, I
was thinking maybe I could write something about Arthur and "2001" and
so forth. Then, when the 50th anniversary started appearing on the
horizon, I thought it might be a good thing to do — it might be, in a
way, cathartic, and help me understand the film better [to] write about it.
Space.com: For the book, you tracked down most of the key players who
were still alive and you pored over earlier interview transcripts,
letters and even edits to previous work — like Stanley Kubrick's notes
on drafts of articles and books about the filming process. Did you get
to interact with any physical objects from the filming or from that time
period?
Benson: When I was in the Clarke archives at Dulles [the Smithsonian
National Air and Space Museum], I opened a folder and there was the
original letter, written March 31, 1964, from Stanley Kubrick to Arthur
Clarke, proposing that they work together to make the first — he wanted
to discuss the possibility of doing "the proverbial 'really good'
science fiction movie." I suddenly realized, there I was, holding the
actual letter — it just kind of — I personally believe "2001" will be
talked about in 500 years, that it's going to be one of those works of
art that will represent the species in the mid-20th century.
Just to hold the thing, which had some mildew on it because it was in a
tropical environment for 45 years or something — it was just amazing. In
that sense, I held an artifact. But in a way, I was consciously steering
away from film-geek fetishism of object, and I was looking at the
written record of what happened: letters, the [telegraph] cables.
At 38 feet in diameter and 30 tons, "2001"’s centrifuge, seen here from
outside, was one of the largest and most expensive kinetic sets ever
built. The centrifuge allowed actors to be filmed walking fully around
the "walls" and "ceiling" of a round spaceship with artificial gravity.
At 38 feet in diameter and 30 tons, "2001"’s centrifuge, seen here from
outside, was one of the largest and most expensive kinetic sets ever
built. The centrifuge allowed actors to be filmed walking fully around
the "walls" and "ceiling" of a round spaceship with artificial gravity.
Credit: Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty
Space.com: Does that approach set your book apart from previous coverage
of the film?
Benson: Jerome Agel did this book in 1970, [a] very image-heavy,
innovative book. When I was a kid, I read this cover to cover many
times. It has interviews, it has reviews, it has all manner of vectors
into "2001." So, you have Jerome Agel's masterpiece … but it was 1970.
There wasn't that much distance from the film. And Piers Bizony did a
couple of books, one of them quite good — a lot of images and lots of
good research in it. Very image-heavy, with drawings and everything.
I saw my opportunity in a prose-forward, images-following-behind type
treatment. It really looked at backstory, got at the detail about the
personalities. … That's where I think it's somehow different, taking 450
pages to investigate personalities and the thinking behind it. [Best
Space Books and Sci-Fi of 2018: A Space.com Reading List]
Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke stand with a Celestron telescope on
the patio of the Kubrick penthouse on Lexington Avenue, New York City, 1964.
Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke stand with a Celestron telescope on
the patio of the Kubrick penthouse on Lexington Avenue, New York City, 1964.
Credit: Courtesy Christiane Kubrick and Jan Harlan
Benson: It was really useful to have a record of what people said over
decades. It was very interesting. It was kind of a tunnel of gradually
deteriorating memories. … It was fun to triangulate between different
people's memories. As for the distance — I guess the only way I can
really answer your question is to say that I was really grateful that
people like Dan Richter [who choreographed the prehistoric segment of
the film and acted as the lead man-ape] and Dave Larsen [who co-created
a "2001" documentary and provided his transcripts] had really managed to
sit down with people who are no longer with us, back when they were
still around, and really ask good questions.Space.com: Is there a
trade-off between the immediacy of earlier books and the sort of
distance you had?
For example, Dave sat down with Bill Weston, the stuntman. That whole
section of my book, with Bill Weston dangling 30 feet [9 meters] above
the concrete floor on a single wire and almost dying because the wire
almost parted, and Bill Weston going unconscious because Stanley
wouldn't let him punch holes in the back of his helmet, and therefore he
had carbon dioxide poisoning while he was hanging on there — it's just
unbelievable — all of that I owe to Dave Larsen providing his interview
with the man.
Another point I would make that connects to this question of how much
time has passed and, therefore, can you perhaps get to more truth. …
When Dave was interviewing him [Weston], Dave referred to Agel's book,
stating that [the book said] he [Weston] almost went unconscious, and
Weston said, "No, no, I was unconscious. I went unconscious." He
corrected it twice. In that sense, sometimes, the more time passes, the
closer you can get to accuracy.
