martedì 10 dicembre 2013

Il leopardo riluttante de "L'Alba dell'Uomo"

(11 dicembre: l'articolo è stato modificato dopo la sua pubblicazione; ho rimosso la fotografia e le informazioni sul Terry Duggan sbagliato - ancora una volta, IMDB e Wikipedia hanno dimostrato di non essere infallibili. La fonte è la sorella del nostro Duggan, riportata da Jamie Clubb)

Dan Richter era un attore e mimo in difficoltà economica che sbarcava il lunario a Londra quando, nell'Ottobre '66, fu chiamato dalla MGM per una consulenza su come completare le sequenze iniziali di 2001. Profondamente impressionato dal giovane talento, Kubrick lo assunse subito per coreografare “L'Alba dell'Uomo” (titolo italiano del segmento iniziale di 2001, in inglese "The Dawn of Man"), dove finì per interpretare il leader della tribù di uomini-scimmia (Guarda-La-Luna, dal nome che appare nel libro di Arthur C. Clarke; Moonwatcher, nell'originale inglese). Ambientato tre milioni di anni fa, questo inusuale prologo alle sequenze spaziali del film illustra la storia dei nostri antenati, che compiono il primo passo della lunga strada verso l'Umanità.


Sin dalla prima volta che vidi 2001 rimasi impressionato, tra i mille dettagli straordinari de “L'Alba dell'Uomo”, dall'apparizione inusuale (per un film di fantascienza!) di quello stupendo leopardo.


Mi ero sempre chiesto come avevano fatto a realizzare quelle scene - soprattutto quella dell'attacco - finché nel 2002 uscì il formidabile libro Moonwatcher's Memoir scritto dallo stesso Moonwatcher, Dan Richter.


Con Memoir Richter ha scritto la migliore testimonianza di un partecipante alla realizzazione di 2001: le storie su Kubrick, Stuart Freeborn (il mago del make-up che realizzò i costumi degli uomini-scimmia) e della troupe sono così vivide che sembrano uscite dalle cronache di un giornale di ieri - e in qualche modo lo sono, poiché Richter ha potuto attingere al suo diario degli anni 1966-1967.

Il libro è un gioiello pieno di aneddoti e testimonianze ed è una lettura essenziale per ogni fan di 2001. Include, fra l'altro, qualche pagina dedicata alle sequenze con il leopardo, che poi sono state integrate da diverse interviste uscite negli anni allo stesso Richter (tra le quali voglio segnalare quella effettuata da Justin Bozung).

Ho avuto la possibilità di rivolgere qualche domanda via e-mail a Richter, che molto gentilmente ha risposto chiarendomi alcuni dubbi su diverse parti del film. Poiché un racconto più che esauriente della gestazione e realizzazione de “L'Alba dell'Uomo” si può trovare in Memoir, e questo blog si dedica ai lati più oscuri e misconosciuti del film, in questo articolo mi concentrerò sulla storia del leopardo. Desidero ringraziare quindi Dan Richter, a Justin Bozung per le sue eccellenti interviste, e a Jamie Clubb (http://jamieclubb.blogspot.it/) che mi ha fornito informazioni preziose su Terry Duggan e gli animali usati sul set.

* * *

Determinato a realizzare un film accurato dal punto di vista scientifico, Kubrick insistette a voler superare le convenzioni cinematografiche che prevedevano il semplice uso di uomini in costume da scimmia. Richter e i suoi collaboratori passarono settimane nello Zoo di Londra a studiare il comportamento dei primati (gorilla e scimpanzé) lì rinchiusi, e mesi a provare a ricostruire i loro movimenti, utilizzando anche raro materiale filmato raffigurante primati nel loro ambiente naturale.

Alcuni fotogrammi di un documentario su 2001 in cui Richter e i suoi colleghi provano i movimenti dei primati da loro studiati. (Fonte)

La sceneggiatura del film, all'epoca ancora rimaneggiata quotidianamente da Kubrick e Clarke, prevedeva sequenze in cui i nostri progenitori dovevano venire mostrati sull'orlo dell'estinzione, e minacciati costantemente da animali selvaggi come leoni e tigri. Come rappresentare effettivamente sullo schermo questa minaccia era ancora da decidersi: per esempio, una versione della sceneggiatura prevedeva che una finta testa di leone venisse mostrata, a mo' di trofeo, da Moonwatcher e la sua tribù, per spaventare un gruppo di uomini-scimmia rivali.

Dall'intervista a Kubrick di Jeremy Bernstein, 1966:
A questo punto, Kubrick viene avvicinato da un uomo che ha in mano una testa di leone di peluche. Gli chiede se può andare bene. "La lingua sembra finta, e gli occhi sono solo abbozzati" risponde Kubrick, dirigendosi verso il set. "Qualcuno può sistemarmi la lingua?"
Il termine inglese che ho tradotto con peluche (stuffed) potrebbe anche essere tradotto come impagliata, ma se così fosse stata (orrore!) non credo avrebbe potuto sembrare finta...

Di sicuro, finta o no, non venne più utilizzata (nemmeno Richter ricorda di averla mai vista) e per le scene più 'minacciose' Kubrick decise di utilizzare veri animali. C'era da decidere, quindi, quali - e come usarli.

Dal diario di Richter, datato 2 Gennaio 1967:
(Kubrick): "Quand'è che devi andare allo zoo di Southampton?"
(Jimmy Chipperfield e la nostra squadra di domatori e addestratori hanno portato gli animali di cui abbiamo bisogno per "L'Alba dell'Uomo" allo zoo di
Southampton. Abbiamo tapiri, uno scimpanzé, una zebra, un leone, un leopardo.)
"Ci vado questo week-end [...] Incontrerò l'addestratore, Terry Duggan, mi mostrerà lui gli animali.
"Fai molte fotografie. Voglio vedere come Duggan ha addestrato il leone e il leopardo. Non ho ancora deciso quale usare dei due."
Terry Duggan era un acrobata, trapezista e stuntman nato a Coventry nel 1935 (non è lo stesso Terry Duggan attore e cabarettista) e aveva lavorato in precedenza con la famiglia Chipperfield, una famosa famiglia circense inglese, per poi seguire un membro della famiglia, Jimmy, che aveva lanciato una impresa di fornitura di animali per l'industria cinematografica (e al tempo delle riprese di 2001 gestiva appunto lo zoo di Southampton).

