Friday, December 08, 2017

Free Reading!

I finally got round to putting a batch of my Ray Bradbury writings online. You can view them on Academia here: https://wlv.academia.edu/PhilNichols

All of the articles are pre-publication versions, which means that there may have been some edits/alterations/corrections in the versions that were later published.

I can't claim any of these pieces to be highly academic, since I much prefer to write in plain English for a general reader. If you're looking for high theory, you've come to the wrong place. I'm probably most happy with the more recent articles, but the two pieces on Ray Bradbury and BBC radio show the best bits of original research.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Two Rays


Ray Bradbury and animator Ray Harryhausen had remarkably parallel lives and careers. Both were born in 1920 (and so both are due a big centenary celebration in a few years). Both were members of the same science fiction group in Los Angeles. Both credited on The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Both with a love of King Kong and other classics of fantasy film and literature. They met in 1938 at the house of collector and editor Forrest J Ackerman, and remained friends for life. According to Bradbury, they "made a pact promising to grow old, but never to grow up".

In 1947 Harryhausen was best man at Bradbury's wedding, and Bradbury describes the wedding party crowding into Harryhausen's car for a trip across town. A few years later, Bradbury dropped in on Harryhausen at work on a new dinosaur movie, and was invited by producer Hal Chester to take a look at the script. Bradbury quite liked what he read, but pointed out that the scene where a creature from the deep destroys a lighthouse is remarkably similar to a scene in a short story he had recently written for the Saturday Evening Post. Chester's fact flushed as he realised what had happened: the script had been inspired by Bradbury's story (or more likely the artwork which accompanied it), but the inspiration had been forgotten. Until now. Bradbury was paid for the use of the story, so when it came out, the film's poster proudly boasted that Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was "suggested by the sensational Saturday Evening Post story by RAY BRADBURY".

By the early 1960s Bradbury, now well and truly established as a short story writer, novelist and screenwriter, found himself separated from friend Harryhausen by the Atlantic, as Harryhausen found European locations and studios more suitable for the style of films he was developing. But they maintained their friendship through air-mail correspondence. Some of these letters have survived in the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies in Indianapolis. "Dear Brother Ray," Harryhausen would write from exotic locations in Spain; and he would sign off as "the Other Ray" or "the tormented one."

Occasionally Bradbury would send film ideas to Harryhausen - as he would send off ideas to anyone he thought was compatible with the idea: Fellini, David Lean, Kurosawa. In 1976, Bradbury shared his idea/outline "The Nefertiti-Tut Express" with Harryhausen, who in turn shared it with longtime producer Charles H. Schneer. Harryhausen reluctantly admitted that the idea wasn't suitable for the type of film he wanted to make, but wrote that one day the right subject would come along to allow the two Rays to collaborate. Alas, this would never come to pass, and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms remains the only film where Ray B and Ray H have their names together on the screen.

Over the years, Bradbury built versions of Harryhausen into his stories. In 1962, he fictionalised a real-life encounter Harryhausen had had with a nasty producer. The result was the humorous short story published as "The Prehistoric Producer", but better known today as "Tyrannosaurus Rex". Here is how that story describes the painstaking stop-motion animator's art:

Step by step, frame by frame of film, stop motion by stop motion, he, Terwilliger, had run his beasts through their postures, moved each a fraction of an inch, photographed them, moved them another hair, photographed them for hours and days and months.
"Tyrannosaurus Rex" was later filmed for the TV series The Ray Bradbury Theater,with a script by Bradbury himself. In all honesty I have to say that it's not a very good episode - it was made in on far too low a budget. However, for the all too brief animated sequences the producers enlisted French animator Jean Manuel Costa, winner of multiple Cesar Awards (French Oscars) for works such as Le voyage d'Orphée (1983) and La tendresse du maudit (1980), and therefore something of a French Harryhausen.

In 1992, Bradbury was one voice among many of Hollywood's great and good lobbying for Harryhausen to receive a special Oscar. The campaign was a success, and resulted in Tom Hanks and Bradbury introducing Harryhausen as he was given the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for his lifetime of achievements in animation and film-making. The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies holds copies of many of the campaign letters, and a list of the senders reads like a Who's Who of film-makers and special effects artists: Bradbury, George Lucas, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Gordon Hessler, Miklos Rozsa, John Dykstra, Joe Dante, John Landis, Burgess Meredith, Charles H. Schneer, Jim Danforth, Rick Baker, Stan Winston, Gale Anne Hurd, Nathan Juran, Albert Whitlock... every one of whom wrote a loving tribute to Harryhausen, their colleague, friend or inspiration.

