16 January 2017

Review: The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2OO1: A Space Odyssey by Piers Bizony

In reviews news, I have covered a Doctor Who: Short Trip at USF: the Eighth Doctor and Charley feature in The Man Who Wasn't There.

Hardcover, 562 pages
Published 2014

Acquired December 2015
Read July 2016
The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2OO1: A Space Odyssey
by Piers Bizony

This is definitely a fancy book, a making-of for 2001: A Space Odyssey formatted in the dimensions of the famous monolith. (I always remember from the novel by Arthur C. Clarke that the proportions are 1:4:9, the squares of the first three integers, though I have no idea if that was actually true of the film prop.) This looks pretty cool, but sometimes makes for inconvenient reading. The cover you see here is actually just a slip cover; the volume underneath is all black with four original graphics meant to evoke visual motifs from the film.

Bizony's history is pretty comprehensive, as far as I could tell, covering Kubrick's early career up until he decided to do a science fiction film in a broad overview, and then going into detail on Kubrick's collaboration with Arthur Clarke, the evolution of the script, the selection of actors, the filming of the special effects sequences, and so on. Sometime it's organized a bit weirdly (I don't know why the section on the music comes after the recounting of the film's release and reception), but overall it's packed with interesting details if you're into the mechanics of filmmaking, such as how that centrifuge set worked. Bizony sources his information from new interviews, archival interviews, and the Stanley Kubrick Archive at the University of the Arts London, and it all seems quite thorough. Lots of good anecdotes, and I feel like most any question I've ever had about the making of the film was answered somewhere in here. (I wasn't sure at first about the chapter about whether extraterrestrial life really exists, but by its end, I decided I'd learned enough to make it worth reading.)

It would be a good book with just the text, but the real star of the book are the illustrations, which consist of large, high-quality images, taking in film stills, publicity photographs, concept art, set close-ups, pictures of the filming models, spaceship diagrams, and so on. The pictures are gorgeous, showing just how much thought went into every little aspect of the film. Few movies have such a unified aesthetic as 2001; it's hard to imagine wanting to pore over close-ups of control panels from many other films, but 2001 sustains such interest. Almost every image is beautiful, and the book has a large number of gatefolds that really show off the details at a large scale. Some are disrupted by the book's spine, but those are in a minority; what's more annoying is the sometimes random placement. Most of the time the images are near where relevant events are discussed in the text, but at times, it gets weird, with the images of the polka-dot alien Kubrick experimented with being housed in a totally different chapter than where the experiments are details, for example. But that's a small quibble; you could reread the book just for the images, I think, and have an amazing visual narrative to experience.

Combine this book with Peter Krämer's BFI Film Classics entry on the film, and you will have a pretty thorough take on the film as a whole, both background and interpretation. (Krämer gives some common pitfalls of 2001 discussion, and I was pleased to note that Bizony fell into none of them.) Now I just need to rewatch the movie-- it's been almost a decade since I last saw it, and I've no doubt these two books will give me a renewed appreciation for it.

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