mercoledì 23 ottobre 2013

500,000 times thank you (grazie)!

The post 2001: The aliens that almost were had a phenomenal, unexpected and unforeseen success, with 500,000 (yes, half a million) views. I would like to thank every single visitor, every comment here and elsewhere on the web (1,000 on reddit alone), and every person that shared the post on,,,, twitter, facebook and tumblr.

giovedì 17 ottobre 2013

2001: The aliens that almost were

(pour les visiteurs francophones, voici la traduction en français, merci a;
La mia versione in italiano invece si può leggere qui)

1. Early conceptions

In a film like 2001, a project that started with the explicit purpose of investigating the possibility of extraterrestrial life, it comes as no surprise that Kubrick decided very soon in the production to tackle the problem of how to actually depict the extraterrestrials themselves.

Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke had met for the first time in April 1964: by the last months of that year the director had already set up a team working on hundreds of drawings about possible E.T. shapes - his wife Christiane was on board as well and worked on preparatory drawings - and in late 1965, the young and recently hired collaborator Anthony Frewin joined the team, researching on modern sculptures, paintings of German artist Max Ernst and modern art in general to try different ideas. (Here's a detailed account by Frewin about his appointment to the movie and about Kubrick fondness of Ernst; thirty years later, Ernst's influence resurfaced in a Ian Watson interview about the making of the early Kubrick project that turned into Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence).

Some of those eerie alien landscapes can be seen in the 'bonus materials' of the DVD edition of 2001 issued in 2007 (and captured in screenshots and videos in these three fine websites); here's an example of the material and a comparison with a famous painting from Ernst.

Author unknown, alien landscape, pre-production drawing for 2001 (source). We can see some insect-like beings similar to those later described by Arthur Clarke in a script draft.
Max Ernst, Europe After The Rain (1940-42)

Another reason for such an early start in the quest for a credible alien came from the script evolution. Arthur C. Clarke gives us an interesting hint about the many ideas pursued and abandoned; starting with an entry in his diary dated October 6, 1964, reproduced in the book The Lost Worlds of 2001:
Have got an idea which I think is crucial. The people we meet on the other star system are humans who were collected from Earth a hundred thousand years ago, and hence are virtually identical with us.
The earliest outline of the story drafted by Kubrick and Clarke featured the discovery of a extraterrestrial artifact as the climax and not at the beginning of the story (as in The Sentinel, the 1948 novel that was chosen as a basis for the movie);
Before that, we would have a series of incidents or adventures devoted to the exploration of the Moon and Planets. [...] The rest of 1964 was spent brainstorming. As we developed new ideas, so the original conception slowly changed. "The Sentinel" became the opening, not the finale.
So, now that the plot focused on an early meeting of alien and men that had to take place on earth, the script had to feature an explicit description of the alien. In a draft from 1965, the main alien character even had a name: Clindar, straightforwardly borrowed by Clarke from his old novel Encounter in the dawn (1954), originally collected in the anthology Expedition to Earth.

The cover of Expedition to Earth (1954) and the Kubrick-Clarke duo in a 1964 photo (source)

Although not included in the series of novels whose rights Clarke had sold to Kubrick as a basis for the 2001, Encounter will end up giving the first part of the final movie its basic structure: Clindar is a very human-like alien who "could pass for an human with some surgery" and he's basically an anthropologist that helps the struggling ape-men on Earth, showing them, among the other things, how to kill a hyena with a bone. Clearly, Clindar's function is the same of what the monolith turned out to have in the finished movie: he's a catalyst for the potential of the human race.

Slowly, Kubrick and Clarke decided to move the actual meeting of aliens and humans to the climax of the movie, in the final scene after the Stargate - basically trading places with the appearance of the alien artifact; and the monolith, that at this stage had already appeared on the moon as a pyramid as in The Sentinel, would take the place of the aliens as catalyst/teacher on the prehistoric earth.

2. from humanoids to gargoyles

During the subsequent development of the script, Clarke slowly drifted away from a humanoid depiction of the aliens: in a later draft (late 1965), after crossing the stargate David Bowman makes a fly-by over an alien city, where bipeds lizards glances at him with little interest, and other mantid-like and globular beings simply ignore him.

