by Dan Persons
2001: A Space Odyssey is the dividing line. Before it, any trip beyond the Earth’s atmosphere was more a vision of pure fantasy than hard fact: stars twinkled, planets seemed forged in a Hammond globe factory, spaceships zipped noisily about as if they were mere trinkets yanked along on piano wire (they were, they were). After 2001, such illusions died a rapid death. Here was a film that gave audiences a genuine glimpse of what awaited humankind out there: inky blackness that made a mockery of such concepts as up, down, near, and far; worlds etched over with cloud-covers that seemed Rorschachs of our most demented emotional states; and machines so mammoth that they required the combined power of multiple nuclear explosions to push their bulks across the heavens. With 2001, we learned the real depth and mass of space, and discovered that “The Ultimate Trip” was going to be a cold, lonely one—an adventure more daunting to the psyche than the body.
It’s doubtful that anyone in 1965 could have anticipated what Stanley Kubrick had in mind when he signed with MGM to produce his next film, Journey Beyond the Stars, based on a short story by Arthur C. Clarke. Certainly a young illustrator named Douglas Trumbull wasn’t aware of how the film would change his life, leading him from the relative obscurity of his work for a Hollywood production house to prominence as one of the foremost effects specialists in filmmaking.
At the time, Trumbull was working for Hollywood’s Graphic Films, a production company specializing in space and technology films for the government. In 1964, Graphic had produced To the Moon and Beyond, a 70mm “event film” about manned space flight, shot in Cinerama 360 and projected on a domed, planetarium-style screen at the New York World’s Fair. Amongst the audience for the film was Stanley Kubrick, who noted the elaborate model work (as well as the background paintings designed by Trumbull) and contracted Graphic to do pre-production artwork for Journey. The association was cut short, though, when Kubrick resolved to shoot the show in England, and insisted on having all aspects of the production close to hand.
Not to be cut out of a major film project, Trumbull contacted Kubrick on his own, and received an invitation to join the production. At the age of twenty-three, Douglas Trumbull flew out to London, where he joined the effects team of the new movie. “I didn’t know what to anticipate,” recalled Trumbull. “I’d never met Stanley Kubrick—I’d admired his films enormously, because he’d made [Dr] Strangelove and Paths of Glory. I thought this was going to be a fabulous opportunity to work with a filmmaker. 1 personally was not in film at all. I was on the illustration end. I hadn’t been operating cameras, I knew almost nothing about photography. But I felt this was a great opportunity—I’d go and see what happened.”
While Trumbull was still a relative neophyte in the business, the same could not be said of the others who would share credit as the film’s effects supervisors. “Wally Veevers was older than all of us, much more experienced, and had done a lot of effects for a lot of films in England. He was best on the mechanical rigging side of the effects. Wally, I think, was principally responsible for some of the real complicated set-ups that we had to build, special camera rigs, special tracks, motorization of the cameras, repeatability of the cameras for multiple passes.
“Tom Howard was principally responsible only for the front-projection equipment, which was used primarily for the Dawn of Man sequence in the beginning and just two or three shots in the body of the film. Tom had nothing to do with the rest of the film. Con Pederson was my boss at Graphic Films. He ended up also coming over to work on 2001. He headed up the management and supervision of the opticals. It was a very complicated management task to keep track of, I think, 250-350 shots, and Con really managed the entire project. He didn’t get specifically involved in the photography of shots as much as I did, but in terms of storyboarding, helping to design miniatures, supervising designs, working with the art department, that was his role. My role started out being on the animation side, and then diverged into some miniature photography, a lot of slit- scan, and special problems.”
While Trumbull’s first task on the film was intended to make use of his talents as a drafter, it eventually demanded that he call into play skills acquired while studying for a career in engineering, skills that would eventually set the tone for his continued participation in the project. “In the first phase, because of my orientation in graphics and having been involved in animation, one of the first tasks I got involved in was doing all the readouts from HAL’s brain, all those multiple screens of fake computer graphics—there were no real computer graphics, it was all faked up. That was considered to be an animation project, and I hired a local animation studio to do the photography and I started setting up all the artwork for it.
