Tuesday, October 4, 2016

From Hal to HAL - Part 1: The First Eighteen Years

THE RAINS of Winnipeg were, and still are, of mostly Scottish ancestry.

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, on a strikingly beautiful Wednesday in the late spring of 1928, on the ninth day of the month of May – making him curiously a Taurus – Douglas James Rain was born into that Scottish heritage.

DOUGLAS WAS named after his father, James Rain. Coincidentally another James Rain, also from Winnipeg, was the president of the Scottish heritage association – the Manitoba Dumfries and Galloway association – but the Rains of Douglas' immediate family were not deeply involved in clanhood or in their general heritage; it was what it was, and that was the extent of it.

At the time he was born Winnipeg was completely different from the city it is today. Only 9 years prior the city had been rocked to her foundations by the General Strike, the biggest strike in Canadian history, and the effects could still be felt among the working class. Unemployment and social problems were still huge issues, and resentment still lingered among those that were, at least according to themselves, treated rather unfairly after the strike. On the other hand, the same year Doug was born Winnipeg finally got her own airport, Canada’s first international one, the Stevenson Aerodrome.

Winnipeg was at a crossroads in 1928; a sizable portion of the city’s population was still entangled in past events, whereas certainly as many were looking forward, and in doing so were inadvertently erasing their recent history. To a great extent, everything was more or less politicized.

Growing up on Oakwood Avenue in the Riverview neighborhood in Winnipeg, young Douglas had his own interests, and they were about neither politics nor clanhood. While both politics and genealogy as endeavors tend to be geared towards solitude and quiet time studying manuscripts, Douglas saw manuscripts in a different light. From a very young age the precocious boy displayed an attraction towards dramatics, towards the craft of the stage.

His parents recognized his talents early on, and at their behest he began studying at the Jean Campbell School of Speech Correction and Dramatic Art on Garwood Avenue in Fort Rouge. It was a Winnipeg drama and elocution school founded in 1920, and ran by Mary Pearl Craw, who at the time of founding still went by her maiden-name Rice, and her mentor Jean Campbell, who also was director of speech and dramatic art at St. Mary's all-girl catholic academy. Jean Campbell had herself been mentored by Jean Alexander, renowned speaker and writer, whose books were sold all over Canada. In fact Alexander and Campbell had been on tours together crisscrossing the country. So when other boys were playing scrub baseball on corner lots, Doug was trotting off to speech lessons. He learned voice production, breath control, the phrasing of lines and an easy familiarity with a dozen different accents. His first teacher at the elocution school was co-founder Pearl Craw. Pearl was always proud of the fact she was the one who had taught “young Douglas public speaking.”

Things progressed quickly for the young artist. In 1934, at the age of six, he became a performer at the local Radio Kiddies, and in December of the same year the press noticed a “diminutive” Douglas Rain “of the CJRC Radio Kiddies” entertaining blind children at the annual treat that the Lions' Club of Winnipeg gave at The Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The CJRC Radio Kiddies was novelty programming by James Richardson’s recently licensed 100 watt station, broadcasting out of Winnipeg. For his excellent contributions Doug received a monetary reward of 25 Canadian cents. Thus Douglas took his first step on his long path to becoming a professional.

At the age of seven – the age when children are usually sent to first grade of school – Douglas, just Doug to his friends, was already performing regularly. But of course he went to school, as well; Winnipeg public school.

Displaying ambition at such a young age seldom goes unnoticed. Sure enough, at the age of seven he was rendering monologues as a member of The Good Neighbors Club, a charity organization focusing on helping the homeless and unemployed, consisting of unmarried, young men who themselves were unemployed as well. The young boy was naturally noticed by the local press, especially for his “clever recitations” at one particular Irish night, delivering his reading in an impeccable Irish accent that could have fooled a native.

The Irish heritage was notable in Winnipeg, as were all the other European groups. The last quarter of the 19th century and the pre-war period of the 20th were characterized by extreme expansion of the city. This included a steady influx of people of all walks; workers, aids, and officials; and mainly immigrants; Winnipeg after all has the largest community of Icelanders in the world after Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The Rains were not keen on their heritage, however. Unlike most people of Scottish protestant heritage the Rains were mainly Unitarian, too. Douglas’ mother Mary, who was born Mary Jordan, was even on the Unitarian Service Committee staff of the local Unitarian Church. Further, although he was born in 1895 in Glasgow, Scotland, Douglas’ father Jimmy was not involved in any heritage association; he was working for Canadian National Railway. In fact, James was a veteran of World War 1, serving as a young man; he was only a couple of months shy of 19 years old when the war broke out; as a Private in the 184 Battalion of the Canadian Infantry in the Manitoba Regiment – regimental number 874520 – receiving a Military Medal for his actions in the conflict. This was not common in Winnipeg; the city had the highest percentage of conscript defaults in western Canada, second only to Montreal.

