A closer look at Taschen's deluxe book, The Making Of 2001: A Space Odyssey

Feature Ryan Lambie 16 Jun 2014 - 06:15

We went to the launch of Taschen's new book, The Making Of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The price? £450...

In the late 1960s, director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C Clarke joined forces to make what they famously described as "the proverbial good science fiction movie". The result, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was far more than a good genre film. It captured the pioneering spirit of the space age, broke new ground in visual effects, captivated audiences, and inspired a generation of moviegoers to become writers, artists and filmmakers.

Fittingly, the publisher Taschen has created a book that reflects the creative daring in Kubrick's remarkable film. Called The Making Of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, it's a collaboration between writer Piers Bizony, the Kubrick Estate, and Paris-based design agency M/M - and the result is an appropriately monolithic collection of volumes, all housed in a sizeable metal box.

This isn't the first time Taschen has made a lavish publication based on Kubrick's work - the company previously produced Napoleon: The Greatest Film Never made, which has since sold out - but the design of this new collection of materials for 2001 is, if anything, even more closely aligned with Kubrick's own eye for form and detail. 

Unfortunately for film lovers on a budget, The Making Of 2001 is also extraordinarily expensive: a collector's copy, limited to a print run of just 1,000 copies, will set you back £450. The even more limited Art Edition (print run: 500 copies) comes to £900.

Admittedly, you get a lot of beautiful design and print for your money - both the standard and the Art Edition come with four hardbound volumes, each devoted to one aspect of Kubrick's picture: film stills in one volume, behind-the-scenes images and designs in another, the screenplay in the next, and the absurdly detailed production notes in the last. As a bonus, there's also a replica of Mad Magazine's spoof edition (201 Minutes Of Space Idiocy) from 1969. Every edition is signed by the late auteur's widow, Christiane Kubrick, while the Art Edition also comes with one of two prints signed by their artist, Brian Sanders.

It really is an achingly handsome collection of work; exquisitely designed, bound and printed. Each volume is jet black and made to the proportions of those obsidian monoliths which howled through the ages in A Space Odyssey. Carefully leafing through the first volume, which contains stills from the film, we notice that the back of every page has been printed black, and that the infinite black of space in each image has been graded so that every single one precisely matches. It's a timely reminder of how captivating a piece of print can be. 

The Making Of 2001's launch was similarly lavish. It took place at Childwickbury Manor, the Hertfordshire home which, for more than 30 years, served as Kubrick's base of operations before his death in 1999. Kubrick performed all kinds of filmmaking alchemy here. He edited and oversaw the creation of all his films from the late 60s onwards at Childwickbury, including A Space Odyssey. Christiane Kubrick still lives here, and her paintings now hang on its expansive walls.

When Stanley Kubrick was still alive and making his films, Childwickbury was a hive of industry. The room in which Den Of Geek stood on that warm June evening was once one of Kubrick's main offices - stuffed full of books, papers and boxes of his research.

"You would barely have any room," Christiane Kubrick told us, "because you'd have to meander sideways through the shelves and the desks. He had boxes everywhere... It wasn't easy for me, when at first I was in total shock 15 years ago, and I was confronted with an ocean of boxes. I just tearfully didn't know what to do at all." 

Overwhelmed by the archive of research and materials left behind by her husband, Christiane turned to London's University of the Arts, where his work is now stored for posterity.

"The film museum helped us," she said. "They sent me an archivist and I suddenly began to see all this stuff that we'd been pushing from room to room as something that other people would be very interested in. It was my intention to have all of Stanley's things together in one place, where it would be protected and yet could be seen and be accessible. I hope Stanley would be proud of me for that."

Taschen's publication is another means of displaying Kubrick's work and that of his collaborators. Brian Sanders was one of them, a young illustrator who was hired by Kubrick to draw pictures of the 2001 production as it was unfolding. "Stanley never liked having photographers on set, so he got me in to illustrate instead," Sanders told us. The results - a series of intricately-rendered production images akin to courtroom sketches - are among the materials reproduced in the collection's 1386 pages. 

More than an archive of words and pictures, The Making Of 2001 is also a document of a daring and inspiring feat of filmmaking, design and engineering. It was a film which prompted the creation of some of the most daring and unforgettable set designs in cinema - not least the extraordinary Discovery ship interior, with its 30-tonne rotating set - and some of the most elaborate visual effects of the 1960s.

Not everyone immediately understood the film when it came out in 1968 (it's "a shaggy God story" sniffed one critic at the time), and even studio executives were nonplussed. But a younger generation of filmgoers seemed to tune into A Space Odyssey's otherworldly appeal - including the young Piers Bizony, the writer of Taschen's publication.

"2001 was a film where the old executives at MGM didn't understand what they were seeing - it was young people who understood," Bizony said. "I saw the film when I was nine years old, and I'm now in my 50s. But I saw it when I was nine, and it was the same transformative experience for me as it was for countless artists and writers and even scientists around the world. I felt as though they'd spent this $10m specifically for me. It felt very personal." 

"The film was actually launched by young people," Christiane Kubrick agreed. "Older people just walked out. Stanley nearly had a heart attack because all these older people who were executives were walking out. They didn't know what the film was about at all. But anyone under 22 loved it. There were so many, and I think in many ways Stanley was ahead of his day, very much so."

After the book was launched, your humble writer and the rest of the assembled guests were free to walk around a part of the house and its rambling grounds. We tried to imagine what it must have been like, back when Childwickbury Manor was "a perfect family factory" as Christiane once described it. Her paintings often depict Kubrick, sometimes relaxing by a lake in his gigantic back garden, or peering out from behind an archway with his dog. There's a playfulness and warmth to these paintings, and Christiane still talks about her husband with unmistakeable affection.

Later in the evening, she walked us through the garden, to the place where Stanley Kubrick's grave lies, in the shadow of the director's favourite tree. It was a reminder of the two sides to Kubrick, or in fact, of any major artist. Taschen's book is very much in tune with Kubrick the auteur: intelligent, imposing, refined and, with its dizzying price tag, seemingly beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. Visiting Childwickbury, and hearing and meeting Christiane Kubrick, revealed a glimpse of the human being behind the myth.

"Four women were living here with Stanley," Christiane said during her speech, "and all of them were totally spoiled, and over-protected, and tiresome. But we were very lucky to have him."

The Making Of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is available from Taschen now.

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