“Then we found out that it was going to take forever. We needed thousands of feet of animation, and if you did it the normal way—you have an exposure sheet which identifies on every frame what’s going to happen—if you get that organized it was going to take us about ten years to make all those readouts. So with the help of Wally Gentleman, who had come from the National Film Board of Canada, he helped me build an animation stand which I designed. It was a Mitchell camera and a zoom lens and light box with a sheet of glass and lights underneath. I had a little, German prototype kit, which is sort of an Erector set for engineers, so I could make all kinds of weird rigs with gears and shafts and pulleys and motors and make things move around in front of the camera, automate the movement of the zoom lens. Working with a cameraman named Bruce Logan—a very gifted photographer who at that time was also very young, he was probably about 19, 20—we worked out these techniques for doing all these fake HAL readouts, and doing them very, very rapidly. On our best day, we did a thousand feet of animation on the stand, shooting one frame at a time. It was amazing.”
That work lasted for several months. Afterwards, Trumbull’s tasks broadened as he took advantage of a loophole in British law that, while meant to encourage the hiring of native workers, also afforded Americans opportunities that would have been impossible in a domestic production. “I was one of the only Americans there on the production, there were maybe only six Americans on the whole film. There’s a program in England, a tax benefit situation or government funding situation—I don’t know how it works. Basically, it meant that the Americans who were there didn’t have any union rules to live by, because the whole idea was to bring American money into England, largely employing British technicians, who were all in unions. I could go from any stage to any stage and do anything. I could work with clay. I could paint, I could draw, I could go to the machine shop. I could do photography. I could do stills. I could build models, anything. So, being able to range around through all the different disciplines of the studio. I was able to learn a lot and integrate a lot.
“I built a lunar surface model as big as this room—about 20 feet by 20 feet—all out of modeling clay. I’d go there every day and built this monster thing all by myself. I didn’t have any assistants or anything. I can’t even begin to say how many different aspects of the movie 1 was involved in through the production. I’d have to almost go through it shot-by-shot.
“It started spreading out into being involved with Harry Lange, who was the production designer of all the spaceships and stuff, and Tony Masters, who was the over-all production designer. I helped work out the actual construction of the models they were designing, working out the articulated legs for the lunar lander and the Aries space craft. I started getting involved in models, which ultimately led to being involved in some of the miniature photography. some of the special shots. I got involved in building a lot of the lunar terrains, the models of the lunar surface, painting the lunar globe, painting the Earth globe, painting badges for actors. I got into just about everything.
“I largely managed and supervised the animation department. Anything that had to do with the backgrounds of stars: many of the spacecraft were little cutouts of photographs, all of the lunar terrains were committed to black and white photographs which were retouched and photographed on an animation stand, all the stars, all the planets, all of Jupiter’s moons, were all put together on the animation stand. I supervised that department, lined up all the animation shots, got everything photographed and then integrated with the live-action and miniature photography.”
What were Kubrick’s marching orders for the effects crew? “Just absolutely the utmost in quality. Everything had to be absolutely, spotlessly perfect. There wasn’t a fleck of dust on any of the artwork, there was never any technical flaws, or jiggles to the movement, or bad lighting. It was just perfect. And it had to be shot over and over until it was perfect in every respect. It was grueling, but everybody admired it.”
