Approaching a colleague at work a few months back, I asked whether he had any ready-to-hand impressions of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001. He and I have a playful routine of exchanging etymology and syntax questions in the morning when we are almost the only people on our floor. We trade Emily Dickinson and J.D. Salinger trivia. We reveal our adolescent literary crushes.
He paused and looked up from the book he was reading with his morning coffee.
“2001: A Space Odyssey? 1968? Keir Dullea?” he asked.
While he narrated the first time he had sat in a theatre viewing the film, I recalled listening to the soundtrack album with my high school friend Ted. Coming from a home where the purchase of a phonograph record was considered an extravagance, I almost memorized the tracks of each of the records that Ted played during our visits at his house. The experience of sitting in a theatre and watching a film like 2001 could get replayed in that pre-Netflix era each time he or I lowered the needle onto the vinyl.
Amateur Super-8 filmmakers, Ted and I listened closely to the music behind the film. Something in us knew to listen just as closely to the bands by contemporary Hungarian composer György Ligeti as to those by Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss. We felt we understood what inside us was responding to Also Sprach Zarathustra and The Blue Danube Waltz. On the other hand, we had to submerge ourselves in Ligeti’s music. Or rather we had to allow Ligeti’s music to submerge us. We explored what happened inside us when we did.
In Boston’s Symphony Hall this past winter, I got to explore one more time what happens then.
In late January the BSO had brought in as guest conductor Christoph von Dohnányi, and the man who had conducted Ligeti’s double concerto for flute, oboe and orchestra at its premiere in 1972 revived that performance. It was like lowering the needle back onto the vinyl, and I was watching again, listening again, a young man in his teens before new music and new images.
I watched again and listened again when 2001 arrived in the mail in February.
I recall my favorite English teacher in high school speaking to his classes about 2001, about the film’s structure, its symbolism, its use of music and silence. My colleague this past winter admitted that even without a fresh viewing of the film, he was sure he could write a two-page essay on what Kubrick had created.
Sometimes a challenge like that just appeals to me.