No explicit input from Kubrick on the topic of the physical resemblance of the aliens is documented in this phase of the development, until the appearance of a note in Clarke's diary dated May 25, 1965:
Now Stanley wants to incorporate the Devil theme from Childhood's End....
The resigned tone of the note is a telltale sign of the growing desperation of the writer to come up with interesting themes for the demanding director; but it's also a reminder that Kubrick was not only aware but also very interested in Clarke's 1953 book Childhood's End since the beginning of the project. Kubrick apparently tried to buy the movie rights of the book, but they were already under option, and the same Metro-Goldwin-Mayer was in talks of producing a movie based on the book to be directed by George Pal and scripted by Howard Koch. (The project disappeared after MGM committed to 2001).

The book, one of Clarke's best, had a large influence on 2001 and we will deal with it in a later article. What is important right now is the fact that the revelation of the physical appearance of the aliens in the book is one of the most shocking in sci-fi history: they turn out to look like the traditional human folk images of demons - large bipeds with leathery wings, horns and tails. Maybe Kubrick was amused by this shocking revelation and the effect that it might have had on the audience?

This is how artist Neil Adams imagined the Overlords for a Childhood's End movie project that never came to be (source)

This purported devilish theme was quickly dismissed and never resurfaced in later script drafts, although some echoes might be still recognizable in the following pictures of the alien sculptures produced for the movie:

These aliens look very much like gargoyles, the grotesque statues seen on the walls of churches, cathedrals especially from the medieval age. They were produced in rubber, and in a recent comment made by Katharina Kubrick in the alt.movies.kubrick Facebook group, I learned that some of them were sculpted by Stanley's wife Christane:
My mother Christiane also spent time making aliens out of clay in her studio at Abbots Mead. They were cast in rubber and painted in weird colours and I'm guessing they could have been manipulated a la Muppets. Of course they were never used and ended up dotted around the garden. Too funny to see people reactions to these rather unusual garden gnomes.....
Source: Douglas Trumbull

Source: Taschen's The Making of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, via Twitter user @kubrickfaves

3. FX people have their say

The humanoid-alien concept was slowly morphing into something else, as in subsequent scripts drafts the authors looked prone to experiment in different directions. In The Lost Worlds of 2001, Clarke recount scripts in which aliens were described with a typically "elongated" silhouette, similar in many ways to the sci-fi cliché that later movies will popularize, starting with Close Encounters of the third kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977).

One of the members of the special effects crew of 2001, Wally Gentleman, recalled for Cinefex magazine that
In one treatment, the alien was to come along and take Bowman by the hand. It was going to be a towering insect-like creature - rather light and vaporous. One logical way to do this would have been to shoot the creature with a variable anamorphic lens to elongate the image onto film. With such a lens, you can squeeze the image from side to side and from top to bottom, and you can increase or decrease the ratio of the squeeze. Then, by projecting that squeezed image onto a mirror positioned in front of Bowman at an angle 45 degrees to the camera, we could have made the alien appeared to be standing right next to him, and it would all have been on the original negative. Quite traditional, really - the technique goes back to the stage arts.
Attempts were made to realize this concept, with an actor wearing a white suit; the results were judged "dull and unconvincing".

 Author unknown; alien landscape, pre-production drawing for 2001 (source). Some "elongated" aliens, definitely humanoid-looking (arms, torso, legs).

 The insect-like alien from Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Gentleman recalls also that
There were many other alien concepts - most of them created after I left. One was a cone-shaped thing with pea bulbs all over it - a tall mass of glittering light that looked like a Christmas tree. Kubrick had Doug Trumbull working on the thing, but Doug was rather contemptuous of the whole idea. Doug would always state just exactly what he was thinking - about everything - which I think nettled Stanley in the beginning, but he gradually got used to it. Doug was, after all, dealing from a position of authority since his work was so good, from concept to execution.
One of the special fx supervisors, Douglas Trumbull adds:
We spent an enormous (in italics in the original text) amount of time trying to design extraterrestrials that we could include in the film. I produced quite a few alien effects using video feedback. Video feedback has a strange kind of lifelike quality to it, so I made a video feedback system for creating totally nonhumanoid shapes of pulsating light.
'T.V. man': the video-feedback alien (source:
I also created some aliens using the same concepts as the City of Light (an effect conceived for the stargate sequence, later discarded), only rather than having a lot of little light bulbs, I put together a kaleidoscope projector that produced varying-diameter shapes, and then multiplied those into four facets and projected them onto a piece of white cardboard. As this thing moved in space, it would create a light image of variable volume that would be somewhat humanoid in shape. By changing the patterns in the kaleidoscope from a small diameter to a sudden larger diameter, I could roughly create the shape of a head, shoulders, arms, body and legs. Yet it was all just volumetric light that looked sort of like a jellyfish - transparent luminosity. There were things about it that worked and things about it that didn't - such as, it was very difficult to get thee light characters to move or articulate. It just got to be terribly complex.
The 'jellyfish' alien. Source: The Making of Kubrick's 2001

