The article concerns Bill Pope, a veteran cinematographer who worked on the original The Matrix and its sequels and, despite saying some very unflattering things about working on those sequels, is nonetheless back for the upcoming fourth Matrix film, due to be released… well… I guess like so many other things, we’ll see.
Anyway, when talking about making the original two sequels to The Matrix, Mr. Pope doesn’t hold back any punches. From the article:
“The Wachowskis had read this damn book by Stanley Kubrick that said, ‘Actors don’t do natural performances until you wear them out.’ So let’s go to take 90! I want to dig Stanley Kubrick up and kill him.”
That last bit really made me laugh.
But on a slightly more serious note: I suspect all directors are unique in how many “takes” they make of the scenes within their films.
I read somewhere (wish I could remember where, so take my memories of this for what they are: Memories) that Alfred Hitchcock would essentially create his entire films on paper first, including detailed illustrations of each scene and where the camera is and where it goes.
So much so that when the movie Rear Window was made, the film’s editor supposedly acknowledged all s/he had to do when putting the film together was to clip out the front and back end of each sequences (ie, the clipboard and director yelling “Action” and then the end where the director yells “cut”) and put what was left between together one after the other and, voila, there was the film.
So much work was done in preparation for filming, in fact, that Alfred Hitchcock himself noted (again, if my memory is correct) that once they actually got the cameras out he felt that was the “boring” part of making the film. The creative part, which he enjoyed the most, was actually constructing the film on paper and providing that illustrated roadmap of each scene/sequence through to the end.
Stanley Kubrick, on the other hand, was well known to be super fastidious about making his films. Indeed, he was known to, as noted above, take many, many repeats of individual scenes, trying to get the acting “just right” and often wearing down the individual actors. In fact, its been reported that Shelly Duval was well on her way to suffering a nervous breakdown while filming The Shining.
Clint Eastwood represents yet another type of director. From what I’ve read, he’s very much a quick shooter when making his works, having a very minimum number of “takes” of each scene and moving along rapidly to the next scene.
At times this seems to work fine but at other times there is a rough quality to his work, especially more recently, that may not please viewers.
Regardless, its a fun article and I love the quote they offer!
I happen to love the film, though I admit to not having watched it start to end in many a year.
Yet the film fascinates me even as many nowadays either don’t have the patience to watch it (the movie is awfully long), or feel it is too pretentious.
Taking the first point, the film clocks in, according to IMDB, at 2 hours and 29 minutes long. I’ll admit it here and now: That is a long time to sit before a screen and in these days of wild effects and speedy storytelling, 2001 must surely seem like a chore for any modern filmgoer to watch.
As for the film itself, it offers surprisingly little dialogue while giving audiences a story broken into four parts.
GOING INTO 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY’S PLOT HERE, SO BEWARE…
SPOILERS BE HERE!
You’ve been warned!
The first part of the film involves the “Dawn of Man”, a sequence that effectively shows humanity the moment it makes the transition from animal to human. The sequence shows a pack (group?) of primates being run off their watering hole by a more powerful group of primates. There is -obviously- no dialogue here but the implication for the group is dire: They will likely die without their water.
But one of the primates is visited by a mysterious black monolith, which will figure prominently within the movie’s story. Upon seeing the monolith and while celestial objects are in alignment, a primate develops the ability to use a weapon, specifically a bone (there is irony in this!) which he then uses to attack that other group of primates and reclaim their watering hole, following which we have one of the most fascinating transitions in film…
Thousands of years of history are effectively “fast forwarded” through and the bone is now another, far more sophisticated weapon in the form of a satellite (the satellite is supposed to be an orbital weapon).
We then come to the second part of the film. Humanity in the year 2001 is presented as mannered, tight lipped, and pretty bored. While audiences may be wowed by the space travel presented, its clear that those doing the traveling view it much like we do a long car trip. It can be exciting, but mostly its a bit of a chore.
We follow as a man heads to the U.S. Moonbase and are given hints to a mysterious discovery on the Moon’s surface, something the U.S. is keeping from the Russians. Turns out the discovery is a monolith not unlike the one found in the Dawn of Man sequence.
The men head out to the monolith and, in a bit of wry humor, these modern sophisticated men are presented as not all that terribly different from the primates that came many years before. They take pictures of themselves in front of it, they touch it, they have no clue what it is.
And then the planets align and a very loud signal is released from the monolith, something so piercing the men present around the monolith are forced to try to cover their ears.
We then get to the third part of the film, where we fast forward months later to a spacecraft, the Discovery. As it turns out, the signal sent by the monolith on the Moon was directed toward Jupiter and the ship is on the way to explore what’s going on there.
Within the Discovery are a group of scientists in a cryogenic sleep. Awake are two astronauts who are accompanied by the HAL 9000, their artificial intelligence computer.
If the movie has any edge of the seat sequences, it is during this part, where the HAL 9000 malfunctions -or functions only too well- and decides to eliminate all the people on board the ship. This part also fits in well with Campbell’s hero mythology as the hero must overcome seemingly impossible odds before…
The film’s final -and to some most controversial- part involves our lone surviving astronaut reaching Jupiter and finding a very large monolith floating in orbit. The surviving astronaut heads to that monolith and then begins a bizarre, trippy, hallucinogenic journey. He then sees himself in a room, aging until he eventually dies, and then is reborn as a cosmic star child.
John Byrne, a prominent comic book artist who is one of the major reasons the X-Men, and Wolverine in particular, is as popular as it is, wrote of the movie:
In an interview in PLAYBOY, (Arthur C.) Clarke said “If you understood it, we failed.” I’d clock (2001: A Space Odyssey) as about the most pretentious piece of twaddle on record.
As I’ve often stated, opinions about works of art are unique to each individual and who am I to say he -or anyone else with a different opinion than mine over any work of art- is wrong?
I love 2001: A Space Odyssey and feel the story presented is, even when simply looking at its surface, is easy enough to understand: Mysterious aliens have transformed primates to humans and, in the year 2001, they transform humans into the next stage, the star child.
But there are other elements present. Some have noted that the HAL 9000 is the most “human” of the characters in this film, and in many ways the character and the story presented with “him” is an updating of the Frankenstein monster story. Humanity has ventured into the realm of Gods, creating an intelligent being and getting burned for their hubris. An interesting element is that the monolith is essentially the true God here… whatever it may be.
There are also those who note the whole trip of the Discovery has a curious “look” about it. The Discovery itself, they note, looks very much like human sperm (I’m not joking here!) and when it reaches its destination and following that trippy journey into the monolith, what is produced is an embryotic looking star child!
But even ignoring away from all these elements, one can’t help but be impressed with the many practical effects (compare this film to the many science fictional works to come in and around that time… there is no comparison!) and world-building director Stanley Kubrick and author Arthur C. Clarke created for this movie. The idea of space travel being a chore is a fascinating and, at that time, unique take.
So, yeah, for these and many other reasons, I’m damn impressed by 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Even today, fifty years after its original release.