Although not an actor himself, the elder Douglas James was a straight shooter who stood by his son, whatever the boy decided he wanted to do. Young Douglas had the best support anyone could wish for.

As soon as Douglas had been bitten by the stage bug, he could be seen all around his native Winnipeg. He took part in all sorts of revues and events, delivering his narrations, readings and monologues to the public. He was also at that time already a performing member of Winnipeg’s Little Theatre, and was notably cast as Little Tim in Dickens’ timeless play A Christmas Carol. Playing the part “with naturalness and clearness that would do credit to a stage veteran” he was immediately noticed by audiences and critics alike. Much later the Little Theatre was to play another role in his life, in ways he could not have expected.

He did not limit his craft to the stage alone. In 1936, at the age of eight, Douglas had his first role in a nation-wide radio play, produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. This was also the first year he received a certificate of elocution from Trinity College in London, the “First Steps” certificate. According to reports he had delivered his readings with “pleasing naïveté, humor and self confidence”. Several more certificates were to follow.

He was noticed almost everywhere he performed. At the annual Winnipeg Fresh Air revue in the spring of 1937, only two days before his ninth birthday, Douglas – "the very naïve lad of eight, who is a most impressive elocutionist" – almost stole the show with his two monologues, "Little Lord Fauntleroy" and "The Ring-Bearer". It seemed clear for many that he was heading for bigger times than the local stages.

Not content with performing with one theatre company only, he joined as many productions as he could. From early 1938 onwards he performed with the short-lived and then-newly-renamed John Holden Players at the old brick-built Dominion Theatre in Winnipeg. Previously known as the Good Company, the John Holden Players company was not very well off financially, so they rehearsed at the Fort Garry Court Hotel. By default the old theatre building was only heated during public performances in order to cut costs, and the company could not afford the heating bill. The rehearsals at the theatre would have been chilly, to say the least. Unsurprisingly the John Holden Players company folded not long after. This was not unforeseen; Canadian theatre at the time consisted of an ever revolving ensemble of amateur companies.

DOUGLAS KEPT honing his craft of elocution. In 1938, at 10 years of age, he was awarded his second certificate for elocution by the Londonian Trinity College of Music. True to form he secured honors at the examination. This year he also got his first official recognition for his stage work, for his performance of “an angelic-faced crippled lad” as the enfeebled son Jimmie in Mary Reynold Aldis’ one-acter Mrs. Pat and the Law, directed by Gladys Rutherford. Adjudicator Malcolm Morley from London bestowed his mention of “praise for individual acting” upon Rain’s stage performance in the piece. Critics said his portrayal was “splendid”. The recognition was bestowed upon him at the Dominion Drama Festival of Manitoba region, an annual drama and theatre festival that was going for its sixth year.

As a precursor of things to come, in the late fall of 1938 Douglas had his first contact with the University of Manitoba Dramatic Society, at the staging of “And So to Bed” at the Civic Auditorium, a three-act, “very talky” play. The play was mainly cast by Dramatic Society players, but 10-year-old Douglas – “who is always good”, according to critics – all but overshadowed the senior players. The ‘very talky’ play that “opens slowly and does not develop until many lines have been spoken”, was right up Doug’s alley; his innate talents of elocution came to the fore.

In 1939 he was awarded again by the Trinity College – the award traditionally consisted of a local scholarship – this time for his examination in the Junior division. He secured honors at this examination, too, just like he did the previous year. At this point Doug had become a familiar presence on Winnipeg stages and an equally familiar voice on the radio, and was already well known in the local press as Master Douglas Rain.

At the age of 12 Douglas became a member of the Winnipeg Sea Cadets. The Sea Cadets is an organization hosted by the Royal Canadian Navy, specifically The Navy League of Canada and presently the Canadian Department of National Defense. The raison d’être of the organization is to teach and develop leadership skills. He relished the opportunities the Cadets provided, but it also meant his time was becoming more fragmented.