Two more alien attempts. Source:

Brian Johnson, one of the special effects assistants, was also involved in developing a number of alien concepts, which, like all of the others, would never reach fruition.
Stanley wanted something that was really different, but didn't know just what. At one point he wanted something like a Giacometti sculpture - humanoid in shape, but very thin and distorted. So I got involved in producing a suit of light with about five thousand tiny bulbs wired onto it. The idea was to put one of the dancers we had choreographing the ape sequence into this suit - which was made out of black velvet - and the photograph him with star filters on the lens and various other things. The lights alone would define the creature.
Then we were going to squeeze the image in some way and distort it so that we'd have this weird creature that would float about. I worked on that for quite some time. We also went through a variation of that idea, utilizing a black velvet suit with a whole series of front-projection dots that we projected images onto. The thinking was that, without thousands of pea bulbs wired onto his suit, the dancer would have much greater flexibility of motion. But all this was near the end of production, and it never got cut in. I don't think it was quite what Stanley wanted.
A Giacometti-like sculpture made for 2001, called by the fx people "Reddy Kilowatt" (source: Stanley Kubrick Archives)

Reddy Kilowatt (left) is a branding character that acted as corporate spokesman for electricity generation in the US for some six decades. (source)

Alberto Giacometti's famous sculpture "L'Homme qui marche I" (The walking man I) became in 2010 the most expensive sculpture ever sold in an auction: US$ 103,7 million, including the buyer's premium. (source)

4. Last attempts: The Polka-dot man

Summer, 1967: the movie is almost finished, desperation is kicking in. Make-up maestro Stuart Freeborn recalled for Cinefex the late experiments he supervised:
Stanley came up to me one day, and he said: "I've got an idea. What if we do a kind of optical illusion?" He had seen a dotted pattern somewhere, in front of a dotted-pattern background - and the result was something that was virtually invisible, yet somewhat visible just because it was on a different plane than the background. It was an intriguing idea, and Stanley asked me to begin working on something along those lines. So we got a performer, and I made a white bald cap that fit him nice and tight; then I put black round spots evenly all over it. I did the same thing on a pair of tights that covered the rest of his body. We got the largest paper hole-puncher we could locate, and stamped out perfect rounds of black paper, which we glued all over his white form. We covered him completely - right over his feet, all down his legs, everywhere.

Then we stood him against a white background with the same-size black dots all over it. The effect was stunning. Standing still, he would disappear into the backing; but when he moved, you could just make out a shape. It was an amazingly weird effect - quite extraordinary - but I don't think it really fit in the movie. I could never see how Stanley was going to use it - and, of course, he never did.
Dan Richter, the mime actor who played "Moonwatcher" - the leader of the ape-man pack in the "Dawn of men" segment of the movie - talked about this experiment in his book, Moonwatcher's Memoirs: in an entry of his diary dated September 5, 1967 he recalls Kubrick asking him to stay a little longer, after finishing the shooting of the ape-men scenes, to try some shots using high-contrast film. After having all the "dots" put over his body and being placed on a rotating platform, Richter asked Kubrick:
"What do you want me to do, Stanley?"
"Well, Dan, we'll start with you completely still, and when I give the word, move very slowly and sinuously".
"Like this?" I hold my arms out to the side and move them in a wavelike manner as I slowly turn my head.
Source: Stanley Kubrick Archives

"That's great, Dan. Do exactly that."
I sit on the platform facing the camera with my legs in a relaxed lotus position and my arms out to each side. At the last moment, when Stanley is ready, I close my eyes and polka dots are applied to each eyelid.
"Action." I hold very still.
"Okay, Dan, now you can move."
I slowly undulate my arms and head as I turn from side to side. We try it a number of ways and that is that.
The next day at rushes, the footage comes up and, while extremely interesting, it is clear that you are looking at a person decked out in polka dots.
The effect doesn't work. Stanley doesn't mention it again.

 Source: 2001 in 2008 flickr set from Bernard Rodriguez

Source: (copyright Stanley Kubrick Archives / TASCHEN / Via 2014 Turner Entertainment Co.)