In 1993, Bradbury paid perhaps the highest tribute of all, by incorporating a fictionalised Harryhausen as a major character in his Hollywood novel A Graveyard for Lunatics. Special effects wizard "Roy Holdstrom" is a very thinly disguised Harryhausen, and accompanies the narrator in attempting to solve a murder mystery in 1950s Hollywood. Here is how the narrator first sees Holdstrom's workshop, which we can imagine is similar to what Bradbury saw back in 1938 when first invited into Harryhausen's garage:
Stage 13 was, then, a toy shop, a magic chest, a sorceror's trunk, a trick manufactory, and an aerial hangar of dreams at the centre of which Roy stood each day, waving his long piano fingers at mythic beasts to stir them, whispering, in their ten-billion year slumbers.
Bradbury wrote other tributes as introductions for Harryhausen's wonderful books, Film Fantasy Scrapbook and An Animated Life, and in 2010 also provided a video greeting for Harryhausen's 90th birthday BAFTA tribute.

Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012, and less than a year later Ray Harryhausen also left us. Alas, the two never did work together on a movie, but they both had long and successful careers and remained friends to the end. They also both live long enough to see significant recognition for their work: Harryhausen with the Oscar and BAFTA tributes, and Bradbury with his French Order of Arts & Letters and his Pulitzer Prize Special Citation.

As 2020 approaches - the centenary of both Rays - it will be great to celebrate these twin talents, united at age eighteen with their shared passion for King Kong, and never divided.



 

Rare Update!

Bradburymedia has been quiet of late, as life has been far too hectic. But I will be posting a bit more frequently now that my PhD is well and truly out of the way.

The Cinema of Lost Films: Ray Bradbury and the Screen is the title of my thesis, which I handed in back in January. Then, in October, I was finally notified that my PhD was complete.

Call me Dr Phil!

As I write this, I'm sitting in the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies in Indianapolis. I'm on a three-week research visit, gathering material for a proposed book on Ray Bradbury Theatre, Ray's TV series from the 1980s and 1990s. I've just spent an hour Skyping with the good people of the Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation for an episode of their podcast which should be released soon. Watch this space for more detail.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Ray Bradbury Classic Radio

Part of Ray Bradbury's sustained popularity since the 1940s comes from his presence across a range of media. Starting as an author making frequent contributions to pulp magazines in the genres of fantasy, science fiction and horror in the 1940s, he moved onto to be a writer of quality short stories for the "slick" magazines of the 1950s.

The 1950s also saw his reputation expanded through many adaptations on radio (and later in television and film). Most of the radio adaptations were carried out by other writers, although Bradbury himself was very active in circulating his short stories to the radio networks. Sometimes, the networks bought the stories before they had even been published elsewhere.

My view has always been that radio is the most natural home for adaptations of Bradbury stories. While his stories can work well in film and television, the very act of showing requires that things have to be made concrete. Often, when adapting from a written text, it is better to leave some things in the mind of the viewer/reader/listener.

My full(ish) list of Bradbury's radio outings can be found here.

And if you've never experienced Bradbury on radio, where better to start than with the classic episodes of the 1950s series Suspense and Escape. Most of these episodes are not science fiction. Instead, these series adapt Bradbury's more suspenseful stories set pretty much in the real world. But with a twist.

There is a well-curated collection of the Suspense/Escape episodes here: http://www.escape-suspense.com/ray-bradbury/

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury, Vol. 3

In May 2017, The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury, Volume 3, is published by Kent State University Press. Covering just one year of the author's output (1944-1945), this third volume highlights not just Bradbury's prolific output, but the rapidly rising quality of his work at this time.

