Thursday, May 1, 2014

HERB LIGHTMAN: THE FINAL INTERVIEW

Former  Filmmaker and Editor of American Cinematographer Magazine Herb Lightman talks about his experiences covering the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick.

TV STORE ONLINE:    Can we talk about 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY?   The articles you wrote about the making of that film still to this day, for me, stand as the best things written about it...

LIGHTMAN:  Thank You. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was the film that I scooped the world on.  Stanley didn't give any other information out about 2001 while it was in production.   We spoke on the phone about 2001 while he was making it for over 2 1/2 hours straight.  He called me from London and the result of that were two massive articles that I published in American Cinematographer Magazine when I was the editor there.   He held nothing back from me. He shared everything with me.   I had known him for years before that and I was a big fan of his work of course.  Stanley had moved to England and I myself had family in England so I would see him when I would go over for a visit.

One thing that Stanley didn't allow during the filming of 2001 and its special effects was for photographs to be taken by the press.  This drove me out of my mind as I was working on my first article on the film.  I wanted some sort of illustrations to help explain what Stanley had told me about.   I wanted to know as much as I could about what was going on with the special effects for the film but Stanley insisted that he wasn't a special effects expert by any means, and that he only knew what he wanted to achieve with them on the screen.  So what happened was that Doug Trumbull called me up and said, "I understand you're working on an article about the making of 2001.."   He then went on to tell me that he had taken all of these pictures of the special effects in process and that I could have a few of them for the magazine.  Stanley finally caved in on this idea once I mentioned it to him and he allowed them into the issue of American Cinematographer.

TV STORE ONLINE:   The thing one notices right away when you read your interviews and articles on Kubrick and his films is just how relaxed he seems with you...You don't get that sense in many other written pieces on Kubrick...

LIGHTMAN:  I think he was relaxed.   They don't have an official feel to them.  We would just talk on the phone or we would meet up and sit down and just talk to each other in front of a fireplace.   The first time I talked to Stanley....I can't remember what the article I was working on at the time was, but I was in the middle of writing it and I needed some more information, so I called him up, and he said, "I"m flattered that you'd like to know this type of information.  I'm a great admirer of your publication."  I said, "I'm a great admirer of your films." 

2001 stretched the boundaries of cinema.   Stanley and his team blended everything together like it had never been done before.   That movie was all about the risk of making it.   They charted so much new territory in 2001 with those special effects. Had they not worked out, it would have been a total disaster.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you stay in touch with Stanley after 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was released into theaters?

LIGHTMAN:  Yes, I did.   When the film was released in The United States I went to see it and a couple days later I called Stanley up.   We started to talk about the film and at the end of our conversation Stanley said, "Are there any more questions that you have that I haven't answered yet?"  I hesitated to say anything else.  I said, "Well, there is one more question... I'd like to ask, but I'm not sure that I should even ask it."  Stanley said, "Feel free to ask anything you'd like.  I can't promise that I'll answer it though."

There was something that had seemed off-kilter with the ending of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY to me when I had seen it the first time.  I said, "The ending of 2001..."  I was careful how I worded my question as to not insult Stanley.  I said, "There's something [Starchild] that took off at the end of the film...What was that?"   Stanley said, "You're absolutely right.  But I'm not going to answer that question simply because everyone is going to read this..."   I then asked him what his objective was with the ending of the film and his response was, "We went off the rails there because we wanted to provide a ending that would allow everyone in the audience their own interpretation of the story.

Years later when I was speaking with Doug Trumbull he told me about how they had originally wanted to end the film with a appearance of aliens but that they just ran out of time and money to go in that direction with the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you think that 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY changed the way we look at cinema in any way? 

LIGHTMAN:
For filmmakers, it certain changed everything.   I don't know if it did anything for the audience though.   The audience only cares whether they've been entertained or not.   Filmmakers look at films a certain way that the audience doesn't.  Not long after the release of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY I began teaching at USC film school and while I was there I would get asked about 2001 all of the time because of the articles that I had written in American Cinematographer about the film.  The film had an impact then and it still has one today on any person that wants to be a filmmaker.

 Herb's articles on 2001:

Filming 2001: A Space Odyssey
Article by Herb A. Lightman
Published in American Cinematographer (06/1968)
Reprinted in The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Modern Library (2000)
Reprinted (excerpted) in The Stanley Kubrick Archives, Taschen (2005)


Front-projection for 2001: A Space Odyssey
Article by Herb A. Lightman
Published in American Cinematographer (06/1968)
Reprinted in The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Modern Library (2000)
Reprinted (excerpted) in The Stanley Kubrick Archives, Taschen (2005)


This interview was conducted in 2011 via telephone by Justin Bozung.    Herb passed away in 2013.  This interview is dedicated to his work at American Cinematographer Magazine.  His writings on 2001 are the most quoted and referenced text works on the film since its 1968 theatrical release.