2001 and the Culture of Youth

Robert Rohrbaugh: Concerning the effect that a movie has on one's life, I saw 2001 for the first time in Cinerama 27 years ago today (Aug 31, 1968). I was 12 years old at the time, had no idea of what to expect when I entered the theatre, but when I left that night I was "altered" for good. I was so overwhelmed with the experience that 2001 became my obsession for the next few years. When I started college in 1974, I remember having my roomate drive me to a theatre that was running 2001, where I sat through four showings at a time, every weekend. As a result, I determined that I would do something technology related (I am now an electronics engineer in the advanced signal processing branch of the Navy's submarine acoustics lab). I still watch 2001 occasionally, just for the sense of mystery that it imparts to me - to acknowledge that there really are areas of knowledge that we haven't begun to explore, and also in our everyday experiences we totally ignore forces that aremuch more important and enduring than our little day-to-day existence. It is difficult to think of what might be a more important theme than the universe....

Tony Austin: 2001 had a similar life effect on me. I was in college at the time and had taken a Cinema course where I wrote a paper on Dr Strangelove. I knew nothing about Stanley Kubrick before, but in researching this paper I came to realize he was a great director. Then, 2001 came out and I saw it in Cinerama. It blew me away and I saw it several more times. Over the years I have seen it about 50 times, I guess, and it is always inspiring. It remains my favorite film (nothing else is even a close second) and Kubrick my favorite director (nobody else is even a close second). In 1993, as close to April 1st as I could (the date the film premiered 25 years earlier) I rented a print of the film and rented a screening room and invited about 50 friends to come see it. I plan to do it again in 2001. You're all invited.

Geoffrey Alexander: I'd just turned 9; in fact, it was as a present for my birthday that my dad took me to see it. I was the proverbial whiz-kid at science & the space program and knew all the astronauts families' names & all the parts of a Saturn V, etc. ... The River Hills Cinerama in Des Moines was across from my dad's office, and he thought I'd like the movie, so he took me for my ninth birthday on August 1, 1968....

While I've never lost interest in science, I knew after that my focus in life would really be more on those mysteries Robert speaks of... that my favorite studies would become art, religion, philosophy, and (of course) poetry, literature, and film...and that, whatever the medium or form, I would be an artist.

Here, after all, was a reality (or a depiction of one) bigger, deeper, and broader than any I had ever seen, especially when looking at the 'adult' world with it's ordinary, everyday pathologies. Here, laid out, were all the 'deep mysteries' a young person could want (and young people, it should be noted, have very real resons for being enamoured of such things...).

In any case, I wouldn't be who I am without this film.

And, of course, neither it (nor any Kubrick film) has ever played anywhere within a literal 100 miles of me I didn't attend....

John Morgan: 2001 was undoubtedly the first great intellectual influence on my life, and perhaps the greatest. It also affected me emotionally in a very powerful way. I saw it on TV (unfortunately) when I was 9, mainly because I'd heard it mentioned in connection with "Star Wars." (I remember my mother warning me that "It's not like 'Star Wars.'") It immediately overwhelmed me. I became obsessed with understanding the film. I read everything I could get my hands on that was associated with it: Clarke's novel (and then Clarke's other stuff), 2010, Agel's Making of 2001, books on space and science. I wrote my first essays that were not for school, trying to figure everything out. It led, over time, to so many of my other interests: first science and science fiction, then later in my life to music, film, philosophy, literature, history, psychology, writing. In essence, everything that is important to me today. Years have gone by where I haven't seen it, but whenever I'm about to go through a major change in my life, either intellectually or otherwise, it seems like I go back to that film as a sort of guide post, or perhaps as a reminder. Maybe I've lived my whole life since the age of 9 trying to figure that damn thing out! ("I don't suppose you know what the damn thing is?" "Wish to hell we did.")

But even when I see it now, it feels like the universe. It conveys such a sense of enormity and vastness, of universality, that it was only relatively recently in my life that I could look on it as something produced by a human being. Even when I first saw it, before I could have any idea of what the "meaning" of the film might be, it seemed so TRUE to me. It conveys a sense of extreme urgency and importance, as though the quest of humanity in the film is also your quest.

I wonder how many people had this experience? The film director Keith Gordon (Midnight Clear) claims that he was inspired to go into movies at the age of 8 when he saw 2001. Many other people have told similar tales. Maybe 2001 has some strange, mind-expanding effect on the young?

Of course, the best story is in The Making of 2001, in which Agel recounts the story of a young boy who had to be dragged out of a theater when he jumped up and started shouting, "This is God! This is God!" at the screen during the Stargate sequence.

J.B.Summer: I have seen the film probably fifty times and always learn something else new about me or the film when I see it.

