Posts Tagged ‘Ray Bradbury’

Last night brought 2017’s closing “Second Thursday Players Pub Spoken Word Series” (cf. October 13, et al.), co-sponsored by the Bloomington Writers Guild, and featuring three radio play presentations, Lucille Fletcher’s SORRY, WRONG NUMBER; Ray Bradbury’s IT BURNS ME UP!; and by William S. Burroiughs, THE JUNKY’S CHRISTMAS.  Added were musical performances by local group Urban Deer and an open mike session with six takers, in which I appeared fourth.  It was an interesting and exciting evening, a little bit out of the normal run, my part of which was a “First Sundays” reprise of my short short “The Worst Christmas Ever” (see December 4), this time to a largely different audience.  Also as an extra, cover charge proceeds were earmarked this time to the upcoming “Wounded Galaxies Festival 1968:  Paris, Prague, Chicago Festival and Symposium,” scheduled for February next year, more of which will most likely be covered here (and for which in the meantime, including schedules, one can press here).

Then speaking of Christmas, DEADMAN’S TOME CTHULHU CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (for which see December 12, et al.) has proposed a competition, or in Editor/Publisher Jesse Dedman’s words:  We’re approaching the end of 2017, and that means it’s time for a popularity contest.  Now, remember that this is all in good fun.  I personally will sit out on this vote as I enjoy every story in this collection, but please don’t follow my example.  Spread the link out to as many people as possible.  What does the winner get?  C’mon, shouldn’t the reception be the prize?  How about some beer money?  $20 bucks (PayPal) and a certificate.  The contest and voting is care of Patreon and can be reached here.

To remind, MY story (*ahem*) is third on the list, “A Christmas Carnage,” recently cited by “JME” in her review on Amazon (December 12).  And, technically, you don’t even have to have read the book to vote on the stories (though you really should — there’s a link on the voting page as well to where you can buy CTHULHU CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, in my opinion a great book for giving to one’s [twisted] friends too!).  So do consider, buy, and vote (again, that’s “A Christmas Carnage”), okay?

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No, it’s not my headline this time but rather the title of an animated lecture/interview by Kurt Vonnegut on BLANKONBLANK.ORG/ PBS DIGITAL STUDIOS, delivered to a class at New York University on November 8 1970.  And please forgive the annoying Dropbox commercial toward the end.  But, speaking of SCIFI’s CatsCradle(1963)venture itself into academe (see post just below), I’d say that while this one was rather more exciting — the rocketship, for instance, vs. “Killer Kudzu”? —  I’d like to hope ultimately that  we’re all talking about the same thing.

And the man-eating lampreys as well?  To find out press here.

Kudos for indirectly leading me to BLANKONBLANK, etc., go to Mike Olson and ON THE EDGE CINEMA.  And if that weren’t enough, there are more of these animated interviews — times run to five or six minutes or so each — such as one with “Ray Bradbury on Madmen” (this time via Youtube and without commercial, at least not interrupting it toward the end like with Vonnegut’s session) which can be found here.

For better or for worse I’ve always considered Ray Bradbury a major source of inspiration in my own writing.  So today’s email brought an report from Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis’s Center for Ray Bradbury Studies on their recently ended exhibit, MBradburyiracles of Rare Device:  Treasures of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, which “featured art and artifacts from the Bradbury Memorial Archive housed at IUPUI.  The exhibit ran from August 3 to August 28 in the IUPUI Campus Center Cultural Arts Gallery and was visited by nearly one thousand people during the month.  The August 28 reception and lecture by Bradbury Center director, Dr. Jonathan R. Eller, drew over a hundred attendees, both local and out-of-state.”

Included was a link to a video tour of the exhibit conducted by Director Eller (pictured above) which can be found here.  Also, for more information on the Center in general, one can press here.

How about a movie date on a romantic June evening — but which one to see?  If you like them scary, here’s a checklist of “The 14 Greatest Horror Movie Trailers Ever Made,” including at least two we’ve met (or at least had mentioned) on these very pages.  Brought to us by — which is to say, the opinion of — THE HORROR MOVIES BLOG, weighing in at number 13 is 220px-Cloverfield_theatrical_posterIT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, reviewed here on March 26 as part of this spring’s IU Cinema Ray Bradbury Festival.  And for number 1, also mentioned below on June 8 (as well, with some foreshadowing of the second list following just below, March 15 2011), CLOVERFIELD., the trailers of which, with twelve more films, can be viewed by clicking here.

