Last week, you may recall, I mentioned seeing John Ford's Fort Apache on the big screen at a Saturday matinee. What I didn't tell you was, on the same day, there was also an opportunity to see Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddessy at the World Theater in Kearney, a sister burgh, where I had already seen the likes of JAWS, Swiss Family Robinson, and Young Frankenstein as they were meant to be seen. Alas, this was also bill paying day; and no matter how hard I crunched the numbers I just couldn't creatively finance or justify the scratch for the tank of gas needed for this screening. And so, I settled for the next best thing and finally broke open my BlueRay copy of 2001, which I had rescued from a $5 bin the day I bought the player nearly two years ago. (I rescued a copy of The Outlaw Josey Wales from the same bin. Haven't watched that one yet either. *sigh*)
And so and so, I finally saw 2001: A Space Oddessy, digitally remastered, and in the right aspect ratio, and my mind was blown all over again in the comfort of my recliner. Not the same by any stretch, but it would do.
Now, the first time I tried to watch this movie ended in disaster. I was probably seven or eight years old when 2001 made its broadcast TV debut and I nearly gave up on it during the opening 'Dawn of Man' sequence but decided to stick it out -- for about another ten minutes, when I officially gave up during the interminable space-docking waltz and started cranking through the other channels. Both of them, and settled on something else. Most probably a Dukes of Hazard rerun.
I revisited it again in my late teens on video, but still didn't really get it, taking the film at face value -- or the value of the face that I saw: a pretentious sci-fi movie / cold-war parable about a man's hubris and a villainous super-computer turned homicidal that took an odd and exhaustive route to get there and then got really full of itself for the last ten minutes or so. Then, about a decade later, returning home one Friday night from the bar, bombed out of my skull, I found 2001 playing on one of the SuperStations and watched it for a third time, mesmerized, and the quarter finally dropped and I finally 'got it.' I think. Maybe. The long and the short of it: I just wasn't thinking big enough.
To me, 2001: A Space Odyssey is not about space exploration or a paranoid sentient computer in need of some Clozapine. (Teenage me thought the alien monoliths turned HAL homicidal.) No. Those are just means to an end. Nope. It's about the evolutionary progress of man -- more to the point, the moments which trigger or cause advances up the scale of such things. We begin at the beginning, with the use of basic tools and then warp ahead to show how far we've evolved and taken this technology: to the point where it is on the verge of surpassing us -- if it hasn't already; and also to the point where the tools we invented that allowed us to kill to survive and dominate is now capable of killing us to do the same. I've also felt that this was to somehow show that we, as a species had gone as far as technology could take us. The completion of a first step, if you will. We've built these amazing machines, but are still fallible. Thus, the question is: Are we ready for the next step? Whatever the hell that may be.
Of course, according to the film and the books it was based on by Arthur C. Clarke (The Sentinel), these steps have been prodded along by some higher power, who left benchmarks (the Monoliths) to spark and mark our progress as a species, which signal to the Big Unknown whenever an objective is reached. (From the Earth to the moon, and now, to Jupiter.) And when we are finally able to reach that last threshold, the Big Unknown deems us advanced enough and worthy of a closer look, which leads to the infamous stargate sequence, where Bowman's pod is reduced to a sperm-like speck as it warps into another place and another time, destined to be reborn, where he is observed further in the 'cosmic zoo', where everything happens at once like a theoretical tangled ball of cosmic string. (The second step.) And, in the end, we are judged to be worthy. (I think.) And the 'Star Child' is returned to Earth to mark a new beginning and trigger the third step.
What that third step is, well, that's up to each viewer. Mine is probably a little too optimistic, but, it was at this moment, with this interpretation, right or wrong, when I officially fell in love with the movie and never looked back. It's also one of the reasons I'm torn over the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, which I enjoyed but kinda blows this theory all to hell since it basically says that we weren't worthy after all and the Big Unknown was starting over on Europa.
All of this seems fairly obvious in hindsight. I freely admit it. But! The best part is, there is no 'right answer' when talking about opinions -- and none, no matter how much we trumpet them, are never definite. Philosophical debates and different interpretations aside, the film is a true technical marvel and a visual feast in its production design and execution -- which is a whole 'nother conversation for another day altogether.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Stanley Kubrick Productions :: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / P: Stanley Kubrick / AP: Victor Lyndon / D: Stanley Kubrick / W: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke (novel) / C: Geoffrey Unsworth / E: Ray Lovejoy / M: Patrick Moore / S: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack
I just love how that opening sequence metaphorically sets the viewer up for In the Heat of the Night, with Virgil Tibbs hitting town slowly and quietly but with the force of a runaway freight train that will knock the sultry right out of the sleepy and unsuspecting denizens of Sparta, Mississippi.
