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(Credit: MGM)


Stanley Kubrick's secret cameo in '2001: A Space Odyssey'


Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey is an essential watch for anyone in love with filmmaking. It stands out as one of Kubrick’s ultimate masterpieces and when it was released in 1968, a year prior to the moon landing, with most of the world still looking skyward, it left audiences open-mouthed in appreciation.

Since then the film has become a mainstay of not only the collections of film buffs everywhere but in the halls of schools and universities who can use the film as an integral teaching tool for filmmaking. It means that almost no stone has been left unturned when finding hidden secrets in the making of the picture. However, there is one secret that has largely escaped attention—Kubrick’s covert cameo.

The film, released in 1968 and widely considered one of the greatest pictures of all time, follows a conspicuous voyage to Jupiter and delves deep into subjects such as human evolution, existentialism, technology and artificial intelligence and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. It’s a cultural touchpoint not just for the genre but for the entire globe and sees Kubrick perhaps at his most potent. It’s a project that he was deeply passionate about.

In truth, it was a captivating story from the very beginning and when finished became a zeitgeist moment. The film synopsis reads: “An imposing black structure provides a connection between the past and the future in this enigmatic adaptation of a short story by revered sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke. When Dr Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and other astronauts are sent on a mysterious mission, their ship’s computer system, HAL, begins to display increasingly strange behaviour, leading up to a tense showdown between man and machine that results in a mind-bending trek through space and time.”

As well as contacting the original novel’s author (and sci-fi God) Arthur C. Clarke directly via a letter to ensure he grabbed the chance to make the film as soon as possible, Kubrick also left a bit of himself in the picture too. Not the soul, the piece of oneself many directors leave in their films, but his secret cameo.

The iconic heavy-breathing sounds heard in the Discovery part of the picture when Bowman and Poole go spacewalking, is the sound of the great director Stanley Kubrick. The director’s daughter, Katharina Kubrick Hobbs revealed the secret to alt.movies.kubrick writing: “I only found out who was ‘breathing’ myself last night. Mum and I were talking about the [New Year’s day National Film Theatre] screening at dinner.

“I said that I thought Keir Dullea’s appropriately paced breathing was very effective. She then told me it was Daddy. Gulp!”

While Kubrick’s cameo in the film is comparatively small to some director’s aptitude for screen time, it is one of the more iconic moments of the picture. It’s a sound that has become ubiquitous in our knowledge of space exploration and has some serious roots in this picture. With such a small part, Kubrick becomes one of the everlasting memories of the entire film.