Friday, November 23, 2012

Stanley Kubrick Playboy Interview part 1

Playboy: Much of the controversy surrounding 2001 deals with the meaning of the metaphysical symbols that abound in the film-the polished black monoliths, the orbital conjunction of Earth, Moon and sun at each stage of the monolith's intervention in human destiny, the stunning final kaleidoscopic maelstrom of time and space that engulfs the surviving astronaut and sets the stage for his rebirth as a "star-child" drifting toward Earth in a translucent placenta.  One critic even called 2001 "the first Nietzschean film," contending that it's essential them is Nietzsche's concept of man's evolution from ape to human to superman.  What was the metaphysical message of 2001?

Kubrick:  It's not a message that I ever intend to convey in words.  2001 is a nonberbal experience; out of two hours and 19 minutes of film, there are only a little less than 40 minutes of dialog.  I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophic content.  To convolute McLuhan, in 2001 the message is the medium.  I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does; to erecting an artificial barrier between conception and appreciation.  You're free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film - and suchspeculation is one indication that it has succeeded in gripping the audience at a deep level - but I don't want to spell out a verbal road map for 2001 that every viewer will feel obligated to pursue or else fear he's missed the point.  I think that is 2001 succeeds at all, it is in reaching a wide spectrum of people who would not often give a thought to man's destiny, his role in the cosmos and his relationship to higher forms of life.  But even in the case of someone who is highly intelligent, certain ideas found in 2001 would, if presented as abstractions, fall rather lifelessly and be automatically assigned to pat intellectual categories; experienced in a moving visual and emotional context, however, they can resonate within the deepest fibers of one's being.

Playboy: Without laying out a philosophical road map for the viewer, can you tell us your own interpretation of the meaning of the film?

Kubrick: No, for the reasons I've already given.  How much would we appreciate La Gioconda today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: "This lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten teeth" - or "because she's hiding a secret from her lover"? It would shut off the viewer's appreciation and shackle him to a "reality" other than his own.  I don't want that to happen to 2001.

Kubrick & Clarke on set of 2001

Playboy:  Arthur Clarke has said of the film, "If anyone understands it on the first viewing, we've failed in our intention."  Why should the viewer have to see a film twice to get it's message?

Kubrick:  I don't agree with that statement of Arthur's, and I believe he made it facetiously.  The very nature of the visual experience in 2001 is to give the viewer an instantaneous, visceral reaction that does not - and should not - require further amplification.  Just speaking generally, however, I would say that there are elements in any good film that would increase the viewer's interest and appreciation on a second viewing; the momentum of a movie often prevents every stimulating detail or nuance from having a full impact the first time it's seen.  The whole idea that a movie should be seen only once is an extension of our traditional conception of the film as an ephemeral entertainment rather than as a visual work of art.  We don't believe that we should hear a great piece of music only once, or see a great painting once, or even read a great book just once.  But the film has until recent years been exempted from the category of art - a situation I'm glad is finally changing.

Playboy:  Some prominent critics - including Renata Adler of The New York Times, John Simon of The New Leader, Judith Crist of New York magazine and Andrew Sarris of the Village Voice - apparently felt that 2001 should be among those films still exempted from the category of art; all four castigated it as dull, pretentious and overlong.  How do you account for their hostility?

Kubrick:  The four critics you mention all work for New York publications.  The reviews across America and around the word have been 95 percent enthusiastic.  Some were more perceptive than others, of course, but even those who praised the film on relatively superficial grounds were able to get something of its message.  New York was the only really hostile city.  Perhaps there is a certain element of the lumpen literati that is so dogmatically atheist and materialist and Earth-bound that if finds the grandeur of space and the myriad mysteries of cosmic intelligence anathema.  But film critics, fortunately, rarely have any effect of the general public; houses everywhere are packed and the film is well on its way to becoming the greatest moneymaker in M-G-M's history.  Perhaps this sounds like a crass way to evaluate one's work, but I think that, especially with a film that is so obviously different, record audience attendance means people are saying the right things to one another after they see it - and isn't this really what it's all about?

