As 2001: A Space Odyssey warps back into cinemas, the Smoke Screen recalls speaking to the original Discovery astronauts

 GARY LOCKWOOD AND KEIR DULLEA IN  2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

GARY LOCKWOOD AND KEIR DULLEA IN 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

With 2001: A Space Odyssey, director Stanley Kubrick redefined the science-fiction film genre,  the limits of filmmaking itself, and cemented his legacy as one of the most revolutionary and influential film directors of all time. Originally released in 70mm Cinerama roadshow format on April 3 1968, the film's 50th anniversary is being marked by a new roadshow aiming to recreate the visual and audio experience audiences would have had in 1968. No digital tricks, no extra scenes. This is not a 'director's cut'. You can read more about the cutting of this new print here courtesy of Cannes (where it premiered recently) and Warner Bros. technical staff.

For the first time since the original release, this 70mm print was struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative. Supported by celluloid lover and acclaimed director Christopher Nolan, this is a true photochemical film recreation from an age-old process which will go on tour worldwide. This screening will have a 15 minute interval also, as per the good old days. Picturehouse cinemas in London currently have tickets for a May period.

To mark the occasion, the Smoke Screen went back into the archives to dig up an interview roundtable with the cast members who play as the two beleaguered astronauts who come up against both the devious computer HAL, and the mysterious alien Stargate that ultimately opens the path to the film's mindbending conclusion. This was conducted around time of the Autumn 2014 BFI Sci-Fi "Days of Fear and Wonder" season, which saw 2001 play in a headline slot in a new restored digital print. A very different print will play this time, of course, but the interview remains  a real trove of insights into the mercurial Kubrick's making of a true classic. The entire feature is printed below, and also can be viewed in full here.


You can't get away from Stanley Kubrick’s grandiose, mysterious and undeniably trippy 1968 space epic 2001: A Space OdysseyLike the imposing, sleek monoliths from the film, 2001 looms over all cinema genres, not just science fictionEven director Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi film Interstellar, released in the same month that the BFI and Warner Bros studio have released a new digital transfer of Kubrick’s movie, openly pays homage to its predecessor.

Eventually becoming a huge box office and critical hit following its release  2001 is now a permanent fixture in all the major “best of” charts. It remains still in the top ten of the Sight and Sound Magazine Greatest Films poll, and was recently voted No. 1 in a Time Out London poll for the best 100 Sci-Fi films. It is fair to say that 2001, with it’s largely dialogue-free narrative, avante- garde music and benchmark-setting special effects, has gone beyond being just a film that is widely regarded as a masterpiece; it is spoken of and written about as if it is a piece of art.

Though the most famous character in 2001 is undoubtedly supercomputer HAL 9000, the human presence in the film's second half is made up of astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole, two men on what must be the loneliest mission in history aboard the spaceship Discovery. The pair are bound for Jupiter, following the path of a mysterious alien transmission from the alien monolith found on the moon. Actors Keir Dullea (Bowman) and Gary Lockwood (Poole) were reunited this month in London to celebrate the 2K digital reissue of 2001 playing as part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder season, and kindly shared their memories with me of going on “The Ultimate Trip” (as studio MGM sneakily billed the film when they realised how certain 60s youthful audiences were enjoying the film).

The two are an interesting double act; Dullea’s precise, carefully-considered answers contrast with the curmudgeonly Lockwood’s more roundabout ways of telling stories. Both are sharp as a knife when it comes to recalling various behind-the-scenes memories, thought that did not prevent the pair putting our interview on hold on occasion to get stuck into a friendly row or two as to the order of certain scenes in the film. Both remain fierce in their praise of the director who gave them the job.

You can read fuller version of my interview over at Grolsch FIlm Works who originally commissioned the piece, but here are some highlights below:

 

LOCKWOOD AND DULLEA THEN AND NOW

On getting hired by Stanley Kubrick for 2001:

Both Dullea and Lockwood were already Kubrick fans when they got the call to join 2001, so for both it was no brainer to sign up for the space mission. Keir Dullea was actually in England at the time, shooting an Otto Premigner film. Wandering in to a Battersea Park funfair one day, he encountered a palm reader who warned him: ‘I see a rocket ship in your future.’ ” A week after that, Kubrick called. 

Lockwood already had secured a place in sci-fi history, having starred in the pilot of a little show called Star Trek (where he plays Gary Mitchell, ultimately the villain of the story, in a one-off role).  He'd already worked with Kubrick on Spartacus.  At the time he remembers he was: “getting a lot of jobs, doing rather well, enjoying it, chasing beautiful girls and driving Porsches: the routine.” Then his agent called with Kubrick’s offer. Lockwood jumped at the chance: “I was a giant fan of Kubrick, even though I was a cowboy. I knew his stuff. I thought he was a genius.” 

On working with the legendary director.

Neither Dullea or Lockwood will have any truck with the myths that Kubrick was a strange, obsessive loner who enjoyed pushing his actors. Instead they found him professional, courteous, and amazingly curious, seemingly about everything. Says Dullea: "I’d just finished working with Preminger, so let me tell you, it was like going from hell to heaven! [Kubrick] was so easygoing with us, he never raised his voice, ever. He put us at ease quickly and was never demanding in the way you might imagine he would be. He was so prepared, the most prepared director I had ever worked with, so I guess he could relax about everything else.”

Lockwood liked Kubrick’s directing style, the way he let professional actors get on with the job on set and when the cameras rolled: “I asked him once why I got the part, and he told me that he thought I could ‘do a lot without doing anything.’ Stanley never said anything, that’s what I liked about him."

For Lockwood: There is only one Stanley Kubrick. People who are really good at something have to have an IQ! They have to be intelligent! I meet students out of film school and they say things like: ‘I wanna make films like Stanley Kubrick’. You can’t tell after just five minutes with them; there’s just not the grey matter there! Kubrick was curious, and so very, very intelligent.”

Dullea remembers Kubrick as: “the most curious man I ever met. I remember the Pentax camera had just come out that year: he stopped shooting and took hours to find out all about it!”

On their characters:

There is little dialogue in 2001, even when the film moves out of the prehistoric era. Dullea noticed that Kubrick cut more and more dialogue away the more takes they did. To help the cast, Kubrick prepped them via fictional biographies: “Our characters had double doctorates in sciences; the concept was that by year 2001 NASA wouldn't be taking astronauts from the military necessarily: they'd be looking early on at young men from high school and college, narrowing it down in terms of choosing based on their psychological profile.  

Both actors have little stories about they shaped the direction of 2001 with their own input. Lockwood laughs as he recalls how Stanley Kubrick challenged him to come up with a better idea of how the astronauts would confront HAL once he started malfunctioning. After a trip to a deli on Golders Green courtesy of Kubrick's driver, Lockwood scribbled out a scenario where the astronauts would plot in the pod, where they felt HAL couldnt hear them. Only a few hours previously, Lockwood had feared Kubrick was going to fire him for complaining about how he felt the narrative had been constructed. For his part, Dullea suggested to Kubrick that he break a wine glass during the sequence where Bowman ages in huge jumps in the strange artificial hotel room, after his voyage through the star portal. 