5. Yes, but who got the idea, anyway?

According to Arthur Clarke, it was the famous scientist Carl Sagan that, asked for a suggestion on the topic, proposed to hide the aliens altogether from the movie, during a meeting at Kubrick's house in Manhattan, in 1965. Quoted from Clarke's biography, here's Sagan recounting the episode thirty years later:
They had no idea how to end the movie - that's when they called me in to try to resolve a dispute. The key issue was how to portray extraterrestrials that would surely be encountered at the end when they go through the Star Gate. Kubrick was arguing that the extraterrestrials would look like humans with some slight differences, maybe à la Mr. Spock (Ed. note: like Clindar). And Arthur was arguing, quite properly on general evolutionary grounds, that they would look nothing like us. So I tried to adjudicate as they asked.
I said it would be a disaster to portray the extraterrestrials.
What ought to be done is to suggest them. I argued that the number of individually unlikely events in the evolutionary history of man was so great that nothing like us is ever likely to evolve anywhere else in the universe. I suggested that any explicit representation of an advanced extraterrestrial being was bound to have at least an element of falseness about it and that the best solution would be to suggest rather than explicitly to display the extraterrestrials.
What struck me most is that they were in production (some of the special effects, at least) and still had no idea how the movie would end.
Kubrick's preference had one distinct advantage, an economic one: He could call up Central Casting and ask for twenty extraterrestrials. With a little makeup, he would have his problem solved. The alternative portrayal of extraterrestrials, whatever it was, was bound to be expensive.
... And here's a quote from Arthur Clarke, commenting Sagan's words:
A third of century later, I do not recall Stanley's immediate reaction to this excellent advice, but after abortive efforts during the next couple of years to design convincing aliens, he accepted Carl's solution.
It is to be said that another version of Clarke's recount about the topic, in 'Space Sage', (1997), goes more in-depth and suggests that Kubrick and Sagan didn't go on very well together at all, a passage that Clarke omits in a reprint of "Space Sage" appeared in the anthology Greetings, Carbon-based bipeds (1999). Maybe he felt it was better to forget it, giving that Kubrick and Sagan had since, sadly, passed away.

Nevertheless, in the book Are we alone? (2005) which reprints the interviews to various scientists on the topic of extraterrestrial life that Kubrick wanted to show in a short prologue to 2001 and were later discarded, Anthony Frewin (longtime Kubrick's aide) settled the record straight, and talking about Sagan's story (that appeared also in the scientist's biography A life, pp.178-9), he says:
[...] This makes a good story, but it is simply not true. SK was exploring ideas for the aliens later in 1965 and through 1966 when Christian Kubrick was still sketching designs and I continued researching Giacometti's sculptures (SK was much taken with them), Max Ernst paintings and fantastic art generally, looking for alien ideas. None of this would have been done had SK followed Sagan's advice. SK realized himself in the end that showing them was a Bad Idea, just as the end pie fight in 'Dr. Strangelove' was also a Bad Idea and was similarly abandoned. (Are we alone?, p.13)
In a interview given in the same year about the editing of the book The Stanley Kubrick Archives (where, for the first time, many images of the aliens were published) Frewin gives a slightly different account, adding some depth to the topic:
The aliens were never going to be shown in the film. Stanley considered – but only considered – showing them. He was not happy with how they came out (remember, this was long before CGI) and that – coupled with his realization, from a dramatic point of view, that it was better not showing them – deep-sixed the idea.

6. Conclusion

In a 1970 interview, Kubrick said
From the very outset of work on the film we all discussed means of photographically depicting extraterrestrial creatures in a manner that would be as mind-boggling as the being itself. And it soon became apparent that you can not imagine the unimaginable. All you can do is try to represent it in an artistic manner that will convey something of its quality. That's why we settled on the black monolith - which is, of course, in itself something of a Jungian archetype, and also a pretty fair example of "minimal art."
Yes, Kubrick's final choice was a stroke of genius, as witnessed by the unmatched symbolic status of the monolith in contemporary popular culture. Nevertheless, given the available evidence that his research for a way to actually show the aliens on-screen continued in an almost uninterrupted fashion until a few months before the premiere of the movie, we could summarize the whole ordeal by saying that Kubrick tried to the last minute not to follow Carl Sagan's advice.

The monolith, in its different shapes, and the actual presence of the aliens have co-existed for a long time in the development of 2001. The monolith is somehow the only alien presence left in the movie rather than an alternative idea; in a way, the 'survivor' of the many different attempts made by K. and his crew and killed in the process.