Playboy:  Speaking of what it's all about - if you'll allow us to return to the philosophical interpretation of 2001 - would you agree with those critics who call it a profoundly religious film?

Kubrick:  I will say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001 - but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of God.  I don't believe in any of Earth's monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of God, once you accept the fact that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, that each star is a life-giving sun visible universe.  Given a planet in a stable orbit, not too hot and not too cold, and given a few billion years of chance chemical reactions created by the interaction of a sun's energy on the planet's chemicals, it's fairly certain that life in one form or another will eventually emerge.  It's reasonable to assume that there must be, in fact, countless billions of such planets where biological life has arisen, and the odds of some proportion of such life developing intelligence are high.  Now, the sun is by no means an old star, and it's planets are mere children in cosmic age, so it seems likely that there are billions of planets in the universe not only where intelligent life is on a lower scale than man but other billions where it is approximately equal and others still where it is hundreds of thousands of millions of years in advance of us.  When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made in a few millennia - less than a microsecond in the chronology of the universe - can you imagine the evolutionary development that much older life forms have taken?  They may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities - and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit.  Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans.

Playboy: Even assuming the cosmic evolutionary path you suggest, what has this to do with the nature of God?

Kubrick: Everything - because these beings would be gods to the billions of less advanced races in the universe, just as man would appear a god to an ant that somehow comprehended man's existence.  They would posses the twin attributes of all deities - omniscience and omnipotence.  These entities might be in telepathic communication throughout the cosmos and thus be aware of everything that occurs, tapping every intelligent mind as effortlessly as we switch on the radio; they might not be limited by the speed of light and their presence could penetrate to the farthest corners of the universe; they might possess complete mastery over matter and energy; and in their final collective immortal consciousness. They would be incomprehensible to us except as gods; and if the tendrils of their consciousness ever brushed men's minds, it is only the hand of God we could grasp as an explanation.

  If such creatures do exist, why should they be interested in man?

Kubrick:  They may not be.  But why should man be interested in microbes?  The motives of such beings would be as alien to us as their intelligence.

Playboy:  In 2001, such incorporeal creatures sem to manupulate our destinies and control our evolution, though whether for good or evil - or both, or neither - remains unclear.  Do you really believe it's possible that man is a cosmic plaything of such entities?

Kubrick:  I don't rally believe anything about them; how can I?  Mere speculation on the possibility of their existence is sufficiently overwhelming, without attempting to decipher their motives.  The important point is that all the standard attributes assigned to God in our history could equally well be the characteristics of biological entities who billions of years ago were at a stage of development similar to man's own and evolved into something as remote from man as man is remote from the primordial ooze from which he first emerged.

Playboy: In this cosmic phylogeny you've described, isn't it possible that there might be forms of intelligent life on an even higher scale than these entities of pure energy - perhaps as far removed from them as they are from us?

Kubrick: Of course there could be; in an infinite, eternal universe, the point is that anything is possible, and it's unlikely that we can even begin to scratch the serface of the full range of possibilities.  But at a time [1968] when man is preparing to set foot on the Moon, I think it's necessary to open up our Earth bound minds to such speculation.  No one knows what's waiting for us in the universe.  I think it was a prominent astronomer who wrote recently, "Sometimes I think we are alone, and sometimes I think we're not.  In either case, the idea is quite staggering."

Playboy: You said there must be billions of planets sustaining life that is considerably more advanced than man but has not yet evolved into non- or suprabiological forms.  what do you believe would be the effect on humanity if the Earth were contacted by a race of such ungodlike but technologically superior beings?

