Stanley Kubrick’s seminal cinema masterwork 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was recently given a fitting tribute ― festivities spanning May through September ― just following its Golden Anniversary in April of this year. (The film first premiered in Washington DC on April 2nd at the Uptown Theater.) To honor this anniversary, DC’s Smithsonian Air and Space Museum offered “The Barmecide Feast” by Simon Birch (referencing a tale from the Arabian Nights in which a rich man serves a beggar an imaginary banquet), an immersive recreation of the neo-classical white and green hotel room from one of the surreal final scenes of 2001. This exhibit had previously appeared a year earlier in Los Angeles at the “14th Factory” gallery ― a three-acre Lincoln Heights warehouse art complex. Patrons were permitted to walk through and take selfies while sitting on the furniture…!
Around the world, rereleases of 2001 in 70mm film and IMAX digital presentations brought back the experience of seeing the sci-fi epic in roadshow CINERAMA venues in 1968 — now 50 years ago. Celebrations included a gala event at Cannes Film Festival hosted by British film director Christopher Nolan, repeated a month later, with more modest fanfare, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. Nolan supervised the development of “unrestored” new prints remastered from elements as close to the original camera negatives as possible, adhering to color timing notes from 1968. The result was stunning, particularly for film purists who prefer 70mm projection. The film was presented for a few weeks at the Arclight Pacific’s Cinerama Dome in Hollywood (the last surviving Cinerama movie house in California) and continued in their black box theaters (both film and digital) for a few months ― a rather long run competing well against SOLO and DEAD POOL 2. The American Cinematheque Aero Theater in Santa Monica presented 70mm screenings of 2001 for one week only (concurrent with Arclight screenings ― probably ill-advised competition). But for me the most impressive way to see the film was projected in the pristine perfection of IMAX 4K laser digital, as featured at Hollywood’s TLC Chinese Theater ― a run lasting for a few short weeks. In this latter case, having seen the film hundreds of times during rereleases over the years, I can say that I’ve never before witnessed such a fine presentation of this iconic film. It should now last for 100 years or more in this excellent state of preservation.
It seems the German people hold a particular infatuation for 2001. The traveling Stanley Kubrick Exhibit, opening in a few days in Barcelona, started its run in 2004 at Frankfurt am Main’s Deutsches Filmmuseum. Recently a special exhibit 2001: 50 Years a Space Odyssey was also presented at the Frankfurt museum. (Knowing that this particular exhibit would not travel, I made the pilgrimage to Frankfurt to see it before it closed ― being the diehard 2001 fan that I am…!) The exhibits, comprised primarily of material from the Museum of Design in London (home of the Kubrick archives) and private collectors, showcased the zeitgeist, production design, and continuing legacy of 2001 ― still widely regarded as the most important sci-fi film ever made. The film’s German connections include the production design of Harry Lange (born in Eisenach, Thuringia) and music by a few German composers ― Richard Strauss (born in Munich) and Johann Strauss Jr. (born in St. Ulrich near Vienna). Although both were culturally German and sharing the same surname, the composers here-mentioned were not directly related. Stanley Kubrick, an American born in New York ― with Polish, Austrian, and Romanian Jewish heritage ― married the German actress and artist Christiane Harlan. Kubrick’s new family then moved to England to take advantage of seclusion at Childwickbury Manor in Hertfordshire and fine professional film facilities found near there. Christiane and her brother, Jan, were influential in the selection of classical and modern concert hall music heard on the soundtracks of a number of Kubrick’s films, beginning with 2001. Jan also served as executive producer and personal assistant to the late cinema master for his final films.