 

 On finally seeing 2001 in the cinema in 1968:

Both were blown away by seeing the film on the big screen, Lockwood in particular as he was extremely stoned at the time. Corralled by a film journalist for an interview after the screening, Lockwood remembers the man commenting: “ Well Mr Lockwood, you still look like you’re out there in space!” Dullea was struck by the Dawn of Man sequence (with its famous jump cut from the bone in mid air to a satellite orbiting Earth); as it was a section of the film that neither of the actors had worked on and thus were seeing it for the first time. 

On talking to younger audiences about 2001:

Though Lockwood deplores modern audiences “with their lack of attention thanks to MTV-style fast cutting”, Dullea is upbeat about 2001 finding new audiences now. He recalls that on the autograph circuit he started noticing that: “more than 50% of fans now were not born when 2001 came out. That speaks to the trans-generational aspect of this film. The genius of this film, of Kubrick, has appealed to generations up to this moment.”

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Scalarama Review: The Final Girls present Brian de Palma's CARRIE

Carrie, dir. Brian de Palma, USA 1976, 98 mins

The Smoke Screen has been a huge fan of the feminist film programming duo The Final Girls, who’s mission is to explore the presentation of women in the horror film genre. Given how iconic - and notorious - Brian de Palma’s Carrie has been and continues to be since its release in 1976, it seems entirely appropriate that The Final Girls would have wanted to tackle it as part of their contribution to Scalarama film month. In concert with a panel made up of Michael Blyth (BFI Festivals Programmer), Catherine Bray (Film4 Editorial Director and Producer) and Dr. Alison Pierse (Lecturer at York University) at the ICA, the Final Girls offered up some fascinating routes to take when approaching what undoubtedly remains one of the cult horror flicks.

The story of Carrie - which of course is adapted from the smash hit novel from Stephen King that helped launch his career - is so well-known it barely bares repeating. Yet the core of the story clearly resonates, with elements of its central conceit being reworked into popular genre fare today: you only have to take a brief look at the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, for example, to see elements of both King’s ideas and de Palma’s stylistic flair in its DNA. Tormented by her hyper-religious mother Margaret (a barnstorming turn from Piper Laurie) and the meanness of teenage girls, young American teen high schooler Carrie (a ghostly Sissy Spacek) develops - and uses to devastating effect - telekinetic powers that appear to have been activated by her reaching the age of puberty. Unable to fit in at school due to her isolated and extreme home life, the regular bullying that Carrie suffers has left her a hushed and timid figure. A crack of light appears when sympathetic classmate Sue asks her boyfriend, the sensitive school jock Tommy Ross, to take Carrie to the upcoming prom dance- and event which seems to have monumental significance for these high schoolers. But scheming classmates, led by the vicious Chris Hargensen (de Palma's frequent collaborator Nancy Allen), have other plans. It all ends with that bucket of blood showering the newly-crowned prom queen Carrie at the dance’s finale, and the humiliated young woman responds by unleashing all the telekinetic power, fuelled by all that long-suppresed rage and bitterness, and aiming it right at the crowd of school kids in front of her. Few survive the inferno.

Carrie has obviously been read as an allegorical tale about the fears society nurtures about female sex and sexuality, with Carrie’s mother’s cruel treatment of her daughter being revealed as driven by something far more complex and troubling than just religion: a mix of disgust and fear of the joy of sex itself. It is almost as if she resents her daughter for reaching the age where she can now enjoy sexual pleasure, something she as a devout mother has denied herself - though, when in one of her raving fits - she confesses to a stunned Carrie that she too once gave in to lust, which resulted in Carrie’s creation. Now her daughter stands for the sin she gave in to. The character of could easily be read as a stand-in for a hypocritical, conservative patriarchal society itself with all of its unresolved complexes.

This certainly seems like a progressive slant for a horror film to take, yet one of the things that makes Carrie so fascinating is how problematic - almost gleefully so - the film is even as it foregrounds its intriguing conceits. Brian de Palma's films and his own statements have been controversial to say the least, something the Carrie panel tackled right from the start of their conversation. This is a film that begins with a tracking shot that has become somewhat notorious; the camera journeys through a steamy changing room as Carrie’s high school gym class are seen in various stages of nudity. This is far from the last time in the movie de Palma’s camera will linger on female flesh either: with female cheerleaders on the pitch and high school bad girl Chris’s bra-less torso getting plenty of screen time. This is also one of many de Palma films that put their female characters through the wringer, to put it politely.

Thus the panel agreed that at some point they had all been driven to ask themselves: “Is it cool to like Carrie [and de Palma]?” But the consensus was that, after repeat viewings and after taking a few steps back to reconsider de Palma’s career as a whole, rejecting Carrie entirely as mysoginistic felt too much like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Alison Pierce for example praised the way the film - largely through Sissy Spacek’s intense performance - effectively transmitted the desperate sadness of the plight of this hapless but incredibly powerful young woman. You empathise with Carrie as almost a Frankenstein-like figure, a victim created by monstrosity. The panel also noted how both De Palma and King explored her victimhood in interesting ways - with the narrative and characterisation of Carrie seeming at times to provoke the viewer to almost want this pathetic figure to get tormented. De Palma arguably manipulates viewers to effectively swing between delighting in seeing Carrie suffer, and yearning to see her inflict terrible vengeance on her tormentors turn. The bucket of blood sequence, with its long, almost gleeful build up in slow motion, was much discussed as an example of this. Viewers might want to ask themselves; do you maybe sneakily want that rope to be pulled, and the bucket to fall, knowing both what the immediate humiliating result will be, and what will happen next?

Author Stephen King and de Palma also have an interesting kingship, as Catherine Bray noted: they are good at “serious fun” - taking a ludicrous concept and imbuing it with genuine terror and emotional weight. Of course, Carrie can simply be enjoyed as campy, shlockly fun, with Michael Blyth half-joking if you could convert this film easily into a musical given its tone and setting. Regardless, the panel noted that the film remains very striking from a cinematographic perspective, with a visual approach that teeters on the deliciously overblown at times. De Palma throws in a tonne of tricks that he would become well known for, including diopter lens shots, and the use of montage which really works well in the prom terror sequence, as Carrie starts to come apart, her attention and powers jumping to various points as she singles out her enemies for destruction. The Smoke Screen in particular was struck by the deliriously bold lighting throughout the film too. Much of the film’s early sequences seem drenched in a warm, apple pie glow, but in the prom night sequence sees de Palma start us off with a dreamy kaleidoscopic mix of purples and yellows that highlight how carried away Carrie is by her one moment of bliss, only to drench the entire affair in an insanely deep red shade once the psychic assault starts.

It seems a fitting moment to screen and discuss this film given it has now reached its 40th anniversary, and this Final Girls show nicely coincided with the release this month of the documentary De Palma from directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow. There is a definitely a vibe in the air that this is the right time to take a step back and asses/re-asses the work of a director who's middle name is “polarising”.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Ian McKellen on Richard III and Shakespeare on film: 'You can have a wonderful “Shakespeare movie” with hardly any Shakespeare in it all...'

UK-USA 1995

Directed by Richard Loncraine

103 min Digital 15

Playing in the BFI’s Shakespeare on Film Season.

