Sunday, July 22, 2018

Reading 'Space Odyssey': Part Two

Note:  This is the final part of a two-part review of Michael Benson's Space Odyssey.  It is assumed that the reader has already seen the movie.

Kubrick wanted to shoot the beginning of 2001 immediately after finishing Dullea's “hotel room scene.”  But, he had a problem, actually several problems.  No one had yet produced a man-ape costume that didn't look like a man stuffed in an ape suit.  Nothing looked like a realistic Australopithecus africanus, which was precisely something Kubrick and Clarke agreed upon in their collaboration to make a scientifically legitimate science fiction film.  So, the director decided, not for the first time, to defer the Dawn of Man until something more believable came along.

Discussions about the opening phase on the film, intended to happen 4 million years ago, continued between Kubrick and Clarke.  Kubrick thought Clarke was being too literal in how the alien intelligence illuminated Moonwatcher's mind.  The differences between the novel and the film grew more numerous.  As with the man-ape costumes, Kubrick didn't know exactly what he wanted, but no one was offering it to him yet.

The other thing bedeviling the Dawn of Man opening sequence was a lack of backdrop.  Kubrick sent a professional photographer with special 65mm cameras to capture specific African landscapes at specific times of day with specific attention to color hue and shadowing.  Afraid of traveling himself, Kubrick tried to dictate exact camera positions from England.  Air delivery of the negatives made Kubrick's international phone calls productive when directing camera corrections based upon the last shots.  The film begins with many of the shots captured in this long-distance fashion.

Instead of the Dawn of Man, Kubrick next filmed the scene where HAL's brain is disconnected followed by the various EVA (extravehicular spacewalk) shots scattered throughout the middle portion of the film, all of which involved wire-work.  While that began, his two-year fruitful collaboration with Clarke started to break down over the publication, or rather non-publication, of the novel.  Kubrick asked that the novel not be shown to potential publishers until he had had time to read it and offer suggestions.  Clarke, driven by a need for money and also by the fact that he felt the book was finished as it was, showed the draft to Dell Publishing anyway.

Dell was ready to publish the book but Kubrick, who had legal control over the novel since he had technically paid Clarke to write it, refused until parts of it were rewritten based upon what was happening to the narrative in the course of shooting the film.  To be fair, most of these changes had already been made by Clarke.  The writer from Ceylon failed in his attempts to persuade Kubrick, of course, and the author went home empty-handed but for Kubrick's promise to defer the director's portion of the novel's worldwide advance payment as compensation for the delay.  In reality, Kubrick had decided that the movie should be released before the novel was published.

Despite all this, Clarke – still writing possible narration segments for the film – remained highly loyal to Kubrick, understanding the motives of the director more than most.  Clarke wrote to a friend who was critical of how Kubrick was treating Clarke: “Actually, I do not agree with you that Stanley is insensitive to the needs of others – he is very sensitive, but his artistic integrity won't allow him to compromise.  I have to admire this attribute even when it causes me great inconvenience!”

Also in the summer of 1966, Kubrick met Dan Richter, a mime actor, through a mutual acquaintance. Up until now, Kubrick had been testing the man-ape suits with stuntmen and actors.  Richter showed Kubrick how subtle changes in physical body posture would completely transform the realism of the suit.  Kubrick quickly hired him to play Moonwatcher.  With Richter to coach others, it was almost possible to move forward with the Dawn of Man.

Meanwhile, Bill Weston, a stuntman, was handling the wire-work Kubrick needed for the spacewalk shots.  This involved placing the camera directly underneath Weston with an entire sound stage blacked out, lighting only the stuntman.  Benson calls this “some of the most physically and technically demanding scenes” in the film.  “Decades before digital effects, they constitute an extraordinary, largely unsung moment in film history.”  Weston performed while hanging from a wire in space suits that did not supply him with adequate oxygen and did not vent carbon dioxide, which made breathing increasingly difficult after about 10 minutes.  Every shot was a herculean effort by Weston and the crew to capture realistic looking weightlessness conditions in-camera within the span of a few short minutes with Kubrick shouting direction from a megaphone below.  

The grueling effort took weeks and was a constant danger to Weston's health.  Various solutions to make things easier for Weston were rejected by Kubrick because the authenticity of the shot would be somehow compromised.  Due to the fact the camera was positioned directly underneath the stuntman, every shot was made without a safety net.  An assistant camera man was injured when a piece of the Weston’s support apparatus snapped and fell down upon the camera area.  This spooked Kubrick, who directed the remaining shots off to the side of the camera for fear of being hit.  With much personal effort, Weston survived the shoot and the scenes look perfectly realistic in the film.

Later in 1966, Kubrick was at last ready to shoot the Dawn of Man opening sequence of the film.  The final impediments to making this portion of 2001 included fine-tuning the man-ape masks and finding the right backdrops to use as front projections that would make the man-ape scenes appear as if they were shot outside during a drought in Africa 4 million years ago.  

This last part is why Kubrick had sent a photographer (actually more than one) to Africa and sought to control each photo taken through the tedious process of having the negatives mailed to him and then telling the photographer over the phone precisely how to reshoot.  Among several shots he preferred, Kubrick pointed out that he really liked the prehistoric feel of certain aloe trees known as kokerbooms.  He instructed that he didn't like to location of the trees, however, and, in what turned out to be a difficult covert operation, asked that four of them be moved to another location.

Since the trees were endangered they were protected by a fence enclosure, which the photographer and his native assistants had to break in to one night.  The first two trees they attempted to cut down shattered like watermelons upon hitting the ground, they were so heavy and water-filled.  After that, the other trees were tied with ropes and lowered onto truck beds for transportation several miles away.  The shot Kubrick wanted was eventually captured at the cost of six trees, two lost when they were stolen and the other four destroyed and dumped into the river after being filmed and photographed.  In the end, the trees are in the film for a few seconds, but they are not those trees.  Kubrick ended up changing his mind and had the trees fabricated in England. 

With his backdrop shots chosen, with a troupe of dancers trained by Richter to act in the man-ape suits, and finally with believable man-ape masks allowing for a range of facial expression, Kubrick proceeded with what Benson calls “one of the most ambitious, technically complex shooting situations ever attempted.”  The backdrop South West Africa photos were front projected onto a special sixty-foot screen made of 3M's newly designed Scotchlite reflective material.  As I mentioned, the photos were all taken around dawn and dusk, which allowed Kubrick to tweak the lighting in the sound stage.

The lighting consisted 37 crates filled with 500-watt bulbs.  The array of lights was controlled through a system of 1,850 switches.  As he did throughout the shoot, Kubrick took dozens of Polaroid shots to check the set.  Altogether, the set used up to 1.5 million watts of light to capture the proper outdoor effect.  Sections of the lights could be dimmed or brightened to match the shadows and hues of color on the projected backdrop images. All of this light heated the sound stage to over 100 degrees which made things difficult for the performers in the man-ape suits.  A team of nurses stood by to assist with anyone who might pass out.  Kubrick had a refrigerator full of soft drinks available for the cast and crew between takes.

