I don't remember what it was about 1996, but general subject matter was fairly sparse.

It must have been another big computer year.

2001 and Other Movies

Later in the day I decided to see 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Castro. They have a brand-new 70 mm print of the movie and I haven’t seen it on a really big screen in a very long time. I was happy to see that the theater was more or less packed—the movie still draws them in, even after almost thirty years. And it has held together marvelously in most aspects.

Of course any futuristic film is going to fall flat on prediction. Oddly enough 2001 has missed the mark far less than most futuristic movies. Some of the clothing styles and furniture/architecture styles are hopelessly 1960s and look rather old-fashioned now. But some of it is ahead of our own time. We don’t have a colony on the Moon. We could have had one, but we don’t. We don’t have a space station, either. Nor would a space shuttle be Pan American as it is in the movie. Of course there is no more Pan American, but that’s beside the point.

Computers: it does a good job envisioning a vastly more powerful kind of computer in HAL 9000 but doesn’t really envision the personal computer. Or does it? The astronauts on board the Discovery watch the BBC on slate-sized affairs that look suspiciously like personal digital assistant type computers. They’re even made by IBM. And in a few scenes they’re seen writing on them as well. So I’ll give Clarke and Kubrick an A for computers. The Jupiter sequence isn’t absolutely correct since Jupiter doesn’t have any rings in the movie, as it does in reality, but there was no way for them to know that in 1968. I think they cheat a bit in the Jupiter sequence by showing the various Jovian satellites impossibly large in comparison to Jupiter itself. Still, it’s beautiful and still looks pretty convincing. Amazing that they could do what they did in special effects without any computer enhancements or drawing tools.

I saw one great big goof that had never bothered me before with the movie but this time did. That’s because I couldn’t really see it on video and I haven’t seen it in a theater since the early 1970s. In the scenes in which the Discovery is seen in outer space, you see it moving against the background of stars. (You can’t see the stars very well on video.) That isn’t any good at all: it wouldn’t appear to move at all against the background. I have no doubt that Clarke and Kubrick were perfectly well aware of that, but felt compelled to do it in order to make it clear that the ship was moving. Otherwise a lot of members of the audience would be confused—why isn’t it moving. That’s the logic behind having spaceships go whoosh, although thank God they didn’t fall for that in this movie. The outer space sequences are either completely noiseless or are accompanied by sounds that you know aren’t actually part of space, like music or the sound of breathing. I remember reading in some book or another about the movie that they decided to remove the cooling fins from the Discovery, which it would certainly need to radiate excess heat from its plasma drives. They didn’t want people sitting there in the audience wondering why a spaceship would have wings. So off came the cooling fins.

Of course I wonder a bit why Kubrick would worry about confusing his audience apropos the motion of the spaceship or cooling fins since he certainly did have any compunctions about confusing the hell out of the audience with the movie’s ending. I’ve worked most of it out to my own satisfaction but still I wish he hadn’t been quite so oblique about it all. I will always wonder if he wasn’t quite sure what to do and chose this expressionistic, almost surrealistic finale for the thing in order to hide his own indecision.

Still, all in all, it remains one of the very few (the only?) intelligent science fiction movies and certainly comes across with a tremendous impact. It was a delight to see it all beautiful in a new print, on the Castro’s giant screen, right up near the front as well. 2001 is another one of those movies that I would like to see given a complete digital restoration to bring back the absolute sharpness I remember so clearly from the original release. It isn’t that sharp any more, even in a new print.

Overrated: “Things To Come” from the 1930s and “Metropolis” from the 1920s. I’ve seen a number of different cuts of Metropolis, one that ran nearly two hours and is apparently the most complete version yet remaining. (The original was a lot longer but it would seem that a lot of the material never lasted.) I still find Metropolis almost unbearably tedious. Things To Come is perhaps a bit better, but almost laughable in its vision of a perfect future world run by, of all things, airplane pilots. Well, that was the 1930s for you. I suppose nowadays that perfect world would be run by environmentalists.

Another well-regarded science fiction movie that I have not been impressed by was “Blade Runner.” I’ve tried on several times to get over my basic dislike for the thing—I bought a copy on video (tape, not laser disk) and I’ve tried to get through it. I find it just too damned nihilistic, depressing, and cynical. At least it isn’t stupid.

I’ve always been vaguely disturbed by the idea that just about everything, including myself, is mostly empty space. Keep delving down far enough and it all turns into patterns of charge (inelegant and inaccurate way of putting it.) I cling stubbornly to the idea of solidity as meaning something other than the repulsion of particles. I dislike the chance, however vanishingly small, that my component atoms could go off in different directions and I could go poof into a cloud of particles. Not too bloody likely anyway. Yet it can be fun to think of oneself as a frame in a movie. I’m here and then I’m there. I can’t see the parts in between because consciousness itself doesn’t exist between the frames. The persistence of (existence?) covers over the gaps. Well, why not. I wonder if at some incredibly subtle level time itself is quantized. Everything else appears to be digital so why not time—why must it remain so obtusely analog?

Clinton's State of the Union

That ties into your discussion of Clinton’s speech. I thought it was dreadful. Very long on tactics, very long on so-so rhetoric, short on content of any meaningful sort. Maybe one minute of content intermingled with fifty-nine minutes of filler. Of course nobody really expects the State of the Union address to be meaningful, but I found it almost unlistenable. I went to sleep during part of it, in fact. Much of it struck me as being the result of using whichever set of figures you want to use to prove your point. He kept saying that the government is smaller than it has been in any time during the last thirty years. True enough, I suppose—but why is thirty years some magic cutoff? If he compares it to fifty years ago the situation changes dramatically, and yet fifty years ago the government was big enough to fight a two-front world war and yet keep the home fires burning with enough strength to keep the country intact. But the federal government of 1945 was minuscule in comparison to today’s overwhelming monstrosity.

As you said, lots of talk with no real solutions. If the budget can be balanced with a major tax cut, then the deficit can’t be anywhere near as serious as it’s made out to be. Or else there are going to be much, much bigger cuts in other areas. But I don’t hear anything much about military or entitlement cuts to speak of. Behind a lot of the talk is the assumption of increased spending, anyway. Sort of like saying that you’ve managed to “save” $3.00 if you buy a $10 shirt for $7 dollars. You’ve spent $7, not saved $3. This sort of thing almost always reminds me of Irene Dunne’s financial explanations to William Powell in “Life With Father.”

I kept having slight fits all the way through the speech, not so much because of Clinton but just most of the people there. In most cases all I could think of was that they weren’t fit to be in that room or standing in front of that flag or standing at that rostrum. I’m enough of a romantic about America that I still want my leaders to be somehow better than I am, to be worth admiring instead of being objects of scorn or downright disgust. Of the current batch of mountebanks running the country, I would give Clinton overall higher marks for integrity than most of them. Nonetheless, that is only in comparison.

Enough of that particular tirade. They’re not worth the mental energy.