RATING: ★★★★★

Back on the big screen in a new Park Circus digital restoration, and part of the BFI Shakespeare on Film Season, Richard III is looking mighty fine at age 21. A bombastic and zippily-paced adaption of the bard’s epic study of villainy and ambition, this version, originally released in 1995, was adapted by actor Ian McKellen and Richard Loncraine from the National Theatre’s stage production by Richard Eyre. It helped make McKellan the international star he is today, he himself admitting it opened up the roles of Magento in X-Men and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings  (though of course he had a long history of film and TV work before).

This take on Richard III is set in a glamorous, alternate history of 1930s England, full of silk and champagne and braided uniforms. A vicious civil war is taking place, one fought with WWII-era submachine guns and tanks, and within the first five minutes a gas mask and trench coat wearing Richard, Duke of Gloucester, has murdered the current besieged King (after driving his tank through the King’s HQ wall) with a pistol. To the sounds of gunshots, the RICHARD III title flashes up on screen as McKellan rips off the gas mask, revealing a sneer under a pencil mustache. The film never deviates from this hyper-stylised tone, and the fact it embraces it so fully makes it all the stronger.

Impressively squeezing the huge play into just two hours (McKellan and Loncraine have claimed only about a quarter of the text is on screen) through bold visuals, vivid set designs and costuming that clearly defines each character and place, and working with actors who deliver the ornate dialogue with comfortable ease, Loncraine gives us a rip-roaring tale of the classic ambitious ruler who could ‘murder while he smiles’. At the heart of the film is the oversized but compelling performance from McKellan, bedecked in regalia that blends British aristocracy with Italian and German fascist pomp, lurching about the place due to his character having a limp and withered arm. Though a disgusting, murdering villain, what makes Richard III so compelling is the way we are given access to his thoughts via to-camera addresses, a very postmodern touch from the bard which survives today in the shape of characters like House of Cards’ Frank Underwood. Through these intimate conversations about his schemes, we the audience become complicit in his deeds, as Richard moves, out of a mix of spite (he is a physically disabled child of his mother’s brood after all), ambition and his own self-hatred, to murder his way through his own family tree to get to the throne. We are both shocked at how far he will go and how brazen his scheming becomes - at one point Richard woos the wife of one of his slaughtered foes in the actual morgue where she mourns - but we also come to understand that an unstable but all-too-human mixture of feelings drive him.

Aside from McKellen, there is a great cast on hand; from Jim Broadbent as Richard’s sycophantic, but increasingly fearful and guilt-addled ally Lord Buckingham, to Nigel Hawthorne as the tragically innocent Duke of Clarence, who even when being knifed to death on Richard’s orders cannot believe his brother would do the deed. The use of London’s many atmospheric and often derelict locations, including the Battersea Power Station, makes the film work well as a time capsule of a bygone era. The costumes are a riot of colour and glamour, and when added to the striking shooting locations, make the film look far more expensive than it actually was (the film was budgeted for about $5m and actually ran out of money in the early stages). Overall, a great way to introduce the unwilling or fearful to the many ways Shakespeare’s classic tales can be told on film.

Director Richard Loncraine and actor, writer and producer Ian McKellen were at the BFI to take part in a post-screening Q&A of the new print of Richard III:

On the translation of Shakespeare from stage to screen.

IM: Well I’d played Richard III for the National Theatre, just a few blocks away from where we are now today actually, directed by Richard Eyre, which I guess makes him “Richard the first” and you [to Loncraine] “Richard the second!”! So I had a lot of the play inside me, including its long speeches: thought we actually had to cut out of lot of the characters and long speeches which link to the play’s past. The last third actually only really makes sense if you know about the history that preceded it. I was stuck with the idea that the audience comes to hear, rather than to see, and that an audience for Richard III would like a lot of talking! But here we are; this is a film. How much the cinema could replace the words was the question. I wasn't at all confident it could be done. But I presented a cut-down version, knowing the play very well and the essentials, to Richard. He looked at it with beady eye of a cinema man! 

RL: I just thought it was still a bit “pros-arch” still [prosenium arch], but I went to see Ian at his house, and instead of showing me the door, he asked me what we could do to fix it. We sat down, talked, and very quickly worked out - well it took months actually -  how to carve up the text. You [to McKellan]handled the text as I knew nothing about it, and I tried to create images that I guess would be…disrespectful in a way. I always thought it needs debagging in a respectful way. I think that’s where the toilet idea came from didn’t it?

IM: When you do that speech [Richard III’s first on-screen address to audience] on stage, it breaks, it starts as a public declaration, then gets very personal, inviting the audience in to the private insides of Richard. Cinematically, to make it a public occasion and then reduce it to the most private place that a man can be, was actually cinematic, but Shakespearean too! You have to give up as a stage actor on the idea that you can make a film of Shakespeare and it'll be just like the play. It won’t. It’s a translation as it were. You don’t have to regret it.

You can have a wonderful “Shakespeare movie” with hardly any Shakespeare in it all: Throne of Blood for example. Because those directors are sympathetic towards Shakespeare they get to the heart of the matter, which is the character, the complications and human nature, which is why Shakespeare has survived all these years.

RL: I was taught Shakespeare really badly at school, I really came out of school thinking Shakespeare wasn't really very good. I was the idiot, not Shakespeare! It took me 38 years, until I met Ian, for me to realise he was a genius. But I felt we had to make it accessible, easy to understand: because I didn’t understand it! I wondered how I could direct actors if I didn’t understand what each scene meant. I had to understand every nuance of what was going on. Sometimes it was not possible. Obviously we couldn’t write Shakespeare, but we did things like create names that would be spoken on screen, like “Prime Minister". Ian cut the text back and back, and I tried to create imagery to extend the story, for example trying to establish the political situation at the start of the play, with the tank driving through the wall.

IM: For the first ten minutes of this movie, nobody speaks, you think it’s going to be a silent movie. I rather like that. I want people to be sitting there wondering “when are these people going to speak”. Then they are ready for Shakespeare! Of course when they get it it starts “Now is the winter of our discontent”. What a great way to begin. I was terribly, terribly aware of the words, and wanting them to come through. So I was very pleased when Richard cast the actors he did. Maggie Smith! In just two speeches: doesn’t she give it the welly it needed!

On the character of Richard III

IM: Some actors have played Richard as if he’s a psychopath, he can’t stop killing people. But he actually only kills one person in this story, and then as a soldier. He issues orders: he tells other people to kill. Thats what tyrants do. This man is not unstable in the sense of a mass murderer. He is after power. He has ambition. He can do this because he doesn’t care. And Maggie Smith, bless her, texted me before this show saying; “stop saying its Richard’s mother that is the source of this”. But if you are born being told you are hateful and horrible, and your mother doesn’t like the look of you, it’s not a good start is it?

On the use of modern sets and clothing:

IM: Why do it in modern dress? Olivier after all had everyone in the accurate costumes for the time in his version.  Because: if you don’t, you might not know who in this story who is in the royal family, and who is just an aristocrat, or who is in the church or the armed forces and their rank - there was no uniform in Shakespeare's times to tell this. Richard is moving amongst them all. He gets on because he has a certain amount of charm.