Another of the many surprises in reading Benson's Space Odyssey is the revelation that all the screeches and snorts and grunts you hear in the Dawn of Man sequence are uttered from the actors themselves.  They are not sound effects of “real” apes.  Benson calls this “an auditory confirmation of the profoundly intimate genetic linkage between Homo sapiens and its distant ancestors.”

After filming all the tribal scenes of the film's opening section, Kubrick shot Richter’s solo work as Moonwatcher, discovering how to use a bone as a weapon.  It is unclear whether or not Kubrick already had in mind what to do with Richter, but apparently, like other instances mentioned so far, what we see in the movie is the work of collaborative happenstance.  

Picking up the bone, Richter smelled it a little, and then started meditatively thumping it down on the skeleton fragments.  Lined up along the reflective beam of the front-projection plate, both the camera and Kubrick were fairly close, and Dan could communicate with the director as he did so.  In an early take, Dan banged the bone down, and a rib spun up in the air.  'Oh, sorry,' he said from behind his mask.  'No, no,' said Kubrick.  'Use it, it looks good.  Keep doing it.  Keep doing it.'  And so Dan continued, smashing down on the smaller bones around him in a escalating frenzy of liberated violence.  Finally, he rose on both legs and brought his bone club down on the center of the large skull – all in the fixed framing that the front-projection technique required, with the dry banks of the dead river behind him.

“Upon watching Richter's dry riverbed scene, however, everyone fell silent.  Dan had played it perfectly, all the way to the smashing of the skull, which functioned as a euphoric visual crescendo.  Although he knew it was good, Kubrick discovered he was still unsatisfied....He wanted to see Dan's arm with the weapon from below, in slow motion with the sky above – two things impossible to achieve with the front-projection technique, which required that the camera remain rigidly in line with the cumbersome projector.”

They waited until a day when London's skies were roughly similar to the sky in the African backdrop shot, built up a small platform and tossed some sand over the foreground.  On September 20, 1967 Kubrick filmed Richter's downward smash from below, the sky filling the shot above.  They shot take after take after take of Richter striking a film's collection of horse skulls.  

This “simple” shoot went on for seven days and reached a point where Richter was being told to toss his bone into the air after pulverizing one of the few remaining skulls.  Kubrick himself captured the shot of the bone turning end-over-end.  The director would use this shot to transition out of the Dawn of Man section to the year 2001 Space Station sequence, a 4 million year match-cut that is yet another iconic moment in this film, one of the most famous transitions in cinematic history.  

Parallel with the rest of production, Kubrick's special effects team worked around the clock to finalize more than 200 shots that required models and inserting literally hundreds of images into previously shot scenes.  These images included everything from computer displays to people walking around inside space stations and Moon bases.  

The magnificent shots of the 55-foot model of the space ship Discovery and of Space Station 5 were captured in the spring of 1967.  Benson explains how these models were shot so that additional effects could be added later: “Complicated worm-gearing rigs governed by 'selsyn' motors – a postmanteau of 'self-synchronous' – had been set up, allowing shots to be repeated with frame-by-frame accuracy.  This was necessary when adding tiny people moving around within the space station, for example, or the underground Moon base air lock, or showing Bowman on Discovery's bridge, and interior details of its open pod bay.

“In such cases, the model was lit with its window or pod bay areas blacked out....Then the camera was recalled down the worm-geared, studio length track and the shot repeated, now with the model dark and only the window areas alive with front-projected little figures or exquisitely detailed pod bay set photographs.”   

Yet another collaborative aspect of the film, again involving Trumbull and Kubrick, resulted in an innovation that would literally blow the minds of the audience in the final cut of the film.  For months Kubrick, Trumbull and others on the effects team had wrestled with how to depict Bowman's transition through the Star Gate, when the astronaut became an object of study by the alien intelligence.  

Trumbull developed a special system where the camera was mounted on a track in front of a 4 foot slit on an opaque black surface with a strip of lights directly behind the slit and a glass sheet of abstract translucent photographs on a second track moving side to side as the camera moved forward and back.   The result impressed Kubrick.  Trumbull's innovation made the Star Gate sequence yet another visually stunning and unforgettable aspect of the film.

“It's hard to overestimate how important the Star Gate is to 2001's larger narrative arc.  After two hours of perfectly realized photographic realism, it launched the film into a new realm of purely subjective audiovisual experience, much of it entirely abstract and nonrepresentational.  Even today the sequence doesn't seem of have dated.  For all their power, contemporary computer-generated images haven't really supplanted or superseded Trumbull's slit scan striations...”

The hours were grueling for all this effects work.  Painstakingly made shots were re-shot at Kubrick's request as the director perpetually pushed the limitations of his team.  This was not without some humorous moments. 

“When Kubrick commanded that one of Trumbull's effects sequences be repeated yet again, [animation cameraman Jim] Dixon rose from his seat with a menacing air.  'Who fucked up the shot this time?' he demanded.  Trumbull stood.  'You're embarrassing me,' he said coolly.  At this Dixon pulled out a gun, aimed for Trumbull's chest and fired.  A deafening bang echoed in the enclosed space.

“Trumbull spilled onto the floor of the darkened theater.  Everyone leapt to  their feet in horror.  He clutched his chest.  He stirred, groaning.  He writhed, moaning.  Finally, he sat up.

“Kubrick started to laugh.”

As hard as the team worked, however, 2001's additional special effects were dragging on and on in late 1967, as MGM began pestering Kubrick for a finished film to promote.  Kubrick brought in Colin Cantwell, a veteran effects man, to help.  Cantwell soon discovered two things: 1) that two-thirds of the film's effects were in “varying stages of incompleteness” 2) while Kubrick was king, the director really thrived on collaborative ideas.  Kubrick and his wife Christiane hosted weekend evenings in his home.  Cantwell attended and had a series of conversations with Kubrick about the play of symmetry and abstraction in 2001.  Cantwell used this dialog to develop most of the various alignments between Jupiter, its moons, and the Sun so poetically visualized in the film.

By now Kubrick was working around the clock every day to finish the picture.  Clarke continued to submit planned narration for the film.  Kubrick's intent at this late date was to still use it in some fashion.  He was even auditioning possible voiceover talent.  But the film was fundamentally diverging from the novel with its approach to the same subject matter.  Cantwell recalled a meeting between Kubrick and Clarke at this time.  

“'He would come in with new narration to explain a whole section of the film that he had seen last time,' Cantwell said.  'He thought that about three or four or five minutes' worth of narration would take care of any uncertainties and puzzlement these scenes would create.'  Kubrick would then screen new material for his collaborator, and each time, 'Stanley would have taken out more of the dialogue, more of the thing being handled nonverbally...So this polarity would be clearly between them.'

“When Clarke registered his worries over what he saw as the film's growing opacity, Kubrick effectively steered him back to the novel, saying, 'Don't worry about it, Arthur, just put it all in exactly as you'd like to have it.  Make the story clear in any way that you want, it's your book.'  

