As New Yorkers began to batten down the coronavirus hatches earlier this year, designer Lydia Cambron found herself stuck inside and desperate to channel her creativity in something.
That something would eventually morph into a funny, completely original, and painstaking reenactment of Stanley Kubrick’s iconic finale in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Titled 2020: An Isolation Odyssey, the film plays out in a split-screen—with Lydia as the COVID-safe protagonist in the top half—and meticulously mirrors every facial expression, gesture, angle and prop of the original 1968 scene. Replicating the work of one of the most notorious sticklers for detail in filmmaking history (Kubrick was known for demanding up to 50 takes per scene) is no mean feat, but Lydia pieced together an homage even then most diehard Stan fans would approve of. We caught up with the first-time filmmaker to find out how she pulled it off.
How did the idea to recreate 2001: A Space Odyssey first come to you?
I had been working from home for about a week, so it was almost the end of March. I was starting to (trying to) get a routine that would make me feel like I had some amount of structure and diversity in my day, which is difficult to do in a one-bedroom apartment. I’d been thinking of 2001 as an aesthetic reference for another project and something just clicked. I saw the obvious similarities between my own isolated routine, and the progression of Dave in the room in those final scenes. It developed pretty quickly after that.
Through the process of selecting what props I would use to mimic 2001, I realised I could do more than just mimic the shots in the context of quarantine, but that by adapting it to the context of quarantine, I could really get at our shared emotions and anxieties of this strange time. I used the props to aid not just in setting a believable scene, but to illustrate some of the dilemmas and strangeness that I was going through, and could tell other people were too. I had actually never worked in film before and had been wanting to learn and get familiar with editing software. This seemed like a great project to dive into, and it was definitely an immersive undertaking.
What was one of the hardest shots to match with the original film and why?
Any shot with me in it! But really, any shot with a pan. Some I used an electric slider for, and others I moved the view in post so it looked like the camera was moving with me. The bedroom was tricky because my room is not as big as the one in the film, so I couldn’t get a wide shot. I just tried to line up as much as I could, making sure that the lines traced down. Since the videos are stacked, it’s really obvious when it’s not. For the shots that were not possible to be totally lined up because the architecture of my apartment was too different, I would just find some other interior element to visually align with. Also, the zoom into the rowing machine was pretty tricky. I had to do that manually. I made a ‘dolly’ by sliding my dismantled desktop on my removed headboard, sliding it on the bed using random hardware and a very rigged tripod. I shared this and other behind the scenes content on my Instagram.
Your own pacing with facial expressions and movements was spot on. Did you have any particular tricks to get them synced so perfectly?
Ha! It was tricky. At first I just kinda counted from memory and trimmed the footage to align. I used a camera remote for everything so I could do take after take without moving from my mark. It quickly got more challenging to align for the longer scenes, so in order to track my movements in time, I used audio notes. I would watch the original and record a voice memo on my phone like ‘stand up, move slightly, look down,’ and count the steps. Since I used the original audio for the film and did record my own, I could just play it out loud and follow along. Getting the actual expressions was really the most difficult task of the entire project. I work in interiors and furniture, so am very experienced in achieving a particular aesthetic or setting up a frame, but acting was by far the most challenging. I wouldn’t really even say I was acting, but I did my best! I quickly realised that although in my head I was presenting a range of emotions, on film I thought I just looked angry or irritated. The masks helped too.
The rowing machine, the Crocs shoe, the jigsaw puzzle—all the props you chose to match with the original film were so funny. Which one was your favourite?
Definitely the rowing machine! Just luck that I happened to have anything that resembled a monolith. I could have used something like a table on end, but that wouldn’t have made any sense. At first, the plan was to recreate in a very DIY way that would appear more like dress up with random props, but I think the rowing machine really set the stage for the narrative of my version. The dining scene, for example, I thought would make so much more sense in the context of quarantine to be working on a laptop rather than eating, and I would definitely not be drinking out of a crystal wine glass. Ok, maybe the perrier can is my favourite?? I love the surprise of that scene and I think it helps dial up the humour, which increases or becomes more obvious as the film progresses, obviously ending with the most ridiculous comparison of crocs to starchild.
I noticed a number of your own pieces of design in the background of some of the shots. What else have you been working on throughout COVID?
Yes, several pieces actually! Pretty much everything in the living room, and the pair of mirrors flanking the bed. The mirrors are the most recent and are part of a series exploring the aesthetic similarities between baroque decor and the material language of space exploration. I have several pieces of furniture I’m designing for this series, and I’m in the middle of a large sofa right now. I’m finally able to get back into my studio, I had to halt everything back in March and part of why I decided to make the film was because I was so starved for a creative project.
Your film is one of my favourite films I’ve seen made from isolation. Is there anyone who’s been making art you particularly love during this time?
Thank you! Man, that’s really difficult to answer, I feel like I can never think of the answers to these types of questions when asked. It’s also difficult to tell who’s doing ‘isolation’ work as opposed to what they normally do, but I can think of one artist who I absolutely love: Bridget Moser is a video/performance artist who does prop comedy. This video is so funny (I realised she uses the 2001 room as a partial background in the video). I love her dry humour and ability to be kind of a prop herself, if that makes sense.
If Stanley Kubrick were alive today, what do you think he’d say about your homage?
Hopefully ‘not bad!’ I would think he’d appreciate the attention to detail and the necessary studying of the 2001 scenes, but really all I’m looking for is laughs. If I could get Keir Dullea to see it and approve, that would make my year.