I used to teach TV Production and Film Studies in college (five years ago). I used to love to show the film to my class and observe their reactions. I made it clear that I consider it ~The Greatest Film Ever Made~. One student's honesty will never leave me..."With all due respect to your taste in film, I think that's the worst film I've ever seen..." HA! It would really get them thinking!! On their final exams, I used to ask them what they considered to be the greatest film ever made. They had to justify their answer. A significant number would always write "2001, because you like it"...

If I could ever make a film, I would hope it would be as powerful.

If Kubrick had never shot another thing, it wouldn't make any difference to me...

Joey Trum: John Lennon said it best when he said, "The movie should be shown in a temple 24 hours a day." This is so true because basically it is nothing short of a religious experience. The type of awe-inspiring work of art that comes along once in a lifetime. When I first saw the scene with the monkey cracking the bone down on the skull, I felt unbelievable chills streak right down the back of my spine. When Hal sang "Daisy, Daisy" before he was shut down, I literally wept in sorrow. And as far as the end goes, take your guess? Right now I'm a senior in high school and next year I'm going to NYU film school. 2001 was without a doubt my chief influence in going into films. This film, among others (most notably Fellini's 8 & 1/2) is one that I always have in mind for any reference or visual I need. I consider Kubrick a genius and the greatest director ever. He seems to have a knack for creating breathtaking, awe-inspiring scenes. Like Slim Pickens riding the bomb in DR. Strangelove.

Bill Markwick: I went to see 2001 nine times when it first came out. It ran at the Glendale Cinerama (I think that was the name) on Toronto's Avenue Road. If you have a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records and you look up the longest theatrical run for a movie, you'll find that theatre and "2001". I used to come out of the theatre with my head spinning, and I've watched my poor little videotape many a time. I only wish I had a way to explain to non-likers what it is that we love about that movie.

S.D.Ryder: I understand your sentiment. I've probably shown 2001 to everyone I know hoping to find another who sees in the film what I do, but to everyone I show it to, I get the same response : "So what's that mean?" I think that their responses come from the fact that I've told them that this film is incredible, etc. and when they watch it with me they want me to tell them why it's incredible instead of allowing the movie to envelop them the way it does me. Perhaps I should let them watch it alone...

Ted Alexander: As a teenager the only other thing that left me in as much awe as 2001, A Space Odyssey was the total eclipse of the sun I witnessed in 1972. Now if there was a total eclipse somewhere in 2001 and a decent theatre nearby somewhere and ......well, anyway, it's a neat idea to me.

N.Sinisi: The most dramatic "life effect" for me was the ride home from the theatre after the first of many viewings. I was 11, and totally awestruck by the film. I'd dragged my father to see it (after all, he had the car!) and we talked about what we had seen all the way home. We'd never before actually discussed a film afterward, and we'd seen many together (and many afterward).

Randy Walters: I first saw 2001 in early 1969, a month or two after it was released. I begged my father to take me to the downtown Seattle Cinerama (yes, it really was in the amazing curved-screen Cinerama format) and nearly 30 years later, it remains one of the core experiences of my life.

I had been fascinated by the visions of the future that I had seen in the photographs Life magazine published before the release, but I could not have predicted the effect the film would have on me.

How can I describe an earthquake? Though the majority of 2001's content can be described as coldly rational - HAL's actions, of course, ultimately so - the "Beyond the Infinite" sequence was the first intimation my 13-year-old brain had that *non-rational* forms of consciousness and communication were possible.

Here were astonishing images, sounds, feelings I couldn't reduce to words - and they still *meant* something, something unspeakably profound. My words still can't come close to actually describing the experience; imagine suddenly having the doors to a lifetime's prison of logic and rationality sudden flung wide open by a flood of brilliant light and overwhelming revelation... those few fleeting moments had (and continue to have) more of an impact on my consciousness than any other single artifact of Western art.

The second, and just as significant effect, was the tremendously inspiring message that what I had seen was the vision of an individual - that it was possible for one person's thought to reach out across time and distance and profoundly affect an utter stranger. (Yes, I realize that SK didn't do it all himself; but I hope we can agree that the final product does indeed represent his individual vision.)

This impression has affected all my creative efforts since...well, I haven't produced a 2001 yet... but I'm still working at self-expression, and in a world that does it's damnedest to round off all the sharp corners, there's something to be said for not giving up.

Tom Stern: Although not much different than the other accounts printed there, does have an interesting turn- I actually became a film maker. I have made one feature film (co-written and co-directed) called Freaked. It was given a terribly small release by 20th Century Fox (there's a long and horrible Hollywood story about that), but it has shown quite a bit on HBO and is available in your better video stores (often in the "cult movies" section).