“At this, Clarke would seem 'anxious and subtly frustrated,' Cantwell observed.  'Arthur was very subtle in what he was expressing, very polite.'”  When the film finally premiered in April 1968 Clarke proclaimed “This is really Stanley Kubrick's movie.  I acted as a first-stage booster and offered occasional guidance.”

From the voiceover talent auditions, Kubrick selected Douglas Rain to be the voice of HAL.  HAL's lines are among the last pieces of audio to be recorded for the film. Kubrick was changing the script, tweaking HAL's phrasing.  “During the session, Kubrick sat four feet away from the actor, and they went through the script line by line, with the director making small revisions as they proceeded.  According to one account, Rain's bare feet were on a pillow throughout, 'in order to maintain the required relaxed tone.'”  Rain's voice is considered by some to be the best acted role in the entire film.  Rain's performance ended with his now famous singing of Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built for Two) which Kubrick had him sing, hum, and speak at various cadences. 

Everything wasn't a success and sometimes Kubrick had to give up on an idea.  One such idea was how to represent the alien intelligence visually.  Various costumes and effects were tried.  Nothing satisfied him and, given how the film veered toward being opaque at the end of production, he decided not to show them/it at all apart from the monoliths themselves.

For years Kubrick had been screening the unfinished space ship and space station sequences with The Blue Danube as background music, just to fill in the lack of sound.  He made that choice, along with all his other brilliant selections of music for the film, by listening to hundreds of classical music albums that were bought as part of film's exploding budget.  

So, when it came time to officially “score” the film, Kubrick found himself attached to his previous musical choices over a score commissioned for the film ($25,000, another budget item) and composed by Alex North.  Not a single note of North's music is used in the final film.  Instead we get outstanding choices by Johann and Richard Strauss, Aram Khachaturian, and especially profound selections from Gyorgy Ligeti.  Kubrick had a brilliant sense for music, which is true throughout all of his films. 

Benson reports that Kubrick edited 2001: A Space Odyssey between October 9, 1967 and March 6, 1968, before boarding the Queen Elizabeth to come to the United States.  The film would be fine-tuned in the editing process almost continuously even after its premieres.  Throughout this time, Kubrick wrestled with using Clarke's narration much as he struggled earlier with trying to visualize the alien intelligence.  And he reached the same conclusion.  He would not verbally explain anything.  The film would be a visual experience with only the tiniest bits of dialog to orient the viewer.  Clarke was upset that Kubrick didn't use any of his scripted voice-over narration.  Always a gentleman, Clarke expressed his dissatisfaction by simply saying he would “be interested to see how you can possibly dispense with much of the narrative material...”

As the movie premiered: “A good two years after Clarke first insisted it was ready, Kubrick finally green-lighted the novel.”  New American Library bought the rights for $130,000, of which Kubrick took 40% on a deferred basis.  Still, the amount Clarke received was enough to cancel all his debts and give him a small nest egg to spare.  Benson makes it clear that Clarke had not changed the novel at all during those two years, while, as we know, Kubrick deviated a bit from what was agreed upon back in 1966.  Clarke dedicated the novel “To Stanley.”  The book would go on to be republished more than fifty times (so far) and sell over 4 million copies.

Clarke saw 2001 at a Washington DC press screening (Kubrick was not present) on March 31, 1968.  “Though he knew in advance that Kubrick hadn't used any of his voice-over narration, he was shocked and disappointed by the film's lack of concession to audience understanding.”  Almost everyone thought it was a disaster.  Each premiere across the US was met with jeers and hisses from the audience.  Many got up and walked out, 241 at the New York premiere alone.  The New York press almost universally criticized the film.  Kubrick understandably became despondent.  He cut 17 minutes from the film before its general release.  It was his final act in mostly tumultuous a four-year process. 

Benson writes: “Contrary to the myth that 2001 faltered at the box office and was on the verge of being withdrawn when younger audiences came riding to the rescue, box office data reveal excellent ticket sales on Day One.  Within a week of its premiere, the April 10 Variety was already recording advance ticket sales 30 percent better than they were for MGM's 1965 hit Doctor Zhivago.”

It was predominantly a younger audience that found 2001 compelling.  A few film critics, such as Roger Ebert (who attended the Los Angeles premiere) thought it was a special film.  In this case, the near universal chorus of negativity both from critics and from premiere audiences did not matter.  “2001 swept the entire sixties counterculture into theaters worldwide, inspiring raves from some leading figures.  Asked about the film in 1968, Beatle John Lennon quipped, '2001? I see it every week.'”

The film was incredibly divisive.  You either loved it or you hated it, which Clarke found quite amusing.  “Clarke found himself enjoying the heated debates engendered by 2001's willful ambiguity, sometimes positioning himself near theater doors just to overhear them.  'It's creating more controversy than any movie I can think of,' he told a Berkeley radio station in May 1968.  'I used to have great fun standing outside the theater and listening to the crowds, the people coming out and arguing all the way down Broadway...And this is fine.  We want people to think, and not necessarily think the way that we do.'

“Asked if the pervasive spread of technology was beginning to dehumanize us, Clarke replied, 'No, I think it's superhumanizing us.'”

Stanley Kubrick received $200,000 up front for directing and producing 2001.  He got another $50,000 for writing its screenplay.  Contractually, he received 25% of the film's net revenue after the film made 2.7 times its final, over-budgeted $12 million.  The film grossed $58 million in 1968 in the US alone, which meant Kubrick received several million dollars directly as a result of the film's financial success.

Fans of the film, like me, owe Michael Benson a lot of gratitude.  He has delivered a detailed, revealing, in-depth study of how Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke worked together on the primary story ideas and how Kubrick went on to overcome innumerable challenges to deliver one of the greatest and most innovative movies ever made.  Benson’s writing is entertaining and highly accessible, the book often reads like a novel.  Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was America's top-grossing film for 1968.  Clarke's novel was first published 50 years ago this month.  

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Reading 'Space Odyssey': Part One

Proof of purchase.  Benson's new book joins my Kubrick/2001 collection.
“...if anyone had told me six months ago that I had anything of substance to learn about my profession at this stage of the game, I would have  told them they were mad.  I have been a top British cinematographer, a top man, for twenty-five years.  In fact, though, I have learned more about my profession from that boy in there in the last six months than I have in the previous twenty-five years.  He is an absolute genius.  He knows more about the mechanics of optics and the chemistry of photography then anyone who's ever lived.” - Geoffrey Unsworth, Cinematographer

“Stanley was simply much more intelligent than other directors, and in a nonlinear way.  You found that anything could happen at almost any time.  Despite all the careful preparations, he designed 2001 with an air of flexibility, and that's what made the picture brilliant.  Directing is all management of human relations, logistics, details, and so on.  On top of all that, Stanley still found room for a kind of danger – even a kind of bravery or recklessness.  He wasn't the obstinate, solitary genius of popular imagination.  He needed people to bounce off, and he would often turn around and ask if he was doing the right thing.” - Gary Lockwood, Actor

“He is working about 20 hours a day, and practically sleeping in the studio.  My publishers are screaming for the book, and if they don't have it in a few weeks, I am liable to lose at least a hundred thousand dollars.  Stanley, however, refuses to release it, and he doesn't take time to look at the MS.  He is doing his best, but really working to exhaustion, and is utterly unapproachable.” - Arthur C. Clarke, Author