The full table of contents is as follows:

  1. No Phones, Private Coffin (Yesterday I Lived)
  2. If Paths Must Cross Again 
  3. The Miracles of Jamie 
  4. The Long Way Around (The Long Way Home)
  5. The Very Bewildered Corpses (Four-Way Funeral)
  6. The Reincarnate
  7. Chrysalis
  8. The Poems
  9. Defense Mech
  10. Mr. Priory Meets Mr. Caldwell (Hell’s Half-Hour) 
  11. “I’m Not So Dumb”
  12. Invisible Boy
  13. Ylla (I’ll Not Ask for Wine)
  14. The Tombstone
  15. The Watchers
  16. Lorelei of the Red Mist
  17. One Minus One (Corpse-Carnival)
  18. The Sea Cure (Dead Men Rise Up Never)
  19. Skeleton
  20. Riabouchinska (And So Died Riabouchinska)
  21. Skeleton
  22. The Black Ferris
As with the previous volumes in the series, the stories are presented more or less in the order of composition, not the order of publication. This allows the reader, for the first time, to truly appreciate Bradbury's developing authorship. As I have pointed out before, reading Bradbury's short story collections can give a thoroughly false understanding of how he developed as a writer, since any given collection may gather material composed decades apart.

The period covered by this volume contains a lot of stories that eventually appeared in A Memory of Murder - a collection of stories which Bradbury would have preferred not to have seen the light of day. These are stories which appeared in detective and mystery pulp magazines such as Flynn's Detective Fiction and Dime Mystery. But there are also some significant classics, including a rare opportunity to see two versions of "Skeleton", and the story that would eventually evolve into Something Wicked This Way Comes, "The Black Ferris".

Currently, Amazon US has this volume available for pre-order at 50% of the publisher's list price. So if you were put off by the cover price, you might now want to reconsider!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ray Bradbury Day - 2nd March 2017

The City of South Pasadena has declared 2nd March 2017 as "Ray Bradbury Day". Pasadena was for many years the home of Bradbury's Pandemonium Theatre company, and he had long ties with the city and its libraries.

Left is the complete proclamation, listing among all the "whereases" Ray's key achievements (click on the image to enlarge).

The photo below shows two of Ray's friends holding the proclamation: John King Tarpinian (left) and Pandemonium actor Robert Kerr.

Many thanks to jkt for the photos.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Fahrenheit 451 - a top selling dystopia

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 has risen up the sales charts since Trump took office.

Last week, as the US inaugurated its new President, the phrase "alternative facts" hit the headlines. As spokesmen for the new administration started putting out revisionist accounts of recent events, comparisons were made with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Within hours, Orwell's dystopian novel saw booming sales - and in its wake, other classic dystopias such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 also rose up the sales charts.

Read more on this turn of events here:

http://www.inquisitr.com/3931617/dystopian-novels-top-sellers-after-donald-trump-presidency-with-george-orwell-aldous-huxley-and-ray-bradbury-topping-charts/

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Studies of Bradbury

I'm drafting the introduction to my PhD thesis, and have compiled some bibliographical crib sheets to keep on hand to make sure I don't miss out anything important. I thought this one might be useful to publish here. It's a list of key studies of Ray Bradbury's works.

It's not exhaustive, but it covers all the studies that get mentioned somewhere in my thesis. Even then, I'm bound to have missed something out.

If you want something more pictorial, check my Books About Ray Bradbury page.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Fahrenheit 451 Special Issue

The Fahrenheit 451 special issue of The New Ray Bradbury Review, edited by yours truly, has finally landed in the UK. This fifth issue of the journal produced by the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies is a fiftieth anniversary celebration of Francois Truffaut's 1966 film based on Bradbury's classic novel.

Copies of the journal began to appear last month, but it has taken a while for it to make its way across the pond. You can order directly from the publisher, Kent State University Press, or from Amazon, using the links below.

Here's the official flyer which explains what the issue is about. I wrote the original copy for the flyer. I also wrote the introduction to the issue, and the essay which concludes the issue. Other contributors include Jon Eller (author of Becoming Ray Bradbury), Bill Touponce (co-author with Jon of Ray Bradbury: the Life of Fiction), and film scholar Joseph McBride (author of Steven Spielberg: a Biography and Whatever Happened to Orson Welles, among many others).




Order from Kent State University Press: http://www.kentstateuniversitypress.com/2015/the-new-ray-bradbury-review-5/

Order from Amazon (US): https://www.amazon.com/New-Bradbury-Review-Number-2016/dp/1606352741

Order from Amazon (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Bradbury-Review-Number-2016/dp/1606352741

Tweets

As of today,Bradburymedia has a Twitter feed, which you should see over there on the right.* It will mainly carry things that I have posted to the Facebook page of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies (which I administer). Please click the links and 'like' the posts!