On the first day of June in 1940, the then-12-year-old “young artist of radio and theatrical presentations” was again awarded a local scholarship by Trinity College of Music, London, for elocution, intermediate division, with honors. Douglas scored 95 out of a possible 100 marks, taking the first place in his division. His examiner wrote of him simply: "He is naturally gifted, and will do well."

In 1942 Douglas made a tour to Ottawa with the Sea Cadets and was one of participants who got the most press when the Cadets performed. According to the papers his recitation of “Big Ben” almost “stole the show.” By now, however, his attention was already divided between the Cadets, readings, school, radio, elocution classes and recitations. Acting had by now become only one among many of his endeavors.

AT THE END of 1942, having achieved the highest standing out of 11 contestants from the United States, Newfoundland, and Canada, he was again awarded yet another scholarship by the Trinity College in London, but this time it was a special Empire, overseas, scholarship. This was his sixth Trinity College award, and his third scholarship. By now Douglas was rightfully a veteran scholar of elocution, at nigh to 15 years of age.

When Douglas started studying at the local high school his stage engagements began to receive less attention. Although he was still an imposing talent, and could deliver impressive performances, he was no longer the child prodigy he had been throughout the previous decade. He focused his own attention on his attendance at high school, and the focal point was Kelvin High School in Crescentwood, at the corner of Kingsway Avenue and Stafford Street.

Despite him focusing on high school, however, in 1944 Doug again performed at the Sunshine Revue, like he had done the previous year. Nonetheless this was to be his last performance at the revue. Studying aside, he was no less majestic a speaker, though. When his elocution teacher Jean Campbell was too busy to accept an engagement or too ill to perform she called upon the best of her students to fill in for her. Her choice was most often Doug.

Douglas graduated from Kelvin High School in 1946. At the graduation the presentation of class banners was made by fellow student Mary Raleigh and, of course, Douglas Rain.

After graduating it was time for him to make his first decision with a long-term impact.

(This chapter is only a preview of the first chapter of 'From Hal to HAL.' The other 9 chapters might be previewed later.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

2001 vs 2010, part 2020

Over the years, many people have asked me why, as Editor-in-Chief of the magazine [Starlog], my editorials don't appear in the front of each issue. Well, there are several reasons — not the least of which is that STARLOG's publisher, Kerry O'Quinn, uses the front editorial space for his comments, which come "From the Bridge." But I really do enjoy having the last word, a habit which I picked up early in life.

I bring this up now because there is something about which I would like to have the last word this month. The subject at hand is "2001 vs. 2010." Filmmaker Peter Hyams is in an extremely ticklish position, because 2010 certainly will be compared with 2001, regardless of the fact that it is definitely not a standard sequel.

The two films really have little in common: both are translated from Arthur C. Clarke novels and both have a Monolith and David Bowman. Unfortunately, this is enough to cause comparisons. The cast and production team of 2010 are painfully aware of this fact and, perhaps, a bit defensive about it. After all, 2001 is a classic, a landmark motion picture, an international phenomenon and the philosophical statement of a generation.

In explaining the difference between the two films, it has often sounded as if the people who are associated with 2010 are putting down 2001. This is unfortunate, unnecessary and clearly not the intention of Hyams and his team. And yet ... .

And yet there are certain comments by Hyams and "visual futurist" Syd Mead with which I must take issue. Specifically, in terms of the design differences between the two movies. According to these two multi-talented men, the Discovery is a work of pure fiction, while the Leonov is more reflective of reality. To a certain extent, they are right. Back in 1968, no one had any idea of how an actual interplanetary spacecraft might look. Today, as Mead has pointed out, we have walked on the Moon, sent remote-controlled craft to the outer planets, and seen a Presidential mandate for a manned space platform in the next decade. Today, we know how space looks, how spacesuits look, how the Shuttle was designed to take maximum advantage of limited space.

However. . .what Mead, Hyams, Clarke, et. al. fail to take into account is the ever-increasing speed of social and technological change. One must bear in mind that Stanley Kubrick's task was to extrapolate 33 years up the timeline. He had every reason—and every right—to believe that the speed of change would obsolete any subtle extrapolation from then-current designs. This is the crucial point.

