2001: A Personal Note by Anthony Frewin, Assistant to Stanley Kubrick, 1965-69 and 1980-99

It was September 1965 and I was into my 17th year when I started as a runner on the pre-production of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the MGM Studios in Boreham Wood.

My father had been telling me for over a month there was a vacancy on the film and would I go down and have an interview with the director? I dragged my heels. Why would I want to work in the British film industry? All those dreadful films that my dad had worked on -- why would I want to have anything to do with them? My friends and I only ever went to see foreign language films, Buñuel, Bergman, the French nouvelle vague, the Italian directors, and so on. That was cinema to us.

I eventually realized that the only way I was going to get my father off my back was to go down and see this director, and thusly, early one Sunday morning I found myself sitting alone at the studios in an office (or was it library?) waiting for Stanley Kubrick. The name rang a bell. Yes, he had directed the one English language film we had all gone to see and raved about -- Dr. Strangelove. But I still didn’t want the job.

The books. There were hundreds of them -- volumes on surrealism, dadaism, futuristic and fantastic art, in English, German, Italian and other languages. There were works on astronomy, rocketry, cosmology, extraterrestrial life and unidentified flying objects. Well, I thought, this is the stuff that interests me. I wouldn’t mind the job just to get my hands on these.

A figure suddenly appeared behind me. He was wearing a somewhat worn lightweight dark-blue jacket, an open-necked white shirt, a baggy pair of trousers and scuffed shoes. He had a mass of black hair. And there were his eyes -- large and penetrating and impish. He offered his hand and said in a quiet, warm voice that was recognizably New Yorkish, "Hi, I’m Stanley. You must be Eddie’s son?" There was a shyness and hesitancy about him. "Yes, I’m Tony."

He saw that I had in front of me a copy of Patrick Waldberg’s book on Max Ernst. "You like Max Ernst?" "The greatest!" I replied.

"I’ve got to create these extraterrestrial landscapes and he’s got some really good ideas. You know that painting, Europe after the Rain? A great extraterrestrial landscape! [Then, with a smirk] Max should have been a Hollywood art director….He’s got a name like a Hollywood art director, don’t you think? [Back on track] Who else should I be looking at? Who do you recommend? Who’s missing here?"

Stanley sat down opposite me and we spent the next two hours going through some of the art books as he explained what 2001 was about and what he wanted to achieve. He was an exhilarating catherine wheel of ideas and speculations on the future of mankind, the evolution of intelligence, the possibilities of extraterrestrial life and the ultimate fate of the cosmos. Now I wanted the job so much I would have worked for nothing.

The next morning, I was in my office next to Stanley’s suite at 7:30 a.m. and the paint brush factory where I had been working the previous week now seemed a million light-years away…and ago. This was Warp Factor 9, and it would be for the next three years as we followed SK out into terra incognita.

All of us on the crew knew that 2001 was going to be different. We all knew that this wasn’t going to be a Buck Rogers space opera nor a half-assed George Pal production. We all knew that this was going to be so different it would be unique. We all knew this wasn’t just another film. We all knew that in the year 2001 audiences would still be going to see 2001 the movie. We knew all this because we knew the man who was directing and producing the film had integrity and courage, wit and imagination and intelligence. We knew he would take the cinema where it had never gone before. And he did. He really did.

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