The demand for perfection was made all the more difficult because the art of film effects, even after some 60 years of development, was still very much in a relative stone-age. “I was too inexperienced to know what was normal and what was not,” noted Trumbull. “I didn’t have any guidelines. I think if you really look back through the history of film to movies like Things to Come and Citizen Kane—some of the movies that have previously used rear-projection effects or composite effects or optical printing—ultimately. I don’t think you’d find all that much that’s new in 2001, technically. What I think 2001 brought was a new level of quality, a new level of doing it in 70mm. a very unusual methodology for trying to retain the utmost possible quality. The method of putting together the shots was all contact-printed in the camera using yellow/cyan/magenta separations, which was an incredibly laborious, difficult, painful process. There weren’t any really good optical printers at the time, especially in England. So whenever there was a shot that involved multiple elements— one element being a planet, one element being the stars, one element being a spaceship—each of those was a set of yellow/cyan/magenta separations that had to be printed to a single negative, often just using a camera aimed at a white card as a light source to expose the contact-printed image.
“We did a lot of hand roto-scoping for the stars. We had no effective way at the time of doing really repeatable motion- control to pull off masks. Whenever a spacecraft or a planet or an astronaut was moving in front of a starfield, we had to go in and matte out the stars by hand. That meant setting up a whole department of rotoscopers who would take color prints of scenes and register them on animation peg- boards and draw the outline of the scene and time it. Then the ink-and-painter would ink and paint the shot. We called it the ’Blob Shop.’ and they would do what we would call blobbing, which was black out wherever the stars weren’t supposed to be so they didn’t get superimposed over anything. It was just a lot of hand-work, and the massive quantity of it was a breakthrough. I don’t think anybody had ever done a film where effects had played such a large, continuous role in the production.
“It was also quite unusual in that Stanley Kubrick wanted to treat all of the special effects as if they were live-action footage. So we composited special effects shots from multiple angles, to full length. He didn’t edit until after they were completed. No one would ever consider doing that these days.”
While in-the-camera compositing did lead to magnificently seamless effects shots, it also created some mind-boggling logistic problems. Take the establishing shot of the Tyco Magnetic Anomaly 1. a sequence that was literally a year in the making. “Those shots were shots of the monolith on the moon. The live action was shot on a very large stage—I think at Shepperton studios—with a loeked-off camera. When they would load the camera at the beginning of a roll of film, they would actually scribe the frame right on the frame. They’d open up the aperture plate and actually scribe so you could find which five perfs were being used to expose that negative, and then mark on it the scene number, the take number, the date, and whatever. They’d do take after take after take—we’d have many of what were called held takes: multiple performances of the same thing with copious notes on how many feet into a take a certain action would occur—and a lot of just running footage which we’d use for testing and sampling and lining up. So you could just go into one of these roles—which we did a year later; they were held in a freezer— pull them out. put ’em back in the camera, line them up to where they’d been scribed, go down a certain number of frames, and then you would expect some image to be there. Then we’d superimpose a model, or a lunar landscape in that particular case.
“There’d be at least three exposures added to those held takes, sometimes called latent takes: the lunar landscape, then the stars would be another pass and the Earth up in the sky would be another pass. These all had to be in register and the right, relative exposure. We found out after a year that the emulsion of the film was starting to turn slightly magenta, and we’d have to make compensation for that. One of the things that we did throughout the film which was very important and which Stanley Kubrick insisted on and which everybody supported was that virtually every shot in the film, at the head of the shot, had a full greyscale and color chart before anything was performed. Virtually everything had these charts, so the color timers at the lab could get it right. They were working against such subtle gradations of grey and blue- grey and brownish-grey and subtle tones that were all just layers of grey, the color correction had to be perfect.”
Although the people on the front lines saw the reasons for such perfection, the people in the front office were having considerable trouble, especially as the film’s budget and schedule began to balloon past any reasonable bounds. “The only real friction I witnessed,” said Trumbull, “was the friction between Kubrick and MGM over the movie taking too long, costing too much money. There’d be periodic showdowns where the MGM staff would show up and want to see the sets or want to see dailies. Kubrick kept that very private. He didn’t involve the crew in any kind of upsetting political or financial machinations. we were very protected from it. He was great.
