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2001 is a film you should see again every 10 years. The sf epic even stands up to live orchestra

Does live accompaniment with choir and orchestra make Kubrick's 2001 a different or better film? Not necessarily, but as an homage and event, it is a wonderful gesture. Even on the hard bucket seats in the Gashouder, it is again a breathtaking experience.

 

Opening image of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Last night, at the Gashouder on Amsterdam's Westergasfabriek grounds, finally Kubrick's science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey reviewed again. This time as I hadn't experienced it before. With big orchestra (Radio Philharmonic) and the Great Broadcasting Choir, a wonderful HF run-up to the big Kubrick programme at EYE. Because if you should keep one Kubrick film it's this one.

Mixture of high expectation and vague uneasiness when walking into the former industrial space. Shouldn't the film image have been much larger still, as wide, for instance, as the choir and orchestra are arranged here? Don't we get bothered with the glare the orchestral lighting throws on the screen? And does it actually make sense to play the music live if it is exactly the same score that normally accompanies the film?

When did I see Space Odyssey for the last time? It will undoubtedly have been in 2001, the year when this future fantasy ceased to be future fantasy and thus turned into a mythological story covering a span of four million years in human evolution.

2001 is a film you should go and see again regularly. Not too often and not in quick succession, but at generous intervals so that it has a chance to grow with you. My first encounter was in the early 1970s, a few years after its premiere in 1968. At the time, it was particularly striking how Kubrick, aided by a host of scientists, had wanted to create the most accurate picture possible of space travel and artificial intelligence in the near future.

We could also marvel at groundbreaking special effects with stately floating spaceships set to Strauss' music. Yet some reviewers initially saw little in it. The most enthusiastic (I have heard) were younger film lovers who got carried away by the psychedelic finale while blowing heavily.

 

Keir Dullea as a space traveller in 2001 (Warner Bros photo)

Some 15 years later, with now Star Wars, Close Encounters and E.T. as comparative material, I could only see how outrageously idiosyncratic Kubrick had been. Now philosophical themes and vistas loomed above all. In four million years, man does not appear to have changed substantially. Behind the slow science fiction, with yet unexpectedly exciting moments, lies epic film whose slow pace invites contemplation.

Still later, it starts to become clear how good 2001 stands the test of time. Perhaps precisely because Kubrick flouted dramatic conventions and acted almost like a composer. Although sometimes called cool and detached, which is justified to a certain extent, can 2001 also trigger emotion. It is the emotion created by beauty in unexpected places. It has a lot to do with Kubrick's particular use of music, as in the famous docking scene.

This symbiotic relationship between Kubrick and music was of course given extra emphasis yesterday by the orchestral accompaniment, even though the film experience itself did not change substantially. At first, the corporeal presence of musicians and singers even threatened to cause some distraction (at least my eye kept wandering). Later, a nice balance emerged. At times, I almost got the impression that the image rose from the music, as it were. And during the spectacular finale, Kubrick as a filmmaker again had firmly pulled all the strings. Even on the hard seats of the Gashouder it was breathtaking.

Leo Bankersen

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Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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