You don’t have to relate it to the actuality of a history that might have been. It’s not real history. I think Shakespeare knew that. It’s a comment on history. In “modern-ish” dress, you just know who everyone is.

 

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

“What you don’t see is a dramatic recreation of his Wikipedia page”: Michael Fassbender and writer Aaron Sorkin on "Steve Jobs".

 Michael Fassbender as tech iconoclast Steve Jobs. Source : Universal

Michael Fassbender as tech iconoclast Steve Jobs. Source : Universal

We all carry Apple co-founder and tech design visionary Steve Job’s legacy around with us every day, in the form of the iMacs, iPhones and iPads that sit in our pockets and briefcases, and on top of our desktops. Apart from revolutionising the way we communicate with each other, Jobs arguably embedded the Apple company and its products into the very structure of our language, his devices becoming a key part of the recognisable iconography of our modern culture. Parents regularly joke now that their infants take to iPads easier than crayons and paper.

After a series of twists and turns, failed product launches and a period where he was even booted out of Apple by the board, Jobs eventually took the throne as the company’s CEO and rode the success of the 1998 iMac home computer launch to a point where Apple bestrode the tech world and its stock became worth more than the GDP of many nations. But few people could get to that position without snagging some controversy along the way, something director Danny Boyle’s new film Steve Jobs, scripted by The Social Network and Moneyball writer Aaron Sorkin, fully engages with.

Working from Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of the man, Sorkin’s script takes an interesting, non-traditional approach to depicting the tech iconoclast. Instead of a giving us a cradle-to-the-grave story, the film’s narrative structure is built around three seminal product launches overseen by Jobs – the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Cube in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. Each becomes a focal point for the many trials and tribulations surrounding Jobs at the time.

Danny Boyle, Aaron Sorkin, stars Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, and the rest of the main cast talked about the making of the film, and their thoughts on the legacy of Steve Jobs, at a press conference in London to promote the picture closing the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. You can read the full Smoke Screen review of the film here. Steve Jobs is released in the UK on 13 November.

 Director Danny Boyle, write Aaron Sorkin, and stars Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet at the Steve Jobs BFI LFF 2015 press conference. Copyright: Owen Van Spall, Smoke Screen.

Director Danny Boyle, write Aaron Sorkin, and stars Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet at the Steve Jobs BFI LFF 2015 press conference. Copyright: Owen Van Spall, Smoke Screen.

On the objection of some members of the Jobs family to the film:

Michael Fassbender: To be honest, it did make me hesitate, the idea of playing somebody who really did live in the same world as we do and who recently passed away, who had close ones who would be worried how their late husband or father would be portrayed. It weighed on my conscience. But I spoke to my own father and close friends, and they said: “It is like journalism; you have a responsibility to tell stories. That is your job, so long as you approach it with the utmost respect.” Which I did. And as I’ve said previously in answer to questions, I have the utmost respect for Steve Jobs, and I had no intention of setting out to portray someone without that respect going into it. Hopefully when they [Steve Jobs’s family] see it, if they see it, they wont feel hurt by it. It certainly wasn't my intention.

Aaron Sorkin: Can I just say that, and this has been widely reported; while Laurene Powell Jobs certainly did from the get-go object to the film being made, Lisa Jobs did not; and she is the one portrayed in the movie.

On working with a ‘Sorkinese” script:

Danny Boyle: It was an amazing experience for all of us, I think, picking up that script. It was like 185 pages of dialogue, whereas your regular script would be 110 plus stage directions. There was no real hint as to how to do it, just a few notes like “interior: day” and such. But we wanted to make it a rich experience for the audience in two ways really. One was the acting, and the other was making it an immersive experience. I do love theatre, but I have to say I love cinema more; it has that weird, illogical thing where you can get lost in it. I did go to see Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch the other night, I loved it, but with a play…you’re just not quite immersed in it in the way you would be in a film.

Michael Fassbender: I just felt really lucky that it landed on my lap. It’s a one off when you get scripts like this. I remember thinking: “there goes my break”; which I had planned over that time. I just thought to myself “this is extraordinary writing, the best script that I’ve ever read”. Most scenes today comprise just ten sentences or something. Here, all of the electricity in this film is dialogue driven. So it’s rare,rare opportunity.

Kate Winslet: When I first read the first few pages my reaction was “Wow, these people talk for a long time!” Page 55: “yup, they're still talking! How the fuck are we going to get through this one?” But to be honest my immediately reaction was, aside from how incredible it was to read, and how solid each character was - and as Jeff [Daniels] has said, Aaron writes the way that these people think, and I don’t think I had come across that before to that extent - was the thought I was going to play Michael Fassbender’s friend! And hold his hand! Of course he didn't need any of those things! 

Much has been made about the length of the script and such but, you know, you are an actor. You learn your fucking lines! You just get on with it. The pressure really comes trying not to forget your lines; the whole thing unravels and turns to dog shit! That was the pressure; and it is not just the actors you are walking and talking with. You’ve got the steadicam guy; who was just unbelievable holding that camera for 20-30 minute take sometimes. You’ve got the boom operators running after you with wires and such. There is so much concentration going on that it really falls horribly on the actors if they forget something. 

On recreating an uncompromising real-life individual and his time:

Danny Boyle: I have to say, Michael is an uncompromising actor, and I think on some level I connected that to what we knew about Steve Jobs. I knew Michael would not be in search of some hatchet job or some deification, but the truth, in the way Jobs pursued perfection in his work. To watch Michael pursue perfection in his work, yes that was uncompromising. I think it lifted the level for all the actors and crew. When you get someone on set like that, who is willing to pursue something, everyone becomes like: “lets do it!” Michael even suggested we shoot the rehearsals. I’d never done that before! It’s an amazing thing; often it’s the best take. I’ll be doing that from now on.

Michael Fassbender: The script as I’ve said was exceptional, and there was lot of it! And I think Danny, coming from a theatre background, set it up so that it would be about the actors. He was just so generous and patient with me, many times! He set up an environment for us where we could do our best in the most supportive surroundings. For example; we got rehearsals. We had two weeks of rehearsals before we started the first act, we filmed the first act in two weeks, then we had two weeks to prep for the second. That is unheard of, accountants usually go apeshit. But Danny, coming from a theatre background, realised the importance of that, that we would be well-rehearsed, we would have worked out our mistakes in the rehearsal phase, and got to feel it out with one another. On the day, we could shoot fast and effectively. 

We also shot it in San Francisco. Which is not cheap! There were other options. But Danny insisted it was important we set it here, where this whole thing was born. And I think that really helped. The feeling that we were doing it in the home of not only Steve Jobs, but of the new wave which we all live in now.

Kate Winslet: To me the word uncompromising is the opposite of collaboration. For me, what I felt was a fundamental sense of collaboration, and that came from Danny. Danny insisted on rehearsals, and also put all of us in the room for read throughs from day one. For the majority of the time we were all in that space. Michael and I would be thrashing a scene around, and sometimes we would run out of ideas, but we could turn to the room and ask how it played. It neutralised the entire environment and made everybody equal. With a small company of actors like that - which we were - it pulled all of us together. No hierarchy and no fuss. That tone was set by Danny and Michael. Michael didn't have any “stuff” around him. 