“We were very isolated from it. Kubrick had his own vision of the film that he was going to stick by. Even though we knew he was under time pressure and financial pressure, we were always encouraged to do what was best for the film. It wasn’t like ‘no matter how long it takes,’—I mean, there was a point where everybody had to get on with it and the movie had to draw to a close. But given that I was supposed to be there only nine months and ended up being there two and half years. I know it was a stretch for the studio.”
One of the reasons for the inflating budget, Trumbull admits, was a production style that would nowadays be considered professional suicide for any director: “I hate to say that it was being made up as it went along, but it was going through a lot of metamorphosis during the production. Things kept changing, things kept improving, the script kept being re-written to accommodate new ideas. It was very amorphous through the production. There were all kinds of ideas that were seriously considered and ultimately abandoned, or tested and abandoned. The shooting ratio on the film, I understand, was about 200:1 [an interesting coincidence). There was a lot of footage that didn’t get on the screen.”
As controversial as the freeform nature of the film’s production may have been, it did set up an environment that directly led to the creation of 2001’s most memorable set-piece; Dave Bowman’s climactic flight through the stargate: “The staff,” remembered Trumbull, “including Tony Masters and others in the art department, were struggling with how to do this transition at the end of the film. It originally included coming to one of the moons of Jupiter and finding a slotshaped hole in the surface that you could sec through to another galaxy. That always seemed to be too literal of an idea, there was no way to draw it. it didn’t seem to be convincing…I remember in one of the earlier drafts there was a series of activities that went on. because both actors were supposed to be there at the end. One of them went ahead, approached the slot, launched some kind of remote probe—like a smart-bomb with a camera—into the slot, and it got sucked into the slot and disappeared. So [Bowman and Poole) talked about that: “What should we do?’ ‘I don’t know.’ One of them decides, ‘I’ll wait back here while you go in.’ One of the astronauts goes in one of the pods while another pod waits outside, and then he disappears.
“They were toying around with photographic techniques: drums with rotating mirrors, rear-projection screens, trying to find some kind of effect. Nobody knew what it would be. but they were quite unsuccessful. And then I came up with this slit-scan technique, which looked like it could create this feeling of infinity, an infinity that was just abstract.
“I had heard about some of the recent work that [experimental filmmaker] John Whitney was doing with scanning techniques—long time-exposure scanning techniques—and I thought that was very ingenious. I wondered if there wasn’t a way to do that three-dimensionally—he was doing it flat and I wanted to do it three-dimensionally. I did some tests on our animation stand and basically worked out this process called ‘slit-scan.’
“I showed Stanley Kubrick some Polaroid photographs I shot demonstrating this slit-scan technique, and got his approval to build this big machine. It was huge, it was three times as big as this room. It took me over nine months of continuous photography to do all that star-corridor stuff.”
The slit-scan machine—which incorporated a motorized camera tracking in to a slit behind which illuminated art was manipulated—eventually became the method by which Kubrick would transfer his sole, surviving astronaut beyond the infinite. In its most spectacular incarnation, the machine was used to generate elements used in the “mind-bender” effect, a shot in which pulsating, ever- metamorphosing diamonds hovered over a seemingly infinite planetary plane.
“That was mostly a rigging job that Wally Veevers had to do,” said Trumbull. “It was very complicated, multiple exposure. 35mm projected plates onto this diamond-shaped object, pass after pass after pass. It was a very laborious job. I wasn’t very involved in that, but I was involved in the other half of that shot. There was a bunch of these diamonds with the slit-scan effect, but then there was that plane of light that was another version of slit-scan. I was experimenting with all kinds of variations of slit-scan—many of which are not in the film and have not been used to this day—that were very beautiful effects. That weird, undulating plane on the mind-bender shot was a big drum—I guess about six-to-eight feet and two feet or three feet in diameter— wrapped with shiny, acrylic plastic, like mylar; silvered plastic that was all bent and rippled. I had a very thin slit of light and a long focal length light source that bounced a slit of light against this rippled surface up onto a rear-projection screen to create this sort of Aurora Borealis effect, which I then streaked spatially while the drum rotated. It created this weird, very soft, undulating surface that was quite different from the rigid surfaces of the stargate.”