“Every day that I was working on that movie, I felt that I was working on some very extraordinary, unusual event that I was contributing to and that was really important in some way.  It was like going to church.” - Douglas Trumbull, Special Effects Coordinator

“He was close to crying.  I mean, he didn't cry, but he said, 'Oh God, this is just terrible.' He felt terrible – terrible, terrible- and we had rented a house, so very early in the morning, like four, he said, 'Listen, let's drive there, and at least have something to do.'  So we went to that house on Long Island – which was splendid – and I remember I had a handbag and an evening dress, and I just fell on my stomach on the bed and fell asleep completely.  Only to wake up to the radio, where the guy was reading the news and saying, 'They're standing around the block for Stanley Kubrick's film.'  And they did.  There was the first performance of the day, twelve o'clock or something like that, and there were huge queues, and [on the radio] they said, 'This is a fantastic film.'  And from then on it rained praise.” - Christiane Kubrick, Artist, Spouse 

By now I thought I knew everything of importance about one of my favorite films, Stanley Kubrick's brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Longtime readers know that I used the movie as a visual yardstick for my PS3 back in 2009 and that I reviewed the narrative of the film in detail last year (see here and here).  I have seen 2001 dozens of time, though not as frequently in the past decade.  I own five biographies on Kubrick and four other books about 2001 specifically, so I possess a fairly good understanding of both the director and the motion picture.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film's release.  So I was interested in reading Michael Benson's new book Space Odyssey to refresh myself about this magnificent film.  Subtitled Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, and the Making of a Masterpiece, Benson's book surprised me with the breadth of its detail and with a new understanding of  the creators and the process of making the film.

At times Benson's book reads like a novel, the events he describes vividly capture the making of the movie in crisply written descriptions of action, motive, mishap, mastery, and dialog.  It opened my eyes anew to the film's difficult gestation, its innovative production, and the interplay between Kubrick, Clarke, and many others who assisted in the end result, certainly one of the greatest movies ever made.  Quite simply, the story of 2001 has never been fully told in the deft manner Benson presents in Space Odyssey.  The facts are successfully woven into what could easily be a film unto itself.

In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke was at the height of his career.  He was successfully writing scientific and futuristic articles as well as science fiction novels and short stories.  His greatest novel, Childhood's End, was widely acclaimed.  He lived rather leisurely and comfortably in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka).  He was the president of the Ceylon Astronomical Association, toured the world lecturing for part of the year, kept an office in New York City for business matters, and was a scuba diving enthusiast.  But, for reasons I will leave out for the sake of simplicity, he just couldn't keep his finances in order.  He was constantly borrowing money to maintain his global lifestyle.

That same year, Stanley Kubrick's masterful dark comedy Dr. Strangelove was released to broad critical acclaim and good box office sales.  It would recoup more than four times what it cost to make.  His career was beginning ride a wave of successful film-making.  He was in a position to become independent of Hollywood producers and society.  He still needed studios for distribution, but they were eager to work with him on his own terms – as long as his films continued to make money and garner critical acclaim.

For reasons unspecified in any of my books on the subject including Benson’s, after Dr. Strangelove Kubrick decided to read science fiction and scientific books about spaceflight which resulted in the focus of his next motion picture.  He eventually came across the work of Clarke and wrote him to arrange a meeting in New York, where Kubrick and his family were currently living in a Manhattan penthouse.  The letter made basically two requests: 1) could Clarke recommend a good telescope, Kubrick was about to purchase one and 2) “the possibility of doing the proverbial 'really good' science fiction movie.”

Kubrick initially had in mind exploring the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence, the impact the discovery of such intelligence might have on humanity, and a space mission to the Moon and Mars.  Clarke knew of Kubrick's work and was a particular fan of Lolita, though he planned to see Dr. Strangelove as soon as possible (it was not available in Ceylon yet).  The two arranged to meet when Clarke was in NYC on other business in a few weeks.

Both men were carnivores and had a series of comfortable, inspiring, totally congenial conversations over beef cooked various ways.  Clarke, who was 47, was fascinated with Kubrick's mind.  Kubrick, who was 36, found Clarke an excellent guide through the subject of space exploration.  They spent many evenings atop Kubrick's penthouse, watching stars through the telescope he bought at Clarke's advice.  Clarke taught Kubrick how to use it and find major objects in space.

At Clarke's suggestion, his friend Carl Sagan joined in on a couple of these early discussions.  Though obviously brilliant and knowledgeable, Kubrick found Sagan to be only interested in advocating his own ideas about what the basis for the film should be.  This triggered Kubrick’s instant dislike for the astronomer.  Clarke thanked Sagan but told his friend that his input was no longer required.

The Clarke-Kubrick collaboration resulted in a contract between Kubrick (who was becoming quite wealthy due to his film success) and Clarke (who was desperate for cash and could use the $1,000 per week Kubrick would pay him).  Eventually, the director agreed to pay Clarke $30,000 for collaborating on a film screenplay and possible novel.  In addition, Kubrick paid Clarke $5,000 to option the rights to “The Sentinel” which served as the basis for the film. This led to many weeks of productive work.  A sort of professional friendship developed between them.  Kubrick found Clarke to be an excellent “sparring partner” for approaching various narrative ideas and Clarke found Kubrick was generally pleased with his writing and very supportive of Clarke's input, which often resulted in 2,000 words each day.  The two spent countless hours together personally and on the telephone.

This collaboration was the most agreeable aspect of making the as yet unnamed film.  It progressed nicely through the summer of 1964, though Clarke longed for a break in order to return to Ceylon.  One evening Kubrick, generally finding humor in most situations, made a joke about using “slightly fag robots” in the film.  The idea unsettled Clarke.  The next day Clarke worked up the courage to tell Kubrick that he was “a well-adjusted homosexual.”  To this Kubrick simply replied “Yeah, I know” and continued on with their discussion.  Kubrick couldn't have cared less and Clarke had a friendship that did not judge his lifestyle.  That Clarke was a gay man was news to me and a great example of the many revelations contained in this book.

Enough of a narrative shaped up by the end of 1964 for Kubrick to start shopping the idea of the film around.  Earlier that year, he had seen To the Moon and Beyond at the New York World's Fair.  The special effects impressed him and gave him some idea of what was possible. Kubrick had a special camera flown in from Los Angeles and rented an abandoned brassier factory to shoot some simple effects scenes that would eventually make it into the final film.  Kubrick experimented with special lighting techniques and filmed dripping banana oil into vats of black ink.  This created random patterns resembling “star flows and galactic tendrils” that Kubrick could use as a visual aid along with Clarke’s written narrative in pitching the movie.

MGM bought the idea and agreed to distribute the film which was budgeted to be shot in extra wide screen format for $5 million.  Kubrick immediately put together his core team of set and model designers and moved the entire operation to MGM studios in Borehamwood, United Kingdom.  The movie, once entitled Beyond the Stars among other working titles, was now thought of by both Clarke and Kubrick as a modern day take on Homer's The Odyssey and took its official title.