Produced and financed by Walter Mirisch, directed with a stylish flare by Norman Jewison -- aided and abetted greatly by the out-of-box thinking of cinematographer Haskell Wexler, the editing of Hal Ashby, and the hammer and anvil of Quincy Jones score, what the film accomplishes as a seething social commentary is storied and bona fide from concept to execution. And when you look up those names involved, these results shouldn't be all that surprising; and yet the film not only accomplished its lofty goals but over-achieved to something even greater than this. And the fact that the Academy Awards, where it swept most of the major categories -- beating out Mike Nichols The Graduate and Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde, was postponed for two days due to the assassination of Dr. King is a sad coda to their efforts.
To me, one of the best things about In the Heat of the Night is so obvious you might not even see it, but, remember, framing this unflinching look at ingrained prejudices is one crackerjack murder-mystery being unraveled and stitched back together for our entertainment. Pretty amazing when considering screenwriter Sterling Silliphant's other credits, where subtext and subtlety go up in smoke (The Towering Inferno), then drowned upside down (The Poseidon Adventure), before being torn apart by a herd of stampeding killer bees (The Swarm).
I'd also like to shine a spotlight on the sound-design of Walter Goss and James Richard. For, when I watched this again via my new TV and BluRay player, I could hear every muscle movement made by Chief Gillispie's jowls while he chomps and cracks his gum. Add in the hum and glow of all that neon and the thrum of the insects and you can almost feel the oppressive heat and humidity and smell the sweat emanating from the screen.
Then again, you can probably just chuck all of that aside and just watch two really good actors spark off of each other like a couple pieces of flint for a couple of hours if you're so inclined. And on top of Potier and Steiger, you've got Warren Oates, William Schallert, Peter Whitney, Scott Wilson and Anthony James taking turns at stealing scenes.
Thus and so, whatever reasons you choose, I encourage you all to watch or revisit this film. Because no matter what angle you choose to watch from, the results are consistently ah-mazing.
In the Heat of the Night (1967) The Mirisch Corporation :: United Artists / P: Walter Mirisch / D: Norman Jewison / W: Stirling Silliphant, John Ball (novel) / C: Haskell Wexler / E: Hal Ashby / M: Quincy Jones / S: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, William Schallert, Peter Whitney
The Hall County Historical Society sponsored a screening of John Ford's seminal western, Fort Apache, starring John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and G.I. native Henry Fonda, this weekend and, for once, I got wind of it before the matinee actually took place. (I missed out on a similar screening of DeMille's Union Pacific by mere hours last year.) And so, I found myself at the Grand Theater Saturday afternoon, my burgh's beautifully restored show palace, a bag of peanut M&Ms clutched in hand, grinning from ear to ear as the lights dimmed, the curtain rose, the music came up, and the film began. And so, to mark this special occasion, here's a dozen random things I love about this movie:
1. The low camera angles and the resulting big sky.
2. "If you saw them, they weren't Apaches."
3. The Sergeants Four.
3A. The Privates Four.
4. Monument Valley.
5. The Birth of The Agar.
6. "Pour me some scripture."
7. Ward Bond being awesome.
8. The non-commissioned officers dance.
8B. Henry Fonda's mad dancing skills.
8C. Spiking the punch.
9. How the girls they left behind are the true backbone of the outfit.
10. Sgt. Beaufort's snarling enunciation of "Waahhhrr!"
11. How the film makes it crystal clear that the Apaches are the aggrieved party and not the villains of this piece.
12. This shot right here.
Now take those 12 things, and everything else, and then amp them up to an 11 on the dial when experienced on the big screen. Wow. I'm telling ya, I don't care how big your TV is, how good your sound system is, or how bad the crowd you encounter (-- three old duffer's cell phones chimed off during the screening), there ain't nothing like seeing a movie on the big screen in a darkened theater.
Yeah, I've seen this film dozens of times but that was ah-mazing. And each time, I pick up something new. This time, I realized Cochise used the exact same lure and trap on Col. Thursday (Fonda), who felt the Apache's skills as a tactician were over-exaggerated, that Thursday had used earlier, with young O'Rourke (Agar) as bait to retrieve the bodies of the telegraph repair party, for the climax. There's some irony for ya.
I also love Philadelphia's (Temple) petulance, and the quiet, tender moments between her and her father -- a father whose contradictions I find fascinating. And don't forget Hank Warden, frontier idiot. We also get Guy Kibbee's last hurrah as the permanently soused company surgeon, and Victor McLaglen being Victor McLaglen. And then there's Captain York's (Wayne) visible disdain over the whitewashing and jingoistic twist on Thursday's Charge during the denouement, but holds his tongue as a matter of duty. And I'll always be curious about the unspoken grudge between Thursday and Captain Collingwood. The camaraderie, the stunts, the action, the adventure, the gallantry and the romance, yeah, if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and visit Fort Apache as soon as possible. Forward, yo!
Fort Apache (1948) Argosy Pictures :: RKO Radio Pictures / P: Merian C. Cooper, John Ford / D: John Ford / W: Frank S. Nugent, James Warner Bellah (story) / C: Archie Stout, William H. Clothier / E: Jack Murray / M: Richard Hageman / S: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, John Agar, Ward Bond, Pedro Armendáriz, Victor McLaglen