As for the wordless sequence that led up to the stargate light- show—a literal dance of the spheres in which the spaceship Discovery and a huge monolith were juxtaposed among various mystical configurations of Jupiter’s moons—Trumbull noted that, here again, the production’s experimental nature led to the sequence’s awesome beauty.
“That sequence was done quite a bit later in the production. and I think it was done a little more efficiently than some of the body of the film. The whole Jupiter sequence was a series of shots that were developed through a technique that I can only describe as screen- tests. What 1 had done, while working with the other people, I had done all of Jupiter’s moons. I worked out a technique of making 35mm glass slides by painting weird kinds of paint right on the glass. They weren’t photographic, there was actually paint on the glass that would reticulate and merge and blend—sort of like a hippy light-show effect that would solidify. Then I would project those slides from two or three slide projectors onto a white globe from several angles and create a little, spherical moon which looked amazingly like what the real moons had been revealed to look like.
“We made those moons and then photographically copied those moons at all different sizes from very large to very small. The Jupiter was made on this ‘Jupiter machine* device that I made up; it was a painting I made of the Jupiter surface and then…I can’t even begin to describe it, it was another version of slit-scan (basically, the painting was projected and scanned along the curved, whitened edge of a card to create a photographically realistic sphere). It took about four or five hours to make every exposure of the Jupiter surface.
“No one knew—I didn’t know. Kubrick didn’t know— what he wanted to see. So working with me and Colin Cantwell and Con Pederson— maybe Bruce Logan helped at this point. I’m not sure—the group of us just put together every composition that we could think of: planet on the top. moons below; planet on the right, moons on the left; moons in a string; moons in a loop; moons of different sizes. We pasted them up on pieces of black paper and photographed them on 70mm film. We’d shoot about maybe ten or fifteen seconds of each mock-up of a shot, so that we could show Kubrick in a screening room this whole selection of shots. We must have made 20 or 30 or 40 of them. Then he would pick the ones that he thought were most interesting to be developed into a real shot, where we would then add the motion and add stars, or whatever.
“We also had a technique that we used throughout the production. We developed a whole series of star backgrounds that moved at different speeds—some moving up, some moving down, some moving left, some moving right, some moving diagonally. We had a whole library of star backgrounds. Through editorial, we could set up reels of film—one reel of film might have a space station or a planet and the other reel would have a star background. We’d project with two projectors running simultaneously onto the screen at one time to see the interaction of star background movements and the foreground movement of the primary object. Only when you saw those things moving together did you start getting these moments when you would suddenly see that there was a weightless feeling, because the stars were in fact moving in the opposite direction than you would think, or they would be moving in a tangent that would create a floating feeling. You could never anticipate what that would be until you screened it. We used these techniques through the Jupiter sequence as well.”
The orbiting monolith received similar handling: “I wasn’t involved in the photography of [the monolith). First off: it had to be perfect. The original block was transparent; Kubrick called for the block to be like a large crystal, and had a plastics company in England cast the world’s largest crystal block ever made in one piece. It probably still exists, this giant slab of acrylic plastic. It took weeks and weeks to make, because you have to cool it very, very slowly. It took weeks just to cool down from its melting point, otherwise it would crack or bend. A lot of money and time was spent building this big, transparent block—Kubrick saw it and there was a sort of an amber cast to it, it wasn’t perfectly crystalline. It looked like a big piece of plastic. It was out like that.