The narrative had to be transferred to a screenplay even though many important elements were either as yet unfinished or not even considered thus far.  Enough existed to justify the construction of elaborate, often innovative, sets.  To a certain extent, from the very beginning, Kubrick was winging it, open to possibilities, unwilling to settle on anything as being finished at this stage.  For the next two and half years (far longer than was anticipated) the production took up space at MGM's UK studios, sometimes using as much as 90% of available stage space.

The film's highly symbolic black monoliths were one of the first compromises Kubrick had to make.  He insisted that the object take on a cube shape and be made entirely of Plexiglas, a new material at the time.  This was a great undertaking, a hint of the grandiosity to come, resulting in the largest single piece of Plexiglas ever manufactured up to that time.  But the results were not visually satisfactory to Kubrick and, like so many of the movie's initial ideas, this design morphed into the rectangular, dark opaque objects in the final film.

Clarke and Kubrick continued to tweak the narrative.  The name for the spaceship Discovery's main computer was switched from Athena to HAL, for example.  HAL was an acronym based upon an idea by MIT's Marvin Minsky.  To facilitate a realistic “feel” for the film wherever possible, Clarke and Kubrick incorporated the latest scientific research in space exploration, evolution, and computer science into the screenplay.  The idea that HAL would need to be disconnected was hatched early on, but almost none of the specifics as to why were worked out yet.

During this time, the film's design and effects team continued to grow as more sets were needed and various visual ideas were tested.  Douglas Trumbull impressed Kubrick with his earlier work on To the Moon and Beyond and was hired to explore the film's visual possibilities.   His hard work would ultimately be responsible for the film's choice to send the space mission to Jupiter rather than Saturn, as happens in the novel.  Clarke, initially with Kubrick's support, was a big advocate of Saturn partly because the two planets would align for real in the year 2001 so that Jupiter could offer a gravity-assist to sling the ship out to Saturn.  Years later, the Cassini space probe would make use of this alignment to reach its destination.  But Trumbull discovered that it was far too difficult to visually recreate Saturn's rings and atmosphere; whereas his work on Jupiter and its moons was highly convincing, even beautiful.  So Kubrick changed the destination.

Clarke continued to contribute to the film by writing (and constantly rewriting) various scenes and forms of narration that were supposed to accompany the movie, helping to explain some of the more difficult aspects to the audience.  The Clarke-Kubrick collaboration always assumed the film would be difficult and complex for the audience.  Yet, late in pre-production a number of narrative elements remained unsettled.  One of them was the transition of astronaut Dave Bowman from the space mission phase of the film to the film's final, as yet undefined, concluding transformation phase.  Kubrick did not know exactly what he wanted but he knew Clarke had not arrived at it yet.  The writing continued.

Although it was not his area of expertise, Trumbull informed Kubrick of his concern for this aspect of the narrative.  At first both astronauts, Bowman and Frank Poole, were going into the film's final phase.  But as discussions and rewriting continued, it was decided that only Bowman would continue on.  Trumbull felt this created another problem.  Leaving all the other astronauts behind (including three in hibernation) seemed problematic to Trumbull.  He suggested that Kubrick consider some way to “get rid of them.”

At this Kubrick grew enraged.  He cursed Trumbull, reminded him of who was directing the film and told him to go back to his own business.  But, as it turned out, Trumbull's suggestion was incorporated by Clarke into the script in the next few days.  This fundamentally changed both the film and the novel.  HAL would become a murderer and that would become the motivation to disconnect him.  This is an excellent example of how the film changed shape in important ways literally as its production progressed.  Kubrick was open to suggestion, although he was sometimes combative about it.

Production started in December 1965, some twenty months after Clarke and Kubrick began developing the ideas for 2001.  Whenever possible, especially on important shots, Kubrick served as his own cameraman, something that union rules would have prohibited him from doing in Hollywood, another reason he chose to shoot in the UK.  The first actor to be filmed was William Sylvester, who played Dr. Heywood Floyd.  Unfortunately, Sylvester had trouble remembering the large stretches of the dialog written for him.  Kubrick was eventually forced to shoot him in a series of short takes. 

Kubrick was a chain smoker for many years.  He had semi-quit primarily at the insistence of his wife, Christaine.  But the stress of production weighed heavily upon him.  Kubrick played a mental trick on himself to the effect that if he didn't actually buy a pack of cigarettes then he had basically quit, sort of.  What he did instead was start to bum a cigarette off any member of his crew that would give him one.  Crew members soon learned to carry an empty pack around with them to show Kubrick they were out whenever he came begging.  It did not stop him from smoking but it severely curtailed it.

Set designs included a massive 150-foot long, 30-foot wide slightly curved structure depicting the inside of the film's famous wheel-like space station.  90-tons of gray sand was brought in to another sound stage measuring 120 by 60 feet to depict the lunar excavation site where a deliberately buried monolith was discovered.  For all sets and before every shooting session, Kubrick had his Polaroid camera ready to take instant images for checking and adjusting the quality of the lighting, the angle of the shot, etc.  It is estimated that Kubrick took about 10,000 such Polaroids during the course of production.

One of the most innovative sets constructed was a $750,000 centrifuge set of the Discovery living quarters and main flight deck.  The entire circular set would rotate like a ferris wheel, allowing for the camera to either be locked into one position or to dolly along a slit in the middle of the set as it turned.  This created two dazzling kinds of images.  In the first case, the actor – walking in place as the set rotated - would seem to be moving around and upside down in the living quarters.  In the second, the entire set would move around the actor as he walked or jogged through the rotating deck.  

Both produced exciting results though it took a lengthy amount of time to get everything working correctly.  Two weeks were spent testing and making tweaks where necessary to flawlessly capture these shots.  In one incredible shot, Bowman entered the centrifuge from its central hatch access chamber, climbed down a ladder opposite Poole, who was sitting at a console table having breakfast.  Bowman then walked around the set and over to where Poole was seated – sideways, defying all gravity.  To capture the shot actor Gary Lockwood, who played Poole, was strapped upside down in his seat (30 feet in the air) and rotated around with the entire set while Bowman, played by Keir Dullea, walked in place as Lockwood circled around to him.

The centrifuge scenes were made even more complicated but the fact that, in these days before CGI effects, multiple computer monitors inside the centrifuge had to have their own individual projectors beaming specific data readout and other technical imagery to make the set look authentic.  Everything had to sync up perfectly and shooting this part of the film was a major choreographic achievement.  The realistic look and feel of the centrifuge scenes did much to later “sell” the suspension of disbelief to the audience. It all looks real.

Another one of the narrative's problems was how to communicate to the audience the “glitch” that HAL experienced which ultimately led to the killing of all but one of the crew.  Clarke's solution was always to take the novelist approach and provide well-written narration for the film.  In this case, the narration consisted of “experts” discussing HAL's internal dilemma of keeping the true purpose of the mission a secret from the waking crew while also ensuring the overall success of the mission. 

