Monday, January 17, 2011

A little retrospective on dad

One of dad's complaints from his extended hospital stay has been a lack of entertainment. He really can't abide TV, and would much rather watch videos of shows he likes. But he still hasn't taken that bold leap into the 21st Century and acquired a DVD player, so all of his videos are on VHS tape. (Could have been worse: could have been Betamax!)

For his birthday, then, we bought him a personal DVD player with built-in screen and have loaned him a stack of DVDs to get him started -- things he'd like: Victor Borge, Shakespeare, John Pinette -- and I realized I could take the video transfer system I recently bought to transfer videotape from our Hi8 camera to the computer and burn DVDs of his favorite tapes.

And in the process, I came across a film clip that encapsulates, in about 3-1/2 minutes, the essence of dad's work as a TV producer.

As well as some of the mundane assignments, like producing sports, news and public affairs programs, dad produced a string of "outdoors" shows. There was "Game Country", with Paul St Pierre -- the basic huntin'-shootin'-n-fishin' show -- "The Outdoors", with Bob Fortune, known through the 50s and 60s in Vancouver as "The Weatherman" for his nightly appearances on CBC News with his blackboard map and oversized chalk; and "The Open Road", which featured the travels of Ches Lyons, a BC Parks official who shot a lot of 16mm footage of his adventures in BC's backcountry. There was also "The Web of Life", with Dr Ian McTaggart-Cowan, talking about science and nature.

Dad's idea of an outdoors show had nothing to do with huntin'-shootin'-n-fishin'. I don't think he's ever defined it, but I'd define it as the interaction of man and his environment: living with, rather than overpowering it. As an evangelist, I'd take it a step further, towards understanding God's creation and the amazing responsibility and trust He's placed in us to take care of it.

In the early 60s, dad launched a new show that intended to do that, and more or less married the concepts of the last three. KLAHANIE is a Chinook word (Chinook is an extinct dialect of English, French and local native Indian words, which was the trading language of the west coast about 100-150 years ago), meaning "The Great Outdoors". Much of the material was shot by amateur cinematographers, and masterfully edited together by CBUT's finest -- including Fran Rayner, Bill Burns and Don Cummings -- and knit together with studio interviews with the guest and the host -- at first Fortune, later Don White, and occasionally Lyons as well as a number of staff announcers.

KLAHANIE pre-dates and in fact pre-saged "The Nature of Things", "Man Alive", and anything by David Attenborough, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, National Geographic or anything on the Discovery Channel. It broke new ground for viewers, and the fact that it ran for 13 seasons indicates the viewers were more than willing to go there.

If anyone wanted to know the essence of KLAHANIE ... I'd say this film clip sums it up. Dad has always been intrigued by movement and setting it to music (he had an unrealized dream of dressing Gordie Howe in something that showed his physique and filming Gordie skating, capturing the muscle definition and movement), and he got this idea to get footage of a horse and rider and set it to the KLAHANIE theme music, Virgil Thomson's "The Plow That Broke The Plains". So he tasked film photographer John Seale to go out to Maple Ridge to shoot the film. The result was a team effort -- as credited in Don White's voiceover at the beginning -- of concept, film and editing.

I get a wistful feeling from watching this. Not only does it show a simpler time and a link to my childhood (I used to cheer whenever I saw "Produced by Andy Snider" on the closing credits), but it occurs to me that this lovely bucolic location is probably buried under condo developments now.

One other personal note: when the CBC Pioneers Association held a party in 2004 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of CBUT going on the air, they showed a selection of clips from the station's history. This was used as the finale. I remember how dad just beamed at the thought, and how the people at the party enjoyed talking and interacting with him as CBC producers, staff and talent. All my life, I'd seen dad in the shadow of my mother, and he was proud of being known as "Mr Dorothy Davies". Finally, he was getting a measure of recognition for his own work.

I realize I'm probably shattering the Copyright Act by posting this clip, so let's enjoy while we can.