The appeal and legacy of Steve Jobs:

Danny Boyle: I think the reason why we all made this film is that, well, this guy has changed our lives in an extraordinary way. Both in an obvious way; communication, but in so many other ways as well. The implications are huge and significant, even if we don't discuss them in the film. To see where it emerged from and to see who that person was, or a version of who that person was, was to me and all of us essential. 

We were very lucky, in how we were able to illustrate it, we shot the first act on 16mm; it being the earliest act, and as Jobs felt like a guy fighting all these impossible forces stopping him getting to his vision, It felt like a rough and home-made version, as if they'd done everything in a garage themselves. Then we moved to 35mm for the second act, very much a storytelling act about beautiful illusion. Then we moved to digital. The 3rd act is set in 1998, but the Alexa camera we used wasn't generally used then in cinema. Jobs had already got there of course, as Pixar had released Toy Story in 1996. I remember going to see it at Odeon Leicester Square with my kids, and thinking; “the world has changed.”  Like you had been reborn. It was great to pay him that respect, really. 

On how truthful a portrait this is:

Michael Fassbender: The only thing I knew about the man was from his job, and through the prism of the media, and what other people were saying. I just really respected what was in the script; I know we were doing a dramatisation and not a biopic. All my information was in the script. I knew nothing about man really before we started. We know him as the guy in the turtleneck, but I find it curious how he kind of started wearing a uniform at a certain point in his life. I wonder if he was aware how that would venture into mythological status later on. Was that a conscious decision, or one less decision for him to make in the morning? 

I just tried to take my own feeling from what was in the script, then I just watched whatever was available on Youtube, from interviews, to seminars and speeches. So I can’t really say. I just filled in my own blanks, but I they could be totally off. You hear so many good and bad stories about him, it seems to me there was a balance there. 

Aaron Sorkin: The question I think you are asking is, would someone who came to this movie walk away with a fair sense of who Steve Jobs was? I don't know what a fair sense of anybody is really. I agree with Michael; if you asked a thousand people who knew Jobs what their impressions of him were, I think you'd get a thousand different answers. What you don’t see in this movie is a dramatic recreation of his Wikipedia page. What you see is something that is a dramatisation of several of the personal issues that he had in his life, and they illustrate something, they give you a picture. Are they fair? I do believe they are. My conscience is clear.

Generally speaking, Steve Jobs did not, as far as I know, have confrontations with the same six people 40 minutes before every product launch! That plainly is a writers conceit. But I do think that the movie gets at some larger truths, some more important truths than what really went on during the 40 minutes before product launches, which I don’t think was the stuff of drama.

Steve Jobs is released in the UK on 13 November.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Deeds not words! Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep and Sarah Gavron on Suffragette

It has been a while since this writer can remember attending a film press conference where all of the panel guests were women. But with women's movement drama Suffragette, which opened this year's London Film Festival, women were not just foregrounded in the casting, but were built into the DNA of the production from the ground up. The director, screenwriter, and most of the producers were all women. The film explores the journey of young London factory worker Maud Watts, a working class wife and mother, who grows more and more passionately committed to the burgeoning Suffragette movement in the early 1900s, in response to the terrible working conditions and oppression she encounters at all levels of her existence.

At a press conference to announce the launch of the film at the start of the festival, director Sarah Gavron, writer Abi Morgan and cast members Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep discussed how the film was designed to highlight the status of women today, the challenges of getting a film made in which the main roles were all given to women who were not designed to be either funny or romantic, and who they felt were the Suffragettes of today.

How much resistance was there in terms of getting the film off the ground?

Abi Morgan: Sarah and I have been on this project for about six years, but it has been truly Sarah’s passion project for the last decade. That should give you some idea. FIlm’s take time, but I think putting over a film fronted not just by one woman but by an ensemble of women- and they are not being funny and it’s not romantic - is hard. I think that became a huge obstacle. But we had an incredible group of producers out in the front Fay Ward, Alison Owen and “our man” Cameron McCracken, and I think of all of them as feminists. So it really took both men and women to bring this to the screen. 

Sarah Gavron: It was a tough proposition but we wanted to stick to our guns. We did have champions; those producers who are sitting in the front row. There were others too: Tessa Russell at Film4 back in the early days, the people at Focus,  Cameron McCracken at Pathe who makes political and existing films, often directed by women. We were lucky to have those people around us.

On the lack of widespread knowledge about the Suffragette’s movement today:

Sarah Gavron: When we were talking to the academics who advised us on the film, they told us there weren't  surprised, it took age to get women’s history taken seriously in the academies, it took a long time to get it onto the school curriculum . I personally wasn't taught anything about it, I remember just a few lines at the bottom of a page in a history book. And I think it’s partly a symptom of inequality.

Meryl Streep: There are so many stories that haven’t been told; that’s an important part of this film. There is no such thing as “women’s history”; there’s just “history” which women have been shut out of. There are some brave souls who have done some ‘spelunking’ to try to find out about it; like Amanda Foreman who has a series on the BBC called “The Ascent of Woman”. We can’t get it in the United States: but I think there’s interest. It is a question of rousing that interest. For me, I knew a great deal about the Suffragette movement in the United States but I didn't know about it here. And I also didn't know the condition of women here in 1913. I didn't know that the marriage age was twelve for example; shocking. I didn't know that once a woman was married she had no further claim to her name, any property she brought to the marriage, her children; she had no say in how they were raised or educated or even if they were sold off to be married. But to me that’s recent history; my grandmother was alive then and had a couple of children; and was not deemed capable of voting. It feels recent to me, and I’m passionate about it. Its means something to me.

But what I think is the great achievement of this film is that it is not about the women of a certain class like Emmeline Pankhurst; its about a working girl. I think that is part of why we can enter the film so easily and empathetically, as Carey plays this young mother who looks like us, but who’s circumstances are out of her hands completely.

On the film’s connections to the status of modern women:

Carey Mulligan: For me, what I loved about this film is the it didn't feel like a documentary of the time, it felt more like a film about today. I always felt its resonance with where we are; a film to mark the achievements of these women and what they gave us, and to highlight where we are in the world. Of course we still live in a society, in a world, that is sexist, that goes throughout our history. I think for me it was great moment to re-understand what women went through to get the vote and for me to be empowered. Of course in the UK here we are largely very privileged, but the film does relate and talk to the situation in the rest of the world for women, in terms of their vote, not just living standards and wages and the way they are treated. We always felt that bringing the film back around to today and looking at where we are now was the most important thing about the film. Give people the history, but also open their eyes. It has really done that for me.

Meryl Streep: I agree. To make a film like this, it will circulate the globe. It will encourage people who have very little hope; people who’s lives look very much like those of the women in 1913 in London. 

As for the appearance of sexism today: the lack of inclusion of women in decision making bodies in every single enterprise in the world. For example, the decisions being made about refugees; why are the bodies making decisions about them not half women? Two places you cant vote in the world: Saudi Arabia, and The Vatican. If men can’t look around the board of directors in a company and not think something is wrong that half are not women, then we aren't going to make any progress. 

