Thursday, February 24, 2011
Image of Graeme Thomas provide for exclusive use and may not be reproduced without prior authorisation. All rights reserved.
This exclusive interview with Graeme Thomas was conducted in Rome, Italy by Nicola Linza and Cristoffer Neljesjö during February 2011
What inspired you to do the short on 2001?
It was 1999, I had seen “2001” about 100 times and I was surprised to find nobody had registered the domain name kubrick2001.com. Internet was still booming then, before the crash of 2000, so what inspired me was a) the chance to tell the entire world what I thought “2001” meant, and b) the chance of making some money. As it turned out, I’ve never made a cent out of it. But it’s taken on a life of its own – our little show is now in 12 languages, including Chinese, Basque and Turkish and we’ve had more than 10 million visitors over the years. (A technical note: because we did the video back in 2000, when bandwidth was more limited and people had Pentium IIs, we had to compress sounds and reduce animation and "special effects" to a minimum. We got it down to 1.2 megabytes, which is really an achievement for something that runs for 20 minutes with a soundtrack.)
How long did it take to dissect the film?
About three decades. The first time I saw it, in 1969, I was totally lost. Then over the years, talking to people, reading books, I started to build up a plausible explanation. I used other people’s ideas and added some of my own. Basically I was trying to draw a line through the dots.
Apparently, one shouldn’t do that kind of thing with films. Kubrick himself said that “2001” shouldn’t be analysed, but experienced. But I’m an analytical type, and if you imagine the number of hours people have spent debating the meaning of “2001”, I’m not alone. There is another issue in this, which is Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, “2001”. Some people send us outraged comments saying “read the #$%^ing book!” but the book was published after the release of the film (in 1968) and in Clarke’s name only. What we see up there on the silver screen is based on a screenplay written by Kubrick and Clarke in 1964. While I was putting together our flash video, I found online the original screenplay and, comparing film and screenplay, you can see that Kubrick changed it considerably during filming. Also, if you read Clarke’s diaries of the time, he often comments on how Stanley is changing yet another part of the story. So, in the end, I see “2001” the film and “2001” the novel as two different takes on the same basic tale.
Were there any parts that you found disturbing or confusing?
The real enigma of “2001”, for an analytical type like me, is “why did HAL do it?”, why did he start murdering the crew of the Discovery. People who’ve read the Clarke novel will tell you “it was because HAL was programmed both to lie and tell the truth, and he flipped out – it’s all in the book!” In fact, “HAL’s nervous breakdown” was in the original screenplay as well, but it’s not in the film. Other people tell us we got it wrong and that HAL was scheming from the start to get rid of the crew, which is why he invented the story about the AE-35 unit that was going to fail – so he could separate Frank and Dave (gee, I hope this is not getting too detailed) and kill them. But that’s easily dismantled – if that was the case, why did HAL allow Frank to return with the supposedly faulty unit and let the crew discover it was perfectly OK, which is what convinced them to disconnect him? There’s a further step in that theory, which is that HAL convinced them to replace the unit and have it fail, so communication with earth would be interrupted and he could kill everyone at leisure. But when Frank goes out to replace the unit, HAL kills him immediately, so the unit was never replaced and it wasn’t faulty anyway, so it wouldn’t have failed and contact with earth couldn’t have been lost.
If you’ve followed me this far, the real explanation is simple: HAL made an error, it was going to cost him his “life” and he had no choice but to fight for survival. Of course, even that is not 100% clear in the film, which leads to my other theory: either Kubrick left that part deliberately obscure or that was where he made his famous 20 minutes of cuts after the film’s release, when the critics said it was too long.
Do you have a favorite director? And a favorite film of all time and why?
I’m not really a film buff. The only director I’ve followed closely is Kubrick. I especially liked “Barry Lyndon” (analytically, it’s all about deceit and money) and “Clockwork Orange”. I like films where you see something you’ve never seen before in a film (which is getting harder to do, with age). For example, in the film “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring” by Kim Ki-duk, a monk uses a protesting cat’s tail to paint a Buddhist sutra in blue on the deck of a floating monastery. That was pretty striking. I also like Italian films of the de Sica period, and those by Éric Rohmer, and Iranian films, because they tell stories about common people and common lives so well. Oh, and Fassbinder, he must have been a cyclone. But, off the top of my head, my favourite film today is “Rosemary’s Baby”. It’s still beautiful to look at and I love the way Polanski uses the absolutely mundane to tell such a deeply disturbing story.
It is 1970 and we are meeting up at a party that Luchino Visconti is having in Rome. What are you wearing? In addition, whom do we want to meet?
Well, I could have been in Rome in 1970. I’d be wearing whatever it was every other 20 year old was wearing, maybe a corduroy jacket, bell bottom jeans – were they still “in”? – maybe some fur. But it wouldn’t really matter, everyone looks good in anything at that age, or so it seems to me now. Not sure if I’d fit in to that party, so maybe we’d head off to Trastevere to some hosteria to sit and listen to Gore Vidal over a litre of vino bianco.
The above interview with Graeme Thomas 2011 © Manner of Man Magazine/Welldressed. All rights reserved. Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.