lunedì 25 agosto 2014

History in the making: Kubrick & the 1966 World Cup

Stanley Kubrick had to overcome several obstacles in order to get his space vision right in 2001. But who would have thought that one of such annoyances was the 1966 World Cup Final itself?

Source: Stanley Kubrick exhibition catalogue, p.281

The following story is only one of the many recounted in the majestic Taschen's book The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, that sold out almost immediately in its limited 500€ edition. The even more limited 1.000€ version, including a signed print by 2001 art advisor Brian Sanders is still available, so hurry up and head to Taschen's web site.

the official poster of the 1966 World Cup

In 1966 England hosted the 8th FIFA World Cup, that kicked off on July, 11 with the England-Uruguay game at Wembley. By that time, the shooting of the live action sequences set in space were almost finished (the "dawn of men" section was still being planned and ended up being shot in august-september 1967), and the 2001 crew was working hard to get the special effects shots done right. This required an unprecedented amount of testing and experimentation that lasted more that 18 months, both improving old techniques and developing new methods of shooting spaceships in a "believable" way, as Kubrick was committed to a level of smooth movement and pristine look of the models previously unseen in science fiction movies.

Such commitment led to the building of the largest spaceship models ever built, such as a 54-foot model of Discovery, that was obviously impossible to move around a camera - it was the camera that moved, very slowly, around it, activated by a massive worm gear imported from a Detroit automobile plant, on a mini-railway 150 feet long. By shooting only several seconds per frame, the special effects team was able to obtain the deep-focus photography that made the model look, on the screen, pin-sharp from one end to the other. The excruciating slowness of the process was described by Kubrick himself as "like watching the hour hand of a clock".

A rare picture of the 54-feet model of the Discovery. Kubrick banned any casual photography of the larger model. Source:

The same method was used to shoot the beautiful space-station model that, on screen, rotates so swiftly and majestically above Earth. Because of the time required to get a few seconds of footage, occasional wobbling movements of the models couldn't be spotted on the fly, and were detected only after the film was processed, sometimes weeks later - causing the frustrated fx crew to go back and shoot the sequence all over again.

One day, checking the dailies, a particularly shaky movement of the space station showed up on screen. The station suddenly seemed to "lurch from one side of the screen to another". A search in the log sheets revealed that the event took place during a long exposure sequence in the afternoon of July 30, 1966. What had happened?

The 8-feet model of the space station. Source:

Quite simply, that sequence happened to be shot in the very day when, only 10 miles away from the MGM Borehamwood studios, England and West Germany took the field to play the World Cup final in Wembley. Yes, the greatest moment in English football history happened during the shooting of one of the greatest movies ever.
"Kubrick now remembered that many of his staffers hadn't been willing to work that day unless they could wheel a TV set into the shooting studio and look at it from time to time. [...] in the same instant, they'd all leaped up to applaud England's winning goal. Meanwhile, on its reinforced shooting stage, the space station had been turning gently for three hours, while the camera snapped doggedly away at six seconds per frame, for 1500 frames, enough to generate about a minute's worth of footage. And of for three frames somewhere about halfway through that 1500, the studio floor had shaken". (Taschen's "The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001", pp.178-9)
Geoff Hurst's winning goal in the 1966 World Cup Final. Final result: England 4, West Germany 2.

 The iconic picture of Bobby Moore, England's captain, in triumph with the FIFA World Cup original prize, awarded until 1970: the Jules Rimet trophy.

Despite the fact that the World Cup interfered slightly with the shooting of his masterpiece, Kubrick wasn't one of those american "soccer haters" at all. Yes, he was "a nice boy from the Bronx" as he was described by Craig McGregor, and as such he enjoyed watching the videos of american football games that his sister used to send him. But, as he had lived in England since the mid 60's, he also liked "our" football, and loved to talk about it with friends like his former actor and then assistant Leon Vitali.

Here's Katharina Kubrick, his eldest daughter, from an old alt.movies.kubrick message:
I do remember him liking the team that George Best played for - er, Manchester United was it? He was a big G. Best fan. But I don't think that he "supported" any team in particular. I think he watched a game on it's own merits, some are good entertainment and exciting and full of tension and some games are boring, and some teams have interesting players.

And that beautiful space station model? It survived the World Cup Quake, but a few years later it ended up in the entrance way of the local corporation dump in Stevenage - it was later smashed up by kids. The whole (sad) story is available here.

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