I leave the last word to Arthur C. Clarke and its imaginative prose:
Our ultimate solution now seems to me the only possible one, but before arriving at it we spent months imagining strange worlds and cities and creatures, in the hope of finding something that would produce the right shock of recognition. All this material was abandoned, but I would not say that any of it was unnecessary. It contained the alternatives that had to be eliminated, and therefore first had to be created. [...] just as a sculptor, it is said, chips down through the stone toward the figure concealed within. (The Lost Worlds of 2001, p.189, 199)
* * *

(updates: OCT 22: A new quote from Mr. Frewin was added in the last paragraph and the conclusions have been slightly edited to reflect this; OCT 24: Corrected the english version of Mr. Frewin's original passage from "Are we alone?", thanks to; JAN 25: added Neal Adams link in the Overlords picture; MAR 31: added the 'Close Encounters' picture AUG 15 added pictures for the polka-dot man and Mrs.Kubrick's alien; DEC 15 minor editing)

mercoledì 9 ottobre 2013

Intervista con Chela Cannon, 'Miss Turner' nella Stazione Spaziale di '2001'

(international visitors: the english version is here)

Nel corso del mio tentativo di scoprire i nomi di tutte le attrici apparse in 2001, un passo molto importante è stato l'acquisto del libro "Space Fiction and Space Futures : Past and Present", a cura di Eugene Emme (Univelt, 1982). Il libro contiene un lungo articolo di Frederick Ordway, il consulente scientifico assunto da Kubrick, riguardo il suo lavoro per il film, il cui testo era già disponibile sul web da lungo tempo.

Ciò che mancava era, però, le immagini e le relative importantissime didascalie. Grazie ad una di queste (a pagina 65, si veda l'immagine seguente) ho scoperto il nome dell'attrice che interpretò Miss Turner, l'addetta alla reception nella scena in cui Heywood Floyd arriva a bordo della Stazione Spaziale: Chela Cannon (nome da nubile Chela Matthison).

Stanley Kubrick, Chela Cannon e Frederick Ordway sul set di 2001. Chela sta leggendo un numero del '2001' del settimanale 'Paris Match', realizzato appositamente per il film dalla redazione francese.

Dopo qualche ricerca su Google e con l'aiuto della Scuola Nazionale di Teatro del Canada ho avuto l'opportunità di intervistare la signora Cannon, che subito mi ha chiesto di darle del tu (ho scoperto che 'Chela' è una parola hindi che significa 'discepolo'), e nel corso di un'intervista molto piacevole mi ha raccontato qualche aneddoto sulla sua carriera e la sua esperienza sul set di 2001.

* * *

Chela, ci può raccontare qualcosa riguardo alle sue origini e ai suoi inizi nel mondo del cinema?

Sono nata a Vancouver da una famiglia di origini inglesi; ho studiato a New Westminster e Vancouver, nella British Columbia. Sono stata appassionata di recitazione fin da bambina: la mia prozia era Edith Wynne Matthison, un'attrice di teatro che è apparsa anche in due film muti; era molto famosa ai suoi tempi, è stata una delle prime a recitare le tragedie greche in America. E' scomparsa quando avevo tredici anni, ma è stata lei che mi ha probabilmente trasmesso la passione per la recitazione.

Dopo le superiori ho studiato teatro presso la Scuola Nazionale di Teatro del Canada, dove mi sono diplomata nella prima classe della storia della scuola nel 1963. Dopo il diploma ho lavorato in televisione a Toronto (in un lavoro prodotto dal National Film Board of Canada, lo stesso ente che produsse Universe, un documentario i cui effetti speciali ispirarono Kubrick e il cui doppiatore fu Douglas Rain, la voce originale di HAL, ndr.).

 Chela (terza da sinistra, in piedi) con i primi diplomati della Scuola Nazionale di Teatro Canadese (fonte)

Alla ricerca di maggiori opportunità di lavoro mi sono trasferita a Londra dal 1965 al 1967. Ero lì con un amico, Maurizio Fiorini, un attore di origini italiane (per la precisione, ferraresi, ndr.). E' stato in quel periodo che ho partecipato alle audizioni per 2001.

Com'è nato il suo coinvolgimento nel film?

Penso che siano stati i miei agenti dell'epoca (ero seguita dalla GAC Redway) che mi hanno fatto partecipare alle audizioni. La cosa è andata insolitamente per le lunghe: tre mesi di provini! C'erano un sacco di ragazze insieme a me, e non ho mai capito per che cosa mi abbiano scelto tra tutte. Credo che Kubrick stesse cercando un tipo particolare, un certo profilo, qualcuna che lo ispirasse dal punto di vista visivo.