Terry Duggan, quattro leonesse, un leone e due leopardi (1964) (fonte)

Alla fine Kubrick si decise per il leopardo. Quando gli ho chiesto se si ricordava il motivo, Richter mi ha risposto
Avevamo sia un leopardo che una leonessa a Southampton e Terry Duggan ci ha lavorato su duramente per quasi un anno, per fare in modo che fossero entrambi abituati a lui e ben addestrati a fingere di attaccarlo, mentre in realtà stavano giocando. Sul perché Stanley scelse il leopardo non saprei, forse il fatto che il leone fosse femmina fece sì che visivamente non sembrasse abbastanza interessante, o abbastanza 'minacciosa'.
Terry Duggan in allenamento con il leopardo nel 1967. Fonte: Moonwatcher's Memoir. Duggan sta indossando un cappello, forse per abituare l'animale a riconoscerlo anche camuffato, poiché per le riprese avrebbe dovuto indossare un costume integrale da uomo-scimmia. 

Le riprese de "L'Alba dell'Uomo" iniziano il 2 agosto 1967. Dopo otto mesi di ricerche, di prove e di allenamenti, e un mese di riprese durissime dal punto di vista fisico, il 28 agosto la "tribù" di Moonwatcher deve affrontare la prova più dura.

Dal diario di Richter:
Oggi gireremo la scena in cui il leopardo attacca e uccide uno degli uomini scimmia. Durante il week-end la squadra dei carpentieri ha modificato il set per farlo assomigliare al letto di un fiume, e hanno costruito una barriera temporanea tra il set e la cinepresa.
Quando gli ho chiesto di questa "gabbia" temporanea (non ci sono fotografie del set di quel giorno in giro) Richter ha confessato di non ricordarne i dettagli:
... dovevo prestare più attenzione al leopardo e ai miei ragazzi!
Già, perché fino all'uscita del libro di Richter, tutto quello che sapevamo su quella scena veniva da un documento ('Notes on special Effects") scritto dallo stesso Kubrick, citato nel libro 2001: filming the future di Piers Bizony, e che faceva parte dei documenti per la candidatura agli Oscar del 1969:
Durante le riprese, Duggan e il leopardo erano completamente soli sul set. [Bizony aggiunge, citando il testo] Gli attori nello sfondo sono stati aggiunti in seguito in truca per mezzo di un mascherino (matte nell'originale inglese)
Immagino che Kubrick abbia in qualche modo dovuto minimizzare il potenziale pericolo che gli attori potevano aver corso per evitare domande scomode da parte del sindacato: quello che è certo è che  tutto venne realizzato dal vivo, e che Richter, Duggan e gli altri uomini-scimmia erano sul set con il leopardo. Sempre da Memoir:
Terry Duggan indossa il costume da uomo-scimmia. [...] Stanley ne vuole altri nello sfondo, e questo è un problema ulteriore. La soluzione la trovo mettendomi dietro a Terry con un'altra maschera, in modo da mettermi tra i miei ragazzi e il leopardo.
Il leopardo attacca Duggan. Richter, il secondo da destra, è su una piattaforma rialzata più vicina alla cinepresa, tra il primo piano e lo sfondo.

Fino ad ora tutto bene. Di nuovo dal diario di Richter:
Stanley è molto a disagio, di fianco alla cinepresa e con il leopardo a dieci metri circa. Abbiamo tutti paura. Stanley vuole la ripresa. Si può sentire una certa ansia nella sua voce quando dice "Azione".
Non succede niente.
Il leopardo, confuso e nervoso, è distratto dal set, dalle forti luci, da tutta quella gente intorno.
Stanley chiama lo "stop". Abbiamo fatto le prove con Terry in costume per cui sappiamo che ce la può fare. Terry va dal leopardo e gli parlai un po', per metterlo a suo agio e di un umore più giocoso.
"Penso che adesso ce la farà", dice.
Ci rimettiamo tutti in posizione. Le luci sono a posto, la cinepresa inizia a girare. Ancora una volta Stanley urla "Azione" ...
...e le cose si mettono male:
... il leopardo guarda Terry, guarda me, guarda i ragazzi dietro di me.
Fa un salto giù dalla sua piattaforma, atterra davanti a Terry, e comincia ad avvicinarsi a me!
Terry capisce cosa sta succedendo e lo placca immediatamente. Facciamo una breve pausa e Terry ricomincia a giocare con lui ancora un po'.
La successiva ripresa, più o meno, funziona: è quella che vediamo nel film. Richter ricorda, durante la mia intervista:
Contrariamente al suo solito stile, Stanley ha effettuato solo queste due riprese; era molto nervoso e voleva finire in fretta. Non era esattamente soddisfatto di come sono venute, ma se le è fatte andare bene.
Kubrick fu più che disposto a tollerare anche un 'effetto speciale collaterale', così come veniamo a sapere dall'intervista concessa da Richter a Justin Bozung:

[...] poi c'è stato l'errore del sistema di proiezione frontale con il leopardo. Se guardate il film noterete che in quelle riprese gli occhi del leopardo brillano quando guarda verso la cinepresa. Fu un incidente fortunato: nessuno se ne era accorto durante le riprese, ma quando abbiamo guardato i giornalieri, tutti se ne sono accorti, e qualcuno ha detto "Oddio, cos'è successo? Abbiamo fatto una cavolata!" Ma Stanley ha detto "No, va benissimo, mi piace. Teniamolo"

Ogni possessore di gatti sa di cosa stiamo parlando: gli occhi del leopardo brillavano perché i felini hanno un tessuto nell'occhio che riflette la luce visibile attraverso la retina, incrementando la luce che arriva ai fotorecettori, contribuendo così all'ottima visione notturna dei felini. Poiché la scena venne girata su un set che vedeva lo sfondo proiettato su del materiale ad altissima riflessione fornito dalla 3M, gli occhi del leopardo funzionavano allo stesso modo, riflettendo una parte della proiezione.

