Andrei Tarkovsky had a rather low opinion of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Phony on many points,” he once called it, built on “a lifeless schema with only pretensions to truth.” His professional response was 1972’s Solaris, by most estimates another high point in the science-fiction cinema of that period. Yet today it isn’t widely regarded as Tarkovsky’s best work; certainly it hasn’t become as much of an object of worship as, say, Stalker. That picture — arguably another work of sci-fi, though one sui generis in practically its every facet — continues to inspire such tributes and exegeses as the video essay on its making we featured earlier this year here on Open Culture.
That video essay came from the channel of Youtuber CinemaTyler, who like many auteur-oriented cinephiles exhibits appreciation for Tarkovsky and Kubrick alike. He’s created numerous examinations on the work that went into Kubrick’s pictures, including A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and Full Metal Jacket.
The ambition of 2001, outsized even by Kubrick’s standard, is reflected in what it spurred CinemaTyler on to create: a seven-part series of video essays on its production, with three-hour total runtime that far exceeds that of the film itself. It takes at least that long to explain the achievements Kubrick pulled off, especially with mid-1960s filmmaking technology, which gave us the rare vision of the future that has held up for more than half a century.
Some of the qualities that have made 2001 endure came into being almost by accident. Take the use of Strauss’ “The Blue Danube” to introduce the space station, a stroke of scoring genius inspired by the records Kubrick and company happened to be listening to while viewing their footage. That and other classical pieces replaced an original score by the composer who’d worked on Kubrick’s Spartacus, which would have struck a different mood altogether. So would the portentous narration included in earlier versions of the script, hardly imaginable in the context of such powerfully wordless scenes as the famous four-million-year cut from tossed bone to spacecraft, which turns out to have been originally conceived an Earth-orbiting nuclear-weapon platform. That’s one of the many little-known facts CinemaTyler fits into this series, and a viewing of which even the biggest Kubrick buffs will have reason to admire 2001 more intensely than ever.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.