Kubrick: There's a considerable difference of opinion on this subject among scientists and philosophers.  Some contend that encountering a highly advanced civilization - even one whose technology is essentially comprehensible to us - would produce a traumatic cultural shock effect on man by divesting him of his smug ethnocentrism and shattering the delusion that he is the center of the universe.  Carl Jung summed up this position when he wrote of contact with advanced extraterrestrial life that the "reins would be torn from our hands and we would, as a tearful old medicine man once said to me, find ourselves "without dreams"...we would find our intellectual and spiritual aspirations so outmoded as to leave us completely paralyzed."  I personally don't accept this position, but it's one that's widely held and can't be summarily dismissed.  In 1960, for example, the Committee for Long Range Studies of the Brookings Instituion prepared a report for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration warning that even indirect contact -i.e., alien artifacts that might possibly be discovered through our space activities on the Moon, Mars or Venus or via radio contact with an interstellar civilization -could cause severe psychological dislocations.  The study cautioned that "Anthropological files contain many examples of societies, sure of their place in the universe, which have disintegrated when they have had to asociate with previously unfamiliar societies espousing different ideas and different life ways; others that survived such an experience usually did so by paying the price of changes in values and attitudes and behavior."  It concluded that since intelligent life might be discovered at any time, and that since the consequences of such a discovery are "presently unpredictable," it was advisable that the Government initiate continuing studies on the psychological and intellectual impact of confrontation with extraterrestrial life.  What action was taken on this report I don't know, but I assume that such studies are now under way.  However, while not discounting the possible adverse emotional impact on some people, I would personally tend to view such contact with a tremendous amount of excitement and enthusiasm.  Rather than shattering our society, I think it could immeasurably enrich it.  Another positive point is that it's a virtual certainty that all intelligent life at one stage in its technological development must have discovered nuclear energy.  This is obviously the watershed of any civilization; does it find a way to use nuclear power without destruction and harness it for peaceful purposes, or does it annihilate itself?  I would guess that any civilization that has existed for 1000 years after it's discovery of atomic energy has devised a means of accommodating itself to the bomb, and this could prove tremendously reassuring to us - as well as give us specific guidelines for our own survival.  In any case, as far as cultural shock is concerned, my impression is that the attention span of most people is quite brief; after a week or two of great excitement and oversaturation in newspapers and on television, the public's interest would drop off and the United Nations, or whatever world body we then had, would settle down to discussions with the aliens.

Playboy: You're assuming that extraterrestrials would be benevolent.  Why?

Kubrick: Why should a vastly superior race bother to harm or destroy us? If an intelligent ant suddenly traced a message in the sand at my feet reading, "I am sentent; let's talk things over," I doubt very much that I would rush to grind him under my heel.  Even if they weren't superintelligent, though, but merely more advanced than mankind, I would tend to lean more it's most unlikely that we would be visited from within our own solar system, any society capable of traversing light-years of space would have to have an extremely high degree of control over matter and energy.  Therefore, what possible motivation for hostility would they have?  To steal our gold or oil or coal?  It's hard to think of any nasty intention that would justify the long and arduous journey from another star.

Playboy: You'll admit, though, that extraterrestrials are commonly portrayed in comic strips and cheap science-fiction films as bug-eyed monsters scuttling hungrily after curvaceous Earth maidens.

