“Gordon (Sterling Hayden), a bookman, is getting burned out, so to speak, on his job. He’s losing the plot on why books are so bad. He meets a pretty blonde who sorts confiscated books on a conveyor belt to oblivion. The blonde, Susan (Diana Lynn, PLAYHOUSE 90’s go-to ingenue), snatches a book off the belt once in a while. Gordon and Susan mark each other as kindred spirits. She introduces him to an underground of kindly bibliophiles. They fall in love. They’re in constant danger of getting toasted by Gordon’s colleagues. They look for a way out, a permanent one.
“The story takes some twists and turns, but let’s just say things don’t end well. For Gordon or for the rest of the bookless world. I won’t exactly spoil the big reveal (not that you’ll ever get to see this thing anyway), but it turns out that the oppressors and the resistance are the same thing. ‘A Sound of Different Drummers’ was prescient, which is only one reason why it’s so good.”
Sound familiar, yet somehow different? The above is a quote from Stephen Bowie’s THE CLASSIC TV HISTORY BLOG reviewing, not Francois Trauffaut’s 1966 film version of FAHRENHEIT 451, but a John Frankenheimer directed drama on October 3 1957 on CBS’s PLAYHOUSE 90, with author credit to Robert Alan Aurthur. Bradbury was tipped off while the live broadcast was still on the air, and with that, the sparks flew.
To quote Bowie again, “Gene Beley’s RAY BRADBURY UNCENSORED: THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY! (iUniverse, 2006) covers the details of the ensuing litigation, which dragged on for years. The upshot: Bradbury lost in court but won on appeal. CBS coughed up the proverbial ‘undisclosed sum.’ Bradbury’s attorney, Gerson Marks, found a paper trail proving that CBS had almost bought the TV rights to the book in 1952, and that Robert Alan Aurthur had considered buying it when he was story-editing PHILCO at NBC during its final (1954-1955) season. Aurthur testified. He fessed up to having seen an old summary prepared by Bernard Wolfe, the CBS story editor who optioned FAHRENHEIT 451 in 1952. But he denied having read the book itself.”
Recalling that Bradbury wasn’t nearly as well known in 1957 — at least outside of science fiction circles — as he is today, Aurthur’s denial is not implausible. But as for Bowie’s “not that you’ll ever get to see this thing anyway,” well, some of us did this Friday as the opening of an IU Cinema Bradbury Film Festival double feature, Frankenheimer’s “A Sound of Different Drummers” at 6:30 p.m., followed by Truffaut’s Bradbury-authorized FAHRENHEIT 451 at 9:30. Both are excellent, each in its own way.
For FAHRENHEIT 451 I recall, from my own review of it in 1966 for an “underground” student newspaper, a pervading preoccupation with beauty. Colors, motion, swirls of flame, repeated images, reflections of light in actress Julie Christie’s hair — and that there’s a perverse sort of reason for this. There are differences, of course, in either version from Bradbury’s original novel, one in Truffaut’s that now the printed word is entirely banned, while the book’s Fire Captain Beatty allowed that “the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course,” later adding “you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals” (FAHRENHEIT 451, 60th ANNIVERSARY EDITION, New York, 2013, p. 55). Or (p. 94) “’What’ve you got there; isn’t that a book? I thought that all special training these days was done by film.’ Mrs. Phelps blinked. ‘You reading up on fireman theory?’” But still most entertainment comes from a kind of surrounding TV, on three walls in protagonist Montag’s home, though his wife is nagging him to add a fourth — something a movie can’t reproduce for us, at least not yet. So we have to make do with a single wall-screen.
But then this is the joke that Truffaut plays on us, with devastating effect. There are no shown titles, instead they are read aloud; only until the very finish with its sign of hope, in the final image, can we actually read the words “The End.” Otherwise the only words we see in the movie are snippets of titles on burning books — for in this world reading is dead already and here is the joke Truffaut has played: that watching this movie we ourselves, however unwittingly, have become part of Bradbury’s future.
