2001 in 1968

2001 in 1968

For our screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey this week, we had a special treat. Mr. Bob Castro loaned the Emory Cinematheque his collection of 2001-related artifacts, memorabilia, blueprints, posters, and the like. It was a fantastic display that captivated younger and older audience members alike. He also wrote a little introduction to the film from the perspective of someone who saw it when it first came out. That text is shared below, and pictures of the exhibition accompany the text.

“Now I feel I’ve been in space twice.”

Alexei Leonov, first man to walk in space (1965) quote upon seeing “2001:A Space Odyssey” in 1968.  He finally flew in space for the second time in 1975.

“When we dove around the back side of the Moon, the craters moved by so fast from sunlit to darkness- it was real 2001-type stuff.”


John Young, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, visited the moon twice and commanded the first space shuttle mission during a 42 year NASA career.

“When I knew that I was going to retrieve the Apollo film canisters on the way back from the Moon, I watched 2001 with particular interest in the antenna EVA sequence.  Sitting in a darkened theater and watching a scene set in space between the planets, I thought to myself ‘I’m actually going to do that.  I thought of 2001 as part of my training'”.

Thomas K. (Ken) Mattingly, Apollo 16 command module pilot was one of only three astronauts to perform an interplanetary space walk between the Moon and Earth.

In addition to the many, many words and essays that have been written about “2001:A Space Odyssey”, here are some of my observations.The audience tonight is actually two different audiences in the same theater.  There are those people who remember when 2001 premiered in 1968 and those who were born afterward.  For both audiences, I would like to ask you to use your imaginations and pretend that the smart phones and gadgets that you own have not yet been invented.  Try to imagine a time before all media was instantly accessible and that you could hear from anyone at anytime that you wished.Stretching a bit further, imagine a time before the internet, or mobile phones or personal computers had been invented.  Or even before Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.  Imagine a time before anyone had seen the entire Earth with their own eyes and before Apollo 8’s famous Earthrise over the moon had been seen and photographed by Jim Lovell and his crew.If you can recall that time or if you can imagine it, then welcome to ‘2001’.  Not the year but the film.”2001:A Space Odyssey” did not so much premiere as detonate in April 1968.  It was, quite simply, a film that changed the cinema universe while it changed the way we looked at the universe.  And all along, it changed lives.  It certainly changed mine.If you could choose a single day to sum up the entire experience of the 1960’s, I would nominate Thursday, April 4, 1968.   At seven that morning, the last unmanned Saturn V rocket, Apollo 6, lifted off from Cape Kennedy and began the dress rehearsal for the first manned lunar voyage.  By the way, the command module from that flight is only a couple of miles from here at the Fernbank Science Center.

Later that day, ‘2001:A Space Odyssey’ had its Hollywood premiere.  And that evening, Martin Luther King, jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

There was a lot of news during the 1960’s and most of it was not very good.  But the space program in general and president Kennedy’s moon challenge in particular was a refreshing alternative to stories of war in distant places and violence closer to home.  Because of the genius of Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the film’s design team, we in the audience were able to see a hyper-realistic depiction of an achievable future.  Or as Kubrick’s first producer James Harris said, “It looks like a transmission sent to us from the future.”

Filmgoers listen as Bob Castro explains the significance of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

I saw ‘2001’ at seven years old and did not understand it.  But I did experience it.  Up to then, I had seen films with my parents and knew just enough about movies that were make-believe.  But 2001 did not look like make believe.  For me, that film replaced the illusion of reality which is cinema with its own kind of reality.  From the magnificent Cinerama curved-screen colorful vistas to the perfect editorial choice of music and the very sparse dialog, 2001 looked like a dream that had been filmed.  Although I didn’t understand the film, I wanted very much to understand film.  From that point on, I tried to be, not an astronaut, but a member of the cinema community who takes dreams and turns them into viewable reality.

So tonight, try to forget all that has been invented in your lifetime and slow down your internal clock.  Imagine that you are in the audience on the night of the premiere and you have no inkling what is to come. You are about to travel from the distant past to a future which might have been, definitely should have been, and may yet someday still arrive in reality.

Welcome to forty-four years ago.  Welcome to the future.  Welcome to ‘2001’.