But if that weren’t enough (and one might suppose as a public service of sorts as well) what if there’s entertainment enough in the strange sounds and manifestations in your own apartment?  Again to the rescue, THE HORROR MOVIES BLOG offers a list of “16 Signs a Ghost or Spirit Is Paying You a Visit,” which may be perused by pressing here.

The story goes that director John Huston, who had met Ray Bradbury before, was in the US for only a few days and, having read the short story “The Foghorn,” was impressed by Bradbury’s poetic style.  So he arranged a meeting and invited Bradbury to go to Ireland to do the screenplay for MOBY DICK.  Bradbury had read MOBY DICK, hadn’t he?

Actually no, but he stopped at a bookstore on his way home, picked up a Modern Library edition, and leafing through was impressed by the poetry of Melville’s style.  So he took the job.

Ultimately, with some changes by Huston (who, as was his habit, gave himself co-writing credit along with Bradbury), the movie came out in 1986 and, despite at one point nearly coming to blows with Huston, Bradbury later said it was his favorite screenplay of all that he’d done.  Also that it “opened up Hollywood” for him, leading to more writing offers for movies than he could possibly handle.  The problem with MOMobyLeftBY DICK, however, was that the novel was written with several interwoven plots, digressions, philosophical asides, and non-linear structure — in short, rather like Bradbury often tended to write himself, though perhaps in even larger scale.  So what he had to do was separate out the main plot, converting seemingly random happenings into a tighter “cause and effect” to give it a structure that could be condensed into less than two hours on the screen.

He did a good job, among other things magnifying the role of Starbuck, Ahab’s first mate, into a more human, more sympathetic adversary to Ahab’s destructive quest for revenge.  Thus Starbuck stresses God’s will in the quest to kill whales, to bring oil for the lamps of those on the land, hence defining his captain’s monomania in terms of blasphemy — evil — made all the worse through Ahab’s bringing the crew to his side.

In more ways than one, the film is a classic, much of the credit going to Huston’s brilliant direction, much to the actors (Huston’s style was to cast his parts carefully, but then allow the actors to do their own interpretations with little or no direction on his part — an extreme example being Orson Welles as Father Mapple using his own script from a London play version), also to cinematography using a deliberate painting-like “washed out” color, but also to Bradbury’s first major screenplay.

Thus the first part of a twi-night double feature, including talks both before and after (I’d taken to smuggling in cheese-on-rye sandwiches both Friday and this afternoon, eating them on a bench outside during the twenty or so minute breaks between presentations).  Then there was one small bit in MOBY DICK while Ishmael and Queequeg board  the Pequod where an older man, half-mad, identifying himself as Elijah prophecies that the voyage will be cursed.  He comes up again, that is the same actor, Royal Dano, as the somewhat eccentric lightning rod salesman in the second film that ended the festival, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES.

So this time the “prophecy” is that a storm’s a-coming to Greentown Illinois, deliberately modeled after Waukegan, the town Bradbury lived in until he was 14.  Here it’s the arrival of a carnival, out of season for October, and here the evil is more direct in the person of carnival owner Mr. Dark, as seen through the eyes of two young boys.

So, yes, there’s a lot of Bradbury himself here who, as a boy, went to carnivals too.  At one he met a “Mr. Electrico” who did a static electricity act and who told Bradbury he would “live forever.”  This was, perhaps, the goad that brought him to being a writer, achieving immortality through his work.  In any event, vignettes about carnivals kept showing up in his earlier work, finally coalescing in his 1962 novel SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES — one that he was already trying to pitch as220px-Something_Wicked_This_Way_Comes_(1983_movie_poster) a movie, although it didn’t finally get made until 1983.  This was a troubled movie, however.  Directed by Jack Clayton, its initial version was panned by preview audiences, causing major re-shooting 8 to 10 months later, rebuilding the sets, bringing back the actors including the boys who had grown in the meantime.  There was also a falling out between Bradbury and the director, this due to bringing in John Mortimer (also writer of RUMPOLE OF THE BAILEY)
as a “script doctor” at the studio’s insistence behind Bradbury’s back.