But harking back, there are different ways one can present a future, and here both may be good. Black and white TV, of course, on a rather smaller “wall-screen” than today adds more limitations.* Nevertheless, once again quoting Stephen Bowie: “The director of ‘A Sound of Different Drummers’ was John Frankenheimer. It was a perfect match. The future-world setting and the constant atmosphere of dread and paranoia meant that Frankenheimer could go full-bore with his camera and editing tricks without ever overwhelming the material. Constant camera movement advances the story at a freight-train pace. None of the sets have back walls; the people of the future live in murky blackness. The futuristic props (super-fast cars, robotic psychoanalysts) are cleverly designed and there are special effects I still can’t figure out. The most impressive of those is a videophone screen that appears to project the giant, disembodied head of the speaker against a dark wall.”
Two versions, one future. And now we’ve been warned, despite the visual flair of the one or the keyed-up drama of the other, to resist its happening.
*Not to mention that “Different Drummers” being aired live adds its own kind of problems The one we saw was a kinescope, filmed from the TV screen as it was broadcast, complete with commercials and even a preview of the next week’s program.
“Individual and odd. A man who thinks for himself.”
This, said of the amateur astronomer-hero of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, was not meant as a compliment. But then it was the “conformist” 1950s (the film was released by in 1953), a time of Cold War and McCarthyism, when alien “invasions” were not likely to be welcome. And so, when a meteor strike in the Arizona desert is seen by our first-on-the-scene astronomer to actually involve what looks like a space ship, he is first ridiculed, then when it turns out he may be right — and moreover may have made some kind of contact — at the least distrusted.
Meanwhile others in town have disappeared, only to turn up again somehow “different,” something our hero has noticed too. But by now he’s discovered the aliens mean no harm, simply needing to repair their ship, buried but reachable through an abandoned mine, after which they will be on their way. That is, if the hero can hold off the Sheriff. . . .
But this is not simply cold war paranoia, not 1956’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS from Jack Finney’s novel, but rather a deeper investigation of the problem of “otherness.” The aliens in this case are as good as their word (they’ve only disguised themselves, for instance, as the townspeople they’ve captured and who they let go when they’re ready to leave), but to our eyes still so outré that there’s no way we could come to understand them — at least not at our present level of unsophistication. In fact Bradbury, new to working in film, prepared four different treatments, two with the aliens turning out hostile and two benign, and let Universal-International take their pick from them, they fortunately choosing the one he preferred — and also, it turns out, had written a short story the year before called “A Matter of Taste” where it’s Earthmen who land an alien planet of nine-foot spiders with similar difficulties caused by mutual “strangeness.”*
While Bradbury does receive story credit, the actual screenplay was given over to veteran writer Harry Essex who said himself he had to do very little work, but who did smooth some rough edges, including toning down a carnival atmosphere with scoffing reporters at the beginning, making the hero more likeable, and using fewer images of spiders (although the analogy is still there). Also we get a few glimpses of the aliens, one-eyed blob-creatures, which the producers insisted on against Bradbury’s wishes (although, more to Bradbury’s liking, there were several sequences shot “as seen by” the aliens themselves).
And one more detail, possibly helping assure that the theater for this evening’s screening was practically full: this was Universal-International’s first film shot in 3-D (the old-fashioned kind, with the red and blue — well, technically, cyan — glasses!).
* This story, originally turned down by FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION (I believe — this is from the discussion that followed the screening), was finally published in 2004 as part of a book from Gauntlet Press, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, with all four screen treatments plus essays by Center for Ray Bradbury Studies Director Jon Eller, et al., and much, much more.
Two items today, the first being the receipt of the contract from L. Andrew Cooper and Blackwyrm Publishing for “Marcie and Her Sisters” to be in REEL DARK (see March 13). “We’ll be arranging the TOC and copy editing over the next few weeks . . . and we should be in print for a small-run bunch at the World Horror Convention and Bram Stoker Awards® in Atlanta, May 7-10.” So things happen fast sometimes when they happen: first sending back last evening’s contract for “The Good Work” to BLURRING THE LINE, now filling the blanks and readying REEL DARK’s to be returned tomorrow morning. And, as for “Marcie,” to quote once more from this (early) morning’s email, “[you] will be in diverse company, but you all have in common two things: a dark sensibility, of course, but also an incisive perspective that will challenge the way people think and feel. I couldn’t have wished for more.”