Kubrick era anche preoccupato dal 'suono' - così diceva - delle attrici, dalla pronuncia. Evidentemente il mio accento inglese del Canada deve averlo convinto più di altre. Anche un altro amico, Bob Howay, fu scelto nei provini per un piccolo ruolo, ma fu tagliato dalla versione finale.

Quant'è durata la sua esperienza sul set? Ha qualche ricordo particolare della lavorazione e di Stanley Kubrick?

Non mi ricordo molto bene i dettagli, ma direi che la mia esperienza non è durata più di una settimana. Abbiamo cominciato le riprese all'inizio del 1966.

Una volta, mi ricordo, Kubrick si è seduto vicino a me e mi ha detto "Sai, mi ricordi Leslie Caron da giovane" (attrice e ballerina francese famosa per Un americano a Parigi, ndr.). Sono rimasta senza parole! Soprattutto perché Kubrick non era il tipico regista 'marpione', anzi mi è sempre sembrato un professionista molto serio, attento ai tanti dettagli del suo lavoro. Dev'essere stata l'unica volta che si è rivolto personalmente a me durante le riprese.

Mi ricordo di aver lavorato piacevolmente con William Sylvester (l'attore che interpretò Heywood Floyd, ndr.), una persona molto carina e discreta. Tutto il film era avvolto da una cappa di segretezza, c'era una grande riservatezza riguardo alla trama, e ci dicevano continuamente di non rivelare niente alla stampa - non che ci avessero detto molto al riguardo, ad essere sinceri!

Che impressione le fecero gli avveniristici costumi creati dal famoso stilista londinese Hardy Amies?

Erano favolosi! Mi ricordo che per la mia scena dovetti indossare una parrucca con i capelli corti. I miei capelli naturali sono biondi e lunghi, e devo dire che non so se avrei accettato di tagliarmeli per una parte così piccola, ma non me l'hanno chiesto, così...

Mi ricordo anche che Hardy Amies, lo stilista, fu molto coinvolto anche durante le audizioni e provini; era sempre presente e dovevamo sfilare per lui con i diversi costumi da lui creati.

Mi sono sempre chiesto perché alcune attrici come lei e Maggie London non sono apparse nei titoli di coda o in altri elenchi di interpreti e altre, nonostante non avessero parti con dialoghi, sì.

Mi sono molto arrabbiata quando l'ho scoperto, anche se non ho avuto modo di vedere il film fino alla metà degli anni '70: sono stati alcuni amici a dirmelo. Mi sono chiesta se fosse per qualcosa che aveva a che fare con il sindacato attori, ma ero giovane e ingenua all'epoca e non mi ero preoccupata molto di queste cose... Negli anni seguenti, anche mio figlio ha cercato di saperne di più, ma non è arrivato a niente. Mio padre scherzava sempre con gli amici dicendo che sua figlia aveva interpretato una delle scimmie...

Quando ho avuto la possibilità di vedere il film mi è piaciuto immensamente - è formidabile. Ora perciò tendo a credere che ci sia stato qualche inghippo con il personale che ha realizzato i titoli di coda o qualcosa del genere, o una mancanza commessa dai miei agenti. Comunque sia, ancor oggi ho un rapporto un po' ambivalente con il film, a causa di questo fatto che in seguito nessuno si è curato di correggere.

Ci può raccontare qualcosa sulla sua carriera successiva? Ho letto che nel 1967 ha partecipato ad un altro film di fantascienza, con un altro attore che apparve in '2001', Ed Bishop: Battle Beneath the Earth (apparentemente mai distribuito in Italia)

Non mi ricordo molto di quel film, dev'essere stata una parte piccolissima: non ho nemmeno visto mai il film! Durante il mio soggiorno in Inghilterra ho recitato in due produzioni della BBC in cui recitavamo in diretta dei testi teatrali: un episodio di Theatre 625 e uno di Thirty-Minute theatre. Era tremenda, per me, la preoccupazione di sbagliare qualcosa in diretta! In una di queste due, non mi ricordo quale, ho dovuto montare su un cavallo sempre in diretta!

Mi sono trasferita di nuovo in California nel 1967 per cercare altre opportunità professionali, e lì ho incontrato mio marito Robert che era un pilota della marina americana. Ci siamo trasferiti di nuovo a Vancouver ed è lì che abbiamo sempre vissuto. Sono tornata in televisione con il film Who'll Save Our Children? e in seguito ho fatto molta pubblicità sempre in TV.

