Rabbits Full of Magic

26 July 2009

 

A Space Odyssey



Just saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at The Fox Theater in Atlanta and I have to say it was the most amazing Kubrick film experience I have ever had. The print they showed was absolutely beautiful, with brighter colors than I have ever seen, and the sound was terrific. The acoustics in the theater really enhanced in particular the more ambient parts of this film. The breathing sequences were very intense! So many new things I noticed watching this, so many things I wanted to take note of! Alas I could not keep track because I was enthralled with the film and absolutely absorbed in every moment. Even projected on a big screen the special effects are all absolutely flawless (the cheetah attack in the beginning.....wow!!!!) and watching this movie is always like participating in a beautiful symbolic dream.

Of course, during the intermission I heard someone joke about wanting to fall asleep. Perhaps they would have been happier with Transformers 2 (which was previewed right before this ambient/spiritual masterpiece!).

The very spiritual nature of this movie is something I felt most of all this time around, and something I hadn't noticed before. The pacing, the emphasis on sounds and vibrations, the shifting between forms of consciousness (apes to Dr. Floyd to Dave to HAL etc.), the meditative pacing; it felt very in tune with Eastern philosophies and spiritual traditions. The way Dave keeps seeing himself in the conclusion, and not recognizing his own body, I now recognize as evidence that the psychedelic out of body trip that he has taken is not simply a trip to a physical destination but a trip to an entirely new state of consciousness. He looks at himself in the mirror because he is in the process of becoming a post-corporeal entity; a planetary consciousness. The star-child is Kubrick's way of pointing out Sagan's "Tiny Blue Dot", the recognition that with the space age we are gaining a new perspective on our planet: that the Earth IS mankind. The deep symbiotic relationship we have with our planet is something that becomes startlingly clear when viewed from outer space.

Something about the shot of the tiny pod, holding lifeless (?) Frank in its arms, hopelessly facing the Discovery One now controlled by an unresponsive HAL really got to me. Almost feel like it points to some kind of religious iconography but now sure what.

what i love about that scene is how it's shot "over the shoulder" of the discovery one... it's basically a simple shot-reverse shot dialogue setup the way it's composed and edited.

― julien schNAGL (s1ocki), Sunday, July 26, 2009 3:51 AM (6 hours ago) Bookmark

Yes, with the ships anthropomorphized somewhat, I definitely see that. You have to wonder if the monolith evolves not just the human race but their technology as well; now mankind = starchild/planetary consciousness and technology = mankind consciousness. Technology has become human. Note HAL's capability for error, emotional responses, and murder to ensure his own survival. Like the apes in the beginning, the first thing HAL does in his new evolutionary paradigm is kill.

With the past week's discussions of the Cold War Space Race it made the beginning apes/bones = man/spaceships connection seem even more cynical. He may show a US and Russian coexistence in space but the underlying message is that even thousands of years later we are still using technology as a clubbing bone.

Also that ape clubbing scene really brought Clockwork Orange to mind in a big way.

Also re: Kubrick = no sense of humor. The toilet instructions reveal (because they are SOO long and it says 'Please read in entirety before using') was really f-ing funny and the part where HAL is trying to talk Dave out of shutting him down at the end, the audience was laughing out loud at every line. Going in to 2001 I had no expectations for anyone to make a peep the entire film.

Above are various notes i took and posted on ILX after rewatching this movie. The criticism I always hear is that it is too slow and too boring and frankly this makes me afraid for Kubrick's works in the future because the attention span of everyone on the planet is getting shorter and shorter as well rocket into the future. You definitely have to have a certain kind of mind to be able to enjoy this movie, a certain control over your concentration that I think most people just don't have. If this movie is boring to you perhaps you should try some single point meditation or something.

The 'boring' tag also saddens me because the pacing is my favorite thing about the movie and I think it rewards the same kind of attention that is often given a classic painting in an art gallery does. That there was a time when ambient cinema resulted in a blockbuster mainstream film even is quite amazing; I bet if you take all the shots in all the movies in theaters today and calculate the average screen time it would be less than a second or two. This diminishes the emotional connection to the images shown and cheapens the impact of the overall film. If you are presented with a single shot of something transforming in space and in time your eye can take in the composition, the formal balance, the colors, the textures, and way light transforms the scene; it can build a narrative out of the frame-by-frame illusion of time passing. On the other hand like Warhol once said (paraphrasing), the more something is repeated the less it is meaningful, and this is why you can sit through a modern film with stunning CGI renderings of the most fantastic things imaginable and be bored and unaffected. When a million images are coming at you relentlessly, each image destroys the one before it, no emotional or intellectual connection can be formed, and it is perceived as a meaningless experience. I have read some film critics saying that taken to an extreme this barrage of the senses could be an art form in itself -- that Michael Bay is in fact being avant garde in his production of supreme audience detachment -- but I disagree. His films are too tied to cliched filmic and cultural stereotypes to produce a form of visual transcendental detachment; the result is and has always been loud, long music videos for the status quo with the emotional depth of a car commercial.

It would be interesting to have a list of the 100 most popular or highly regarded films each with the average length of shot listed alongside. I bet there would be some kind correlation between longer shots and more highly regarded, although maybe I'm just rambling. I do stand by the idea that a shorter attention span is one of the unfortunate results of a technologically exploding civilization (because controlling the mind is an essential key to achieving transcendence) and I hope there is eventually a reaction to what has been a mainstream way of presenting images for nearly 20 years or so. This is part of the reason all my videos are non-narrative and usually just comprised of a few shots.

Not that I think we can fight this development and win over it though; I think a shorter attention span is one of the changes mankind is undergoing as we rocket towards the Singularity; as technology improves at an exponential rate we find ourselves taking on more and more the traditionally defining characteristics of the technology itself. We grow cold, detached, socially insular, emotionally distant, data-centric. Just as the invention of the answering machine signaled that there was no longer a reason to answer the phone if it was inconvenient, now the invention of social networking signals that there is no longer a reason to physically be in someone's presence to be considered 'friends'. As data (photographs, music, pieces of news) pervades our daily existence more and more it all means less and less to us. People take photos, look at them for a week, and store them on the computer because there are now far too many photos and songs to care about each one, and because of this each one means about as much to us as it does to the computer they are stored on.

I don't know where I'm going with this rant, so I'll just try and bring it back to 2001. I was going to say the film shows computers and mankind arriving at the same form of consciousness (self-aware, emotional, prone to murder in the name of self-preservation) before the latter goes off on a journey to the next phase of evolution but this is wrong. Dave has to shut down HAL before he can progress further. On board the Discovery One he is engaging the senses of his body (running, eating, talking, breathing, listening, physical labor with his hands) but during his transformation his main act is watching. Note the repeated extreme close-ups of the eyes, note the fact that trapped in this pod Dave can do nothing but watch, watching in awe, ecstasy, confusion, fear, and pain. He sees a million worlds and his eyes change shape, distorting color, taking in a million points of view at once while his physical body remains detached from his experience. The key to a transformation, to a transcendental future, is a change of perception. As the Star-Child at film's end looks at the Earth (now the size of the planet, now embodying planetary consciousness) he turns his gaze to the audience. No doubt the implications of this were felt by many in the mystical 1960s.


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