2018

Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

There is an overhead shelf. On the shelf there is an eight track tape player. There are tapes, a dozen, maybe two. It’s hard to see how many.

There’s a counter below. There’s a teenager who will work here for the next eight hours. For the first hour and a half the teenager prepares for the busy hours ahead. The beginning of the shift is quiet, even the manager leaves. The teenager can play whatever it wants on the tape player. The teenager was not familiar with the music on the tapes at first. Over the course of the summer the teenager plays the same three or four tapes at the beginning of every shift.

When it gets busy and noisy the manager comes back and turns off the tape player and plays a few selections on the Seeburg jukebox. This will get things started and people will play the jukebox.

Alva who has been in and out all night will come to the counter and ask the teenager to change two dollars for quarters. This is enough for twenty-four plays on the jukebox. Alva has big dark eyes. The teenager likes Alva, but to Alva the teenager is just a teenager. Alva is also high. The teenager doesn’t know what Alva is high on. The teenager has heard things, but doesn’t know. Still the teenager would like to know what is behind Alva’s big dark eyes with pupils as big and as black as pupils can be. Now Alva goes to the jukebox and plays the same selection, G8, twenty-four times which is What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, and dances in front of the jukebox the whole time.

The teenager plays 2001 A Space Odyssey at the beginning of every shift. The teenager doesn’t know why the teenager likes it. People who come in during this time seem familiar with the music. Someone said the music was from a movie. Does it say soundtrack on the tape? Maybe it did. The teenager is oblivious.

Years later the teenager is a grownup. The grown up teenager hears about a movie called 2010: The Year We Make Contact. The grown up teenager went to see that movie and laughed outloud when no one else was laughing when Dr. Heywood Floyd is seen on a beach, sand below, surf behind, and an Apple //c on his lap. The grown up teenager had that exact same computer. It was on his desk that very moment. The grown up teenager had the “barely readable” LCD display too. It was portable; it had a handle on the back, and with the right arrangement of accessories it could be run on battery power. But the grown up teenager would never take the computer to a beach. The grown up teenager did however wonder if we might have pools of dolphins as pets in our homes in the future as seen in the movie.

2010: The Year We Make Contact movie poster
2010: The Year We Make Contact movie poster

For the grown up teenager the important thing about seeing that movie was that now that he knew the end of the story, he wanted to know how it began. So then, at this time there were video on demand stores where one could go and rent a movie. The grown up teenager rented 2001: A Space Odyssey on VHS and watched it on a 20” CRT TV. The grown up teenager would, from that time on, tell friends and strangers alike: Don’t go to your grave without seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2001: A Space Odyssey movie poster
2001: A Space Odyssey movie poster

In May of 2018 a new print of 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in unretouched 70MM for the film’s 50th anniversary. Not all theaters have this capability so it was shown in only select theaters. The 70MM film is also in its original 6-track sound which is ported through five speakers behind the screen and one off to the side and even fewer theaters have this capability. The grown up teenager believes it was worth the effort to get to a theater to see this film again. 2001: A Space Odyssey was a visionary film. Released in 1968, the story is relevant to the world as we know it today.

Tachen magazine, Kubrick section, page 1 of 8, “The Making of Magic. How Stanley Kubrick revolutionized science fiction and the art of cinema.” Kubrick on the hospital-bedroom set.
Tachen magazine, Kubrick section, page 1 of 8, “The Making of Magic. How Stanley Kubrick revolutionized science fiction and the art of cinema.” Kubrick on the hospital-bedroom set.

In 2014 Tachen published a commemorative art book on 2001: A Space Odyssey to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the commencement of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s collaboration on the story.

Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey 25th Anniversary book cover
Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey 25th Anniversary book cover

Arthur C. Clarke wrote a preface for a 25th anniversary publication of the book, 2001: A Space Odyssey. He said the collaboration had a “complex and agonizing gestation.” I guess they got on each other’s nerves bit during the gestation. Clarke said that it was Kubrick’s idea to have two “slightly fag robots create a Victorian environment to put our heroes at ease.” This idea became the the bedroom scene (or hotel room scene as some have called it) near the end of the movie.

