Thursday, January 31, 2008
Beyond the Infinite
It was shortly after securing my ticket to the Jan. 30th screening of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY at the Cinerama Dome when I realized that the American Cinematheque was showing, as part of their Mel Brooks series, LIFE STINKS on the very same night. With Mel Brooks in person for a post-film Q&A. What are the odds that those two films would be playing on the very same night? Wondering if I should bail on the 2001 screening, I felt suddenly faced with the ultimate question of cinema: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or LIFE STINKS? Stanley Kubrick or Mel Brooks? How do you really answer such a question? Can any person really speak that answer unconditionally? Whether or not they can, I ultimately went with 2001. I’m not proud. I know certain people will now lose all respect for me.
Which brings me to another issue. Why is the Arclight only running 2001 in the Dome for one showing? It sold out within days. Gee, what are the odds that some people would actually show up for a 70MM print of 2001 at the Cinerama Dome? You think it would do halfway decent if it ran for, say, a week? Wouldn’t the Arclight like making more money? I always thought it was a shame that 2001 couldn’t actually be shown in the Dome during the year of its title, due to the theater being closed down as the Arclight was being built around it. But no matter. If seeing STAR WARS at the Chinese is like going to an amazing ball game, the 2001 at the Dome has the feel of attending mass at a glorious cathedral. I love how the curvature of the screen affects the image of the film, something about the way it’s laid out emphasizes the size of the film, yet in wrapping around you makes you feel as if you’re right there. Back before the Arclight was built, the Dome would run a number of older films throughout the years. It was a thrill to get to see things like APOCALYPSE NOW, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, DR. STRANGELOVE and EL CID there but I somehow knew that this would never last. Since the Arclight opened (and I love going to the Arclight) the Dome has unfortunately rarely been utilized for revivals mostly limited to very welcome engagements of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD and genuine Cinerama showings of THIS IS CINERAMA and HOW THE WEST WAS WON. Terrific, yes, but not enough. The majesty of the Cinerama Dome should be used more often to display films that really need to be seen in such a place. In some ways, it really is a holy place. It should be treated as such. And if they show certain older titles that really display the brilliance of the theater people will come out for them and they’ll do it for a reason, as the crowd who enthusiastically applauded the Cinerama logo over 2001’s end credits proves.
What went on today in my own world did its best to knock the effect the 70MM screening had on me out of my system, but Kubrick’s universe couldn’t leave my head that easily. The print was not in perfect shape but it was good enough. More importantly, by a certain point I was somehow feeling the movie within me like never before. Maybe now that I’m older I can truly appreciate how one-of-a-kind an experience it provides. On each new viewing for me there’s a shot, a moment, that seems to stick out like never before. This time it was that long close up on Keir Dullea's Bowman at the beginning of the Stargate sequence. Something about it got under my skin, as if the character knew something was coming but couldn’t help but be terrified. Not because of whatever terrors he might witness, but because of the potential beauty. I love those freeze-frame close-ups of him as well. Remembering how certain episodes of THE SOPRANOS have inspired comparisons to Kubrick, the transitions to the aging Bowmans in the bedroom near the end seemed to have a feel similar to some of the fractured cutting used in that show many years later. And I can’t help it, but the quasi-lounge look at that future which never came to be we get a look at in the space station seems more enticing each time I see it. I look forward to whatever unexpected moments leap out to me on my next viewing.
And hopefully that will be relatively soon. If it was playing at the Dome for a full week, I’m sure I’d go again. 2001 is now forty years old and we’re several years past its expiration date, so to speak. But it still presents not only a fascinating future, but a possibility of a future of cinema that could live up to the challenges it presents. The idea of a world of film which contained more artists willing to dare, willing to strive for ideas and images that had not been seen before, to go beyond the infinite in their own way just as Kubrick once did, seems remote sometimes. But I can dream. And when I’m experiencing 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY at the Cinerama Dome, that’s exactly what I do.