Il leopardo è pronto ad attaccare Duggan. Sulla destra, Richter e gli altri uomini-scimmia assistono con dissimulata preoccupazione.

* * *

Il leopardo riluttante appare anche in un altra scena, quella descritta da Gino Pellegrini nella sua intervista a Federico Greco da me riportata un po' di tempo fa.
Nella scena del leopardo, il masso vicino era un masso di legno costruito appositamente, dietro il quale fu nascosto il guinzaglio che teneva il leopardo legato. La corda poi fu anche cancellata fotograficamente
Perché mi soffermo ancora su questa scena? Beh, nel libro The Making of Kubrick's 2001 uscito nel 1970, curato da Jerome Agel e che ebbe la fattiva collaborazione dello stesso Kubrick, la didascalia alla stessa foto qui sopra dice:
Un cavallo morto fu dipinto per assomigliare ad una zebra. Le scene con la "zebra" ed il leopardo vennero girate con un fucili a tranquillanti pronti ad intervenire. A causa del fetore proveniente dal cavallo, il leopardo e la troupe non furono entusiasti di partecipare alle riprese.
Quando gli ho chiesto se ricordava fucili pronti ad intervenire durante la sua scena, Richter ha risposto:
Non ricordo fucili durante le mia scena, ma non ero presente durante quella con la finta zebra.
Per quanto riguarda la scena della zebra, la presenza di fucili sarebbe strana, considerato che c'era già un guinzaglio che teneva legato il leopardo. Comunque fosse, perché non avere fucili pronti per una scena potenzialmente più pericolosa, ovvero quella dell'attacco?
Probabilmente non lo sapremo mai. Quel che è certo è che quel giorno, avere uno come Terry Duggan nei paraggi fece molto comodo.

P.S. Ricordate la scena dove la tribù di Moonwatcher doveva esibire come trofeo la testa di leone? Prima di quella la stessa sceneggiatura provvisoria prevedeva di mostrare l'uccisione dell'animale. Immaginate dover realizzare quella, di ripresa!

lunedì 9 dicembre 2013

How did they shoot the leopard scenes in '2001'? Dan Richter explains

Back in October, 1966, Dan Richter was a struggling mime artist in London when he received a call summoning him to discuss the incomplete opening sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Deeply impressed by the talented young mime, Kubrick promptly hired him to choreograph and star in “The Dawn of Man” sequence as Moonwatcher, the leader of the man-ape tribe. Set three million years ago, this prologue to the space-based sequences tells the story of a tribe of our ancestors, who take the first step on the long road to modern humanity.


Since I first saw 2001 and "The Dawn Of Man" I've always been fascinated by that sequence, and amazed by the appearance of that magnificent leopard (I'm a big feline lover).


I always wondered how they could have shot that scenes - until 2002, when Moonwatcher's himself, Dan Richter, published Moonwatcher's Memoir: A Diary or 2001: A Space Odyssey.


With Memoir Richter wrote the best account ever about working on 2001: the stories about Kubrick, Stuart Freeborn (the make-up wizard) and all the cast and crew involved are so vivid that seem to be hot off the press, right from a 1968 newspaper - and indeed they somehow are, as Richter based the book upon his own diary wrote in the years 1966-1967.

The book is a treasure trove of anectodes, and it's an essential reading for all 2001 fans. It also includes a few pages dedicated to the leopard shot, that was extended and clarified by a later series of interviews with Richter (among which I'd like to recommend the one conducted by Justin Bozung). I had the chance to ask 'Moonwatcher' a few questions about the leopard scenes and other few details, to which Dan very kindly answered.

As a complete account of 'The Dawn of Man' is already available in Memoir (did I already say 'buy it right now' ?) I will therefore focus on a fascinating aspect of the sequence: the shooting of the leopard attack, with a complete account that draws from all the available sources. My heartfelt thanks to Dan Richter, to Justin Bozung for his always excellent work, and special thanks to Jamie Clubb (http://jamieclubb.blogspot.it/), that provided me with unpublished details about Terry Duggan and the animals used on the set.

* * *

Determined to make an anthropologically accurate film, Kubrick insisted on much more than the worn convention of men jumping around in “monkey suits.” Richter and his collaborators spent weeks watching apes in the London zoo, followed by months of rehearsal mimicking their movements, helped by the analysis of rare footage of gorillas and other apes in their natural habitat.

Test footage of the 'men-apes' practicing primate behaviour. Source: 2001: the making of the myth

The script, at that time still being reworked on an almost daily basis by Kubrick and Clarke, called also for sequences where our ancestors were to be shown on the verge of extinction, and facing constant threat of wild animals like lions and tigers. How to portray this menace was still to be determined, as many attempts had already been made before Richter came on board. Here's an example from Kubrick's interview to Jeremy Bernstein, 1966:
At this point, a man carrying a stuffed lion's head approached and asked Kubrick whether it would be all right to use. "The tongue looks phony, and the eyes are only marginal," Kubrick said, heading for the set. "Can somebody fix the tongue"?
In an early version of the script a lion's head was to be shown mounted atop a tree branch by Moonwatcher and his tribe, to instill terror upon a rival tribe. Kubrick was probably examining an early attempt to render such scene filmable; but whatever the lion's head was to be used for - clearly its phony condition was never improved enough for the director, as it doesn't appear in the movie and Richter doesn't even remember to have seen it - Kubrick turned to real wild beasts for the shooting of the most menacing scenes.