How did the cast work together?

Sarah Gavron: Well none of the cast had worked together before, but when we got together to rehearse -  we had three weeks of sitting in a room with Abi to discuss it plus months of prep before that - they all immediately formed this bond and became great friends. We actually had problems stopping them laughing and getting back to work! I had nothing to do with it. An unusual sense of camaraderie, and I wonder whether it was not just because we were telling this story that everyone felt passionate about, but also because there was this unusual balance; we had lots of men and women in key positions. That was exciting; to see lots of women on screen together. 

Abi Morgan: It’s quite rare to get this length of rehearsal period, but this means you can make things more bespoke for the actors and also start to listen to them; they are the keepers of the character. One of the things that is very interesting to me is that the great quote we use in the film was no act of genius on my part, it was Carey Mulligan who found it. I think that is when great work happens, when you truly start to collaborate and the actors discover stuff and bring it into the film. It is a beautiful end to the film, that quote, and I struggled to find that. It was down to the actors who understood the themes of the film and had journeyed through it.

Who are the Emmeline Pankhurst’s of today?:

Carey Mulligan: Malala Yousef (nods of agreement from all panel guests)


Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Looking into the Silence: Director Joshua Oppenheimer and Adi Rukun on facing the Indonesian genocide in "The Look of Silence"

Joshua Oppenheimer and Indonesian collaborator Adi Rukun discussed their new, powerful expose of the perpetrators of the Indonesia genocide - the documentary The Look of Silence - at a recent Q&A at Sheffield Doc Fest. You can read the Smoke Screen review here, and what follows is an edited version of the Q&A the collaborating duo took part in with the audience. This was the film's UK premiere. The Look of Silence is playing wide in cinemas across the UK now, having already scooped a haul of awards on the festival circuit including a Grand Jury prize at Venice.

The film serves as a companion piece to Oppenheimer's 2012 film The Act of Killing, and was filmed before its release. Within it, Joshua Oppenheimer further explores the terrible legacy of the Indonesian genocide fifty years ago, this time through the lens of one family. Adi was born in 1968, two years after his brother Ramli was slaughtered in front of many eyewitnesses. Now an optometrist, Adi lives with his elderly parents and his children. Inspired by his work with Oppenheimer on the Act of Killing film, where he assisted Oppenheimer in gathering material, Adi decided to confront some of the murderers himself. The film tracks his journey.

How did this sequel come about, following your work exploring the Indonesian genocide in The Act of Killing?

JO: I began working on the 1965 Indonesian killings, and more precisely on the present day legacy of fear, impunity, corruption and violence back in 2003 in collaboration with Adi and his family. This was more than two years before I met Anwar Kongo, the main ‘character’ in The Act of Killing.  When we started that work, Adi was particularly central to bringing together survivors from his community, so they could tell their stories. 

After three weeks, the army threatened all the survivors, but they said to Adi: “Don’t give up, try to film the perpetrators, see if they will tell you what they did”. I was afraid to approach the perpetrators myself, but when I did, I was horrified to find that they were boastful. In fact the first perpetrator you see in the film just at the very opening was the very first one I met, it was a neighbour in Adi’s village. When I approached him I found him boastful, and he introduced me to others, who were the same.

Adi wanted to see the footage, and when I showed it to him and members of the Indonesia Human Rights community, they all said: “you must continue”. So I spent two years filming every perpetrator I could find. Anwar Kongo from The Act of Killing was in fact the 41st one filmed.The first time I brought two together was the terrible afternoon of January 2004, where two men took me down to the river playing victim and perpetrator, explaining how they helped kill 10,500 people at just that one spot. Including, they ultimately revealed, Adi’s brother Ramli. 

At the time I had no idea I was filming the killer of my friend’s brother, and they were posing for photographs as if it was a happy day out. For me it was one of the worst days of my life, they were boasting, but reading as if from a shared script. I had to accept that this boasting was not a sign that these men were psychotic, because it was systemic. It was political. It was then that I started feeling as if I was in Nazi Germany, 40 years after the holocaust, but with the Nazis still in power. This was not the exception to the rule, a surreal freak occurrence. This was the rule. This impunity we are seeing is the story of our times.

I knew that day I would drop everything I was doing and make two films, and I would spend as long as it took to tell the story. One film would be about the perpetrators and the stories they tell; that of course is The Act of Killing; a flamboyant fever dream of a film,a film about escapism and guilt. 

I knew also that I would make a second film about what this does to human beings, to a family, to memory. To not be able to mourn or work through this, to be stuck in trauma because you are surrounded by the powerful men who killed your loved ones, who kept you living in fear for half century. So this film would be a backwards-looking poem composed for all those destroyed by this silence. That is The Look of Silence.

How did you work with Adi? And how has Adi’s life been affected by this experience, after bravely confronting all these perpetrators?

JO: We shot the film in 2012 after we started editing The Act of Killing but before that first film had had it’s first screenings. After that, we could no longer safely return to Indonesia. So we had a window.  I wasn’t sure exactly what we would do when we started, but I knew Adi would be my main collaborator, though not necessarily my main character. (Speaking to Adi) but you said you personally wanted to confront the perpetrators.

Adi Rukun(translated): I wanted to do this because it had been so many decades spent living in this silence and fear, not just my family, but millions of other families.  My children were being brainwashed at school, taught lies, and stigmatised. Even after 50 years. This wasn't ending.

I am not a brave man, I am easily fearful. But, somehow this has to end. Somebody had to open the way to end this silence. 

My family worked with the film team for a long time on ensuring our safety, and we moved to another location in Indonesia, far from where we had been living so we can rebuild.

JO: I think that what I learned making The Act of Killing was that nobody has the courage to demonstrate remorse. In 2009-2010 when we had finished shooting that film, I had given Adi a videocamera to use as kind of visual notebook, to look for metaphors to help with the second film. Ari would send me tapes as I was editing, and I would watch them as I could. In 2012 when I arrived back in the country I asked him what he thought we should do for the second film, and he said that after seven years of watching the footage I had been shooting: “it’s changed me. I am a different person after watching how the perpetrators speak. I now need to meet them, meet the men who killed my brother and see if they can talk openly with me about what it means morally”. 

I immediately said: “absolutely not; it’s too dangerous”. There has never been a non-fiction film made as far as I know where survivors confront perpetrators while the perpetrators retain a monopoly in power. Certainly this has never happened in Indonesia. But Adi took out the camera I had given him and showed me one tape. Trembling, he put it in the camera and pressed play. He showed me the section of film that he shot; the scene where Adi’s father is crawling through the house lost. And Adi said, crying, that this was the first day where his father couldn't remember anyone in his family. 

Adi told me that he became angry at himself, asking why he was filming this if he couldn’t help. But then he said to me that he realised in that moment why: “This was the moment where it became too late for my father, because he had forgotten the son who’s murder destroyed our family’s life, and his life. It is too late for him to heal, he cant remember or work through it. But he hadn't forgotten the fear. Dad became like a man locked in a room, who can’t even find the door, let alone the key. I don't want my children to inherit this prison of fear from my mother, father and me.”

