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A Bummer Trip for “2001” At The Egyptian

A Bummer Trip for “2001” At The Egyptian

The Ultimate Trip turned into a bad trip Friday night at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard when one member of the audience at a screening of the Academy’s 70mm vault print of “2001: A Space Odyssey” tried to recreate the late ’60s a little too aggressively.

Toward the end of the film, when Keir Dullea’s Dr. Dave Bowman finds himself in an ornate bedroom after the trippy Stargate sequence, a voice started booming from the near-front center part of the nearly full house. The words were disjointed and mostly incoherent but included phrases like “It’s time to sleep!” and “Stanely Kubrick!,” “Wait!,” “It’s time!” and so on. With the film continuing to unspool, there was enough light to see that the ranter was a big burly guy who had now stood up, was waving his arms abruptly and lurching about unpredictably.

Hoping the man would shut up and sit back down, the audience didn’t do much at first, but it was soon clear the guy was tripping big time and was not going to respond to polite admonitions. Someone who seemed to know him tried to settle him but now the guy seemed provoked and was acting even more crazily. After a couple of minutes the film was turned off, the lights came up and someone presumably connected to the Cinematheque came down and told the guy he had five seconds to clear out.
This had all the effect of courteously requesting a three-year-old not to pick his nose. Sensing a real threat, some people made for exits while a few hardy men nearby—the dude really was big—tried to subdue him and push him into an aisle and on toward a door. The guy then got a bit wilder and at least one punch got thrown, but keeping him at bay required at least four or five civilians brave enough to try to physically restrain a man who was clearly out of his freaking skull.

By the time he was finally pushed down the far aisle of the theater’s east side—I’d say about six or seven minutes since the initial outburst—several cops arrived and hauled him away; no doubt in the morning he won’t have a clue what happened. With the audience still buzzing, a Cinematheque staffer ran up to announce that, after a few minutes to decompress and rewind several minutes’ worth of film, the screening would recommence, right from the start of the final aging section.

As a “2001” fan from opening day—I saw it at the initial screening at a Wednesday matinee on the giant screen of the Cinestage Theater in Chicago—I had taken my nearly 13-year-old son Nick and his friend Jake, along the the latter’s dad Mike, to experience the film the right way their first time out, even thought I realized that, for all kids, anything called “2001” is by definition a historical rather than futuristic piece. Well, Nick will remember the screening, all right, but more for the drug-adled beefy dude than for the film, unfortunately. I explained that it was the big thing for young people back in 1968 to get high before or during “2001” and either sit in front or lie on the floor right under the Cinerama screen to maximize the visionary, mind-altering aspects of the film.

They kind of got that, but they still had major reservations. Nick, a sci-fi buff who’s seen nearly everything in the genre from the ’50s and ’60s, said he loved the technology, liked “The Dawn of Man”with the apes but, echoing complaints from the time, thought the film too slow. Jake, who dressed like Alex from “A Clockwork Orange” at Halloween last year even though he’s never seen the film, was as confused about what it all meant as many viewers were 43 years ago; even if kids don’t know exactly what it is, I’ve found that “Clockwork” has somehow entered the consciousness of early teens today, probably due to the iconography of the sets, costumes and images.

It’s completely understandable that kids raised on sci-fi films from “Star Wars” onward would find “2001” rather sluggish, although when we started talking about what the film, the monolith, the star child and so many other aspects of it were about, I could tell that it could easily stick in their minds and be revisited in a few years. But they’re used to a much faster pace and cutting style, even Nick, who’s seen a lot of old movies.

For my part, I was as struck by Kubrick’s audaciousness as ever, especially, perhaps, by the use of music, sound and silence, as well as by the instant Alzheimer’s induced in HAL when Bowman takes his revenge. As some critic wrote in 1968, “2001” “is some kind of great film,” and the strong applause that greeted the ending Friday night, the misbehaving guest notwithstanding, indicated that there are still quite a few others who agree.

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