From an entry in Richter's entry in the book dated January 2, 1967:
(Kubrick): "When are you going down to the South Hampton Zoo?"
(Our animal trainers from Jimmy Chipperfield's have put the animals we will need for "The Dawn of Man" in the South Hampton zoo. We have tapirs, a chimp, a zebra, a lion, and a leopard.)
"I'm going down this weekend [...] I'm meeting the trainer Terry Duggan and he is going to show them to me.
"Take lots of pictures. I want to see Duggan staging his play fights with the lion and the leopard. I haven't decided which one to use yet."
Terry Duggan was a acrobat and stuntman born in Coventry in 1935 (no relation with Terry Duggan the comedian). Duggan had already worked with the Chipperfield's, a famous british circus, and later joined a member of the family, Jimmy, who had started a film animal business and at that time of the shooting of 2001 was operating Southampton Zoo. In fact, Jimmy was the main supplier of animals for films during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

Terry Duggan, four lionesses, one lion and two leopards (1964) (Source)

Kubrick eventually opted out for the leopard. When asked if he remembered why, Richter said to me that
We had both a leopard and a lion at the Southhampton Zoo for at least a year before the shoot and Terry Duggan worked with them all that time do that they would be familiar with the play fighting they did. They were both well trained.
Why Stanley picked one over another I don’t know. The lion was a lioness and perhaps in the end not as menacing looking or as visually interesting.
Terry Duggan practicing with the leopard at the Southampton Zoo, 1967. Richter: "Duggan is teaching the animal to pounce on him and to play-fight in a way that looks convincing."  Sources of both picture and text: Moonwatcher's Memoir

From now on we'll focus on a single date, Monday, August 28th, 1967. The 'Dawn of Men' shooting had already begun on August 2; that meant that after eight months of research and rehersals, and a month of physically demanding shots, the man-apes 'tribe' (mimes, dancers and performers chosen and trained by Richter) had yet to face another ordeal. From "Moonwatcher's Memoir":
Today we are going to shoot the scene where the leopard will attack and kill one of the man-apes. Over the weekend the construction crew has changed the set to a riverbed and built a makeshift barrier between the set and the camera.
When I asked him about the barrier (no picture of the shoot are known to exist) Richter noted that he doesn't remember the specific details: 
I was paying more attention to the leopard and my guys.
It's legitimate concern, and here's why. Until Richter's book came out, all we knew about the scene came from what Kubrick himself had written in a document ('Notes on special Effects") reported in Bizony's book 2001: filming the future and written as part of his 1969 Academy Award submissions:
Duggan and the leopard were entirely alone on stage during the shoot. [Bizony adds]: Background performers were added later, in a hand-drawn matte.
I imagine that Kubrick had to downplay the potential danger faced by his ape-men cast in order to a avoid any unconfortable questions from some actor's guild; it turned out, instead, that everything was shot on camera, and Richter and other man-apes were on the same set with the leopard and Duggan, as Richter remembers in the book:
Terry Duggan is outfitted in a man-ape costume. [...] Stanley wants other man-apes in the background, and that is even more of a problem. The solution is to put me in another mask behind Terry, in the middle ground with the other guys, so that I will be between the leopard and them.
The leopard attacks Duggan. Richter, the second from the right, is on a platform closer to the camera, between the forefront and the other man-apes in the background.

So far, so good. Again from the book:
Stanley is very unconfortable standing next to the camera with the leopard thirty feet or so in front of him. We are all scared. Stanley wants the shot. You can hear the trepidation in his voice as he says "action". Nothing happens.
The leopard, confused and nervous, is distracted by the set, the strong lights, and the surrounding crew.
Stanley calls "cut". We had reharsed the leopard with Terry in costume so we knew he could do it. Terry goes over to talk to him and tries to get him in a playful mood.
"I think he'll do it now", he says.
We all get into position again. The lights are right, the camera begins to turn. Once again Stanley says, "action"...
...and things quickly turn for the worse:
... The leopard looks at Terry and then he looks over at me and the guys behind me. 
He jumps down on the set between Terry and me and starts to come at me!
Terry sees what is happening and immediately tackles him. We take a short break and Terry works with him some more.
The second take, more or less, works: it's the one we see in the movie. Richter recalls:
Contrary to Stanley’s usual style we did only a few takes as he was nervous and wanted to get it over.  He was never happy with what we got, but lived with it.
At this stage, Kubrick was more than ready to move on, even if it meant accepting an unexpected 'special effect', as we learn from Bozung's interview:

[...] then there was the front projection system mistake with the leopard. If you watch the film you'll see that shot of the leopard turning his head toward the camera and his eyes are lit up and glowing. That was just a happy accident. No one noticed it during shooting, but when we all went to the rushes everyone saw it, and someone said “Oh look what happened? We've screwed up!” Stanley said, “No, it's great. I love it. Let's keep it.” 

Every cat owner knows that the eyes of the leopard glowed because of a tissue in the eye that reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors, contributing to the superior night vision of the animal. As the scene was shot using the Sinar front-projection system that used 8x10 inches transparencies on a 110-feet-wide screen covered by 3M reflective material, the eye of the leopard worked just as the reflective material of the background.

The leopard is ready to strike again. On the right, Richter and the other man-apes watch in non-simulated anxiety.

* * *

The unnamed leopard also appeared in a second scene, with a "dead zebra". One of my recent posts featured an interview to Gino Pellegrini, an italian set decorator who worked on that scene:

On the set there were also a few wooden boulders which were meant to give a sense of depth. For example, in the leopard scene, the large boulder beneath the animal was a wooden prop built on purpose, in order to conceal the leash used to restrain the leopard. The leash was cancelled later optically.
How is this related to the attack scene? Well, in the 1970 book The Making of Kubrick's 2001, which was edited by Jerome Agel with more than a little help from Kubrick himself, a caption for this picture says:
Dead horse was painted to look like a zebra. Scene of live leopard with "zebra" was filmed with tranquilizer guns at the ready. Due to horse's stench, leopard and camera crew were unenthusiastic about doing the scene.
When asked about such guns during the attack scene, here's what Richter told me:
I do not remember tranquilizers gun in our scene, but I wasn't present when Stanley shot the scene with the dead zebra.
As far as the 'zebra' scene was concerned, this makes perfect sense: why have guns if the leopard was already restrained by a leash? At the same time, I wonder: if there was a scene where tranquilizers would have come handy, it was the attack scene.
We will probably never know. Anyway, it was nice to have Terry Duggan handy, that day.

