Having seen an unholy amount of movies in my life so far – over 13,000 – I do have my favourites, movies I can watch over and over and over again and never tire of. Over the next ten weeks I’ll be posting my personal Top 10, the movies that have had either a tremendous impact on me, or that have struck a chord to such a degree that I keep returning to them. These posts won’t be reviews as such, but a summing up of how and why they’re important to me, and – in some cases – what was happening in my life at the time that meant they ended up having such a lasting effect. I hope some of them are your favourites too. And at the top of the list:
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
D: Stanley Kubrick / 141m
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Daniel Richter, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack, Robert Beatty, Sean Sullivan, Douglas Rain
This, more than any other film, is the one that cemented my love of movies. I first saw it in 1977, when it was on its second re-release. My local cinema showed it for a week with three daily showings. Back in those days you could go see a film at any time, even go in part way through; the best part was that you could then stay there and watch what you’d missed when the next showing started. I saw 2001 at its first showing on the Saturday afternoon – I was 14 at the time – and I was so impressed, so overwhelmed, that I stayed and watched it again. I was seriously tempted to stay and watch it a third time but sense(?) prevailed, and I left the cinema. My head was reeling. What had I just seen? And why was it having such a profound effect on me?
And why couldn’t I get my friends to see how amazing it was? Because to them it sounded boring. A film approaching two and a half hours, with very little dialogue, no real laughs, no fights or car chases or shootouts, and whose main antagonist is a computer? No, my friends said, we’ll stick with Doctor Who – that’s real science fiction.
Looking back, I don’t blame them. I think 2001 is an acquired taste, and it’s not for everybody. A lot of people I’ve watched it with have given up before the Dawn of Man sequence is barely five minutes old. They look at me as if to say, Are you serious? And yes, I am. This is a film I could watch every day and not tire of it. Since its arrival on home video in 1980, I have watched 2001 at least once a year without fail, with at least six other trips to the cinema just to see it, as well. Every time I see it I notice or see something new, some small detail perhaps, that I haven’t seen before but which has been there all along. I hum along to the music, and get goosebumps every time I hear Also Sprach Zarathustra. I wait for those classic moments: when Moon-Watcher first realises what he can use the animal bones for; the jump-cut; the moment when the stewardess turns and begins walking upwards; the first sight of the orbiting space station; seeing the Monolith surrounded by our “modern” technology; HAL’s first close up; Poole running in the centrifuge; the realisation that HAL can read lips; Bowman entering the air lock; “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do”; the journey through the Stargate; and the Star Child looking down on Earth.
2001 is the only film that merits – for me – a score of 10/10. It was the first film that really made me sit up and realise just how powerful and inspiring a single film could be. I found out everything I could about its production, read Arthur C. Clarke’s original story The Sentinel, promoted it as much as I could to my friends – still not buying it, though – and fell in love with this amazing director called Stanley Kubrick. Thirty-six years and umpteen thousand movies have passed since that first viewing, but 2001 still impresses me with its verisimilitude and its adherence to strict scientific rules (no sound in space – take that Gravity!). I love the film’s pace, the almost languid approach that allows the viewer to take in so much detail, and the beauty inherent in space travel. 2001 is often regarded as sterile and unemotional, but there is joy to be had here, humour as well (the toilet instructions), and a sense that destiny is only a leap of faith away. There is awe, and wonder, and expectation and that very human of characteristics, the need to explore, to broaden and expand one’s horizons, to see what lies over the next hill.
I was asked once if the timing of when I saw 2001 for the first time was in any way important in terms of how much I liked it. And I think the timing was vitally important. Up ’til then, my movie diet consisted of old black and white movies, silents and serials. Modern film had failed to have any kind of impact, and in some ways I distrusted it (or perhaps I didn’t understand it), and I only saw 2001 because it was a science fiction film, and those kinds of movies I could deal with. But, what did I know? It opened up a whole new world for me, and set me on the path to watching movies with a greater passion and enthusiasm than I ever would have done before then. In effect, it helped me chart my own growth, as an individual and as a film buff. And I will be eternally grateful to it, and to Mr Kubrick.