Kubrick: This probably dates back to the pulp science-fiction magazines of the Twenties and thirties and perhaps even to the Orson Welles Martian-invasion broadcast in 1938 and the resultant mass hysteria, which is always advanced in support of the hypothesis that contact would cause severe cultural shock.  In a sense, the lines with which Welles opened that broadcast set the tone for public consideration of extraterrestrial life for years to come.  I've memorized them: "Across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle-intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic - regarded this Earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us..." Anything we can imagine about such other life forms is possible, of course.  You could have psychotic civilizations, or decadent civilizations that have elevated pain to an aesthetic and might covet humans as gladiators or torture objects, or civilizations that might want us for zoos, or scientific experimentation, or slaves or even for food.  While I am appreciably more optimistic, we just can't be sure what their motivations will be.  I'm interested in the argument of Professor Freeman Dyson of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, who contends that it would be a mistake to expect that all potential space visitors will be altruistic, or to believe that they would have any ethical or moral concepts comparable to mankind's.  Dyson writes, if I remember him correctly, that "Intelligence may indeed be a benign influence creating isolated groups of philosopher kings far apart in the heavens," but it's just as likely that "Intelligence may be a cancer of purposeless technological exploitation, sweping across a galaxy as irresistibly as it has swept across our own planet." Dyson concludes that it's "Just as unscientific to impute to remote intelligence wisdom and serentiy as it is to impute to them irrational and murderous impulses.  We must be prepared for either possibility and conduct our searches accordingly."  This is why some scientists caution, now that we're attempting to intercept radio signals from other solar systems, that if we do receive a message we should wait awhile before answering it.  But we've been transmitting radio and television signals for so many years that any advanced civilization could have received the emissions long ago.  So in the final analysis, we really don't have much choice in this matter; they're either going to contact us or they're not, and if they do we'll have nothing to say about their benevolence or malevolence.  Even if they prove to be malevolent, their arrival would have at least one useful by-product in that the nations of the Earth would stop squabbling among themselves and forge a common front to defend the planet.  I think it was Andre Maurois who suggested many years ago that the best way to realize world peace would be to stage a false threat from outer space; it's not a bad idea.  But I certainly don't believe we should view contact with extraterrestrial life forms with foreboding, or hesitate to visit other planets for fear of what we may find there.  If others don't contact us, we must contact them; it's our destiny.

Playboy: You indicated earlier that intelligent life is extremely unlikely elsewhere within our solar system.  Why?

Kubrick: From what we know of the other planets in this system, it appears improbable that intelligence exists, because of surface temperatures and atmospheres that are inhospitable to higher life forms.  Improbable, but not impossible.  I will admit that there ae certain tantalizing clues pointing in the other direction.  For example, while the consensus of scientific opinion dismisses the possibility of intelligent life on Mars - as opposed to plant or low orders of organic life - there are some eminently respectable dissenters.  Dr. Frank B. Salisbury, professor of plant physiology at Utah State University, has contended in a study in Science magazine that if vegetation exists on a planet, then it is logical that there will be higher orders of life to feed on it.  "From there," he writes, "it is but one more step - granted, a big one - to intelligent beings," Salisbury also points out that a number of astronomers have observed strange flashes of light, possibly explosions of great magnitude, on Mars' surface, some of which emit clouds; and he suggests that these could actually be nuclear explosions.  Another intriguing facet of Mars is the peculiar orbits of it's twin satellites, Phobos and Deimos, first discovered in 1877 - the same year, incidentally, that Schiaparelli discovered his famous but still elusive Martian "canals." One eminent astronomer, Dr. Josif Shklovsky, chairman of the department of radio astronomy at the Shternberg Astronomical Institute in Moscow, has propounded the theory that both moons are artificial space satellites launched by the Martians thousands of years ago in an effort to escape the dying surface of their planet.  He bases this theory on the unique orbits of the two moons, which unlike the 31 other satellites in our solar system, orbit faster than the revolution of their host planet.  The orbit of Phobos is also deteriorating in an inexplicable manner and dragging the satellite progressively closer to Mars' surface.  Both of these circumstances, Shklovsky contends, make sense only if the two moons are hollow.  Shklovsky believes that the satellites are the last remnants of an extinct ancient Martian civilization; but Professor Salisbury goes a step further and suggests that they were launched within the past hundred years.  Noting that the moons were discovered by a relatively small-power telescope in 1877 and not detected by a much more powerful telescope observing Mars in 1862 - when the planet was appreciably nearer Earth - he asks: "Should we attribute the failure of 1862 to imperfections in the existing telescope, or may we imagine that the satellites were launched into orbit between 1862 and 1877?" There are no answers here, of course, only questions, but it is fascinating speculation.  On balance, however, I would have to say that the weight of available evidence dictates against intelligent life on Mars.

end of part be continued.

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