Stanley Kubrick was a photographer first and then a filmmaker but he was always a photographer. He worked for Look Magazine, like Life, but not nearly as famous or remembered today, and he started making images for them while still a teenager. It shows in all of his films.
When I was first becoming interested in films I naively assumed that all directors were like Kubrick, that all were photographers, that they knew about lenses and f-stops and composition and so forth and so on. It was quite a surprise to learn later on that this was not the case at all.
One way to think about Random Frame (2001: A Space Odyssey)—but not the only way and certainly this is not what my work “means” in any complete sense—is in terms of photographs. When a still photographer talks about influences, and if he or she talks about films as an influence, they are probably talking about the still frames that are embedded all through movies, rather than the plot or the sound or the storyline. Certain scenes, certain frames—which is to say, certain photographs—stick in the mind, sort of hauntingly, if you would subtract the disturbing aspects of that word. They are there, in the background always, imbued with some sort of superpower beyond that which a traditional single photograph could wield.
I don’t remember the first time I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, which surprises me. I don’t even remember when it was that I realized its greatness, its astonishing ambition. But I’ve seen it a dozen times or more now, purposely waiting three, four, five years between viewing in order to protect the film from too much familiarity, despite my memorization at this point of every scene, of every word spoken (there are surprisingly few), of every edit, of every everything.
Perceptive viewers will note that my Random Frame films do not show every frame of each movie. I cut out the end credits, in most cases, as they do not form any part of my still-frame memory of the movies, and certainly form no part of this particular film’s hold over me. I sometimes cut out a little at the front as well. In the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I cut out the long black screen at the beginning. It was during this “overture” that people were to take their seats back in 1968 but it also serves as a “picture” of the Void before the Beginning, or at least the history of the world before the arrival of some earlier version of Man. In the actual film, there is a score by Györgi Ligeti, which fits the overture as if it was written specifically for it, but that soundtrack doesn’t come through in my still frame memory and thus the black frame portion makes no sense in a Random Frame film.
I generally refer to 2001 as “the holy film” and I say that only half in jest. Years ago I sent away for one of those mail-order religions, where you can form and lead your own, and they sent me a card that identifies me as a sort of priest. My religion—they asked me what to call it—is the Church of Kubrick. Its holy book is 2001: A Space Odyssey. And I’m still only half kidding.