Bowman and Poole were then supposed to discuss all the information presented to them by these experts regarding HAL's problems.  The scene felt wrong to Lockwood.  To him, it seemed the approach was clumsy and overly verbal in what was otherwise a mostly nonverbal film.  Kubrick decided right there in the middle of shooting to cancel the scene.  He told Lockwood to give it more thought and bring him an alternant suggestion by the next day.  Lockwood's solution ended up being what we see in the film – having the astronauts enter one of the ship's special space pods, turn off the sound so HAL could not hear them, and then have the discussion.

This left the problem of why HAL would find their activity suspicious and react psychotically as it does in the novel/film.  The issue remained unanswered while the actors were running through their lines for the new scene.  An associate producer happened to be observing all this when the discussion about HAL's motivations once again arose.  Having not been involved in the issue previously, the producer thought of something no one had hit upon yet.  HAL monitored the entire ship through various camera “eyes” located practically everywhere.  Why not just have HAL read the lips of the astronauts through the window of the pod?  Kubrick was delighted with the sneaky, sinister solution.

So, the narrative continued to evolve as the film was shot, often shaped by the input of actors and crew members who had nothing to do with Clarke and Kubrick's original discussions.  These are other examples of the surprising revelations Benson gives us in Space Odyssey, which provides almost a day-by-day examination of the film’s production.  As the book states: “On May 6 Kubrick shot Bowman's and Poole's conspiratorial space pod discussion in thirty-five takes.”  Kubrick was notorious for shooting numerous takes in an attempt to capture aspects of the actor's performance not immediately apparent in the initial takes. 

Critics would later argue that 2001 featured emotionless performances by the actors but in reality, says Benson, the film offers “a quietly exonerating message about the desensitizing effects of technologically mediated communications.”  One subtle but significant exchange occurs between Poole and HAL while playing chess.  Kubrick (an excellent chess player) based the game’s situation on an actual championship chess match from 1910.  When Poole makes a questionable move, the computer explains how the astronaut could have won if he had played it differently.  But one of the move locations HAL expresses is imprecise as anyone who knows chess notation can plainly see on the screen.  Poole resigns without noticing that HAL is "cheating" with his explanation.  As I said, this is an extremely subtle but intentional detail where Kubrick first hints to the the more discerning member so the audience that HAL is not functioning properly.

Clarke continued to fine-tune both the book and the film with several significant suggestions in March 1966, all of which Kubrick implemented in the final film.  The writer smoothed out the section involving the murder of the crew and the disconnection of HAL, among other changes.  The film's final form came into focus.  Largely thanks to Clarke, Kubrick had a firm plan and no longer had to wing it waiting for solutions to be worked out regarding the narrative.

Eight days were devoted to filming Bowman in the odd, contemporary baroque “hotel room” that  appears near the end of the film.  This room is where the aging and metamorphosis of the Bowman takes place, ultimately leading to the birth of the Star Child.  It was this sequence that gave Keir Dullea “an opportunity to show off acting chops that hadn't really previously been called for.” Bowman was initially traumatized, quivering, overwhelmed with shock and awe.  As usual, Kubrick was open to input by the actor.  Dullea came up with the idea of knocking over and shattering his wine glass on the floor during a supper shot as a pretext to seeing his much older self lying in bed.  Benson writes: “While it may seem a less significant contribution than Lockwood's space pod breakthrough...Dullea's glass shatters during the most ideologically freighted final section of 2001's multipart’s a percussive moment...resounding in a metaphysical environment of humanity's propensity for error...”

Kubrick made daily notes throughout the production of 2001.  During the eight days of shooting the hotel room scene, the director left written comments on Dullea's acting.  “Very good acting!” and “Very Good.” are among Kubrick's reactions.  Dullea's performance in the hotel room scene is perhaps the most powerful acting in the entire, generally emotionally subdued, film.  If it has any rival, it might be in the so-called “man-ape" costume sequence that opens the movie known as the Dawn of Man.

Benson’s book details the many challenges associated with the film's opening sequence, to which we will turn in the second part of this review.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The 2018 Atlanta Braves: 68 Regular Season Games Remaining

Since my July 2 post on how well the Atlanta Braves were performing in 2018 the team went a dismal 3-7 against three very good teams: the Yankees, the Brewers, and the Diamondbacks.  The 3-0 loss last Saturday was one I got to see in person.  It was my first trip to SunTrust Park and I really enjoyed the atmosphere there.  The word "intimate" is sometimes used for big stadiums, which is silly.  There is nothing intimate about being somewhere watching the same event with 40,000 other people.  But I do like the new park.  It is well designed, with a classic baseball aesthetic to it.

I attended the game with a former employer who has season tickets in the Delta Sky360 Club section.  Jennifer and Avery went as well.  The four of us arrived at the game early to enjoy the first-class amenities that the Sky360 Club offers.  The club parking is directly beside the stadium.  It is a short walk into the facility and the air-conditioned confines of the club, where you can partake all the beer, hot dogs, wine, and assorted gourmet-class buffet food items you can eat.  A very nice way to enjoy pregame festivities.

We were meeting Avery at the stadium.  She was running slightly late but it was no big deal.  I had time to check out "the Battery," a plaza of high-rise hotels, shops, restaurants, and other commercial developments that were constructed as part of the park's total complex.  It seemed strange.  Here we were more than an hour before game time and the space was packed with people.  I am used to most fans arriving late to a game but, apparently, it is more fashionable to come early since there is so much outside the stadium to enjoy.  

Then it struck me.  Normally stadiums are built away from the city or constructed snugly around existing commercial buildings.  But in this case the entire commercial complex was constructed along with the stadium.  I never gave this much thought previously, but seeing it all in person gave me a vague, surreal feeling, as if I were standing in some large movie stage set.  None of this existed two years ago.  It was all built together as a collective sports, business, and entertainment constellation.

My daughter came walking up in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the crowd.  As I observed her smiling face approaching us, it seemed that she was an actress and the many hundreds of other people scurrying about were extras.  The moment slowed down in my head.  I introduced my former boss to her.  I was working for him until just before she was born, so this was the first time they met each other.

We walked around the Battery for a bit just to check things out.  Avery was already familiar with it since she attended a couple of games last season and also occasionally visits some of the sports bars outside the ballpark.  Then the four of us entered the promised land.  Sky360 is a level of entertainment that I have never experienced at a baseball game before.  The club was absolutely packed but we managed to situate four chairs around a small table.

As longtime readers know, having a few beers and eating a couple of hot dogs is on my yearly checklist to validate my existence.  This did not disappoint although, once again, it seemed surreal to be at a ballgame and enjoy the dogs in this air-conditioned comfort.  I went through one of the two buffet lines after that and had a sampling of everything from chicken wings to mussels to asparagus to zucchini.  It was all delicious, as I polished off three cold Blue Moon's on draft before the game started.  I like to get a nice beer buzz before the game begins and let the buzz subside as the game plays out.