Negli anni successivi ho lasciato la recitazione per un lavoro come agente immobiliare, ma mi piacerebbe sempre tornare al cinema o al teatro; è una passione che non si spegne mai. Se c'è un regista giovane e ambizioso interessato da qualche parte lì fuori, si faccia vivo!

"You remind me of a young Leslie Caron": interview with Chela Cannon, receptionist on the Space Station

In my quest to uncover all the previously uncredited actresses who appeared in 2001, an important step was accomplished when I bought the rare book "Space Fiction and Space Futures : Past and Present", edited by Eugene Emme (Univelt, 1982). The book featured a long essay wrote by Frederick Ordway, the scientific consultant hired for 2001 by Stanley Kubrick, about his experience in the making of the movie.

The text of the essay had already been available at The Kubrick Site since the late '90s; what were missing, though, were the pictures and the related captions. Through one of those captions (page 65, see image below) I finally found out the name the actress playing Mrs. Turner, the receptionist in the scene where Heywood Floyd gets onboard the Space Station: Chela Cannon (born Chela Matthison).
Stanley Kubrick, Chela Cannon and Frederick Ordway on the set of the Space Station Reception. Mrs. Cannon is reading a 2001 issue of 'Paris Match', whose cover was specially designed for the movie by the French magazine. Picture source:

After some goggling and with the help of the National Theatre School of Canada I had the chance to interview Mrs. Cannon (she right away wanted to be addressed as Chela that, if you were wondering, is an East Indian word meaning "disciple"), that was very amenable and recalled some anecdotes about her career and her work in 2001.

* * *

Chela, could you tell us something about your family and artistic background?

I was born in Vancouver from a family of British origins; I studied in New Westminster and Vancouver, in British Columbia. I was always very fond of acting since I was young: my great-aunt was Edith Wynne Matthison, a stage actress who also appeared on two silent films - she was very famous in her days, she basically introduced Greek drama in North America. She passed away when I was 13, but it was her example that probably gave me the passion for acting.

After the high school I set out to study theatre and I graduated in the first class (1963) of the National Theatre School of Canada. I later did some TV work in Toronto; some of my first appearances were in a documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada called The Overfamiliar Subordinate (1965) and a CBC drama, More Joy in Heaven with John Vernon. (Ed. note: it was the same Board that produced Universe, a short movie whose special effects shots inspired Kubrick during the pre-production of 2001 and whose narrator was Douglas Rain, the eventual voice of HAL)

 Chela (third from the left, back row) with the National Theatre School of Canada class of '63. (Source)

I decided then, looking for more working opportunities, to move to London. I was there with Maurizio Fiorini, a fellow actor. It was during this stay that I participated in the auditioning process for 2001 and then, the actual movie.

How did it your involvement with 2001 come to be?

I guess that my agents of the time, GAC Redway, got me into it. The whole process was unusually lengthy: three months of auditions! There were a lot of girls with me during the auditions, and I never figured out precisely why Mr. Kubrick choose me among all the others. I guess he was looking for a certain "type", a certain profile, some visual inspiration that I might have given him.

source: top,; bottom,

Kubrick was also concerned about the 'sound' of the actresses, I mean their pronunciation. My accent must have suited him better than the others. A friend of mine, Bob Howay, was also chosen for a minor role that was cut from the final edit of the movie.

How long did the experience on 2001 last? What are your recollections about working on the movie and with Stanley Kubrick?

Well, I don't remember the details very well, but I'd say my experience on the set didn't last for more than a week. I started working on it in early 1966.

I remember Kubrick once sat right next to me, and told me "You know, you remind me of a young Leslie Caron". I was speechless! Because, you know, he was not the average flirtatious director, he was very serious and focused on the many details of the job - it was a detail-oriented director. It was probably the only instance in which he spoke personally to me during the shooting process.

I remember working along very well with William Sylvester (Ed. note: the actor who played Heywood Floyd), he was a very nice, considerate man. The whole project was always "hush-hushed", I mean everybody was very secretive about the plot, and we were told not to give away anything to the press. Not that we were precisely aware of it, anyway!

What about the costumes made by Hardy Amies, the famous London designer? They are iconic now.

They were fabulous. I remember I wore a wig while shooting the scenes, with short hair. My natural hair was long and blonde; I'm not quite sure if I would have cut my hair for such a bit part in the movie, but they didn't ask, so...


I also remember that Mr. Amies was right there during all the auditioning process, he was very involved with it. We had to walk for him with the costumes on.

I always wondered why some actresses got screen credit and others like you and Maggie London, although you had speaking parts, didn't.

