I’ve been spending a lot of time in my home state of Nebraska lately. My grandma on my dad’s side, Nanny, was recently diagnosed with cancer. She survived cancer over twenty years ago, but like most things from the 90’s it made a comeback. My Nanny is the kind of lady that gives self-help books as Christmas presents to everyone in the family. Everyone except for me; she gives me joke books. Obviously, I’m quite fond of her. I spent this past weekend in her hometown of Kearney, Nebraska. Kearney is a small college town in the heart of the heartland. Exactly halfway between San Francisco and Boston, quite literally the middle of nowhere.
On Friday evening, after spending the day talking to my Nanny about MAD MEN (“It’s very accurate”), her childhood, and the problems with the local newspaper, I saw in said paper that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was playing at the World Theatre. The World is a classic single screen theater sitting on the edge of downtown on Central Ave. First opened in 1927, the World feels like the Royal theater from THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. Still standing nearly 90 years later, the World has yet to show its last picture. Unlike Kearney’s other historic theater just down the street, the Fort, the World managed to survive being turned into an office a few years ago and is now run as a non-profit screening exclusively classic films 4 days a week.
As I approached the ticket window it was clear this theater was a labor of love. The ticket booth was being run by a woman and her 7 year-old daughter. I went inside to the concession stand and to my delight I saw they sold beer. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t at a hip film center in some major city. That is until I saw who was running the concession stand. A middle aged guy in the full dad uniform of Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts was standing with his teenage son who ribbed me about my stupid face on my driver’s license. During the intermission the kid said, “Intermission? That’s how you know this movie is old.” To which his dad shot back, “Hey!” Even with the coolest life possible in a small town teens are still going to think everything sucks.
After grabbing some candy and the most amount of beer without arousing judgement, I walked into the theater and was immediately blown away. The 200 seat space felt intimate, but with a gorgeous balcony possessed a grandeur that was probably common before multiplexes. The red curtain and golden lighting created a warm environment. It felt like a womb for cinephiles.
The theater was about an eighth full by show time; the perfect size for everyone there to find the perfect seat. Right in front of me a middle aged man was accompanying two teenage boys of his own to share a film that they won’t fully get until they too do mushrooms in college. Before the movie there were no commercials, no insufferable E! programming, or even trailers. Just a quaint a man in overalls in front of the red curtain introducing the movie. After he walked off the stage, the curtains opened, the room went black and then I heard the iconic first notes that I’ve heard a hundred times before, but never truly experienced until that moment. As the sun peeked over the earth right as the score goes, “dun DUN!” I knew I couldn’t have picked a better time to finally see this movie.
Over the years 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY has influenced everyone from Danny Boyle to Mel Brooks. I’ve seen many movies that take their cues from Kubrick, but have never seen his masterpiece. It was great to trace those movies back to their source. I think this reverse viewing was more enjoyable than if I had seen 2001 in some dude’s basement in college. I may not have enjoyed Moon or the countless other movies influenced by 2001 because they may have seemed like a poor imitation.
Full disclosure: I don’t think I “got” 2001, but boy was it pretty to look at. I’ll spare everyone my “freshman in film school” analysis of the movie, which has been written about to death by people far more qualified than myself. I will say that a film as visually stunning as 2001 definitely needs to be experienced on a big screen. The effects appear even more special when considering this movie was released in 1968. How can a movie that is 46 years old have better effects than ones made today? It’s a movie to get lost inside of. In that dark grand theater I too felt like I was floating in the vast nothingness of space.
By the final installment, “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite,” I realized how impressive it is that Kubrick even got this film made. In 1968 there was no such thing as VOD or any of the other niche avenues artist have today to get their work to their audience. This film was released by MGM into single screen theaters much like the one I was sitting in. It’s truly stunning that a film without a linear narrative structure and disorienting visuals was released to the mainstream masses the same month as YOURS, MINE, AND OURS. When the credits were rolling a guy behind me turned to his friend who undoubtedly dragged him to the screening and said, “Well, that’s the last time I’m seeing that thing.” I’m sure he wasn’t alone that night or 46 years ago, but 2001 continues to hold up over the years. It is the Velvet Underground of sci-fi movies. Influential and well known, but only really understood by the guy in the basement.
Walking out of the World on Friday night I was so happy that I had an opportunity to experience a great film the way it was meant to be seen. As I walked down Central Ave., I saw the two teenage boys hop into the old man’s Ford F150. They might not have known it yet, but they too experienced something special. By the time they will have teens of their own movie theaters may be as antiquated as the photographs I sifted through all afternoon. As long as places like the World exist that day will never peek over the earth with a loud “dun DUN!”