Our seats were fantastic, cushy leather and very comfortable but a tad hot in the heat and humidity of a summer afternoon.  Fortunately there were thunderstorms nearby that, while they did not affect the game, kept the sun hidden for the most part and offered a cool breeze off and on.  The four seats were located down the third base line, slightly toward home plate, affording a great view of inside the Braves dugout as well as of the game itself - which was BORING.

I have watched and listened to thousands of baseball games throughout my life.  I have seen a lot of wins and a lot of losses.  The outcome of any game I see live usually does not bother me one way or the other.    But the Braves looked so tired last Saturday.  They managed a mere 5 hits, one for extra bases (the only Brave to reach as far as second base the whole game), with a lone walk against 11 strikeouts.  Pitiful.  

I was excited to watch the Sean Newcomb pitch.  He is one of the more promising young pitchers in our organization.  But he walked the bases loaded in the first inning and gave up a run on a soft single.  It could have been worse I suppose, but opening any game with three walks is a real yawner.  There were a few defensive plays that were worthy of applause but that was about it for the Braves that game.  Arizona pitcher Zack Greinke was the game's biggest highlight for me.  I love watching good pitching and Greinke was in command of all his stuff.  Not exactly the way a Braves fan wants any game to stand out, but that was about all this one offered in terms of player performance.

Fortunately, one of the great things about baseball (as opposed to football or basketball, for example) is that it is conducive to conversation throughout the game, no matter what the score is.  My former employer and I caught up with each other, discussing everything from baseball to politics to recent personal life experiences.  He got into a lengthy conversation about scuba diving (complete with shark photos on his android phone) with Jennifer and Avery.  That part of the afternoon was nice.  My eyes spent a lot of time just roaming around the stadium, getting familiar with the location of the scoreboards and various other information displays about the game.  There was a lot of crowd watching too.  It wasn't the best game, but the experience itself was noteworthy.  I've never been treated with such royalty at a sporting event before. 

It was great to see Freddie Freeman (who received more votes than any other NL player) and Nick Markakis start in their respective positions during this week's All-Star gameOzzie Albies and Mike Foltynewicsz were there as well, the later gave a good accounting of himself in his single frame of pitching.  The Braves have not had four members on an All-Star team since 2003 and all four deserved it.  Let's hope that this break resets everyone on the team and they can come out kicking butt the way they did earlier in the season.

The Braves start post-All-Star play in DC against the Nats tonight.  They have played pretty well against the teams in their division so far this season, which still gives them a good chance of winning the NL East.  But they are going to have to cut down on their strikeouts, start driving the ball like they did in April and May, and their pitchers, especially the middle relievers, are going to have to step it up.

Despite their recent slump, the Braves are still in a strong position at this stage on the season.  They are in second place, tied in the loss column with first-place Philadelphia but with one fewer win (so a half-game out of first).  As a team, they have fallen to 5th in batting average overall, whereas they were leading in that category well into June.  They have dropped to 8th in runs scored.  Not a good trend.  The pitching has been in the middle of the pack all season.  Currently, they are ranked a mediocre 10th in ERA, 13th in quality starts, but 5th in opposing batting average (which means they are walking too many batters given the number of earned runs scored against them).  Their fielding has been decent.  They have not beaten themselves with errors thus far, a positive stat.

It is interesting to note that the 2018 has not very "streaky" thus far for the Braves.  They have had two 4-game winning streaks and one 4-game losing streak.  Otherwise they have won a couple and lost a couple, here and there winning a bit more than losing.  If that overall trend continues and they can put together an extended winning streak of 6 or 8 games then they should be able to cruise to the division title.  That is certainly within the realm of possibility.  And there's no better time to play that type of baseball than in August and September, getting hot late in the season.

The Braves still have 68 games to play in the regular season.  If the team gets its collective act together this will continue to be a fun season.  If they keep losing momentum, however, it will be a long, dreadfully slow finish (I've seen plenty of those before).  I'm optimistic, however.  This team has a lot of young talent at the major league level.  They are packed with potential talent throughout their minor league system, which is one of baseball's best.   It's not exactly time for the "baby Braves" to grow up (that might not happen until next season), but if these young players maintain the fire in their belly and improve their consistency to go along with their potential talent then 2018 can still have a satisfying finish to it.  Play ball! 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Atlanta Campaign: Hood Takes Command

The overall situation around Atlanta when Hood took command on July 18 as depicted in Atlanta is Ours!  The Army of Tennessee is dug-in near Peachtree Creek facing the Army of the Cumberland.  The Army of the Ohio stitches the Union line together between Thomas and the Army of the Tennessee approaching from Roswell.  About 7,000 Union troops are in reserve at Marietta.  Click to enlarge.
Note:  This part five of my essay on the Campaign for Atlanta in 1864.

Johnston retreated behind Peachtree Creek as Sherman’s dispersed armies crossed the Chattahoochee. McPherson was at Roswell with about 17,500 troops opposed by General John H. Kelly’s cavalry division of 2,000.  Schofield’s Army of the Ohio with 11,500 formed the left flank of Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland, which numbered about 46,500 approaching Atlanta. Another 7,000 infantry (of McPherson’s command) were ready at the large Federal depot in Marietta under General Francis Preston Blair’s command in case the Confederates attempted some sort of raid against the now greatly elongated Union supply line. 3,000 cavalry under General Joseph Wheeler formed Johnston’s forward line, allowing the Rebel infantry to dig-in defensively.

So Sherman had made it to within a few miles of Atlanta with over 75,000 infantry against Johnston’s 41,500.  Thousands more Yankees were fortified along every rail station back to Dalton.  After about 9 weeks of campaigning with many skirmishes and several larger battles, the Southerners were no better off than when they had started.  While he had avoided outright defeat, Johnston had not scored any major victory and it seemed he might be maneuvered completely out of Atlanta.

That was something President Jefferson Davis in Richmond knew the Southern Confederacy could not afford.  Atlanta was a significant transportation hub but, more importantly, it was symbolic of the "unconquerable deep South."  As long as it the South held it, the idea of the futile war with no end in sight was legitimate among a large number of citizens in the North.  A Confederate-held Atlanta aided the growing anti-war movement in the Union states.  Davis and Johnston never had an amiable working relationship throughout the war.  The former being offensively minded, the later defensively so.  While Davis wanted clarity and, above all, offensive action, Johnston was deliberately vague about his plans and intentions. The consensus of the Confederate government at the beginning of July was that Johnston would rarely (if ever) attack because he was more afraid of losing a battle than he was confident in winning one.  To Davis' way of thinking, that was too defeatist for the demands of the hour.  

Hood, by contrast, had shown himself a perpetual aggressor.  He was wounded at both Gettysburg and Chickamauga while leading his command in assaults.  He had been Johnston’s go-to commander for attacks at Resaca, Cassville (though aborted), New Hope Church, and Kolb’s Farm.  On the evening of July 17, 1864 Davis ordered that the 33-year old Hood replace Johnston.

This was a crucial moment in American history.  Apparently, Johnston planned to attack Thomas as his divisions crossed Peachtree Creek, before the Yankees had time to organize themselves on the creek's south side.  But the change in command froze the Army of Tennessee in place.  Hood took over for Johnston, General Cheatham took over Hood’s Corps, General Alexander P. Stewart replaced General Loring as commander of Polk’s former corps. All of this happened at the exact moment part of Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland was crossing the creek while the rest of Sherman's armies approached Decatur from the northeast.

