29 February 2016

Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Peter Krämer

Mass market paperback, 116 pages
Published 2010
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2016
2001: A Space Odyssey
by Peter Krämer

The BFI Film Classics series is like 33⅓ for music (I don't know which came first), a series of short, accessible monographs on individual films, so after reading Flood, I decided to pick one of them up, too. Thankfully there are a lot more BFI Film Classics about films I have seen than 33⅓s about albums I have heard; Stanley Kubrick's 2001 was one of many options I had. (Now that I write this, though, I'm not sure why I picked it above, say The Wizard of Oz.)

Anyway, this was a nice, breezy, informative read. It's not a making-of, but rather an attempt to place 2001 in the context of its time and Kubrick's intellectual history. So after a brief (kind of out of place) synopsis of the novel for people who haven't read it, Peter Krämer covers the genesis of the film, drawing on archival work and making-of books, especially hitting up a few key factors: 1) Kubrick's correspondence and collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke, 2) the way the film builds on ideas Kubrick used in Dr. Strangelove, 3) the significance and impact of the Cinerama widescreen process (usually reserved for travelogues or films with a heavy emphasis on natural scenery), and 4) the way Kubrick moved from displaying the monolith's messages to leaving them obscure at the same time the film itself went from featuring heavy narration to deleting not just the narration, but much explanatory dialogue. He emphasizes Kubrick's message-making and essential optimism throughout. Though I've seen 2001 many times, all of this was new to me, and Krämer presents his theses compellingly and clearly.

After a brief discussion of the film qua a film, Krämer moves into its reception, again with some ideas to prove: 1) that 2001 was intended for a wide audience (not an arthouse one), 2) that it was critically well-received, and 3) that it was popularly well-received (not solely embraced by a countercultural movement; he particularly argues against the notion that drug use played a significant role in its positive reception). Again, he draws on archival research, including contemporary reviews and letters to Kubrick. The book ends with a concise discussion on how 2001 changed the blockbuster landscape, taking science fiction from a minor film genre to a major way, and paving the way for Star Wars and thus most modern blockbusters.

I read the whole thing in a day, and I enjoyed it a lot. My sister gave me Piers Bizony's The Making of 2001 for Christmas, so I look forward to reading that and then giving the film a rewatch; Krämer has given me a lot to think about here. I also look forward to picking up more of these BFI Film Classics!

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