Friday, 4 January 2013

LETTERS OF NOTE: Kubrick, HAL & IBM

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Our first Letter of Note of 2013 brings us back to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Back in July last year I posted about the long conversations between Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke before production began, but today we look at a story from the scripting process.

Before shooting began, Kubrick had consulted IBM about the capability of computers to perform the kind of actions HAL could undertake in the film. As a little thank-you, IBM's logo makes a brief appearance in the finished film (see below). But as the character of HAL took shape through 1966, becoming the cold, clinical killer that he is, Kubrick worried that IBM wouldn't take kindly to their brand being associated with a film about computers that killed people. He wrote to the vice-president of the company, who reassured Kubrick that it was fine, so long as it was made perfectly clear that it was not specifically a failure of IBM computers that led to the deaths of the crew. You can read both Kubrick's letter and the reply here.
http://i.crackedcdn.com/phpimages/article/4/2/2/115422.jpg?v=1
I find this story fascinating for several reasons. Firstly, it shows that even Kubrick, often held up as the quintessential artistic film-maker, wasn't above a little product placement. Secondly, it demonstrates that film-makers were concerned about having big companies on board (even if that just meant not being sued by them) way before our overly litigious blockbuster age. And thirdly, it helps to explain how the urban myth surrounding HAL's name came about - the rumour being that HAL took his name from IBM, with the letters being shifted one further up the alphabet. Clarke was so embarrassed by this coincidence that he wrote a whole passage debunking it in 2010: Odyssey Two. The things you learn as a film fan.


Daniel

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