I know this sounds like a peculiar complaint about a movie that ends with a giant floating space fetus, but I've never quite understood the dimensions of the crew compartment in "2001." I watched the movie the other day, and I think I was on the "like" side this time; one of those movies about which I flip back and forth. The music still terrifies me, but that might be ancient buried memories. When I was a kid I looked forward to that movie so much. I saw a story in Popular Scientific Mechanics or whatever about the filming, how they built the round section, how the models were Scientifically Accurate, how it was going to be the most incredible science fiction movie ever made - grown-up, realistic, full of awe and awesome space awe.
Then I went to see it with my parents. At the new Cinema 70, which displayed the movie in all its wider-than-widescreen glory. The stuff with the apes was odd, but no doubt I'd read something about that, so it wasn't too confusing. The monolith unnerved me - but then ahh, space! Ships floating to beautiful music! Cool. This means I was a sci-fi / space nut when I was ten, and it makes me wonder where I got that, exactly. Not all from Star Trek. Hadn't been enough of that. Hadn't seen too many sci-fi movies on TV. But I'd grown up with rocket launches and the moon shot was underway, and I know in 4th grade I had . . . this.
Found it at Hunt and Gather the other day. I was stunned. I had that when I was a kid.
Didn't buy it, because as it happens I still have the original, now that I thought about it.
Anyway, the Moon Base stuff was cool, although the talk about a plague gave me queasy feelings. There was something about this movie that was not what I expected, or wanted, and it seemed to be a strange thing that I wasn't understanding, speaking on a level above me, so far above I couldn't even grasp how much I wasn't grasping. I freaked out when the Monolith was shown on the moon and that music, that music played, and that was it I was out of there.
The only other movie I'd ever left was "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken," and it's odd: you don't remember really happy ordinary moments, but you remember sitting in the balcony lobby with your mom, and there are red heavy curtains and carpet and everything seems ornate and gilded. I had to leave because of the garden shears in the throat of the portrait WHICH WAS BLEEDING and that organ music, thanks e'er so much Mister Mizzy.
And I was out of there.
My father stayed behind to watch the rest of 2001, because he had paid good money for it, and to this day it's fun to think of him sitting there in the theater with his jarhead haircut, watching that acid-trip light show.
Anyway. It doesn't seem as if there's enough room for the centrifugal force wheel in this ship.
That's all. No, it's not: the "Blue Danube" is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, and its simplicity and dance-tune origins probably push it down the list of great European musical achievements. It's the B theme that really works - the A theme is nice enough for gliding along, but the B theme makes you imagine the swirl and momentum of the waltz, the elegance of the mirrored hall, the candlelight glinting off medals and diamonds - all those trappings of an upper order on the eve of its demolition.
I have no love for aristocracy, but where the kakistrocracy of revolutionary rabble pulled the whole house down, the general misery they was made no better, only buffed up with more egalitarian slogans. The chaff-and-plaster edifice that rose after the second war seems ill-prepared to defend itself, because at its heart it seems to agree its past makes it indefensible. You suspect that the citizens do not share their leaders' desire for punishment and do not regard national dissolution as a necessary atonement, but their opinions don't seem to count for much. The citizens are as numerous and inconsequential as pigeons, and must scatter when the peacocks arrive to unfurl their virtuous plumage.
Sorry. Where was I? Another thing about 2001: it brought to mind the usual trope about how aliens sufficiently advanced to cross great distances would regard humans as irrelevant and primitive, and would be unable to comprehend us because the gulf in technology and intelligence would be too great. And possibly vice versa. As for the latter, well, we can imagine anything; it's one of our strengths. There are limits to what we might be required to understand. At worst, we might face intelligent microfilaments that travel via infinitesimal black holes and communicate using spectrums of light we cannot perceive - if that's the case we wouldn't know where to begin, I suppose, and would probably never have the chance to start. But it's imaginable. We could encounter smart cows who breathe chlorine - something of a challenge, but if they have ships and language, there's a shot.
