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 Special Feature on Piers Bizony's The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey...

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PIERS BIZONY: THE MAKING OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

Published by Taschen in hardback, 28th July 2015

 

Publisher's description: Get closer than ever to the movie that changed the movies. This behind-the-scenes spectacular of 2001: Space Odyssey sheds light on the lead actors, senior production designers, special-effects experts, who together with the intricate mastermind of Kubrick himself, revolutionized science fiction and the art of cinema. Previously available as part of the multi-volume and instant sell-out Collector's Edition, this exhaustive visual record includes on and offset photographs, pre-production paintings, conceptual designs, and publicity materials from the Kubrick archives. With numerous fold-outs, these dazzling images offer insight both into Kubrick's meticulous directorial methods, and into the mysteries and magnetism of a film at once vast in scope and intricate in its human interest. Written and researched over several years by the outer space, special effects, and technology journalist Piers Bizony, this compendium is both an exhaustive labour of love and a monument to a masterpiece of 20th century culture.

 

I went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey when it was first released, at the Casino Cinema in London, where it was being shown in Cinerama. It was genuinely and literally breathtaking, an experience I shall never ever forget. I've seen the film many times since, and am now proud to own a copy of it in Blu-Ray. My 40-inch Full-HD TV gives a spectacular rendering, but it will never recapture the experience of first seeing it at the Casino. I am one of the generation who grew up believing that man would some day leave the confines of this planet and travel to the distant stars and galaxies, having been brought up with Dan Dare in the Eagle, Jet Ace Logan in the Lion, and Journey Into Space on the radio. Dan Dare was set roughly in the years at the turn of the century, around 2000, with interplanetary travel commonplace, and Britain leading the way. Although we watched in awe as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin claimed the moon for mankind, although some of us joined the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) hoping that our membership would somehow trickle through to the corridors of power and persuade the Brits to join the space race, it never happened. The year 2000 came and went, and we're no nearer to revisiting space than we were in the 1950s/1960s. We revelled in Star Wars and Star Trek, we watch in awe at the latest technology that brings us INTERSTELLAR and GRAVITY, we love AVATAR, now the most watched film ever, but we keep coming back to 2001: A Space Odyssey, because it looks authentic. The Orion space liner may be more akin to Virgin's space plane than the now defunct space shuttle, of course, but what's most important about 2001: A Space Odyssey is surely that this is how things should be. There should be regular passenger flights to an orbiting space station, from which regular flights should make their journeys to and from the Moon, and to and from Mars. It's Kubrick's inspired choice of music combined with the sheer perfection of his movie-making that keep 2001: A Space Odyssey as the favourite, the top space exploration film of all time. It still seems absolutely real. The spacecraft in Avatar is spectacular, but Discovery looks totally authentic. The same goes for the spacecraft in Interstellar and Gravity, and indeed in Prometheus, the prequel to the film ALIEN. Many of the things predicted to come at the turn of the century in 2001: A Space Odyssey have indeed happened. Sadly, the desire to be in and conquer space did not - it seems we are still light-years away from building a space liner, an orbiting space station with an Orbiter Hilton, a moon lander, a moon bus, and a Discovery. Those things won't come to pass in this century unless the world's governments realise the strategic importance of space and space exploration. 2001: A Space Odyssey was a pioneering film, a visionary film, in many ways a perfect film. This amazing book from Taschen celebrates that in some style.

 

Piers Bizony's masterpiece began life as a collectors' item, highly priced and very collectable. It sold out almost immediately. This is what Taschen specialise in. The decision to produce a mass-market version is brilliant, because there must be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of fans of the film still around who will welcome the opportunity to open and read, to savour the quality of the writing and the quality of the reproduction of the illustrations from what remains the most popular science fiction film of all time. Half of the film, of course, could be construed as science fact - our tortuous journey into space will surely, some day, take on the appearance of something skin to what we see in the film. And the first half hour or so of the film depicts one possible explanation for our transition from Ape to Man. The rest, the monoliths, the stargate, the arrival on the alien homeworld etc., are pure science fiction of the very finest, because Kubrick decided right from the outset that he wanted to work with the very finest authority on space travel, a man who was, at the same time, one of the very finest science fiction writers of all time, Arthur C Clarke.

 

There have been a number of books about the making of this film published in the past, but none with quite the depth and scope of this one. The format of the book is unusual, and I personally think the opportunity was lost to make it a conventional big book size, and double the size of the pages so that what appear in this book as fold-outs (and there are a great deal of them) would be accessible without the need for them to be unfolded - inevitably, some bits of some of the pictures are lost because they are obscured in the fold which, if you tried to open them out properly, would break the spine. This is because the limited edition was also published in this format, and this mass market version borrows from the original set - why publish something totally different when you've already published in this format? But that's nothing but a small criticism of what will ultimately turn out to be the book of the year for me. Bizony seems to have been granted access to pictures and insights which have not been available to previous authors of books about 2001.And the whole book is a journey in itself as it describes the birth and nurturing of what started life as JOURNEY BEYOND THE STARS. The details of the meetings between Arthur C Clarke and Kubrick are fascinating,and the list of possible stars shortlisted for playing the main parts are an amazing revelation to me - others may already have known about them. There are countless pre- and peri-production photographs, each telling a story of their own - this is as much about how Kubrick worked as about the finished film. Kubrick's determination that they should not be overtaken by events as NASA strove to put men on the moon concurrently with the shooting of the film is properly and well documented, and it is testament to this fact that 2001: A Space Odyssey remains as fresh and authentic looking.

 

There are hundreds of technical drawings, too - and plenty of references to the ideas that the BIS had about escaping Earth's gravity and making it to the moon (and back). Kubrick's genius in divising and making this film, one of the very best films ever made, is documented - his inspired choice of music, the involvement of so many respected and revered technicians, the equally inspired choice of actors and actresses, along with many, many photographs never before seen make this one of the very best film books ever produced. The layout of the book, with chapters and teaser miniature photographs which are then revealed in glorious full-page detail in fold-outs etc., is brilliant. I wish the front cover of the actual book could have shown the cover art which adorns the wrap-around, because I think the wrap-around might prove to be an early casualty as people remove the book to read it over and over again - but again that's just a minor niggle. I shall be particularly careful with my copy, treasuring it always as I do all of my books. Of particular interest is the section on Kubrick's choice of Cinerama (which was later converted to Super Panavision 70, a derivative modification of cinerama, on the advice of Douglas Trumbull) as the format for the film's cinema release - it transpires that there were just a handful of cinemas around the world equipped to show films shot in Cinerama - the Casino was one of them, and I am privileged to have been one of the thousands of people who saw the film in its intended format on its release in 1968 in the Casino Cinema.We're rapidly approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the cinema release of the film, and it is inevitable that other books will be published in the next couple of years. Next month, sees the publication of Harry Lange and Christopher Frayling's THE 2001 FILE - I hope to be bringing you a review of that title in the next issue! For now, wallow in the glory of Piers Bizony's stupendous piece of writing, because it is unique.

 

If you thought you knew everything there was to know about 2001: A Space Odyssey, think again. There are eye-openers, treasures, mysteries, triumphs and joy in this book. In the eighteen-odd years I've been doing Books Monthly I have been privileged to read many books on some of my favourite films - in particular Star Wars and Star Trek, but also recent triumphs like Interstellar. None of them has ever had the depth and the breadth of information that Piers Bizony's work has. 2001: A Space Odyssey has stood the test of time - this book will too. A modern masterpiece of cinema history.

 


 

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