I had a lot of fun with Kubrick's notations [on a draft of Agel's book].
You could see stuff he really didn't want to be phrased in a certain
way, and that was a telling indicator of some of what he thought, his
phobias, his way of being.
Stuntman Bill Weston filming a spacewalk scene from "2001."
Credit: Courtesy Doug Trumbull
Space.com: How do you feel about our progress in space compared to what
was portrayed in "2001"?
Benson: I'm with Elon Musk — I think we should be a multiplanet species.
Of course, my sensibility was forged by seeing "2001." It seemed like,
of course, we're going to expand into the solar system: "Earth is the
cradle of the mind, but humanity cannot remain in the cradle forever"
[Editor's Note: This quote by Soviet rocket scientist Konstantin
Tsiolkovsky was an inspiration for "2001".] And I still feel like that.
Unfortunately, we have descended into this — the expense of being so
tribal and so warlike has siphoned money from doing such a thing. My
ideology, if I can even call it that, from the '70s on: If we could only
channel some of this aggression that we exhibit toward each other, if we
could just channel it into further expansion, at least we'd be doing
that — we'd be going out into the solar system rather than trying to
mess with each other all the time. It didn't quite work out that way.
On the other hand, I've found [that] people like Musk, some others,
their work to find other reasons to go up there, in other words,
commercial — to find reasons other than state-supported, ideologically
constrained human space exploration — I find that to be really
interesting, and we'll see where it goes.
And then, when it comes to interplanetary, robotics-based exploration,
it's been the most extraordinary story. It deserves a lot more
attention. It may be that that drama at the heart of "2001" between the
computer and the human, with the computer losing — maybe the opposite
has happened in actuality, and we're going to have more- and
more-sophisticated AI systems going out into space, and that's going to
be the way it is. It will be our successors that go out, and they will
be AI.
It's already heading that way, isn't it? [The Most Exciting Space
Missions to Watch This Year]
Space.com: After writing this book, how do you see the film's legacy?
Benson: I think the film is so much more than just being science fiction
and so much more than just being about spaceflight. It's really about
our existential position in the universe and our existential position
not just in space but in time.
Science fiction is a genre that is considered one kind of thing that
doesn't really speak so much to core human concerns in some ways. But
science, of course, is so much bigger than science fiction. And science
fiction is using science to try to tell stories. It's just up to how
skillful you are as an artist, to what extent you can use science to
tell a story. What these guys did was so extraordinary. To look back
into 4 million years and bring it off, to evolve forward 33 years into
this near future, but then to use that as a launching pad to go across
space and time in that stargate sequence and the so-called trip
sequence. It's occurred to me many times that, in a way, that was a
precursor, or premonition, of the Hubble Space Telescope's extraordinary
images. When they made that film, we just had grainy color shots from
the big Earth terrestrial telescopes where you could sort of sense that
… you could get the sense of what's out there, but it was too grainy and
fuzzy and all that. What Kubrick himself did with those tanks, the
fluids, shooting at high frame rates under bright lights, [mixing]
liquids and paints and paint thinner, almost killing himself with the
fumes of this stuff, was a precognition of what Hubble brought us and
what the bigger telescopes will continue to bring us about the greater
universe. All of that, it's just so extraordinary what they brought on.
Stanley Kubrick on the set of "2001" at the MGM British Studios in
Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, 1966. On the left is American actor Keir
Dullea in a spacesuit.
Credit: Keith Hamshere/Getty
And to end the whole thing — I mean I'm still blown away by it … It was
so visionary and allegorical in the way that a great epic poem can be.
No one fixed meaning. That's the reason why we're talking about it now
rather than it being some quaint curio of the '60s. There are a number
of other science fiction films from the '60s that are not just quaint
curios — it's interesting. It's not the only one. But it's just an
extraordinary work of art.
I think it belongs in this great tradition of our attempts to grapple
with our position in the universe. I did a book a few years ago called
"Cosmicgraphics" [Abrams, 2014] which is a look at our attempts to
visualize the universe in graphic form. It ["Space Odyssey"] belongs in
that tradition, even though it's cinematographic, moving pictures rather
than stills. Eventually, we're going to do 3D, three-dimensional
visualizations, and all that stuff. But I think it's worthy of it's
using the word odyssey. It's kind of worthy of its legacy. Homer would
be proud.