P.S. Remember the scene where the lion's head had to be carried around triumphantly by Moonwatcher's tribe? The script originally called for the actual killing of that lion to be shown in the movie. Imagine having to set up that shot!

* * *

(dec.11: the article has been updated with the removal of the picture of Terry Duggan the comedian, who was not the Duggan involved with the Chipperlfield's and 2001. As Mission Control would say, IMDB and Wikipedia are "in error" in saying that they were the same person. Source: Mr.Duggan' sister thanks to Jamie Clubb.)

mercoledì 4 dicembre 2013

lunedì 2 dicembre 2013

"We've got to explore": Merv Bloch remembers how he advertised an Odyssey

 Merv Bloch (Photo by Andrew Levengood)

Merv Bloch was the creative force behind the marketing and specifically the trailers for countless films iconic films through more than three decades. Copywriter, art director, radio commercial producer for Columbia Pictures and MGM, he also held the positions of assistant advertising manager of Paramount Pictures, advertising manager of United Artists. He guided the ad campaigns for some of the most notable and successful films of the ‘60s, among which 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I did the very first trade ad for 2001, two pages in the Hollywood papers. They did it for the Wall Street people to show them MGM was really on the move, but the picture wasn’t in production yet, so I had no production stills or anything.  I had nothing to work with, so I went to the Hayden Planetarium and went through their 35mm chromes of space stuff. I had this line—“This space is reserved for 2001”—and I found this nebulae photograph.  We bought a reproduction, and that was the very first ad for 2001. 
 


My concept was to do three separate posters, with Bob McCall, the top illustrator who was doing all of NASA’s work. It was the first time a movie used three separate pieces of art, which is common today, but I told MGM, “It’s called ‘The Odyssey.’ We’ve got to explore.”

 The three different posters for 2001 designed by Merv Bloch
featuring Robert McCall's artwork
I grew up on 101st and Broadway in Manhattan. I remember when it was a real ghetto, when the Eastern European Jews who were lucky to get out before the war came to live on the Upper West Side. So I’m living at 210 W. 101st St., and one day I discover that there’s a film crew shooting a movie in the building. The filming was taking place on the sixth floor, and I live on the seventh. I can see a huge amount of light coming up from the stairwell below my floor.  I’d never watched a movie being made…and I go down there, and sure enough, there’s the cables, there’s the Mitchell camera, there’s the people scurrying about, there’s a mic boom, and this young guy is behind the camera, and they say, Let’s do it again, let’s do it again, and I’m mesmerized by this whole experience. When they were all done I went upstairs and sketched it. I sketched the camera, I loved those Mitchell cameras, blimped and everything, the mic boom.

Flash-forward. 1967. I’m working on 2001. MGM sends me over to Borehamwood Studio  in England, where the picture is being made. In the course of presenting the poster to Stanley Kubrick, I said, “Stanley, you’re esssentially responsible for my career….” And I tell him the whole story, about this kid who comes down to watch this movie being shot…because the guy shooting the film that day was a young Stanley Kubrick, who was shooting his second feature film, Killer’s Kiss. That was a great moment for me. It means nothing to the executives today.
Kubrick shooting Killer's Kiss (1955). Source

* * *

Sources and suggested reading about Merv Bloch:
http://earthwize.org/wordpress/directortalk/2012/08/29/merv-blochmovie-advertising/
http://www.filmlinc.com/films/on-sale/merv-blochs-trailer-show

http://www.thelmagazine.com/newyork/to-this-day-i-can-barely-watch-it-with-an-audience/Content?oid=2205434
http://mubi.com/notebook/posts/daily-briefing-merv-bloch-and-the-telephone-book

lunedì 25 novembre 2013

2001italia PUNTO it (DOT it)

Carissimi, come avete visto ho deciso di registrare e spostare il blog all'indirizzo www.2001italia.it

Poiché il prossimo febbraio incombe il 50esimo anniversario della nascita del nostro film preferito (Stanley Kubrick e Roger Caras si incontrarono nel febbraio del 1964 e Caras fece per la prima volta al regista il nome di Arthur C. Clarke come possibile collaboratore per un film di fantascienza), ho deciso che era il momento che il blog, per l'occasione, facesse il primo di (speriamo) diversi salti di qualità.

Quello del prossimo febbraio è solo il primo di una sfilza di anniversari che culmineranno, il 2 aprile del 2018, con le "nozze d'oro" con il film (la sua prima proiezione pubblica); nei prossimi anni sono previsti diversi libri con materiale inedito sul film e su Stanley Kubrick, e ci sarà sicuramente una grande copertura mediatica dell'avvenimento.

Ho intenzione di introdurre, lentamente ma inesorabilmente, diverse novità che vadano ad arricchire il sito, con l'intenzione di renderlo il più possibile completo sia per il navigatore casuale sia per il fan accanito.

Tutti i suggerimenti, richieste e offerte di collaborazione sono le benvenute.

Rimanete sintonizzati: ci aspettano tempi interessanti!

* * *

As you can see, I moved the blog to the address www.2001italia.it.

Next february, our favourite movie will approach the 50th anniversary of its inception (the early 1964 meeting between Stanley Kubrick and Roger Caras; Kubrick's subsequent letter to Arthur C. Clarke; ....); I therefore felt that it's time, for the blog, to move a step beyond. 

As in the coming years, leading to the actual Golden Anniversary of the release of the movie (April 2, 2018), as fans we'll have the chance to read new books about the movie and - surely - a lot of media coverage of the event, slowly but steadily I'll introduce new features, contents and partnerships in order to produce as much original material as possible and make the site more interesting for the casual fan as well as for the die-hard 2001 aficionado.

All the input, requests and possible collaboration offerings are welcome.

Stay tuned: we're heading for interesting times!

venerdì 22 novembre 2013

"As if the clouds were actually moving": Gino Pellegrini, an italian artist on the set of '2001'

Sixteen years ago, three young italian moviemakers started a foolish endeavour: The Stanley & Us Project, an indipendent documentary about Stanley Kubrick. They began shooting in 1997, and some of their amazing work is now available on Vimeo and Youtube, a really unmissable viewing, required for every Kubrick fan.