The major thrust though is the innocence of childhood, with both terror and joy as seen through young eyes, in this case with a carnival which should bring happiness but, instead, preys on the loneliness, the vulnerabilities, the unhappiness of many of the town’s people.  Offers are made — people’s dearest desires — but when accepting there’s always a catch.   The losses are people’s souls, captured as grotesques to be added to Mr. Dark’s menagerie, who also has designs on the children.  And hence the ending, when one of the kids’ father breaks through his regret of years in the past, of having failed his son once when he was little, and discovering as well that the antidote to evil is laughter.  Laughter, love, and joy.

As was noted afterward in the discussion, perhaps not all people will buy that premise.  And even “corrected,” the ending is still rough.  The film, even fixed, was not a success at the box office, according to Wikipedia having grossed  a little bit less than half of its cost.  Nevertheless, it was still well worth seeing, as Wikipedia further quotes Roger Ebert as stating:

“It’s one of the few literary adaptations I’ve seen in which the film not only captures the mood and tone of the novel, but also the novel’s style. Bradbury’s prose is a strange hybrid of craftsmanship and lyricism.  He builds his stories and novels in a straightforward way, with strong plotting, but his sentences owe more to Thomas Wolfe than to the pulp tradition, and the lyricism isn’t missed in this movie.  In its descriptions of autumn days, in its heartfelt conversations between a father and a son, in the unabashed romanticism of its evil carnival and even in the perfect rhythm of its title, this is a horror movie with elegance.”

“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. 220px-Fahrenheit451BPhelps 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.

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*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 the220px-Itcamefromouterspace 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!).

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* 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.

This comes a bit circuitously via the Science Fiction Poetry Society from a few days ago, but Ray Bradbury is one of four writers I routinely claim as important influences on my own writing (the others:  Edgar Allan Poe, Allen Ginsberg, Bertolt Brecht), not to mention that it’s practically local news, so I think it worth sharing for those who might wonder.

As of last year, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis became the new home for a large portion of Bradbury’s papers and office library.  To quote from the announcement:  “Mr. Bradbury, who passed away in June 2012, left his manuscripts and author’s copies of his books to his long-time friend and principal bibliographer, Professor Donn Albright of the Pratt Institute.  Albright, a native Hoosier, has graciously donated most of these books and papers to the Bradbury Center.  The Bradbury-Albright Collection will be the centerpiece of the Center’s Bradbury Memorial Archive, a simultaneous gift from the Bradbury family that includes the furnishings, correspondence, awards and mementoes from Mr. Bradbury’s home office.  Both gifts arrived at IUPUI on October 23 [2013], almost exactly sixty years after the publication of Bradbury’s classic novel, FAHRENHEIT 451.”  For those who wish, the entire announcement can be found by pressing here.

A more complete press release, dated October 30 2013, can also be found here, adding that “’[t]he Ray Bradbury items are a tremendous addition to the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, one of five scholarly editions that are part of the Institute for American Thought at IUPUI,’ IUPUI Chancellor Charles R. Bantz said.  ‘Recently named an IUPUI Signature Center, the Institute for American Thought is internationally recognized for the work of the faculty and staff to preserve, research and publish authoritative texts by important American writers.  Being able to display the Ray Bradbury artifacts from his office library will present Bradbury in a compelling way for countless readers and students of his work.’

“The IU School of Liberal Arts will catalog and store most of the items until the Bradbury center is able to expand its space to accommodate the new holdings.  A few items will be on display in the center offices until then.”

For those across the border in Illinois, Bradbury’s birthplace on August 22 1920 and where he grew up, the latter release also notes that “[s]hipment of the Bradbury items to the IUPUI campus this month coincided with a shipment of Bradbury’s home library and related materials to the Waukegan Public Library in Illinois, a donation representing the author’s wish to leave his hometown with a significant portion of his literary legacy.  Waukegan Library staff and the IUPUI center worked closely throughout the summer to coordinate the shipments from Bradbury’s Los Angeles home.”

For those interested, there is also an unrelated official Ray Bradbury website that can be found here.




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