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Stanley Kubrick Was Worried HAL 9000 Might Offend IBM, Letters Show

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hal-9000Of all the things Stanley Kubrick has been called over the years, in the excessive amounts of interviews people give about him, I would think the two rarest would be “corporate-caring” and “the ideal subject for an iOS app.” But neither one of those are accurate descriptions anyway. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has a large Kubrick exhibit going on until the end of June this year, and have released an accompanying app filled with videos, audio, and an excellent timeline of the artist’s life. And as for the other part…

The exhibit features a series of letters between Kubrick and colleagues which reveal the perfectionist director had more than just an inkling that IBM may take offense at the artificial psychosis that was HAL 9000, from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Because IBM played its part in consulting for the film, as well as having the company logo placed front and center of the cockpit’s command panel, Kubrick was worried that IBM might see HAL’s calculated malfunctioning as specifically targeted against them. Strange that the man’s eccentricity allows him to care more about an intangible company than the hundreds of people who suffered through his obsessive multi-take filming process, especially Shelley Duvall. But I guess that’s what makes his sense of genius arguable rather than universally agreed upon.

In one of the letters, seen below, Kubrick asks, “Does I.B.M. know that one of the main themes of the story is a psychotic computer? I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, and I don’t want them to feel they have been swindled.” His associate responded with, “IBM’s position is that if IBM is not associated with the quipment [sic] failure by name they have no objection if it is decided to give screen credit to the advising companies…they will not object to getting screen credit as long as their name is buried in a list with others…” In a world of hyper-sensitive people who seem to thrive on finding offensive things everywhere they look, this is a great example of level-headed thinking, something that Kubrick wasn’t always known for. And the whole one-letter sliding between HAL and IBM (H-I, A-B, L-M) has long since been proven to be a coincidence by Kubrick and the novel’s author Arthur C. Clarke, so don’t go there.

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