“The miniature black block was a very small block, maybe about three feet long. It had to be just perfectly polished and painted with a zillion coats of lacquer, and then it was all just shot against black velvet. Kubrick directed the effects unit to literally shoot the black block from every angle they could think of: coming toward you, moving away from you, moving from the bottom of the frame to the top, from the left to the right, from the right to the left, and always turning a bit so it just caught a glint of light. We’d Find times when the glint of light would correspond to a planet surface that might tend to create it, and we’d do that in double-projection. It was a whole series of evaluations and mock-ups and double-projection screenings until you found the right combination of factors. That then would become the design for that shot.”
Not all the footage that Trumbull generated made it into the film, though. Amongst the most tantalizing of the known out-takes were the “City of Light” shots, which—to Trumbull’s knowledge—exist now only as stills seen in Jerome Agel’s Making of 2001 book. “That was photographed on the slit-scan machine with another special rig I built: all kinds of concentric groupings of little light bulbs that were sequenced automatically with microswitches and photo-electric timers. There was a technical flaw in it: there was a backlash, so when 1 shot one frame going forward and the other frame going back, the buildings would oscillate to different positions. When Kubrick saw the test, the whole thing was jittering. In retrospect. I remember Kubrick, when he first saw it. rejected the shot, didn’t like it. and so that whole project was cancelled. But then, in reviewing footage at the very end, when he was in the final editorial process. Stanley realized that there was some valid ideas going on there that was then just too late to finish, and that he might have liked to see finished. But we were out of time.”
Time constraints also defused the attempt to photographically generate an alien life form. “A lot of time was spent trying to develop aliens. All of it was abandoned. At one time 1 came up with some very strange alien life-forms that were three-dimensional, slit- scan. kaleidoscopes that would take me an hour to draw and try to explain. I also came up with this idea of video feedback, because we had a little video monitor system we were using for looking at what we were shooting. I started toying with this video feedback, and discovered that if you could get it adjusted just right, it created these pulsing, amoeba-like shapes that would change and undulate. It was a very exotic effect, which we tried to photograph. That was when we were really running out of gas. We were in the final stages of the film, wrapping it up. and there simply wasn’t lime to do anything more.” The winding down of the project demanded its own price. After two and a half years of non-stop work, the crew was beginning to exhibit signs of strain. “There was a time toward the end of the film, in the last few’ months and weeks, that a lot of people felt that they were just tired of it. That it had gone on too long, that it was too agonizing, too difficult. I remember there was a period happening toward the completion of 2001 where I think everybody felt that it had already taken too long—job offers were coming up, there was sort of an upswing in the movie business right toward the end of 2001, and there were people defecting from the film and taking more lucrative jobs or the next job offer, prior to the work being completed on 2001. There was a lot of angst and antagonism and concern in the last few’ months and weeks. It was coming right up against the Christmas season, too, I remember that.”
Unfortunately, not all the angst dissipated once the film had completed shooting. Some of it, in fact, carried forward to the film’s debut. For some exhibitors, it found a home in the fact that, while the film was shot in Super Panavision for projection on the curved Cinerama screen, the unique format wasn’t accounted for during the years of production.
“During the entire production of the film, we never once viewed footage on a curved screen or in the format.” said Trumbull. “What would happen is we’d shoot in 65mm. but the lab would generate 35mm, anamorphic prints for us to look at. So throughout the production, all we saw were 35mm, anamorphic prints on a small, flat screen. We never saw’ it in a Cinerama theatre. It wasn’t until the very, very end of photography, or maybe once during production, that I think Kubrick took a couple of 70mm prints and went down to a 70mm theatre to see how it looked. I wasn’t there, I wasn’t privy to that. So, in a sense, the movie was not made with a curved screen in mind. In some of the Cinerama theatres there was a serious projection problem, because the projection booths were mounted up too high and you had a horrible sort of curved, keystoning effect: the titles would come out badly curved and it looked very distorted.”
The most agonizing problem for Trumbull and crew, however, turned out to be the film’s closing credits. While Trumbull, Veevers, Pederson, and Howard all received the too-rare honor of their own, individual title cards, arrangements called for another card to appear first: “SPECIAL PHOTOGRAPHIC EFFECTS DESIGNED AND DIRECTED BY STANLEY KUBRICK.”