Then this evening (speaking of movies and darkness) marked the start of the Indiana University Cinema’s Ray Bradbury Film Festival — officially titled “Ray Bradbury: From Science to the Supernatural” and with a number of co-sponsors including the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and the IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute (see also November 20 2014) — with further screenings set for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Tonight what we saw was a program of five short films and TV dramas, “Icarus Montgolfier Wright” by Bradbury in collaboration with illustrator Joe Mugnaini; “And the Moon Still as Bright” from the 1980 TV mini-series adaptation of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, teleplay by Richard Matheson; “The Burning Man” from the 1980s revival of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (beginning the move toward “the supernatural” but also one of the most “Bradburyesque” in feeling); “Marionattes Inc.,” 1985, RAY BRADBURY THEATER; and 1964’s “The Life Work of Juan Diaz” from THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, story and teleplay by Bradbury and reportedly Hitchcock’s own favorite from the final season after moving to the one-hour format in 1963.
Bradbury, we were told, doted on movies, often going to eight or nine films a week as a teenager in Los Angeles as part of his preparation for becoming a writer. These would have included probably far more bad films than good ones, but he is also understood to have said “you learn more from trash than excellence,” noting that “excellence is mysterious while trash is obvious.” Then I might add that this program is of especial interest to me in that not only do I watch a lot of films myself, but in various interviews I’ve done I’ve almost always listed Ray Bradbury as one of my own major influences.
See you again at the movies Thursday night?
Latish this evening the contract came from Cohesion Press for my story “The Good Work” for publication in BLURRING THE LINE (see February 7). This is the Australian anthology that asks the question “Do you know what’s real and what isn’t?” So concerning my story, one might consider whether there were witches in 1850s London. And if there were witches, then what of witch hunters?
Going back to the original blurb, “BLURRING THE LINE will take you into the far reaches of your darkness, without letting go of reality. It will make you believe.” So following some initial delays, the book is now one more step closer to publication, originally set, according to Editor Marty Young, for the “third quarter 2015.” Then, to quote tonight’s email, once contract details are settled all around he (and, hence, I) “will let you know the TOC, and we can begin the promotional train.”
Just hours ago the word came from Editor Chuck Zaglanis, the long awaited AIRSHIPS & AUTOMATONS (see February 5, et al.) is out on Kindle. Hopefully the print edition will be quick to follow. Published by White Cat, the book is blurbed as “Tales from a world that should have been. . . Fifteen stories spanning the ages from ancient Greece to a far-flung dying future,” and now can be obtained in the here and present by pressing here.
For a broader description from the original guidelines, “[w]e seek steampunk stories featuring strong characters, exciting plotlines, and automatons and/or airships. We don’t want the latter to be mentioned in passing; they should be central to the plot. We aren’t shooting for any particular mood with this book. Dystopian, humorous, pulp, Lovecraftian, upbeat or dark — all have a place here.”
My own piece in this is of the airship persuasion and, set in my far-future dying-Earth universe of the “Tombs” (more than a dozen tales of which have been published in various magazines and books including my current collection, THE TEARS OF ISIS), marks the “far-flung future” that ends the anthology. Titled “Raising the Dead,” along with airships (and tombs) it touches on souls and love, mourning and ghouls, corpse-gas and ballonnets, and Necromancers.
And, we are promised, the paperback version should be out soon. It’s GHOSTS: REVENGE (cf. February 16) from James Ward Kirk Publishing for which my humble addition is a poem of the misadventures of a young man named “Little Willie.” The poem itself is called “Tit for Tat” and, unlike some earlier James Ward Kirk books, poetry seems not to be confined to a separate section up front, but stories, poems, and flash share space throughout the book together — to my taste a better arrangement, having seen a preview copy myself of the book as a whole. Nevertheless, to quote from the Amazon blurb: “Everyone likes a good ghost story. You’ll find this collection both entertaining and haunting. Some of the biggest names in horror have come together to offer their take on what it might be like to be a ghost, and an angry ghost, the kind of ghost not soon forgotten. Ever seen a ghost? If you’ve seen a ghost like one these, well, then likely you are reading this as a ghost — and angry, with a story of your own to tell. . . . You may, in fact, already [be] haunting these pages. Beware the Ghost in the Machine!”