This interview has been edited for length.
Space.com.
https://www.space.com/40176-2001-space-odyssey-50th-anniversary-book.html
Looks good. Added it my Amazon wish list.

I very well remember seeing 2001 when it first came out. It was the summer of
'68, and my parents took me, my sister and brother to see it at one of the
huge cinemas off Leicester Square in London.

I loved it from beginning to end (I was 11). Everyone else in my family
hated it: loud, weird music, and (to them) opaque plot. Being
familiar with sf tropes already, I had a much better grasp of what was
happening.

Back then, in the pre-VCR days, you only saw a movie when it was in the theatre,
or on live TV. I made it a point to see 2001 again whenever it was available.
I think I saw it 16 times in theatres before the VCR release.

pt
Kevrob
2018-04-05 17:16:18 UTC
Permalink
Post by Peter Trei
Post by a425couple
'2001: A Space Odyssey' Creation and Legacy Probed in 50th-Anniversary Book
(go to the original site, the http is at bottom of this,
for good graphics.)
By Sarah Lewin, Space.com Associate Editor |
April 3, 2018 07:00am ET
"Space Odyssey" (Simon and Schuster, 2018) by Michael Benson
Credit: Simon and Schuster
"2001: A Space Odyssey" premiered 50 years ago today (April 3), making
now a perfect time to look back on the key personalities that created
the iconic film.
In his new book "Space Odyssey" (Simon & Schuster, 2018), author Michael
Benson digs deep into the making of the film, profiling the writer
Arthur C. Clarke, the director Stanley Kubrick and the nuances of their
partnership, which created the "proverbial 'really good' science fiction
movie." Along the way, readers tour the groundbreaking technological
developments that made the film possible and the creativity of the large
team that lent its ideas and expertise to the project. Readers also get
a sense of why the movie remains such a cultural touchstone today. You
can read an excerpt from the "Space Odyssey" book here.
Space.com caught up with Benson to discuss his new book, the benefits of
the perspective granted by time and the legacy of "2001." [See
historical images of the films creation in this "Space Odyssey" gallery]
Space.com: When did you first see "2001: A Space Odyssey"?
Michael Benson: My mom took me to see that film when I was 6 years old,
in 1968. I keep on hearing similar stories lately, by the way, about
similar life-transforming exposures to "2001" at a young age. It really
impressed me on multiple levels. When you're 6 years old, basically,
you're very open to new experiences. And it was my first exposure to a
masterpiece in any media that really got me where I lived. I didn't come
to the idea of writing a book about it until much later.
Space.com: And how did you get that idea?
Benson: I got to know Arthur C. Clarke — I first met him in the year
2001 — and we talked about the film quite a bit. In fact, he wrote the
forward to my first book. And I thought, probably right around then, I
was thinking maybe I could write something about Arthur and "2001" and
so forth. Then, when the 50th anniversary started appearing on the
horizon, I thought it might be a good thing to do — it might be, in a
way, cathartic, and help me understand the film better [to] write about it.
Space.com: For the book, you tracked down most of the key players who
were still alive and you pored over earlier interview transcripts,
letters and even edits to previous work — like Stanley Kubrick's notes
on drafts of articles and books about the filming process. Did you get
to interact with any physical objects from the filming or from that time
period?
Benson: When I was in the Clarke archives at Dulles [the Smithsonian
National Air and Space Museum], I opened a folder and there was the
original letter, written March 31, 1964, from Stanley Kubrick to Arthur
Clarke, proposing that they work together to make the first — he wanted
to discuss the possibility of doing "the proverbial 'really good'
science fiction movie." I suddenly realized, there I was, holding the
actual letter — it just kind of — I personally believe "2001" will be
talked about in 500 years, that it's going to be one of those works of
art that will represent the species in the mid-20th century.
Just to hold the thing, which had some mildew on it because it was in a
tropical environment for 45 years or something — it was just amazing. In
that sense, I held an artifact. But in a way, I was consciously steering
away from film-geek fetishism of object, and I was looking at the
written record of what happened: letters, the [telegraph] cables.
At 38 feet in diameter and 30 tons, "2001"’s centrifuge, seen here from
outside, was one of the largest and most expensive kinetic sets ever
built. The centrifuge allowed actors to be filmed walking fully around
the "walls" and "ceiling" of a round spaceship with artificial gravity.