The part I don't like is the latter: we will seem like insects to an advanced species. Well. Imagine you're looking at an ant colony, and you see paved roads and other forms of transportation infrastructure; power lines; evidence of free will everywhere, not hive-mind mentality - and, as you look at the strange tiny city, a small ship rises 100 yards in the air on a plume of flame.
I mean, yes, ants, but given that, pretty damned impressive ones.
Apes or ants: that's the options for some. And yet we are held to a standard neither could attain. It should be a matter of awe what we have accomplished despite ourselves, and a matter of pride that we have accomplished so much because of what we keep trying to be.
Enough of the damned Pumpkinification - let's look at some classic Hollywood promotional photos. Here's where we'll guess the actress, and note how the signs of the season have changed! Or not.
It's Donna Reed. My wife looks like Donna Reed, but not this one. This one's almost anti-Donna.
They had about five things for Halloween: witches, bats, skeletons, pumpkins, and cats! Have we expanded on that collection since then? We'll find out this week, as we meet a variety of actresses who, unlike Miss Reed, are not remembered at all.
Sequels weren't invented in our time, you know.
It feels like a 40s movie, even though it was probably greenlit and put into production in the fateful year of 1939. It’s hard to see a movie from 1940 without reading World Events into it - whether the audience looked at it as an escape from the dreadful events rolling over the world, or whether that’s just retrospective infusion. I suspect the latter. Looking back with full knowledge makes the most innocent things seem freighted with sadness and dread.
Our heroine, who is unhappy, because she's in a big house in the fog and James Whale isn't directing.
Her main squeeze is about to be executed for a crime he didn't commit. But just as the execution squad & lawyers & press are about to send him off to the great beyond . . .
The Invisible Man has escaped! Except we don't know he's an Invisible Man. He's known as . . .
Text on the left: FARM BOY TO MILLIONARE
LOVE FOR NATIVE VILLAGE
DEATH IN HOTEL ROOM
There's a story we'll never know. Or will we? The story on the right - Maurice Read's illness, under "Sports News" - refers to a real man, a cricketer. Who died in 1929, a decade before. Anyway.
The Invisible Man appears at the cottage, and the shot says everything one loves about Universal Monster Movies:
The Invisible Man reveals himself! So to speak.
It’s Vincent Price, who’s playing a different person than the Claude Rains character. Doesn't matter for our purposes here, and frankly probably didn't matter then, either; what people went to see was Invisible Man Special Effects stuff, Terror Things, and Tragic Monster things that made you feel slightly bad about order and safety being restored. But not all that bad.
In the Invisible Man movies, the credibility of the idea doesn’t just lie with the FX crew, but the actors who have to react to nothing. Like this fellow:
Alfred, of course. Alan Napier. In the forest he’s set upon by the Invisible Man, and you don’t know if the effect hit audiences as scary or comic. A bit of both, perhaps.
As usual, our somewhat sympathetic protagonist goes bonkers; insanity seems to be an unavoidable side-effect, because we must not feel too bad when the Invisible Man is killed at the end. As he surely must be. So there’s a dinner party, in which IM laughs a lot and expresses contempt for mankind.
That’s never a good sign.
There’s a sequence towards the end where the Invisible Man takes clothes from a scarecrow, and talks to him while he dresses. It’s the obligatory Humanizing Moment that makes the Universal monster movies such classics. We complain about CGI today, but the scene above had no relation to reality as people knew it; pure art, pure fancy, pure imagination. The medium had become so sophisticated so quickly that people could process the scene as a real thing within the fictional construct of the story, and not get hung up on the artifice. That's what packed them in to the theater!
Well, no. It was the horror. They came for this:
Is that Vincent up there? Because this is the next shot.
And what comes next after this?
You’ll have to see the movie - and I hope you do. I've told you nothing about it. Except that it's a worthy sequel. Not quite as mad and crazy, but worthy.