To celebrate the Eve of Closing at the Deutsche Filmmuseum 2001 exhibit, a digital presentation of the film will live orchestral and choral accompaniment was presented at the Alte Oper (old opera house) on Saturday, 22nd of September. This majestic building, now a concert hall, dates to 1880 and was almost completely destroyed in 1944 by bombing during WW II. The building underwent restoration starting in the 1970’s to retain its original outward appearance, finally reopening in 1981. Historically, it is known for being the premiere venue of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana (1937). To see 2001 presented here, accompanied by the excellent musicians of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frank Strobel, and SWR (radio station Südwestrundfunk) Vocal Ensemble of Stuttgart (performing the eerie choral cadences of Hungarian-Austrian composer György Ligeti) was ― in a word ― magnificent. (The SWR Vocal Ensemble is currently directed by Marcus Creed, but Frank Strobel was assisted by choral leader Philipp Ahmann during rehearsals.) After the performance a brief chat and ‘meet-and-greet’ with Jan Harlan and Conductor Frank Strobel was moderated by Deutsches Filmmuseum curator Hans-Peter Reichmann in one of Alte Oper’s bar/lounge areas. I was able to meet Mr. Harlan there and express my great appreciation for the help he provided to the late Stanley Kubrick during the final years of his career and also mention my deep appreciation for 2001 ― a film that inspired virtually all of my academic and vocational ambitions.
Live musical performances accompanying the film have a brief history worth mentioning. In 2010 Warner Bros. provided a film print of 2001, sans music soundtrack, to open the 350th anniversary celebrations of the Royal Society at the Southbank Centre in co-operation with the British Film Institute. The screening was held in the Royal Festival Hall with score played live by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Choir conducted by André de Ridder. In 2013 live musical screenings were presented at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic and Musica Sacra chorus, all conducted by Alan Gilbert. The Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Master Chorale gave a similar stellar performance following the baton of Brad Lubman at the iconic Hollywood Bowl in 2015. (This was probably the largest audience ever assembled to screen the film ― the venue has a capacity of about 17, 000 and it was darn near full…!) Just prior to the Alte Oper performance in Frankfurt, the film was screened at Lincoln Center’s David Geffin Hall with the NY Phil and Musica Sacra conducted by André de Ridder. (Ridder is an old pro at this assignment.) Actor Alex Baldwin, a huge 2001 fan, acted as “Artistic Advisor.” I’m sure there are countless other live performances I have neglected to mention here.
The legacy of 2001 is well demonstrated by the inspiration it provided to a number of people I met during 50th anniversary celebrations. At the TCL Chinese Theater IMAX screenings I fortuitously encountered two working astrophysicists whose lives were channeled by the film’s vision of cosmic exploration and mystery. Dr. James Fanson is now Project Manager on the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will become the largest optical astronomical telescope in the world when it sees first light in 2025. Fanson first saw 2001 when he was 9 years old and it made a profound impression on him. He tries to catch the film whenever and wherever it screens in large format theaters. A colleague attending the film with him, Dr. Gregory Dubois-Felsmann, is an employee of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory and is now working on software for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). These gentlemen were Caltech graduate students studying together in the 1980s and both regard 2001 as a major inspiration for their careers since childhood.
While visiting the Deutsches Filmmuseum exhibit I was also pleased to meet Dr. Nils Daniel Peiler, one of the museum’s curators and a film scholar who wrote his doctoral dissertation on 2001. (Not sure of the exact historical or cultural angle ― it’s in German so I can’t read it…!) He also penned a small popular film book: 201 Questions about 2001 (also in German). Clearly 2001 made a significant impression on him.
But I must remove my hat and offer sincerest thanks to Diana Wehmeier ― Designer, Magazine Editor (PLASMA: ART AND SCIENCE), and Space Princess Socialite ― without whom I would not have been able to attend the 2001 live music screening at Alte Oper or enjoy such fine company while visiting Frankfurt. She is a rare and elegant gem ― culturally and intellectually ― far beyond my words of description (if she’ll allow me to say so…;) For her also, 2001 offered a major motivating factor in the course of her professional career. Nothing satisfies more than finding such a kindred spirit.
MATT VENTIMIGLIA, Griffith Observatory, October, 2018
PS: I would also like to thank Jasmin Takim and Anita Maas-Kehl at the Alte Oper Press and Public Relations Office who generously provided press passes for the 2001 screening event; and Ute and Julia, docents at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum, where I was able to spent one fine day during my visit to Frankfurt am Main.