Did you find anyone who expressed remorse from that generation

JO: Adi told me: “I think that if I meet the perpetrators, they will welcome the chance, unconsciously they've been waiting for a chance, to somehow acknowledge that what they did was wrong.”

Adi had said to me, looking at the footage of one of the perpetrators demonstrating killing that you see in The Act of Killing: “It is clear he feels very guilty here.” And it doesn’t look like guilt to us, but it looks like guilt to you [to Adi] because I think you are remarkably empathic. In that moment you [Adi] thought that you would go to them, they would apologise, see that you were not there for revenge, and they would seize the opportunity to get this off their chest. You could separate the killer from the crime, forgive the person, and live with your neighbours in peace finally, not in fear as killer and victim. 

There is an insight there I think. I think all of the perpetrators are torn to shreds by what they’ve done, and the boasting is a sign of that. It is not pride; if you think about it, boasting is never a sign of pride. They are boasting because they are insecure and are compensating for that. I felt that we were unlikely to find that the perpetrators would have the courage to apologise in that way, and I told you [to Adi] so. But I felt that we could show why we fail: it is not a fear of Adi, it is a fear of themselves. A fear of their own conscience; a fear that leads to anger and threats, that stops everything. If we can show that, we can show how torn Indonesian society is; something every Indonesian knows, but doesn’t wasn't to think about. If we can make that something that they have to think about, the through the film perhaps we can succeed in a greater way than we could have succeeded through individual confrontations.

The Look of Silence is in cinemas now. 





Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

On the ultimate trip with Kubrick; the cast of 2001: A Space Odyssey speak

 Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea in  2001: A Space Odyssey.

Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

You can't get away from Stanley Kubricks grandiose, mysterious and undeniably trippy 1968 space epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like the imposing, sleek monoliths from the film, 2001 looms over all cinema genres, not just science fictionEven director Christopher Nolans new sci-fi film Interstellar, released in the same month that the BFI and Warner Bros studio have released a new digital transfer of Kubricks movie, openly pays homage to its predecessor.

Eventually becoming a huge box office and critical hit following its release  2001 is now a permanent fixture in all the major “best of charts. It remains still in the top ten of the Sight and Sound Magazine Greatest Films poll, and was recently voted No. 1 in a Time Out London poll for the best 100 Sci-Fi films. It is fair to say that 2001, with its largely dialogue-free narrative, avante- garde music and benchmark-setting special effects, has gone beyond being just a film that is widely regarded as a masterpiece; it is spoken of and written about as if it is a piece of art.

Though the most famous character in 2001 is undoubtedly supercomputer HAL 9000, the human presence in the film's second half is made up of astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole, two men on what must be the loneliest mission in history aboard the spaceship Discovery. The pair are bound for Jupiter, following the path of a mysterious alien transmission from the alien monolith found on the moon. Actors Keir Dullea (Bowman) and Gary Lockwood (Poole) were reunited this month in London to celebrate the 2K digital reissue of 2001 playing as part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder season, and kindly shared their memories with me of going on “The Ultimate Trip” (as studio MGM sneakily billed the film when they realised how certain 60s youthful audiences were enjoying the film).

The two are an interesting double act; Dullea’s precise, carefully-considered answers contrast with the curmudgeonly Lockwood’s more roundabout ways of telling stories. Both are sharp as a knife when it comes to recalling various behind-the-scenes memories, thought that did not prevent the pair putting our interview on hold on occasion to get stuck into a friendly row or two as to the order of certain scenes in the film. Both remain fierce in their praise of the director who gave them the job.

You can read fuller version of my interview over at Grolsch FIlm Works who originally commissioned the piece, but here are some highlights below:

 Lockwood and Dullea then and now

Lockwood and Dullea then and now

On getting hired by Stanley Kubrick for 2001:

Both Dullea and Lockwood were already Kubrick fans when they got the call to join 2001, so for both it was no brainer to sign up for the space mission. Keir Dullea was actually in England at the time, shooting an Otto Premigner film. Wandering in to a Battersea Park funfair one day, he encountered a palm reader who warned him: ‘I see a rocket ship in your future.’ ” A week after that, Kubrick called. 

Lockwood already had secured a place in sci-fi history, having starred in the pilot of a little show called Star Trek (where he plays Gary Mitchell, ultimately the villain of the story, in a one-off role).  He'd already worked with Kubrick on Spartacus.  At the time he remembers he was: “getting a lot of jobs, doing rather well, enjoying it, chasing beautiful girls and driving Porsches: the routine.” Then his agent called with Kubrick’s offer. Lockwood jumped at the chance: “I was a giant fan of Kubrick, even though I was a cowboy. I knew his stuff. I thought he was a genius.” 

On working with the legendary director.

Neither Dullea or Lockwood will have any truck with the myths that Kubrick was a strange, obsessive loner who enjoyed pushing his actors. Instead they found him professional, courteous, and amazingly curious, seemingly about everything. Says Dullea: "I’d just finished working with Preminger, so let me tell you, it was like going from hell to heaven! [Kubrick] was so easygoing with us, he never raised his voice, ever. He put us at ease quickly and was never demanding in the way you might imagine he would be. He was so prepared, the most prepared director I had ever worked with, so I guess he could relax about everything else.

Lockwood liked Kubricks directing style, the way he let professional actors get on with the job on set and when the cameras rolled: I asked him once why I got the part, and he told me that he thought I could do a lot without doing anything. Stanley never said anything, thats what I liked about him."

For Lockwood: There is only one Stanley Kubrick. People who are really good at something have to have an IQ! They have to be intelligent! I meet students out of film school and they say things like: I wanna make films like Stanley Kubrick. You cant tell after just five minutes with them; theres just not the grey matter there! Kubrick was curious, and so very, very intelligent.

Dullea remembers Kubrick as: “the most curious man I ever met. I remember the Pentax camera had just come out that year: he stopped shooting and took hours to find out all about it!

On their characters:

There is little dialogue in 2001, even when the film moves out of the prehistoric era. Dullea noticed that Kubrick cut more and more dialogue away the more takes they did. To help the cast, Kubrick prepped them via fictional biographies: “Our characters had double doctorates in sciences; the concept was that by year 2001 NASA wouldn't be taking astronauts from the military necessarily: they'd be looking early on at young men from high school and college, narrowing it down in terms of choosing based on their psychological profile.  

Both actors have little stories about they shaped the direction of 2001 with their own input. Lockwood laughs as he recalls how Stanley Kubrick challenged him to come up with a better idea of how the astronauts would confront HAL once he started malfunctioning. After a trip to a deli on Golders Green courtesy of Kubrick's driver, Lockwood scribbled out a scenario where the astronauts would plot in the pod, where they felt HAL couldnt hear them. Only a few hours previously, Lockwood had feared Kubrick was going to fire him for complaining about how he felt the narrative had been constructed. For his part, Dullea suggested to Kubrick that he break a wine glass during the sequence where Bowman ages in huge jumps in the strange artificial hotel room, after his voyage through the star portal. 