Kubrickian floor at the New York Public Library
Kubrickian floor at the New York Public Library

In an interview with Joseph Gelmis, talking about the bedroom scene, Kubrick said Bowman was “placed in a human zoo approximating a hospital terrestrial environment drawn out of his own dreams and imagination.

Dave Bowman
Dave Bowman

Frank Poole
Frank Poole

Kubrick’s use of the word fag here need not be condemned. It was pre-Stonewall. The word may not have had the same derogatory intensity it does today. Arthur C. Clarke was gay; he probably would not have worked with Kubrick if he suspected him a homophobe. It is likely Kubrick had friends who were gay and included subtle hints of acknowledgement of them. Or possibly they were used as substitutes for Jews in the Holocaust, another topic of interest for Kubrick.

In the same interview Gelmis asks if HAL was gay. Kubrick responds, “No. I think it’s become something of a parlor game for some people to read that kind of thing into everything they encounter. HAL was a ‘straight’ computer.”

Parlor game or not – Victorian1 environment to “put our heroes at ease,” an environment out of our hero’s “own dreams and imagination,” the tenderness with which Dave attempts to bring Frank back to the space ship, could lead one to wonder if “our heroes” were something other than straight. Dave Bowman, without questioning, without consulting, without second-guessing, and forgetting his own space helmet, goes out in the spacepod and tries to bring Frank Poole back.

I read or heard somewhere that the body of Frank Poole was thought to be a corpse during Bowman’s attempted rescue. But human’s have been known to survive several minutes of duress and even resuscitation after technical death. Bill and Renan of KubickCast2 researched this and state that a human can survive the atmosphere of space for about ninety seconds. In any case, I perceived Frank Poole as alive during the first part of Bowman’s attempted rescue.

The movie begins with pre-human apes in a desert-like landscape. These apes are already flesh-eating creatures. In Clarke’s book they compete with neighboring tribes for meat in a jungle, but in the film the war with the neighboring tribe is more intense and over a puddle of water. Overnight a Monolith appears. Frightened and curious they approach and touch the Monolith. The following day one ape finds a dried carcass and begins playing with its bones. At first it looks like the ape will recognize the bones as tools for making music. Instead the first tool the ape-man discovers is used as a weapon. The apes kill off most of the neighboring tribe.

At the same time, or in a future-human time-travel time, the bone becomes the symbol for the spacecraft where we find “our heroes” Bowman and Poole and the “infallible” HAL 9000 computer. HAL’s creators claim that HAL is “incapable of error”. But the HAL 9000 was given conflicting instructions. HAL decides the “mission is too important”. HAL kills off the other humans while Bowman is outside in the spacepod. Bowman survives. HAL claims to have “never made a mistake”. Until now. And this is where the movie serves as a 21st century warning to humans.

The HAL 9000 runs the ship in the same way an Apple HomePod®, or an Amazon Eavesdropping device, or a Google Home-Invader product, or the fetching Josh3 would or would like to. All of the major players in this field have had “mistakes” burned into their products. Large stores of data will soon be useless because only the uninformed and uneducated masses will succumb to allowing their personal information to be used by these products and systems.

Bowman was able to dismantle the HAL 9000 part by part, memory bank by memory bank. Such an act is far more difficult to accomplish with today’s devices. Bowman continues the journey.

Bowman, as we have known him, arrives at the bedroom scene and sees an older version of himself. They acknowledge each other and spaceman Bowman disappears. The older Bowman knocks over a glass which breaks on the floor. He retires to the bed. Then, seemingly inside the Monolith, travels through a vast spacetime lightshow and becomes a pure thought-being, an innocent star-child floating in space. And this, the grownup teenager believes, is what was behind Alva’s eyes.


  1. a Louis XVI environment was depicted in the film  ↩

  2. KubrickCast was a 2014 podcast which contains a five-part series about 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some of the early episodes are hard to listen to because of the poor audio quality. I put some of them through Logic Pro to improve the sound.  ↩

  3. JOSH (Golden Retriever icon), a luxury home management and personal tracking system which will, among other things, announce your friends using their always-on, always-connected personal device by their Facebook accounts. As I understand it, a local installer will maintain a server (a Mac Mini with the Apple Server software which is now discontinued) containing all your activity. What could go wrong with that? This system will need an overhaul.  ↩