At 38 feet in diameter and 30 tons, "2001"’s centrifuge, seen here from
outside, was one of the largest and most expensive kinetic sets ever
built. The centrifuge allowed actors to be filmed walking fully around
the "walls" and "ceiling" of a round spaceship with artificial gravity.
Credit: Dmitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty
Space.com: Does that approach set your book apart from previous coverage
of the film?
Benson: Jerome Agel did this book in 1970, [a] very image-heavy,
innovative book. When I was a kid, I read this cover to cover many
times. It has interviews, it has reviews, it has all manner of vectors
into "2001." So, you have Jerome Agel's masterpiece … but it was 1970.
There wasn't that much distance from the film. And Piers Bizony did a
couple of books, one of them quite good — a lot of images and lots of
good research in it. Very image-heavy, with drawings and everything.
I saw my opportunity in a prose-forward, images-following-behind type
treatment. It really looked at backstory, got at the detail about the
personalities. … That's where I think it's somehow different, taking 450
pages to investigate personalities and the thinking behind it. [Best
Space Books and Sci-Fi of 2018: A Space.com Reading List]
Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke stand with a Celestron telescope on
the patio of the Kubrick penthouse on Lexington Avenue, New York City, 1964.
Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke stand with a Celestron telescope on
the patio of the Kubrick penthouse on Lexington Avenue, New York City, 1964.
Credit: Courtesy Christiane Kubrick and Jan Harlan
Benson: It was really useful to have a record of what people said over
decades. It was very interesting. It was kind of a tunnel of gradually
deteriorating memories. … It was fun to triangulate between different
people's memories. As for the distance — I guess the only way I can
really answer your question is to say that I was really grateful that
people like Dan Richter [who choreographed the prehistoric segment of
the film and acted as the lead man-ape] and Dave Larsen [who co-created
a "2001" documentary and provided his transcripts] had really managed to
sit down with people who are no longer with us, back when they were
still around, and really ask good questions.Space.com: Is there a
trade-off between the immediacy of earlier books and the sort of
distance you had?
For example, Dave sat down with Bill Weston, the stuntman. That whole
section of my book, with Bill Weston dangling 30 feet [9 meters] above
the concrete floor on a single wire and almost dying because the wire
almost parted, and Bill Weston going unconscious because Stanley
wouldn't let him punch holes in the back of his helmet, and therefore he
had carbon dioxide poisoning while he was hanging on there — it's just
unbelievable — all of that I owe to Dave Larsen providing his interview
with the man.
Another point I would make that connects to this question of how much
time has passed and, therefore, can you perhaps get to more truth. …
When Dave was interviewing him [Weston], Dave referred to Agel's book,
stating that [the book said] he [Weston] almost went unconscious, and
Weston said, "No, no, I was unconscious. I went unconscious." He
corrected it twice. In that sense, sometimes, the more time passes, the
closer you can get to accuracy.
I had a lot of fun with Kubrick's notations [on a draft of Agel's book].
You could see stuff he really didn't want to be phrased in a certain
way, and that was a telling indicator of some of what he thought, his
phobias, his way of being.
Stuntman Bill Weston filming a spacewalk scene from "2001."
Credit: Courtesy Doug Trumbull
Space.com: How do you feel about our progress in space compared to what
was portrayed in "2001"?
Benson: I'm with Elon Musk — I think we should be a multiplanet species.
Of course, my sensibility was forged by seeing "2001." It seemed like,
of course, we're going to expand into the solar system: "Earth is the
cradle of the mind, but humanity cannot remain in the cradle forever"
[Editor's Note: This quote by Soviet rocket scientist Konstantin
Tsiolkovsky was an inspiration for "2001".] And I still feel like that.
Unfortunately, we have descended into this — the expense of being so
tribal and so warlike has siphoned money from doing such a thing. My
ideology, if I can even call it that, from the '70s on: If we could only
channel some of this aggression that we exhibit toward each other, if we
could just channel it into further expansion, at least we'd be doing
that — we'd be going out into the solar system rather than trying to
mess with each other all the time. It didn't quite work out that way.
On the other hand, I've found [that] people like Musk, some others,
their work to find other reasons to go up there, in other words,
commercial — to find reasons other than state-supported, ideologically
constrained human space exploration — I find that to be really
interesting, and we'll see where it goes.