*Except on mobile devices. I'm working on it...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Facelift

Bradburymedia has had a very slight facelift (the old template was getting almost impossible to modify, so I had to switch to a new one). Rest assured that the old content is still here.

I haven't posted much lately, since I'm busily trying to put my PhD thesis together. If you feel starved of Bradbury-related posts, don't forget to take a look at the Facebook page of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, which I also administer. There's usually a couple of quick posts a day on there.

Happy Halloween, and: Onward!


Monday, August 22, 2016

96 Years Ago...

Ninety-six years ago in Waukegan, Illinois, Ray Douglas Bradbury was born.

People sometimes ask me why Bradbury was important. There are all sorts of answers to that, some of them to do with him as an author, some of them to do with him in relation to the world, and some of them just down to personal taste.

The best answers I can give are these:

Innovation. Long after gothic fiction had grown tired, irrelevant and formulaic, Ray Bradbury was reinventing it as modern horror. He presented contemporary people in the contemporary world who became obsessed by, and frightened of, everyday horrors. Crowds. Your own skeleton. The wind. I refer you to those masterpieces of short fiction, "The Crowd", "Skeleton" and "The Wind." Without Ray Bradbury, there is no contemporary horror fiction. Stephen King has admitted as much. If you aren't familiar with this Ray Bradbury, check out his The October Country.

Reflection. When science fiction had become a genre, the staple of American pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, Bradbury took its clichés and its tropes and used them to do something other than fantasize about conquering alien races. He blended SF with horror and reflected our fantasies and fears, in stories like "Mars is Heaven!" He considered the complexity of colonialism, by reflecting on what it means to be the conquering race in stories such as "And The Moon Be Still As Bright" and "The Million-Year Picnic".

Write what energises you. When other writers were content to write for the market, churning out fiction that merely fed back into the pulps the same tired ideas that had originated there, he chose to write for himself - and let the stories find their own market. Because his writing was of quality, he soon emerged from the pulp ghetto into the so-called "quality" magazines. By so doing he was able to take his fantasies and horrors to the mainstream, where genteel magazines such as Mademoiselle found themselves challenged to accept new story forms.

Write clearly, visually. As a writer of efficient, transparent prose, he soon realised that his style should lend itself to screenwriting, and began creating TV and film versions of his works for Alfred Hitchcock , Rod Serling and others, and became a dramatist for John Huston, Carol Reed and Hecht-Hill-Lancaster. He put up with the disappointments of working in Hollywood (where most film scripts end up gathering dust on a shelf) because he loved the excitement of conceiving and re-conceiving ideas for different media. And, perhaps, because Hollywood paid him well, even while it treated him badly.

Head and heart, in equal measure. He occasionally turned out some clunkers, as all writers do. But he also kept everything that didn't sell, and would go back to his earlier manuscripts, eager to fix them. He allowed the public to believe that his stories came easily and unbidden, that he wrote without thinking because intellectualising was anti-creative. But the reality was that he was a shrewd editor who knew how to take out this wrong word, or to move up this powerful paragraph; or to speed up the pace, or slow things down. He summed up his process metaphorically as "Throw up in the morning, clean up at noon". By which he meant put the story down as it comes, without letting your conscious thoughts get in the way; and later return to what you have written and let your intellect make the cool decisions of what to cut, what to re-write.

Scenes. If Bradbury's fiction loses its way, which it sometimes does, it's in the longer pieces. In the short form, I firmly believe that he reached perfection in some stories. But even the longer fiction had stunning scenes. The martyring of the old lady in Fahrenheit 451 is perfect. Will and Jim hiding down in the drain while Mr Dark and Mr Halloway talk above it is perfect in Something Wicked This Way Comes, as is the carnival that sets itself up by night. What's been most fascinating for me, as I have studied Bradbury's manuscripts, is how often he will stumble across a scene idea in one draft which will then be improved in the next draft, even while the context of the scene is changed. Then, when he takes the work into another medium (adapting it for film or stage, for example) he will re-work the overall story but still find a place for those perfected scenes.

And if you need more reasons for thinking highly of Ray Bradbury, I can give you a random list:

"A Sound of Thunder"
"The Veldt"
"The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl"
Fahrenheit 451
The Martian Chronicles
"The Jar"
"Gotcha!"
"The Burning Man"
"The Messiah"
"The Toynbee Convector".

