Late in the book Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson, there’s a classic dick move that left me angry and bitter. Kubrick sends a small team to South Africa to capture still photos of the terrain there, then orders them to commit an act of eco-terrorism.
Not many people know this, but the Dawn of Man sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey was filmed indoors on a British soundstage. The foreground elements where the actors stood were built as sets and the backgrounds were stills projected onto large screens. In the midst of capturing said stills, the photo crew came upon some interesting trees indigenous to the area. These trees–Kokerbooms, to be specific–were both rare and protected. In fact, the little stand of Kokerbooms in question were behind a chainlink fence. But little things like barriers and, well, The Law weren’t gonna get in Kubrick’s way.
The director defies the maxim “Don’t be a dick” several times throughout Benson’s account. He cheats people out of both credit and money. I don’t know why his poor treatment of people bothered me less than his poor treatment of trees, but here we are. You see, Stanley loved the Kokerbooms, but he didn’t care for their placement. He ordered them cut down and moved to another, more photogenic location. After some resistance, the crew followed his orders, snipping open the fence, felling the trees, and loading them onto trucks. But that’s not where the story ends.
In transit, many of the trees were lost thanks to mishaps. In fact, one of the truck drivers discarded a cigarette into the back of his vehicle, and set the felled Kokerbooms on fire. When the remaining trees got to their new location–where they were propped up, not replanted–they were photographed and the stills were sent back to England. Here’s the thing, though: if you want to see the exotic flora in the film, you’d better not blink. They’re barely visible.
Stanley Kubrick made some of my favorite films of all time, but if I’d been there in ’66 or ’67 when he ordered his minions to slaughter those trees, I would’ve said, “Hey, Stan… Don’t be a dick”.