 On finally seeing 2001 in the cinema in 1968:

Both were blown away by seeing the film on the big screen, Lockwood in particular as he was extremely stoned at the time. Corralled by a film journalist for an interview after the screening, Lockwood remembers the man commenting: “ Well Mr Lockwood, you still look like you’re out there in space!” Dullea was struck by the Dawn of Man sequence (with its famous jump cut from the bone in mid air to a satellite orbiting Earth); as it was a section of the film that neither of the actors had worked on and thus were seeing it for the first time. 

On talking to younger audiences about 2001:

Though Lockwood deplores modern audiences “with their lack of attention thanks to MTV-style fast cutting”, Dullea is upbeat about 2001 finding new audiences now. He recalls that on the autograph circuit he started noticing that: “more than 50% of fans now were not born when 2001 came out. That speaks to the trans-generational aspect of this film. The genius of this film, of Kubrick, has appealed to generations up to this moment.”

2001: A Space Odyssey will be back on cinema screens in a new 2K digital edition across the UK from 28 November and will play an extended run as part of the BFI "Sci-Fi : Days of Fear and Wonder" season.


Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Accept no Imitations: Benedict Cumberbatch on playing Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME

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With The Imitation Game launching the 55th London Film Festival, star Benedict Cumberbatch was in town to discuss his on-screen portrayal in the film of cryptologist, mathematician, and father of modern computing Alan Turing. The film shows Turing’s struggles during the Second World War to not only decrypt the German Enigma military communications code, but to also deal with his repressed homosexuality at a time when to be gay was a criminal offence.

Cumberbatch was on good form during a London Film Festival press Q&A for the film, despite fielding inevitable questions about his penchant for playing eccentric geniuses following his acclaimed role as the BBC’s current Sherlock Holmes, and was eager to discuss Turing’s legacy which was buried for years due to official secrecy. He was also keen to stress the disgraceful treatment Turing received at the hands of the authorities once his sexuality became known in the early 1950s: the Professor ultimately committed suicide after being convicted of indecency and forced to undergo chemical treatment for his “condition”.


On the responsibility of playing a real life historical figure:

BC: The idea of getting broader story, a broader picture of him out there to a wider audience is obviously something that does bear a certain weight and importance. It is his legacy; this has been an extraordinary decade for him: because of the pardons, because of the new books, because of the centenary, and now this film. It's all part of the momentum of what I hope is the recognition he deserves - as a scientist, as the father of the modern computer age, and as a war hero. A man who lived an uncompromising life at a time of disgusting discrimination.

This film is also an examination of something that was not well documented. Physically there is no medium of him: there are, ironically given what he was studying, no audio or visual recordings of him. So yes, it is a huge weight, but it is a blank canvas to an extent, and therefore there is a bit of freedom. But you are toying with something that you have nothing to bounce off with as a reflection. So I worked with Graham’s [screenwriter Graham Moore] brilliant script, and especially Morten’s [director Morten Tyldum] research and what he guided me towards, along with people who had met him or related to him. No matter how long ago it had been in their lives, they gave me accounts that were helpful to personalise this extraordinary man who’s achievements were becoming known in broad headline terms, but were more specific about who is was moment to moment in our story.

On Oscar Buzz:

BC: If it gets people to see the film, frankly that is all I care about. It is flattering, of course. But if it creates an interest to see this film and see what the fuss is about, fantastic. It means our jobs as storytellers are made easier if there is an audience for our storytelling. And more importantly for me, having had some experience with this extraordinary man I really want his story to be known as broadly as possible, and our film to be a launching point for more interest and understanding of him, and a proper celebration of him too. From that point of view, its good.

On working with a Norwegian director on a British story:

BC: I thought it was a very cool, intelligent and smart fit to bring a man who had brought an incredibly entertaining but dark thriller to our attention a few years ago [Headhunters]. He proved his brilliance with that. The minute I met him I realised how astute he was - and this was borne out with Headhunters - with character studies. You can't be invested in a thriller unless you care about the characters. So we talked and got on really well, and we both shared a passion for the subject having engaged with the script and both discovering more about this man than we knew before, and being ashamed of that. I felt the same as Morten: “Why isn't this man on the face of some denomination of our currency? Or the covers of science and history textbooks?”

I was thrilled day by day. He’s got an extraordinary energy. He was very specific in his direction, very highly attuned to the all the turns and twists and immediate circumstances and where we were in the story, and contextualising the moment. You need that when you are telling an important story, you need as strong director, not just with energy, but intelligence. And we got him. I knew from the first meeting it was going to be a riot to work with him.

On playing socially abrasive heroic geniuses:

BC: I didn’t read the script and think, this is Sherlock in tweed. I liked the wit of it, and I liked how uncompromising Turing was, and I suppose that is a strong strait, and strong traits always have an attraction for actors of every variety. I have played stupid people as well, I’d like to point that out, and if anyone has any more stupid character roles, bring them on. It’s a great honour to be asked to play someone like Alan Turing, so the last thing I’m going to do is go: “Well, it’s a bit like Sherlock isn't it?”. Because it’s not, it’s really not. And you cannot begin to fathom who an individual is if you just start categorising them according to similarities to other characters you've played. I do try to shake it up, but I also do see why people might think that these two very clever people might have similarities.

On why it took so long for Alan Turing to be acknowledged:

BC: I guess the Official Secrets Act, and the dark stain of shame on the government’s hand in persecuting thousands of men for their sexuality out of fear for Communist sympathies. I guess also the idea that somebody’s work, which is in the mathematical sphere, is devoid of any geopolitical interest or culture of celebrity. The true amalgamated importance of the man is his life as well as his work, and this is only just now becoming something that slowly people are acknowledging. I don't know; I’m not the Queen or David Cameron, though those might be my next roles. I don't know. But you immediately feel a sense of injustice playing a man who was treated as appallingly as he was, and who's achievements have for so long been overlooked or not conglomerated into the fuller picture.

This is a film where we touch upon those issues, and it is a thrilling story and it is funny. It is a film. But I beg anyone who is at all interested from what we present of him to look further into his life, to look further into Bletchley Park and the biographies that have been written about him. And the other characters from the film, like Joan and Hugh and Ken Cross. Fascinating characters who played the part of being quiet, stoic heroes, along with thousands of other men and women who remain nameless, some of whom still keep their secrets even when they don't have to. We celebrate them too. So that might be part of it: if we as a society have lived through a very secretive era, we are very good as overlooking things. But I think its dangerous to do that, as the smell from underneath the floorboards will eventually become impossible to ignore.

On how much of the maths he understood:

BC: There is a great, broad romance to the philosophy of maths and physics, which is tangible, because otherwise there is no point explaining it or sharing it with an audience. I think there are hugely exciting things that on a base level anyone can understand: ideas of programming, coding, the idea that what we use at language can be turned into something universal that can be used anywhere. Those things excite me, the fact that my eyelash contains carbon from a star excites me. I don't necessarily understand everything about how to make an eyelash, but the broad brushstrokes are very appealing. As far as the machine is concerned - the “Bombe”, or “Christopher” in our film, that was the moment where I started thinking, “Ok, this is pretty hard.” I understood a little bit about the Enigma machine, but yeah, if you put an algorithm in front of me now, even a quadratic equation, this press conference would go on too long.

The Imitation Game is playing at London Film Festival 2014 and is released across the UK on November 14 and in the US on November 21.


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Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.