Kubrick himself was aware of their work: Julian Senior (then Vice president of publicity at Warner Bros) told him about their attempts to reach him, and he reportedly said "Let's see what happens". Despite the untimely death of the director in 1999 the final result, two years later, included interviews to more than 30 collaborators, friends and relatives, many shootings on the Kubrick’s movie locations and a huge collection of documentation material, such as photos and screenplays.


In the very same year 2001, I found out - to my surprise - that a few kilometers from my hometown there was an artist that actually worked on 2001. I immediatly passed on the info to one of the authors of Stanley & Us, Federico Greco, who managed to contact him for a short interview that I publish here in english for the first time, thanks to Federico. 


Gino Pellegrini, Painter Of Clouds


July 21, 2001 - by Federico Greco, special thanks to Simone Odino

Gino Pellegrini, art director and production designer, was born in Lugo di Vicenza (Italy) in 1941. In 1957 he moved to the States to study Architecture at UCLA and obtained, at the Art Center School of Los Angeles, a Master Degree in Fine Arts. After a spell as poster designer for the Pacific Out-Doors Advertising, Gino started working in the movie industry as sketch designer, set painter, set designer assistant, set designer, on movies such as West Side Story, The Birds, Hello Dolly, Mary Poppins. In 1966 he had the incredible privilege to be on the set of 2001. He didn't know he was working in one of the landmark of movie history; nevertheless, still today he exudes an aura of openness and humility matched only by his wisdom.

We asked for an interview for our Stanley and us Project, but he politely declined stating with kubrickian discretion that he'd rather stay in the background. He agreed to answer a few questions on the phone.

* * *

What was your role in the movie?

I worked under Harry Lange, officially credited as production designer, and the other two art directors, that where actually NASA scientists, Tony Masters e Ernie Archer. (Translator note: probably Gino is referring to Fred Ordway?). 

Some consider Tony Masters to be a real 'coauthor' of the movie, together with Kubrick, because he supervised the whole art direction and look of the movie, expecially as far as the Orion Shuttle was concerned.

What were your actual duties?

Some details of the set design: I had to paint - over and over - the clouds for the Earth model as seen from the Space Station. It was a 4 feet model. For every shot Kubrick wanted the look to be different, as if the clouds were actually moving.

 One of the paintings used to depict Earth on 2001, possibly one of those painted by Gino.
(Source: Douglas Trumbull's web site)

An example of his incredible preciseness...  

Yes. Another work I did was on the opening sequence, the Dawn of Man.

That is...?

As you know Kubrick wanted to shoot that scene with a front projection system, which means with large slides projected on a white background, depicting desertic scenes of life on Earth as it was thought to look like millions of years ago. On the set there were also a few wooden boulders which were meant to give a sense of depth. For example, in the leopard scene, the large boulder beneath the animal was a wooden prop built on purpose, in order to conceal the leash used to restrain the leopard. The leash was cancelled later optically. For that shot I also helped build some bushes.

 The glowing eyes of the leopard in 2001 (blu-ray capture)

The leopard's eyes were the only weak point of that incredible shot, made with a system called Sinar, a front projection system (the rear projection was the most used at the time) that used 8x10 inches transparencies on a 110-feet-wide screen covered by 3M reflective material. (Translator's note: That's why the eyes of the leopard glow when they are in line with the projector: a tissue in the eye of many vertebrates reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors, contributing to the superior night vision of the animal.)

To understand the level of Kubrick's perfectionism, here's another example from Gino:

"Designers couldn't work fast enough. Kubrick was convinced his crew was spending most of the time drinking tea and chatting, and seriously considered the idea of installing a CCTV monitoring system in order to control them - until the most informed workers advised him against a move that would have caused an instant strike".

Gino Pellegrini lives today in Monte S.Pietro (Bologna). If you want a taste of his amazing talents as artist, and figure out how he ended up working for the most demaning director in movie history, visit the following web sites. You'll understand.

2009: once again, Gino paints the earth during a workshop in a local school
(Special Thanks to mariagiulia-alemanno.com for the picture)

More works by Gino Pellegrini:
http://www.ilportoritrovato.net/html/Gino%20Pellegrini%20la%20Piazzetta%20degli%20Inganni.htm
http://ravennanotizie.it/main/index.php?id_pag=112&id_blog_post=48972
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEQ1n9xYzwo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9iVGlL4hbs
http://www.trekearth.com/gallery/Europe/Italy/Emilia-Romagna/Bologna/San_Giovanni_in_Persiceto/photo657579.htm
http://www.amerigo1934.it/content/show/section/pellegrini

lunedì 18 novembre 2013

Reflections



“For I do not exist: there exist but the thousands of mirrors that reflect me. With every acquaintance I make, the population of phantoms resembling me increases. Somewhere they live, somewhere they multiply. I alone do not exist.” ― Vladimir Nabokov (image sources: 1, 2, 3)

mercoledì 6 novembre 2013

The Star Gate (A Space Odessy) : a Stanley Kubrick production

Yes, the title of this post is wrong. And yes, there is a spelling mistake.

What is even more surprising is that The Star Gate was a tentative title for 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it was only one of the many titles Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke considered for their sci-fi project.

Let's start with Anthony Frewin, Kubrick's aide since 2001, and his recollections about the director's habits in choosing titles for his movies. It comes from a longer (and incredibly informative) article about "SK's titles waiting for a script" included in the essential Taschen's book The Stanley Kubrick Archives.
To ask if a film's title was important to SK is like inquiring if the doctrines of the church are important to the Pope. The title was vitally important, and sometimes it seemed that SK was devoting as much time and energy in getting the title right as he was on finishing the script itself.
He figured that the first thing anyone saw or heard of a film was its title and, reasoning that there was non second chance to make a first impression, it had to grab them by the lapels there and then.
"Think of it this way. You pick up a listings magazine and there's a page, maybe two, maybe more, of fim titles - three columns on every page in eye-busting 5pt type. You've got to grab the audience then!"
So, what were the ingredients of a good title? SK argued that it had to suggest something of the film and yet not give too much away. It had to be intriguing, memorable, and short. And it had to have those x-factor poetics that made it different, but not too different that it went off the Richter Schale (and into the art house circuit).
Like all rules, these were made to be broken, but SK thought that these were the guidelines that should be adhered to whenever possible.