Be that as it may, this is a list of those in GHOSTS: REVENGE, themselves haunts or not, from the book’s back cover.
Mary Genevieve Fortier
James S. Dorr
Ken L. Jones
Rie Sheridan Rose
Neal F. Litherland
Alex S. Johnson
J. C. Michael
David Schütz II
Lori R. Lopez
Tracy L. Carbone
John D. Stanton
Gidion Van de Swaluw
More information, including sample pages, appears on Amazon for which one may press here.
It’s that season again, with the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s new RHYSLING ANTHOLOGY (cf. November 4, April 12 2014, et al.) going into final preparation, and so Sunday night the official proof of my poem was received. This is the annual sent to members for voting on the best short (50 lines or fewer) and long poems of 2014 and, yes, as in recent years I have one poem nominated in the short poetry section. This year it’s for the werewolves, “Beware of the Dog,” a sort of working class view of the creatures and how to cope with them, published in the British e-zine GRIEVOUS ANGEL for September 11 2014 (see also this blog including, with luck*, a link to the poem itself). Also as in recent years the poem probably will not win, but if it does — and, indeed, simply when the anthology itself is obtained — you can be sure it will be announced here.
For a preview of sorts of the Rhyslings, a list of all poems nominated this year can be found on the SFPA site by pressing here.
*If without luck (that is, the link may no longer be active) you can also find the poem at grievousangel.org — click on “September 2014″ in the ARCHIVES list on the right, then scroll down to 11-9-14
More about movies — and good news, too, for Friday the 13th. But let us go back to August last year and the call for submissions, this time from a tip-off via the Short Mystery Fiction Society: “BlackWyrm Publishing is opening several positions in its spring short fiction anthology for general submissions. . . . The collection, tentatively titled REEL DARK: TWISTED FANTASIES PROJECTED ON THE FLICKERING PAGE, focuses on the infection of (prose-fiction or poetic) worlds by movies. We want innovative approaches: if you think endless references to films or characters stepping into or off of the screen is innovative, reconsider submitting. Although the anthology as a whole will be dark in tone, it will speak to a range of audiences interested in horror, science-fiction, fantasy, mystery/suspense, and/or romance (particularly paranormal).” And what should I have but a tale of “Marcie and Her Sisters,” perhaps over-influenced (and one might add horribly unreliable narrators) by a surfeit of zombie movies when they/she were younger, and how they decided that they would get married.
I’m not sure what to think about “Marcie” myself, although it was a pleasure to write. I’m usually too close to my stories to be an unbiased judge. But what counts is the word that came back today from Editor (with Pamela Turner) L. Andrew Cooper: “The editorial team for BlackWyrm Publishing’s upcoming anthology REEL DARK: TWISTED FANTASIES PROJECTED ON THE FLICKERING PAGE loved your story ‘Marcie and Her Sisters.’” It went on to details about payment (in this case at an HWA-defined professional rate) plus plans to have the book out in time for World Horror Convention this spring in May. Was I “still interested in being part of the collection. . . ?”
The answer is yes, and hats off to a “lucky” Friday the 13th!
So it’s all kind of silly, but yesterday’s weekly Writers Digest poetry prompt (see November 1 2014, et al.) was to write a poem inspired by a movie. And one movie that I’d seen not all that long back is A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (see January 19, 11, et al. this year), so why not, thought I, write my poem about that. Today I did so and going over the draft I realized that what I had was actually another review of the film, this time in verse.
So, having little sales potential outside of, say, a really eccentric film magazine, why not share it here — even before my critique partner (who does not read this blog) sees it?
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT
On the bad streets of Bad City,
west of Tehran,
she glides rather than walks
on a stolen skateboard,
her chador billowed cape-like
behind her —
beware, young man, beware,
lost in a forest of pump jacks
despite your own Dracula cloak
and fake teeth,
keep your father inside and
the cat at home
lest your life change forever.
This literary reminder comes from Kathy Ptacek via the Horror Writers Association on Facebook, that today marks the anniversary of the 1818 publication of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s seminal novel FRANKENSTEIN. So, courtesy of Kathy, read on.