Film

Peeking Behind the Curtain of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Little of the information presented in Envisioning 2001 will be new to Kubrick diehards, but it gathers artifacts that offer a thrill for anyone who has ever been affected by the movie.

On the Hotel Room set of 2001: A Space Odyssey (photo courtesy Warner Bros. via the Museum of the Moving Image)

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most acclaimed and influential films ever made, a landmark in epic filmmaking and science fiction. Director Stanley Kubrick still looms large over pop culture in general and film culture in particular, to the point where an extensive exhibition about his life and work garnered massive success several years back. Now, more than 50 years after the film’s release, the Museum of the Moving Image is presenting an exhibition specifically devoted to 2001. Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey
devotes a full floor of gallery space to props, tools, art, advertising, and other ephemera related to the conception, creation, and impact of the movie.

Replica HAL 9000 camera lens (all gallery photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Little of the information presented in exhibition will be new to Kubrick diehards, but that’s not really the point of these kinds of shows. It’s one thing to read about the correspondences between Kubrick and legendary sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the novel on which 2001 was based and helped shepherd it into being. It’s another thing to see their letters laid out for you yourself to read. Cinema is a process of illusion by which various real, tangible elements are transformed into impossible events through all manner of tricks, from editing to animation. Peeking behind the curtain and seeing those tangible artifacts is a thrill for anyone who has ever been affected by the movie those artifacts are from. For a touchstone such as 2001, that effect is magnified.

So there’s a thrill to being able to look up close at the costumes, to see the fur work on a bodysuit that a performer wore to play a pre-evolved human. My favorite part was discerning the detail in the Pan Am logo on a stewardess cap, something you likely can’t see in the film itself but which makes the product all the more convincing because they added it, even though no one would consciously recognize it. Even reproductions of props in lieu of originals, such as the “eye” of the sinister computer HAL 9000, can induce a chill.

Space helmet and hominid mask

Some parts of the exhibition don’t work quite as well. An alcove which plays the infamously psychedelic “Stargate” sequence on a loop can’t hope to match the overwhelming power of experiencing it in a theatrical setting. And in general, for all the interesting peripheral materials the show gathers, such as a tie-in comic book, it still lacks a good deal of context which it could have given to the pop culture landscape 2001 came into, and how it changed that landscape. Nonetheless, it’s an engaging visit for cinephiles and laypeople alike.

Astronaut suit costume on view in Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey at MOMI

Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey is on view at the Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria, Queens) through July 19.

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