Monday, October 24, 2016

Stanley Kubrick's "2001" - A Musical Odyssey, Pt. 2

The skies opened up over San Francisco on Saturday evening, October 15, and the rains poured down. Though this deluge complicated our trek from dinner at Alta restaurant on Market Street to Davies Symphony Hall on Grove, drenching weather was not so discouraging that it prevented a full house audience from attending the week's final screening of Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus performing its score live.

At 7:00 pm, an hour before the film and live performance were set to begin, Kate McQuiston, author of We'll Meet Again: Musical Design in the Films of Stanley Kubrick, took the stage to discuss  2001. She talked of how music was key to the central themes, visual design and meaning of all of the director's films and spoke of how Kubrick edited 2001 around the music he featured in it. She also spoke to the Alex North controversy reporting that Kubrick, at some point, claimed he had never planned to use North's score at all. She went on to say that Kubrick also said, in contrast to what most authorities and those involved with the film (including Kubrick himself) have previously reported, that the film's musical selections had never been intended as a temporary music track ("temp track") for the film, that he had always planned to use this music in the finished film. 

By 8:00 pm the symphony and chorus were in place and conductor Brad Lubman stepped to the podium and raised his baton. Richard Strauss' majestic tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra filled the hall, followed by thunderous applause. And the film began.

I hadn't seen Kubrick's space epic in a theater since it was in release in 1968. It was a mind-blower then and it is today. Though its plot has befuddled multitudes over the years, its visual and aural power is riveting. Over the next few hours we were treated to Kubrick's meticulously designed and photographed masterwork with the world-class accompaniment of San Francisco's symphony and chorus. It was goosebump-inducing to listen to the Richard Strauss tone poem,  Johann Strauss II's Blue Danube waltz, the Adagio from Khachaturian's Gayane ballet suite, and four avant-garde works by Gyorgy Ligeti. The chorus' performance on Ligeti's compositions was nothing short of a religious experience.



The San Francisco Symphony's 2016/2017 Film Series continues. Coming up:

  • Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, December 2 and 3, 2016
  • Singin' in the Rain, December 9 and 10, 2016
  • The Snowman, December 16 - 18, 2016
  • On the Waterfront, January 7 and 8, 2017
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark, April 13 - 15, 2017
  • Casablanca, June 2 and 3, 2017
The Snowman
Click here for more information on the series and to buy tickets.

Many thanks to the San Francisco Symphony for tickets to this unforgettable event.

Monday, October 10, 2016


In 1964 Stanley Kubrick, who had by this time directed several notable and some Oscar-nominated films (Killer's Kiss, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove) as well as one multiple-Academy-Award-winner (Spartacus), was now diving deep into science fiction. He'd become interested making a film about extraterrestrial life and was reading the work of top genre writers in search of a source novel that he could adapt. A knowledgeable acquaintance pointed him in the direction of Arthur C. Clark and though Clarke hadn't yet worked in film or had any of his novels adapted - and was wary - he was persuaded to collaborate by the dynamic and visionary Kubrick. Together the two would devise the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Clarke would concurrently write a novel of the same name.

In developing what would become a stunning visual contemplation of the evolution of man's consciousness, Kubrick would research heavily and spend a good amount of the film's production budget on technical invention. He referenced the writings and photographs of paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey in exploring man's past. In looking forward, Kubrick wanted ideas and designs from companies like IBM, Honeywell, Boeing, General Dynamics and others and persuaded them to participate by offering to display their corporate logos in his film. Space consultants Harry Lange and Frederick Ordway, both formerly of NASA, were contracted to work on 2001, Lange to design spacecraft and Ordway as principal technical advisor. 

In considering the groundbreaking film's musical direction, Kubrick, according to his biographer Vincent LoBrutto, had early on tried to hire German composer Carl Orff, who had written Carmina Burana, a piece the director often listened to "for atmosphere" while working on the screenplay with Clarke. Orff, in his 70s at the time, reportedly said no, explaining that he felt he was too old to take on a project of such magnitude.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


The legendary interviews of Alfred Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut, the French New Wave auteur who idolized him, took place in Hollywood over the course of a week in 1962. Their talks, with assistance by translator Helen Scott, were recorded and in 1966 a book, referred to by Truffaut as "the Hitchbook," was published. To everlasting acclaim. Revised and updated by Truffaut not very long after Hitchcock's death and only a year before his own end, Hitchcock/Truffaut stands as the definitive tome on Hitchcock and one of the all-time great books on film. And it is the inspiration for Kent Jones' 2015 documentary.

My copy of "the Hitchbook," with post-it notes

Though the interviews weren't filmed, they were recorded and photographed, and Jones includes sections of the audio and photos throughout his documentary. Most fascinating, though, is to watch scenes from Hitchcock's films (and clips from all of his great films are shown) that vividly illustrate his own words on his artistic process.  The observations of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Paul Schrader and others are also illuminating and provide insight into the powerful and long-lasting impact Hitchcock has had on filmmaking.

A must-have companion piece to the book, Hitchcock/Truffaut is currently available on HBO Now, HBO Go, via "On Demand" through September 10, and on DVD and Blu-ray.


Monday, August 1, 2016

THE REAL JAMES DEAN, new from the Chicago Review Press

61 years ago this September 30, newly-minted movie star James Dean, with an ace Porsche racing mechanic riding in the passenger seat, wrecked his brand-new Porsche Spyder on a remote northern California highway, bringing to an end his own turbulent 24-year-old life. The gone-too-soon Hollywood rebel instantly became a cult phenomenon and, over the six decades since, his story has become and remained legend and been the subject of countless books. Today the Chicago Review Press will release the latest, The Real James Dean: Intimate Memories from Those Who Knew Him Best.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Celebrating National Classic Movie Day: "5 Movies on an Island"

If by some bizarre quirk of fate I end up stranded on a deserted island that happens to have a reliable food source, lots of sunshine and balmy tropical breezes, I just might be blissed-out enough not to crave watching classic films. But probably not. A fundamental given for today's 5 Movies on an Island blogathon celebrating National Classic Movie Day is that some form of gizmo or gizmos capable playback will be ready and waiting for me on my island and that I'll have chosen and brought five movies with me to watch until I'm rescued - hopefully, within a week or two.