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Alec Baldwin takes viewers on a cosmic journey with "2001" stars

The New Yorker
Thanks to prodding by Alec Baldwin, the New York Philharmonic performed a concert incorporating Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."
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OKLAHOMA CITY – There are a lot of critics out there who have been very critical of actor and liberal activist Alec Baldwin. And yes, Baldwin is a divisive figure at times, particularly in the realm of politics (paging Sean Penn!).

But intellectually-honest individuals will say that Baldwin is an engaging actor with a gripping voice and delivery (check out his role as “Blake” in 1992’s Glengarry Glen Ross or as Dave Robicheaux in the film version of James Lee Burke’s Louisiana-set novel Heaven’s Prisoners (1996)) and an undeniable passion about whatever it is he happens to be into.

And with his great, new talk show on MSNBC – Up Late With Alec Baldwin – Baldwin is inviting guests he wants to talk to, not necessarily guests who are the latest flash in the pan. So, when Mediaite’s Joe Concha whines this week that Baldwin’s show is lacking “bigger stars,” simply ignore him and his dim-witted desire to have mindless topics discussed. Bravo to Baldwin, his show is great!

So, on his October 29th episode, he introduces it by talking about his upcoming interview with actors Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, the men who played astronauts Dave Bowman and Frank Poole in the Stanley Kubrick-directed masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“I’ve been looking forward to this since before we even launched the show,” Baldwin says, standing in his “late night” diner set, jazz playing in the background. “Tonight I’ll talk with two men who contributed to a singular work of art 45 years ago, that still moves film audiences to this day. And changed the way we think about the world, our place in it and our place beyond it.”

It’s clear that Baldwin is excited about this interview, adding how he loves 2001: A Space Odyssey and states in the opening monologue that “every actor, myself included, spends their career striving to make one movie – just one – that achieves true immortality.”

Now, this is important to me, synchronistically speaking, because recently, while reading a sync-leaden issue of The New Yorker recently I turn to the “Classical Music” section of the The New Yorker and there is a drawing of astronaut Dave Bowman in his orange spacesuit, with that iconic look of terror and wonder on his face, as he “enters” the monolith/stargate and begins his journey beyond the infinite.

This is because The New Yorker was announcing that the New York Philharmonic was going to play the classical music score used in 2001 while the film played for the audience at the same time. Truly a thrilling opportunity.

So, when Baldwin begins his interview with Dullea and Lockwood, he begins talking about being on the board of the New York Philharmonic and how this season they were going to have these motion pictures playing along with the philharmonic.

But the issue, Baldwin noted, was picking a film that conductor and music director of the New York Philharmonic Alan Gilbert would agree to perform with, one that was pure in its classical music approach. Baldwin tells Dullea and Lockwood that he suggested a Stanley Kubrick film and that film should be 2001.

“Kubrick was the great master at applying classical repertoire to his films … and Alan agreed” to conduct for the 2001 event. Baldwin told the two actors that the audience loved the film and performance of the music so many have come to love since it appeared in the 1968 film.

And here, Baldwin even seems at a loss for words in the presence of Dullea and Lockwood and yet decides to open up with a  question for the two, as to whether Kubrick talked to Dullea and Lockwood about the “philosophical implications” of the film. Lockwood starts off by talking about events they’ve spoken at and that Kubrick was the most brilliant filmmaker he had ever worked for and how people ask him what it was like to “be in space,” which elicits a chuckle and brings to mind the oddly stilted answers the Apollo astronauts would give when they were asked about what it was like “to be on the Moon.” In fact, Lockwood looks and acts a little bit like present-day, back-slapping Buzz Aldrin, while the more mysterious Dullea has a strong, silent Neil Armstrong quality. Reality and fantasy merging again.

Baldwin changes tack a bit and talks about the Philharmonic/2001 experience and is walking out of the film – “an artistic orgasm” – a man leaving the event holds up his black iPhone and says, “I guess we know what the monolith was.”

“All of his films are somewhat ambiguous,” Dullea says of Kubrick. “It can hold a lot of interpretations. 2001 particularly. But I think all of his films have possible alternative meanings for people.”

But then Dullea shares a story of reading short stories of science-fiction in the 1950’s as an adolescent and later being offered the role in 2001 and he says he had read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” at that time and has he is reading the 2001 script years later – “It came crashing back into my head – My God! I remembered that short story! Because it was so impacting.”

“When you are around him you know nothing’s by accident,” Lockwood said. “He’s a thinking man.”

“He was a little anal in terms of his eye for detail,” added Dullea of Kubrick.

He became a fan of Kubrick watching Paths of Glory as a teen and would tell Baldwin how amazing it was to be cast as a star in a Kubrick film.

They talked about Joe Turkel, who appeared in several Kubrick films, including his role as “Lloyd” the bartender in The Shining

“There is a special place you enter when you’re in one of Kubrick’s films,” Baldwin says.

“Absolutely,” agrees Dullea.

Interestingly, Baldwin notes how Kubrick hired and fired Alex North and did not use North’s score in the film. Last weekend, at the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Star Trek actor George Takei (Sulu) helped host the “Sci-Fi Spectacular” with conductor Jack Everly where music not only from Star Trek and Star Wars was played, but also 2001. And Everly shared the story about North’s commissioned score being notoriously discarded by Kubrick.

Asked about their first reactions upon seeing 2001 for the first time, Lockwood said “Totally bitchin’,” while the more thoughtful Dullea said, “It blew my mind.”

Dullea said one of his favorite scenes is when the ape-man throws the bone/weapon into the air and it morphs not into a “spaceship” but into a “nuclear weapon” orbiting around Earth.

Dullea says that, “Recently I found out that it is a nuclear weapon!”

Now that is an interesting, Cold War-era revelation and casts a slightly darker shade on Kubrick’s thoughts about the state of the world as envisioned in a future world. Of course in the 1984 sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. are on the precipice of nuclear war.

Talking about current films, Dullea said he saw the Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips, which he liked and Lockwood added that as a young man, Hanks saw 2001 and decided he wanted to be an actor. Added Dullea: “It’s his favorite film.”

And for me, having seen the film (after initially seeing 2010: The Year We Make Contact first as a 12-year-old), I read Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 novel and it hit me like a bolt of lightning. It was then and there that I decided I wanted to write. 

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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