On Friday, my esteemed colleague and I made sure to attend the final showing at the current incarnation of the Royal Cinema, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It goes without saying that I snapped samizdat photographs.

Title card shows a star eclipsing a penumbra and the words  ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

I scarcely ever watch this picture, as it is already a fundamental component of my being. It came out in 1968, and that was the first time I saw it: I sat on my mother’s knee and I was three years old. I distinctly remember the curtains closing on a title card reading INTERMISSION, right after HAL lipreads the astronauts. I really was there and I really do remember it.

I scarcely ever watch this picture, as its intent is to appear so realistic as to be a documentary. It achieves that intent, hence 2001 is an elementally frightening picture. (Right now, today, who is hiding these monoliths from us?) Whenever they appear, their rectilinear perfection is so out of place it can only mean we’re outmatched. Anything that could manufacture a perfect solid like that, and install it where they did, can and will outgun us on every level. It is disturbing to consider that evolution could occur in jumps, each of which has to be triggered by a metallic alien monolith whose owners can demonstrably do whatever they please with us.

Frame from film shows sunrise on a savannah and the title THE DAWN OF MAN

2001 is hair-raising. It is a kind of religious experience for atheists. It is an insanely difficult acid test for captioning and description, which, inevitably, I never stop thinking about while watching it. 2001 is, moreover, an index of a generation gap among cinéastes, since the group that considers 2001 the finest motion picture of the 20th century simply will never get along with the group that recapitulates tired arguments for the consensus choice, Citizen Kane.

But I must report that the Royal went out with a whimper. The event started – a half-hour late – with lengthy thank-yous to the Royal in-crowd. (The projectionist was singled out for especial thanks. He would proceed to blow two full reel changes during 2001.) There was much discussion of keeping alive this form of cinematic experience, particularly with a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen. The word “DVD” was never mentioned.

We were forced to endure the worst short subject that could possibly run before a classic of philosophical science fiction, a Three Stooges caper lasting 20 excruciating (and ear-piercing) minutes. What was billed as a “treat” was actually a chore that wasted our time. And, best of all, it was presented to us on DVD. We even saw the vaunted projectionist fumble repeatedly with the onscreen menus.

And inevitably, the only attendee who received any attention was the guy who never fails to receive attention, Don McKellar. Better grab his picture before he disappears, never to be documented again.

Man with camcorder crouches in cinema aisle and interviews a seated Don McKellar

I’m not picking on Don, whom I was permitted to meet once and who is always one step ahead of you. A fine lad, really. But, even without seeing the footage from this “videographer,” I know my story of 2001 is better than Don’s.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2006.07.03 13:18. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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