“That’s been a touchy issue,” noted Trumbull. “I don’t think it was an appropriate credit for him to have taken. Many of the fundamental principles of the effects for the movie were created by others. They weren’t designed by Stanley Kubrick. They were directed by him. I think it may be one of the rare times in movie history where the Film’s director was so integrally involved in the special effects. So in terms of directing the special effects, that was a legitimate credit. But I designed the slit-scan, he didn’t; Tony Masters designed the centrifuge interior. Harry Lange designed the exterior of the Discovery—it was a very collaborative process with a lot of people.
“It became a problem at Academy Awards time, because the awards’ rules in that particular year—they change from year to year, which is awkward —was that the Academy would not give out statuettes or the award to more than three people in that category, and there were four people listed. Through some mechanism—I don’t know what it was—between MGM, Kubrick, and the Academy, the determination was made to just omit the four people who’d actually done the work and give the award to Stanley Kubrick himself, which I never agreed with.”
Time, sadly, has not reduced the friction. As recently as a few- years ago, MGM—at Kubrick’s insistence—was posting notices in Daily Variety to rebut an ad from Hewlett-Packard that played up Trumbull’s participation in the film. “There’s been a problem that I’ve always had, and I’ve talked frankly with Kubrick directly about it. I often get interviewed about 2001, among other things, and the one thing a lot of interviewers write is ‘Doug Trumbull, who did the special effects for 2001…’ I never claimed to be the sole guy on 2001, I always mention the other guys who worked on the movie and say I was one of several effects supervisors. But in the context of interviews, they often would say it that way. Kubrick would read these interviews and he’d write me or telegram me or phone me and say, ‘What are you doing going around claiming to be the only guy who did the special effects for 2001?’ And I’d say, ‘Stanley, I didn’t claim that. That’s not what I said. That’s just a habit of the press to over-simplify things.’
“Anyway, that happened once too often in that Hewlett- Packard thing. They did that. I warned them in writing to watch out for that specifically, that that was going to be a problem. They didn’t correct it in time. It went to press. Kubrick saw it and got really angry and launched that full-page ad in the trades. Which was ridiculous and didn’t deserve a response. But it terminated my personal relationship with Stanley Kubrick.”
Despite the loss of this connection with the director, Trumbull still admits to considerable admiration for Kubrick and the result of those years of work. “It’s a subjective, visual experience. I know that what Stanley Kubrick wanted from the beginning was this subjective. personal experience for the audience, where they would be transported into space. It wasn’t a plot-driven experience, it was emotional, musical, ultimately balletic. I don’t think he knew it was going to be balletic. There were two musical scores made for the film that were both abandoned. In the eleventh hour, Stanley was listening to his children’s record albums at home and stumbled upon the Blue Danube and other pieces. When you saw those pieces of music against the picture, you could understand why it worked. We had to find music that worked with those kind of balletic motions.
“I was really proud to have worked on it. I really liked it. I was just a very young guy, the whole thing was fabulous as far as I was concerned. I was very disappointed to hear that the movie wasn’t doing well. You know, the movie almost got pulled; they were about thirty days into the release and maybe only a few days, at most, away from abandoning it altogether because it wasn’t doing business. it was playing to empty theatres. After about 30 days, apparently some kind of word-of-mouth started picking up and people started coming and sitting in the front row and smoking pot and having a good time. As I heard the story, some theatre owners would call in to the distribution wing of MGM and say, ‘There’s something happening here, there seems to be more and more people every day, and they’re all sitting down in the front row and they’re all smoking pot and they’re all having a good time. Let’s let the movie play a few more days and see what happens.’
“Then the audience started to build back up by itself. It became a sort of psychedelic movie and found its own audience. But it almost got totally abandoned. It was a close call.”
Cinefantastique, v. 25 n. 3, June 1994