Today, the speed of change has increased: Hyams' task of extrapolating 26 years up the timeline is an even greater challenge, due to that fact. A challenge which, I feel, he has not met as successfully. Let's face it: with enough time and money, the Leonov could be built now— pretty much as it appears in the film. Certainly, this gives filmgoers a reality base with which to appreciate the design work, the look and feel of astronauts in space. But it is definitely not a better job of extrapolation than that done by Kubrick's team. In fact, the Leonov would have been a better design for 2001, while the Discovery is still futuristic enough to look good as a ship designed in 2010.

I have much more to say on this subject, but, as usual, no more space. See the film and let me know how you feel on this subject.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Suits in Space

Suiting up for a romp through the Solar System, the producers of 2010 were aware of the legacy they had become the caretakers of. The costumes were perhaps not lavish, but practical. Practical to the point of being nominated for an Academy Award. 

American helmet with top mounted light.
The spacesuits in the movie were designed by veteran designer Patricia Norris, who had just come off her design detail for Brian De Palma's notorious movie Scarface. That movie, starring Al Pacino in possibly his hammiest performance, was mostly about pinstripe suits and open collars. For 2010, her gig was slightly different. She received an Academy Award nomination at the 57th Academy Awards for Best Costume Design for her work, but unfortunately lost to Czech designer Theodor Pistek for his splendid work on Amadeus.

American helmet.
All in all she was nominated an incredible six times for her work. This was not the first time Norris was paired up with Peter Hyams; she had previously worked with the director on another of his science fiction films, Capricorn One. Miss Norris sadly passed away in February of 2015.

The immediately noticeable difference between the American and the Russian space suits is, of course, the helmet. The Russian helmets have the work lights on the left and right sides of the helmet, whereas the American helmets have one single light mounted on top. This distinction is seldom noticed by the average movie goer.

Russian space suit helmet with
side mounted work lights.
All in all the American and the Russian suits are, of course, completely different.

The cut and the fabric for the American suits was very much designed as a match for the then-current NASA space suits, whereas the Soviet-Russian space suits were similar in design to the suits in the previous movie.

This sartorial design decision was made to reflect the difference in trajectories between the US and Soviet space programs; the Russians were more often than not focused on what had worked previously, and saw very little importance in recreating already workable models.

Discovery Suits

The Discovery space suits of 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010 have a series of differences, some noticable, some less so.

The most obvious is the size of the suit control apparatus. In 2010 a much slimmer piece had replaced the much bulkier one from 2001.

2001 suit at left, 2010 suit at right.

Since all blueprints, designs, and props from 2001: A Space Odyssey had been destroyed, the 2010 production crew had to use blow-ups of frames from the movie to recreate the red space suit for Dave Bowman. In the eyes of the casual movie goer the 2001 recreation was of course similar enough to produce the illusion of continuity.

At Dave Bowman's Leisure

One detail that is often overlooked, or missed entirely, is the evening suit of Dave Bowman. It's only visible in two short shots, and it is supposed to function as a bridge between the 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010 movies. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the suit is worn by Dave Bowman in the perplexing hotel suite at the very end of the movie. In 2010 Dave Bowman wears it when he appears as an apparition for his boss Heywood Floyd.

Leisure suits, 9 years apart.

The suit was copied from blowups taken from the previous movie, and due to the limitations not every piece of the suit could be copied. The two shots are only a couple of seconds each, so it is doubtful any moviegoer would have noticed any differences.

Production Crew Attire

Arthur C. Clarke's personal jacket.
The final piece that belongs in this article is the attire handed out the the production crew. It used to be common for most major productions to have specially made jackets, caps, and various pieces of clothing made for the core crew.

Some production houses still do this, but most major movie houses these days are only looking at the bottom line. Therefore all paraphernalia is aimed at the general audience. For 2010 however the crew was given their own gear.

Baseball cap for the production crew.
Among the items created for the production crew was a baseball cap and a jacket. A jacket in the same style was for sale by Starlog magazine until the end of 1985. The Starlog jacket was, however, different from the jacket made for the production crew. The baseball caps, in fact, had a small additional run in the year 2010 to coincide with the actual year the events in the movie transpired.

Sir Clarke's 2010 jacket in
storage in Sri Lanka.
It is still possible to find some of the production crew items for sale. They show up - predictably with ever lessening frequency - in various prop stores and on online auction sites such as eBay.

Whether these crew clothing items were designed by Patricia Norris, or whether they were simply standard issue novelty wear, is not known at present.

The 2010 crew was given quite a lot of other items as well, but they are irrelevant for this article.

Images copyright ©1984 MGM, ©2011 Arthur C Clarke Foundation.