I was very upset about that, and I wasn't even aware of it; for some reasons I didn't see 2001 until years later, in the mid 1970's, so I was told I went uncredited by some friends. I wondered if it was something that had to do with Actor's guild or Unions, but I was young and naive at the time and I didn't care very much about those things. In later years, my son as well tried to figure out what happened.

When I finally had the chance to see the movie I thoroughly enjoyed it - it's an amazing film. My father used to joke with friends that his daughter played one of the apes.. I was very disappointed then, but I now tend to believe that it was just something that slipped by the people involved with the credits, or my agents at the time. Anyway, I guess that nowadays my relationship with the movie I still ambivalent, as no one subsequently cared about trying to fix that.

Picture source: top, '2001' bluray; bottom,

What about your subsequent movie career? I read that in 1967 you took part in another sci-fi movie that also starred Ed Bishop, 2001's lunar shuttle pilot: Battle Beneath the Earth.

I do not remember much about Battle, it must have been a very small role - I didn't ever see the final movie! While in England I did some live TV theatre: two BBC productions, one called Theatre 625 with Nicolas Pennell and Edward Fox, and the other Thirty-Minute theatre. It was terrifying for me, worrying about doing something wrong on live TV. In one of the Theatre 625 productions I had to ride a horse, I can't recall the production name. There was another famous actor with me, John Castle.

I moved back to the U.S.A., to California, after 1967 in search for other career opportunities. It was then that I got married to Robert, a fighter pilot in the US Navy. We moved back to British Columbia and we have lived here ever since. I was back on TV in 1978 with the movie Who'll Save Our Children? and I have done a lot of commercials in Canada.

I later moved from acting and I worked for years in the real estate business, but I would still love to do movies; it's a flame that never goes off... If there is some young and enterprising director out there, why not?

giovedì 3 ottobre 2013

The Art of Roy Carnon

Carnon at work in his office in Borehamwood during the production of '2001'
(still from 2001: A look behind the future)

Roy Frederick Carnon, born in England in 1911, had grown up in Isleworth, London, attending art school in Chiswick for a short time. He became an illustrator, working mainly for advertising agencies; during the Second World War, Carnon continued to sketch even when he was working as a fireman during the London Blitz; he subsequently joined the RAF ground crew and was dispatched in Africa, India and the Far East.

After returning to civilian life, Carnon continued to work in advertising, as well as producing book covers. He was responsible for a number of covers for Edgar Rice Boroughs' science fiction novels published by Four Square Books in 1961-65 and illustrated "Famous Fighting Aircraft" for the Collins Wonder Colour Books series in 1964.

In 1965, Carnon became one of the members of the team responsible for producing concept drawings, sketches and paintings for 2001: A Space Odyssey. His official designation was 'scientific design specialist and visual concept artist'. For this he was responsible for visualising space craft, film sets and the iconic 'wheel' space station, that in his rendering is almost indistinguishable from the final product.

 Carnon's depiction of the famous Space Station V - Source: 

Other early space station designs, made by another artist in the team, Richard McKenna were single ringed and saucer-shaped. (The Orion space shuttle is indeed very close to the final one we see in the movie)


  a later design by McKenna is closer to the final product.

Before Caron, the 2001 pre-visualization team in London included the aforementioned Richard McKenna, who was on board since the beginnings in New York but left in late december 1965; it is to be remembered, though, that the first artist to be officially hired by Stanley Kubrick to work on the film, apparently to work alone and for Kubrick only in New York, was Alex Schomburg, another famous comic book illustrator. In the Kubrick Archives there is also evidence of corrispondence between Kubrick and the famous painter, designer and illustrator Chesley Bonestell, the 'father of modern space art', in an early phase of the project. It is still unclear, though, if Bonestell provided any original artwork for 2001.

After 2001, his first foray in movie business, Carnon worked on other movies including the Bond movies, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Return of the Jedi, Ladyhawke, all shot in the MGM facilities in Borehamwood and Shepperton, London.

Apparently, the original drawings remained with the artist until his death in 2002 and since then they have been looked after by his wife, Margaret J. Harrold Carnon. According to the Kubrick archives online catalogue, many arworks by Carnon, including the designs for 2001, are now hosted in The Victoria and Albert Museum in London; this could as well be the reason why his official web site, that promised faithful reproductions of his artwork for 2001 for sale, is still 'coming soon'.

Many original artworks since surfaced and have been sold in several auctions; the bulk of the following gallery comes from such auction web sites such as Christie's.