1. The New Frontier


The most famous temporary title that Kubrick and Clarke adopted to refer to their sci-fi project, appearing first in Jerome Agel's 1972 book The Making of Kubrick's 2001was How the Solar System Was Won, a joke based, probably, upon the 1962 MGM super-production How the west was won. The forty-somethings may remember the namesake TV series of the late seventies: it was actually loosely based on this movie.

Kubrick and Clarke probably meant to honour the Frontier theme and the challenge that the newly-born United States of the 19th Century met in its "expansion" to the West; in its "conquest of the Solar System" mankind was now to face another challenge, in chasing the "New Frontier" that President John F. Kennedy evoked in his famous Rice University speech in the same year 1962:
What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space [...]
 President Kennedy at Rice University, 1962 (Source)

The now iconic speech ("We choose to go to the moon...") became even more relevant a few years later, after the tragic death of the President. Some historians even go as far as to say that Project Apollo, once considered as a "moondoggle", became - after Dallas - a shrine to the President who inspired it, and was thus able to survive political opposition and the progressive detachment of public opinion following the Apollo I accident of January 1967, in which three astronauts died as a consequence of a fire during a launch pad test.

So, when Kubrick & Clarke, in 1964, set out to write a movie that wanted to depict with sense of awe and wonder - while being as scientifically accurate as possible - the exploration of space, they naturally opted for the Western "paradigm", as it was culturally dominant at the time.

It is to be said that the title was not ever considered as definitive: in The Making of Kubrick's 2001 the director recalls (p.138)
"'How the Solar System was won' was never a title that was considered".
and Clarke:
"[It] was our private title. It was exactly what we tried to show.""
How the West Was Won, 1962 (Source)

But there were other, more matter-of-fact reasons for the authors' fascination with the West. As you can tell by the unusual curve of the movie screen in the picture above, How the West Was Won was shot in Cinerama, a widescreen process that, originally, simultaneously projected images from three synchronized 35 mm. projectors onto a huge, deeply curved screen.

Cinerama was the first of a number of novel processes introduced during the 1950s, when the movie industry was reacting to competition from television. Cinerama movies were presented to the public as theatrical events, with reserved seating and printed programs, and audience members often dressed in best attire for the evening. This was the same plan MGM and Kubrick wanted to follow for the release and distribution of 2001, as the movie was conceived as part of a production/distribution deal between MGM and Cinerama Releasing corporation.

From 'Cinerama Holiday' Souvenir Book, 1955 (Source)

Most important was the fact that 'How the West Was Won' was a massive commercial success: produced on a large budget of $15 million, it grossed $46,500,000 at the North American box office, making it the second highest grossing film of 1963 (in comparison, 2001 started production with a $6 million budget, that was ultimately raised to $10,5 millions).

Plans changed after several production problems arose (among which distortion problems with the 3-strip system), and following the advice of special photographic effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull and film editor Bob Gaffney, 2001 was shot in Super Panavision 70, a format which uses a single-strip 65 mm negative.

It is important to remember that, quoting from the excellent website in70mm.com
with rare exception, post-1963 Cinerama was Cinerama in name-only. Post-’63 Cinerama is recognized to be single-strip 70mm, not the original 35mm/six-perf three-strip format. 
So the same economical and technical considerations made for 2001 basically limited the future success of the three-camera Cinerama experiment to a very small amount of productions.

2. A 'Universe' of coincidences


In strict chronological order, however, the very first working title that the duo adopted for their science fiction effort was Project: Space; that is the title that appears in a "movie outline" manuscript conserved at the Kubrick Archive in London and that carries the date July, 1964. The document, not long enough to be considered a treatment, let alone a script, was conceived, as Clarke explained in a 1986 interview,
[as] a way of getting in a whole novel in about six pages, having all of the fun but none of the work.
Clarke used also to refer ironically to the movie as "the son of Dr.Strangelove": Kubrick's dark comedy debuted in January 1964, only three months before the first meeting between the director and the writer, and casted a shadow over the whole project that followed it, in a more significant way than usually considered (see for example Peter Kramer's excellent book 2001: a space odyssey, BFI Film Classics, where we find out that a prologue featuring aliens was to be included in Dr. Strangelove).

In that summer of 1964, the "movie outline" document evolved to the size of a short story now called Across the sea of stars. The "maritime" metaphor,  again, had been already used by President Kennedy in the aforementioned 1962 speech, when he called space "this new ocean" (This "sea" concept will came back in a later stage of the 2001 development; more about that later in the next chapter):
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own.
Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war.
In the remaining weeks of 1964 Kubrick and Clarke quickly went through a list of more titles: in The Lost Worlds of 2001, Clarke recalls that the other that were considered were Universe, Tunnel to the Stars and Planetfall.

The first, Universe, was probably meant to be an explicit homage to the 1960 documentary from the National Film Board of Canada that Kubrick saw while in pre-production.

'Universe' poster, 1960 (Unknown source)

Universe was nominated for an Oscar and won not only the Jury Prize for Animation at the Cannes Film Festival, but more than 20 other major awards. This 26-minute masterpiece, directed by Roman Kroitor and Colin Low, featured animations of the stars and the planets to such a level of precision and realism that Kubrick contacted the directors for a job. The duo was not available because of previous arrangements, but the narrator of the documentary Douglas Rain ended up being the voice of HAL, and Wally Gentleman, animator and special effects expert, did optical effects for 2001.

This fact alone would be enough to make Universe a very significant name in the Kubrick-Clarke space-time continuum: on top of all that, Parker Brothers used the same name to launch a Pentomino board game in late 1966 (in advance on the release date of the movie, April 1968). Its theme was based on an outtake scene from 2001 in which Dave Bowman is playing a two-player pentomino game against HAL (as you may remember, the movie in its final form shows instead Frank Poole playing chess against the computer).