Today in Los Angeles, to celebrate Ray Bradbury's 96th birthday, many friends (and family) of Bradbury are gathering to read his stories, poems and essays. "The Ray Bradbury Read" is taking place right outside the LA central library, adjacent to Ray Bradbury Square. I can't be there, on account of living on a whole 'nother continent, but I heartily recommend it to those who might happen to be in SoCal.

Onward!




Friday, July 29, 2016

Les Spectateurs: a short Bradburyesque film

Les Spectateurs is a beautiful, Bradburyesque short film made by students at ArtFX in Montpelier, France. While the story is original, some of visuals and the mood of the film have strong echoes of Ray Bradbury - and Ray is listed among the acknowledgments at the end of the film.

The film is set on a "mega-satellite" orbiting Earth, but the satellite is soon to break away from Earth and make a new start. The inhabitants are given a last opportunity to return to Earth, before the breakaway takes place. We follow one couple, and especially one woman, who longs for Earth, but is unable leave.

The film is built upon a vast amount of CGI work, and this is fundamental to the story. Some of the CGI establishes the physical set-up of the satellite in relation to the Earth, Moon and Sun. But the more important CGI work creates the entire small town that the people live in, with their American-style suburbia. It's so well done that on first viewing you won't even realise that much of what you see is computer-generated.

So what of the Bradbury connection? Look for the visuals of the rocket ships heading back for Earth, and see if that doesn't remind you of The Martian Chronicles, especially the section of Bradbury's book when the atomic war has broken out back on Earth and there is a mad rush to return.

Look also for the melancholy tone of the relationship of the couple, and see if this doesn't remind you of any number of Bradbury shorts, from "The Rocket Man" or "The Last Night of the World". The film's subtitle is "saudade", which means "a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia". You can't get more Bradbury than that. The film also has a good central metaphor (which I won't spoil) which has no direct connection to Bradbury that I can think of, but which made me think of Bradbury.

It's not a perfect film by any means. The woman's depressed state needs a bit more fleshing out (why doesn't she just get on the first available rocket and go?), and some of the technology is out of whack (wind turbines on a space station?) - but it's a short piece and there's lots about it to like.

Here's the film itself, and below it is a very breezy "making of" feature. This is amazing work for a team of students.


// ArtFX OFFICIEL // Les Spectateurs from ArtFX OFFICIEL on Vimeo.


// ArtFX OFFICIEL // Les Spectateurs MAKING-OF from ArtFX OFFICIEL on Vimeo.

Friday, July 15, 2016

FAHRENHEIT 451 dropped by the Big Read

It's disappointing to see that Fahrenheit 451 has been dropped from the Big Read programme.

NEA - the USA's National Endowment for the Arts - has been running the community literacy scheme for years, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 has long been a popular inclusion. Ray even made a short documentary for the NEA back in 2008, in which he talked about the genesis of F451 and why it is a significant work that speaks out for literacy and against censorship.

It's hard to complain about the new batch of books, which has been drawn up in a deliberate effort to enhance the diversity of authors and voices in the list. But it's sad to see such a classic and popular work, one that chimes so directly with the aims of The Big Read, being turned aside.
The full list of twenty-eight books in the new scheme can be viewed here: http://www.neabigread.org/books.php

And here's Ray Bradbury talking about his masterpiece, and promoting The Big Read.


Sunday, June 05, 2016

Gone, But Not Forgotten

It's four years to the day since Ray Bradbury died. But he's still in the public consciousness, as this question from ABC's game show 500 Questions demonstrates. With thanks to jkt for the photo.

Onward!






Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fahrenheit 451 50th Anniversary Screening

Last night was the special 50th Anniversary Screening of Fahrenheit 451 at Wolverhampton's Light House Cinema, and it was a well attended event.

I introduced the film, attempting to place it in a proper historical context. After the screening, I was joined by my colleague, film lecturer Eleanor Andrews, to discuss what we had seen, and to take comments and questions from the audience.

Some interesting observations emerged, both familiar and new. Eleanor was struck by the overall aesthetic of the film, which she compared to 1960s TV classics such as The Avengers and The Prisoner. Various people were taken by the boldness of the film's elimination of text (except for what we see in the prohibited books). And a number of people commented on the drug-taking, zombie-like characters who are shown to be the norm in Fahrenheit.

