Sitting under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl was the ideal setting for experiencing Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, led by conductor Brad Lubman, gave a stellar performance of the classical works used in the film. It was riveting to hear these powerful works live. As the film began, the orchestra played the familiar opening strains of the iconic fanfare “Sunrise,” from the Richard Strauss tone poem “Also sprach Zarathustra.” The work is synonymous with the film, and is the piece most associated with it. The lilting waltz “The Blue Danube” created a serene aural backdrop as space ships glided gracefully and noiselessly; the jarring, hypnotic “Requiem,” composed by Gyorgy Ligeti, is used whenever the black monolith is present.
For the most part (despite the giggling, giddy girls sitting in front of us, who obnoxiously chatted through most of the performance), the audience was very respectful. The usual constant photo documentation that goes on at concerts was kept to a minimum. One of the fun things about going to events at the Bowl is that concert-goers can bring food and wine; for a film event, though, particularly this one, it can be a little disruptive. “2001” has several moments that are completely silent, devoid of any dialogue or music; for example, this silence is used for eerie effect when Frank’s lifeline to the pod is severed, and he falls terrifyingly through the atmosphere. The silence, unfortunately, was punctuated by the inevitable sounds of clinking bottles, glasses and rustling plastic bags (our crinkling baguette bag sounded like firecrackers exploding). Distant sirens, helicopters and hip-hop music also distracted a bit from the effect; even in the relative solitude of the Bowl, up in the hills, the city manages to creep in. Another minor complaint is that out of the three movie screens, the one directly in front of us was a bit too dark and out of focus; I mostly kept my head turned to the right screen for the clearer view. Still, these were small imperfections in an otherwise flawless presentation.
Like many others, one reason I love going to the movies is for the shared experience of viewing a film with the rest of the audience, going through the same emotions and plot twists as the other theater-goers. Increase that audience from 100 to about 17,000 people, and that was the Hollywood Bowl “2001” experience. When the “face” of Hal (the HAL 9000 computer) – a round, red camera lens – appeared on the screen, everyone applauded and whooped. The darkly humorous banter between Hal and Dave, as Hal becomes increasingly vengeful, is well known and often quoted in pop culture; the audience chuckled upon hearing his familiar calm, quiet tone. Hal is considered a sixth member of the crew, and interacts with the astronauts in a polite and affable manner – until he goes batshit crazy. Upon learning of the astronauts’ plan to disconnect him, he acts out, severing Frank’s lifeline to the pod; once Dave is able to catch Frank mid-fall with the pod’s mechanized clutches, Hal refuses to let him back into the space craft. “Open the pod doors, Hal!,” Dave commands loudly. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave,” Hal responds coolly. (“What an asshole!” I heard a concertgoer remark, after Hal released the pod’s grips and sent poor Frank hurtling through space to his doom.) After this, as Dave sets about disconnecting Hal’s many circuits, it is chilling. Hal, a machine, begins to experience the very human act of dying, as he feels increasingly drained of power: “My mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it,” he repeats in a slow, quiet monotone. During this scene, I think even the chatty girls in front of me were wordless, almost solemn.
“2001,” despite its late 1960’s aesthetic, is a timeless epic; Roger Ebert wrote, “Alone among science-fiction movies, `2001’ is not concerned with thrilling us, but inspiring our awe.” The Los Angeles Philharmonic and The Los Angeles Master Chorale certainly helped to inspire our own awe by bringing the music of “2001” to life. While the credits were rolling, it was disappointing to see so many people filing out while the orchestra was still playing. Most people stayed, though, and gave the musicians and the chorale the standing ovation they deserved.