Universe boardgame box, 1966 (Source)

Bowman playing pentominoes vs.Hal. (source)

A detailed study of the whole marketing and tie-in program conceived for 2001 would fill an entire book, as it was ground-breaking and innovative in its own; anyway, Parker Bros. was, most definitely, not happy with the scene being cut. For your amusement, here's a PDF file with the original instructions, courtesy of Hasbro that now holds the copyright of the thing, and another PDF with a longer analysis of the game.

About the last title of the trio considered, Planetfall, it is fun to note that it became a space-based videogame in 1983 and, eventually - in 2005 -  a sci-fi movie. It's a term used mainly in science fiction, meaning a landing or arrival on a planet after a journey through space.

And that brings us to...

3. From 'Journey' to 'Odyssey': space myth-making


When the time came to submit to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer the tentative script, in order to guarantee the financing for the actual movie, Kubrick and Clarke opted out for a sci-fi-sounding title that kept an adventurous tinge, with an explicit connection to space.

Here is the official press statement issued on February 22, 1965 by MGM, taken from Variety Magazine: Stanley Kubrick's new project after Dr. Strangelove was to be known as Journey Beyond The Stars.

the original press statement for Journey Beyond The Stars (Source)

A 15-minute 70 mm. space documentary called Journey to the stars had already been shown at the Seattle World Fair in 1962; there is ample evidence, in the Kubrick Archive in London, showing that the director was aware of it and was interested in the camera techniques used to depict space and project it on a large screen. That "Journey" ended up being seen by seven millions visitors of the Fair (learn more about that groundbreaking documentary from this vintage newspaper article).


The special cinerama camera, equipped with a 0.9-inch, f/2.2 inverted telephoto lens used in photographing 1962's "Journey To The Stars" (source)

* * *

In a New Yorker interview given to Jeremy Bernstein in April 1965, Kubrick and Clarke went on to explain the hidden meaning in that "Journey" title. In that word lied an element of the other paradigm that the duo was exploring: the mythological element of a story set in space. As Kubrick himself said in that interview,
About the best we’ve been able to come up with is a space Odyssey–comparable in some ways to Homer’s Odyssey. [...] It occurred to us that for the Greeks the vast stretches of the sea must have had the same sort of mystery and remoteness that space has for our generation, and that the far-flung islands Homer’s wonderful characters visited were no less remote to them that the planets our spacemen will soon be landing on are to us. Journey also shares with the Odyssey a concern for wandering, and adventure.
Two previous entries from Clarke's diary for 1964, right at the beginning of the production, were already pointing to the growing "myth-making" intentions of the director:
July 28. Stanley: "What we want is a smashing theme of mythic grandeur."
September 26. Stanley gave me Joseph Campbell's analysis of the myth "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" to study. Very stimulating.
In fact, in his 1973 essay The Myth of 2001 Clarke states clearly that
It is true that we set out with the deliberate intention of creating a myth. (The Odyssean parallel was clear in our minds from the very beginning, long before the title of the film was chosen.) A myth has many elements, including the religious ones.
The so-called "Hero's Journey" (or Monomyth) is one of the oldest archetypes in  literature and storytelling; a story structure that seems to have occurred in many of the major myths and religions throughout human history - Homer's Odyssey as the most famous - as first theorized, in the late 1940s, by the famous mythology professor Joseph Campbell. As an analysis of its importance in the making of 2001 would go beyond the scope of the present post, I would like to state that 2001 is often used by scholars as an example (along with Star Wars), albeit bizarrely structured, of the use of this classic story.

Neither the director nor the writer, anyway, were satisfied with Journey Beyond The Stars, as Clarke recalled in The Lost Worlds of 2001:
I never liked this, because there had been far too many science-fictional journeys and voyages. (Indeed, the innerspace epic Fantastic Voyage, featuring Raquel Welch and a supporting cast of ten thousand blood corpuscles, was also going into production about this time).
We're catching up, at last, with the title of this post. In a cover of a script still titled Journey Beyond The Stars, therefore presumably dated 1965, that appeared in the book The Stanley Kubrick Archives, Kubrick himself (his handwriting is easily recognizable) jotted down some more tentative titles: Earth Escape, Jupiter Window, the evocative Farewell to Earth (obviously reminiscent of Hemingways' Farewell to Arms, it is also the title of one of the many tentative scripts abandoned by Clarke and reprinted in The lost worlds of 2001); in the center of the page, a title with a subheading: The Star Gate / A Space Odessy (sic). 


Kubrick was probably trying to convey in a simple title the epical subtext of the adventure that his Odysseus, Dave Bowman, was about to undertake (at the end, citing explicitly The Odyssey, he went back to the original source of inspiration). In these abandoned titles we also find a significant departure from the concept of "conquest" as in the West: Man must abandon ('escape') Earth not for the sake of conquest or possession, but rather in order to gain a sense of one's existence, both personally and as a species.

I also like to think thath the inclusion of the 'Star Gate' might be a reference to the monolith, the Jungian archetype Kubrick referred to it in a 1970 interview - Campbell himself was inspired by Jung and his concept of 'collective unconcious' - that in the movie appears with the function of symbolic 'threshold' that the Hero must cross in order to accomplish his journey and return home.

At last, the director concludes his personal 'naming odyssey' with the definitive title that we all know today (in the uppermost left corner of the picture above), using the symbolic date of the first year of the new century, followed by the correct spelling of the subheading. The use of the conjunction "a" is, to me, a nod to the 'other' Odyssey: Kubrick's journey belonged to space as Homer's to the sea.

We leave the conclusion to Arhur C. Clarke, again from The Lost Worlds of 2001:
It was not until eleven months after we started -- April 1965 -- that Stanley selected 2001: A Space Odyssey. As far as I can recall, it was entirely his idea.
* * *

The article has been updated since its original inception, with the inclusion of Mr.Frewins' remarks about Kubrick's guidelines in choosing a title. Read more: Kubrick brainstorms subtitles for Dr. Strangelove