As so often when I screen this film, I was somewhat taken aback by viewers' willingness to overlook or forgive some of the technical weaknesses of the film, largely because of the strong ideas which the film manages (or struggles) to convey.We spent much of the time discussing the quality of the acting, the apparent consequences in the film of the loss of literacy (characters struggle to remember things, struggle to communicate, and struggle to manage their emotions), differences between book and film, and how the film relates to other works by Truffaut.

The last time I watched the film all the way through was with an audience at the Ray Bradbury on Screen event in Indiana, which I co-curated last year. Both audiences seem to have appreciated the film's ideas, but both audiences seem to have found the character relationships confusing or disturbing. One of the big debates is whether this is what the film is really about, or whether this is some reflection on its troubled production history. I have written before that the alienating effect is to a large extent deliberate, as is evidenced by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard's screenplay - but that the actual performances add a layer of complication that is probably not fully intended. By this I'm referring to Oskar Werner's heavily-accented delivery, and Julie Christie's struggle to maintain any nuance of difference between the two characters she plays.

Going into this event, I had no idea what audience we might find. I half-expected to be talking to a mere handful of viewers, but the small venue was actually quite full. I'm told that the audience was much bigger than most of the introduced film screenings offered in last year's Artsfest.

After fifty years, Truffaut's film still holds up, particularly when considered as a reflection of the era in which it was made. But there are so many elements of Bradbury's novel that the 1966 film left to one side. Fingers crossed that the forthcoming HBO adaptation will give us a new screen version that is as challenging, and as relevant to present times.

Later this year, I have another Fahrenheit 451 project going public: the special issue of The New Ray Bradbury Review which I have been editing. This contains a number of articles considering the representation of books and texts in the film, some that consider the reception of the film by contemporary and modern audiences, and my own article on Ray Bradbury's responses to Truffaut's film. The issue is due out in October, but is available for pre-order now.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Fahrenheit 451 - 50th Anniversary Screening

On Tuesday 24th May, I will be introducing a screening of Truffaut's 1966 film of Fahrenheit 451, at Light House Cinema in Wolverhampton, UK. It all ties together with the 50th anniversary of the film's release, and the forthcoming issue of The New Ray Bradbury Review that I am editing.

If you're thinking of traveling to the event, the venue is a five-minute walk from Wolverhampton rail station and bus station. And Wolverhampton rail station is on the "west coast main line", about a twenty-minute journey from Birmingham New Street.

Here's a little poster (click to enlarge):


Friday, April 15, 2016

Ray Bradbury and the Oscars

Ray Bradbury never won an Oscar, but in 1963 he came close.

The 1962 short film Icarus Montgolfier Wright, which animated hundreds of Joe Mugnaini's paintings, was written for the screen by Ray Bradbury and George Clayton Johnson, and based of course on Ray's short story. It was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Short Film, and the award would have gone to producer Jules Engel. But on the night, the award went instead to John and Faith Hubley for The Hole.

Here's the announcement of the nominees and winner, from actor Van Heflin:  https://www.oscars.org/vef/load/575b1f3cc94322f3e3173d907ac0ca12?width=640&height=365


You can watch the Hubleys' film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGB3eudJwOU

And you can watch Icarus here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm5kylavY3Y

 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Fahrenheit 451 - new adaptation mooted

Breaking news: HBO is apparently developing a new adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's best known and most successful novel. This comes after two decades of on-again off-again "development hell" from Mel Gibson's Icon Pictures, the previous holder of the screen rights to the property.

Ramin Bahrani has been identified as the writer-director of the proposed new version. He has a good track record by all accounts, with a number of award nominations and some critical acclaim for his previous work: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramin_Bahrani

As always, I caution people not to get too excited over announced adaptations. Many of them come to nothing. Remember the supposed remakes of The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes? No? That's because they both stalled, like Fahrenheit 451 did the last time we heard about it (F451 was in the hands of the highly bankable Frank Darabont, and even that came to nothing, despite a smart, strong and modern script).

Read more here: http://blogs.indiewire.com/theplaylist/99-homes-director-ramin-bahrani-to-helm-fahrenheit-451-for-hbo-20160413

Monday, March 14, 2016

Bradbury Read - event in Los Angeles

I'm pleased to announce that I have been invited to join the advisory board for The Ray Bradbury Read, an event scheduled for Ray's birthday, 22nd August. It will take place in Maguire Gardens, adjacent to Ray's beloved Los Angeles Library, and Ray Bradbury Square - the intersection named in Ray's honour in 2012.