And then, when it comes to interplanetary, robotics-based exploration,
it's been the most extraordinary story. It deserves a lot more
attention. It may be that that drama at the heart of "2001" between the
computer and the human, with the computer losing — maybe the opposite
has happened in actuality, and we're going to have more- and
more-sophisticated AI systems going out into space, and that's going to
be the way it is. It will be our successors that go out, and they will
be AI.
It's already heading that way, isn't it? [The Most Exciting Space
Missions to Watch This Year]
Space.com: After writing this book, how do you see the film's legacy?
Benson: I think the film is so much more than just being science fiction
and so much more than just being about spaceflight. It's really about
our existential position in the universe and our existential position
not just in space but in time.
Science fiction is a genre that is considered one kind of thing that
doesn't really speak so much to core human concerns in some ways. But
science, of course, is so much bigger than science fiction. And science
fiction is using science to try to tell stories. It's just up to how
skillful you are as an artist, to what extent you can use science to
tell a story. What these guys did was so extraordinary. To look back
into 4 million years and bring it off, to evolve forward 33 years into
this near future, but then to use that as a launching pad to go across
space and time in that stargate sequence and the so-called trip
sequence. It's occurred to me many times that, in a way, that was a
precursor, or premonition, of the Hubble Space Telescope's extraordinary
images. When they made that film, we just had grainy color shots from
the big Earth terrestrial telescopes where you could sort of sense that
… you could get the sense of what's out there, but it was too grainy and
fuzzy and all that. What Kubrick himself did with those tanks, the
fluids, shooting at high frame rates under bright lights, [mixing]
liquids and paints and paint thinner, almost killing himself with the
fumes of this stuff, was a precognition of what Hubble brought us and
what the bigger telescopes will continue to bring us about the greater
universe. All of that, it's just so extraordinary what they brought on.
Stanley Kubrick on the set of "2001" at the MGM British Studios in
Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, 1966. On the left is American actor Keir
Dullea in a spacesuit.
Credit: Keith Hamshere/Getty
And to end the whole thing — I mean I'm still blown away by it … It was
so visionary and allegorical in the way that a great epic poem can be.
No one fixed meaning. That's the reason why we're talking about it now
rather than it being some quaint curio of the '60s. There are a number
of other science fiction films from the '60s that are not just quaint
curios — it's interesting. It's not the only one. But it's just an
extraordinary work of art.
I think it belongs in this great tradition of our attempts to grapple
with our position in the universe. I did a book a few years ago called
"Cosmicgraphics" [Abrams, 2014] which is a look at our attempts to
visualize the universe in graphic form. It ["Space Odyssey"] belongs in
that tradition, even though it's cinematographic, moving pictures rather
than stills. Eventually, we're going to do 3D, three-dimensional
visualizations, and all that stuff. But I think it's worthy of it's
using the word odyssey. It's kind of worthy of its legacy. Homer would
be proud.
This interview has been edited for length.
Space.com.
https://www.space.com/40176-2001-space-odyssey-50th-anniversary-book.html
Looks good. Added it my Amazon wish list.
I very well remember seeing 2001 when it first came out. It was the summer of
'68, and my parents took me, my sister and brother to see it at one of the
huge cinemas off Leicester Square in London.
I loved it from beginning to end (I was 11). Everyone else in my family
hated it: loud, weird music, and (to them) opaque plot. Being
familiar with sf tropes already, I had a much better grasp of what was
happening.
Back then, in the pre-VCR days, you only saw a movie when it was in the theatre,
or on live TV. I made it a point to see 2001 again whenever it was available.
I think I saw it 16 times in theatres before the VCR release.
I saw it on the big screen, in the 1968-1969 school year, on a class
trip. My teacher, Mr Ryan, was subbed in for an aged nun who had to
retire after Thanksgiving that year - rumor was she was sent to an
asylum! - was weird, but cool. He taught us altenate-base math by
drawing pictures of aliens with different numbers of digits and toes
on their...tentacles and pseudopods, and claimed he was from Venus.
This gave him a "third eye" in the back of his head, from whose gaze
no troublemaker could hide!

Mr Ryan arranged for the entire 7th and 8th grade classes to
go see the picture together. Unfortunately, the yellow school
buses had to be back by a certain time, so we were walking out
during the climactic scenes, when Dave is on his "trip" and
the starchild was being formed. Still, what a neat thing for
an educator in a Catholic grade school to do!

Hail, Venus!
Hail, Mr Ryan!

Kevin R

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