Hood asked Johnston to remain as an advisor until all the command transitions were complete.  Johnston felt bitter about the Davis' decision and refused.  Hood had to ascertain where his infantry and cavalry were located and establish communication with them.  So, instead of attacking on July 18, the Confederates were reorganizing and shifting their positions.  By July 19, Hood was ready to order an assault, but by now the Federals had crossed the creek and were waiting.

The Battle of Peachtree Creek, like so many in the campaign, was a short, sharp attack that was handily repulsed.  Another command change for the Southerners, General George Maney substituting for Cheatham’s former division, was a basic cause for that division attacking lamely, but none of Hardee's infantry formations distinguished themselves. As many as 1,800 Federal troops were killed or wounded against perhaps 2,500 Confederate losses.  Hood had accomplished nothing at a cost his badly outnumbered army could not afford.

Meanwhile, with Schofield covering his right flank, McPherson was approaching Atlanta from the east.  Wheeler's cavalry could do little more than slow him down.  Two corps under McPherson were less than three miles away from Atlanta on July 20.  Hood readjusted his forces.  The immediate threat was the possible shelling of the city from Union artillery.  A cleared and elevated area known as Bald Hill offered a prime bombardment position.  General Cleburne, mostly in reserve at Peachtree Creek, was quickly dispatched to reinforce Wheeler’s cavalry.  General Mortimer Dormer Leggett’s division assaulted and captured the hill on July 21 at a cost of about 700 killed and wounded against a few hundred Confederate losses.  A counterattack by Cleburne was driven back by Union artillery fire.  Cleburne’s men continued to engage Leggett in heavy skirmishing into the night.

Also on July 21, Sherman, rather obsessed with Southern logistics, ordered General Kenner Garrard’s cavalry to destroy the railroad east of Atlanta.  This was a gamble as it rendered McPherson’s left flank unprotected. When Wheeler expertly notified Hood of the situation, Hood sent Hardee marching through the city to the south and realigned Cheatham to the east while Stewart shifted and continued to defend the city’s northern fortifications.  Wheeler was ordered to attack the unprotected Union wagon trains in Decatur (because Hood knew Sherman was obsessed with logistics) while Hardee was to attack McPherson’s flank on July 22.  If the Rebels could roll-up the Yankee line, they might get into the rear of McPherson’s advanced line and score a major victory for the first time in the campaign.

But Cleburne, Hardee’s best division, had difficulty disengaging from Bald Hill.  It took much longer than anticipated in the summer heat for the Southerners to form up their line of attack. About 25% of the crops straggled during their 15-mile night march.  McPherson was busy fanning out his command along the Confederate defensive line held by Cheatham.  General Thomas William Sweeny was bringing up McPherson’s rare and had not yet been ordered into line, instead he was backed-up along the railroad, awaiting orders, by sheer coincidence facing Hardee’s developing line of attack, though the Federal troops still did not know the Southerners were on their flank.
The situation at the start of the Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864. 
The Battle of Atlanta began about noon on July 22 with Hardee ordering his four divisions forward.  McPherson had just returned from Sherman’s headquarters and decided to reconnoiter his exposed left with his staff.  He rode straight into Hardee’s attack and was killed. Cleburne’s division managed to drive the Northern line back.  Once again, however, the Confederate attack lacked coordination.  Moreover, instead of hitting the Union flank, they actually attacked into Sweeny’s hastily deployed troops facing them.  This unexpected turn of events choked Hardee’s attack.  Repeat assaults failed.

Meanwhile, Cheatham, reinforced by the Georgia Militia, advanced out of the Atlanta fortifications and hit General Morgan Lewis Smith’s division, driving its center back in the only meaningful success that day for Hood’s attack.  But even this was negligible as two of Cheatham’s three divisions failed to penetrate at all and General John A. Logan organized an effective Union counterattack to retake his lost position. (This is the scene depicted in the famous oil painting, the Atlanta Cyclorama).  The Confederates would wait until nightfall and retire to the safety of the city’s fortifications again. 

McPherson was dead and his army suffered about 3,300 casualties.  Hood’s army incurred about 5,500 losses including General Walker, who was leading his division.  In what was probably the most intense battle of the entire campaign, Hood had only managed to render his army less combat effective and had not prevented Sherman from accomplishing anything.  The noose around Atlanta tightened.

Sherman ordered Union artillery to shell Atlanta for the first time on July 20.  With the capture of Bald Hill this shelling intensified on July 22 when 187 shells were fired into the populated city.  Many citizens panicked and evacuated the city by road and by rail southward toward Jonesboro.  Only about 20% of Atlanta’s population as of January 1864 remained in the city at the end of July. Sherman replaced McPherson with General Oliver Otis Howard, which caused an insulted General Hooker (Howard's senior in rank and former commander of the Army of the Potomac) to immediately resign for not being offered command of the Army of the Tennessee.  Sherman was glad to see Hooker go.  He detested “political” generals.

Hood was also shuffling generals and officers around.  Upon taking command he immediately requested that General Stephen Dill Lee be ordered from Mississippi to command Hood’s former corps which had been temporarily led by Cheatham, who returned to command his division.  Lee arrived on July 26.  General Braxton Bragg arrived from Richmond on July 24 to personally report back to President Davis on events pertaining to Atlanta.  When Bragg offered his hand to Hood’s (and formerly Johnston’s) chief of staff Brigadier General William W. Mackall, the Confederate officer (reflecting tensions going back to when MacKall headed Bragg's staff in 1863) refused to accept Bragg’s handshake.  MacKall was quickly dismissed by Hood with General Shoup taking his place.

Sherman had repeatedly used wide sweeping movements to probe and dislodge the Army of Tennessee throughout the campaign.  With the Army of the Cumberland pressing down on the northern Atlanta fortifications and the Army of the Ohio pushing on the northeast, Sherman sent the Army of the Tennessee with the newly appointed General Howard around west to envelop Atlanta from that side.  Hood’s cavalry again alerted him to the movement and he decided to attack the Yankee columns en route.  But, instead, the Confederate concentration of Lee’s and Stewart’s corps started late again.  The Union troops were defensively deployed and easily repulsed the attack. 

The situation at the Battle of Ezra Church, July 28, 1864.
The Battle of Ezra Church was fought on July 28, 1864.  It was another intense battle but over very quickly as the Confederates retired.  General Logan’s troops again bore the brunt of the Southern attack and gave a good accounting of themselves.  Against a mere 700 Union casualties, 600 Confederates were killed, another 2,200 wounded.  Hood had used his interior lines to attack Sherman three times in 9 days.  The Army of Tennessee lost about 10,000 of its 41,500 men during this time, a horrific ratio.  Even Hood realized his army could no longer attack. Comparably, Sherman lost about 6,500 men. Though certainly tempered by the blows of the campaign, he still commanded some 69,000 infantry who were ready for action and slowly surrounding Atlanta.