I'm 31 and I think I first saw 2001 around 1972, when I was seven. It was a truly wonderous, awe inspiring experience. I remember it as an intellectual turning point in my life. I came out of the theater in a heady euphoria, feeling as if I'd just been let in on the great cosmic mysteries of all eternity. The best word to describe the new experience I had on that day at the cruddy little Rome Theater in Pleasantville New York is profound. I suddenly had a deep appreciation of the profundity of life (and art) that I'd never considered before. No big answers, of course. But 2001 somehow conveyed the questions in a way that a seven year old could grasp on a deep intellectual/emotional level. Profound. 2001 made me understand the meaning of the word.

In that way I agree it was a "religious" or quasi-religious experience. My family was aethiest and I had no religion as a child. The realm of ideas was given a somewhat exalted status as I grew up around dinner table discussions of philosophy, astro-physics (layman level), and the universe. But certainly there's a great human capacity, perhaps need, for wonder and awe, and in that way 2001 filled the gap for my "Godless" upbringing. I wonder how many who consider it a religious experience were also believers in God.

I never got truly obsessed with the film. I've probably seen it less than 10 times. And it wasn't until recently that I realized how important seeing 2001 was in my ultimate decision to become a film maker. Indeed, for many years I couldn't answer the question "who's your favorite film maker?" because I didn't want to elevate any one of them to a unique, special status. Now, however, I think I would answer Kubrick without much problem. I love the films of Scorcese, Lynch, Bunuel, Cronenberg, early Woody Allen, Terry Gilliam and others, but I do owe a special debt to Kubrick for opening that inital door- for showing me the power of movies to create wonder.

I went to NYU film school and fairly quickly began concentrating on comedy, since it's always been a personal strength. Freaked is an experiment in absurd comedy, and in fact fails on many levels, but hey, I hear Fear and Desire ain't so hot either. As much as I love comedy, I've always known that another ambition of mine is to make films that inspire wonder, and I owe much of that to Kubrick's influence (a tiny personal connection -- my uncle went to High School in the Bronx with the great man. He says they called him "little Stanley Kubrick", thought he was a total geek, and teased him all the time cause he had no friends and would walk around the halls with his still camera. Uncle Artie became a podiatrist).

After the financial failure of my first feature film (I made it at age 26 for 10 million -- same budget as 2001, minus 500% inflation), I've been climbing back slowly to a position where I can convince money people to invest in me. I get most of my income writing for film and television. I wrote An American Werewolf in Paris, a sequel to An American Werewolf in London, and it will be coming out next fall from Disney (yikes!). Recently I've been reading some of Kubrick's interviews; I've been fascinated by some of the things Kubrick has said. Mainly I was intrigued to hear he doesn't do storyboards or plan lots of camera-movements before he sees a rehearsal with actors. This is extremely important. I had been coming around to that point of view slowly, through experience, but it was 180 degree turn around for me. I used to meticulously plan shots, but looking back, I can see how that cramped the performances in my feature. Live and learn.

Geoffrey Alexander: I think this all more than adequately demonstrates why 2001 has become an almost transcendent classic (pun intended) -- there's a sense among most everyone who has been deeply affected by the film that matters of great importance were impressed upon the viewer, very powerfully and immediately -- not specific ideas perhaps, but the 'significance' of issues which normally do not occupy our immediate experience.

2001 puts the universe and what's behind it (or at least an inference or intimation of same) right in our laps. Suffice to say that for most average people -- and young people generally -- to encounter the vastness of the universe not merely in regards to its spatial dimensions but to its philosophical or even spiritual dimensions so immediately [that word again...] has a lasting effect -- if one is lucky....

In this regard, I think a film is really no different than a book or painting or symphony -- what a work is capable of doing is partly a function of its inherent qualities, and partly a function of how it is received -- which, in turn, is dependent very much on >who< receives it.

You'll note that many of the people who have been most deeply affected first saw 2001 a) when they were young, and/or b) before they had ever seen other big-budget scifi or effects-based films.

I'm not saying that the effect of 2001 is based purely in its comparative visual richness -- but to those who came upon it back in the mid-sixties -- having seen absolutely nothing like the realities (real or imagined) it depicts -- the mythical and metaphorical implications (which aren't shallow to begin with) were even more powerfully communicated. Especially to young people who, unlike many adults, are not burdened with assimilating the experience into some complex of preconceptions.

Perhaps 2001 is truly, and most significantly, a film about youth -- on an archetypical, indeed mythical level -- and age, and it's destiny (certainly the way in which the film portrays the 'maturity' of the species is cautionary). That's all quite emblematic of the Sixties....and how suitably ironic it is that this film about 'the future' should arguably be the most significant and represenative film of its particular era.