The event is the work of Steven Paul Leiva, who was instrumental in the naming of Ray Bradbury Square and in the creation of Ray Bradbury Week in 2010.

Full details of the event can be found on Steven's blog, here:

http://stevenpaulleivasthisnthat.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/announcing-new-tribute-to-ray-bradbury.html

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Another Bradbury Reference from The Simpsons

There's something of a Bradburyan influence on the latest episode of The Simpsons, due to air today in the US. According to the Simpsons Wiki:

"Not feeling unique, Lisa signs up for the Mars One Space Colony – to Marge's dismay. Then, Marge hires Bart to go through the tryout process with Lisa to make her want to quit."
It's called (wait for it!) ... "The Marge-ian Chronicles."

OK, the Bradbury reference is tenuous, but it's far from the first. Other references are documented here.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

David G. Hartwell

In a strange echo of what happened with George Clayton Johnson, there have been announcements - followed by rapid retractions - of the death of Hugo Award-winning editor and critic David G. Hartwell. He evidently suffered a massive stroke.

I once sat on a conference panel with David, although my interaction with him was minimal. But I am very familiar with his work. The "Timescape" imprint he started at Pocket Books in the 1980s gave me plenty of quality reading back in the day, and that accounts for only a tiny proportion of his career's work. You can read about this influential SF figure here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_G._Hartwell

This photo shows the panel at the 2008 Eaton Conference at University of California Riverside where I met David. Left to right: Paul Alkon, David G. Hartwell, Eric Palfreyman​ and me. The theme of the panel was the Mars and Ray Bradbury, and the whole conference was entitled "Chronicling Mars".


Monday, December 14, 2015

"Ray Bradbury's Library" Update

The development plans for the Carnegie Library in Ray Bradbury's home town of Waukegan, Illinois, are moving forward. The Ray Bradbury Waukegan Carnegie Library, Inc. (RBWCL) is the newly formed body which is trying to establish a museum and educational centre in the library building that Ray Bradbury visited frequently in his childhood.

A fictionalised version of the library lies at the heart of Bradbury's novel, play and film Something Wicked This Way Comes, and references to the same library crop up frequently in Bradbury's books and stories.

The mission statement of RBWCL is as follows:
  • To honor and promote Ray Bradbury’s artistic achievement.
  • To honor and promote Ray Bradbury’s transformative influence on the culture of the United States.
  • To honor and promote the influence of the Carnegie Libraries on Waukegan, Illinois, America, and the entire world.

RBWCL has a new website, which includes several draft plans for the various floors of the Carnegie building. Take a look: www.bradburycarnegie.org

Friday, November 27, 2015

THE NEW RAY BRADBURY REVIEW - announced for October 2016

I've been editing issue five of the annual New Ray Bradbury Review, and it has now been listed in the publisher's catalogue for 2016. October sounds a long way off , but with any luck, copies may become available earlier than this date; they sometimes do.

The issue is entirely devoted to articles related to the Francois Truffaut film of Fahrenheit 451, which is fifty years old in 2016. I managed to pull together contributors from four continents for a wide-ranging look at the film, its contexts, its influence and its curious strengths and weaknesses. The film is usually considered to be flawed - and indeed Truffaut scholars often rate it as one of his lesser works. But it remains just about the only film made from a Bradbury work by a major figure in world cinema. It's fun to speculate what a Kurosawa, a Fellini or a David Lean might have made of a Bradbury story - and Bradbury tried to work with all of these directors and more - but we do at least have a Truffaut version of Bradbury.

The New Ray Bradbury Review is edited at the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies in Indianapolis under the general editorship of the Director, Jon Eller; and is published by Kent State University Press. The publisher's catalogue page for the Review can be viewed here: http://issuu.com/dcrosby/docs/2016_catalog_complete_web/15?e=2256225/31544935

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dandelion Wine - on screen

RGI Productions has confirmed its intention to adapt Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine into a feature film.

Rodion Nahapetov is the author of the film's screenplay, and he will produce the film with Natasha Shliapnikoff, Agata Gotova and Albert Pocej. The screenplay was initially developed several years ago, and had Ray's blessing.

There is a Facebook page for the film, which currently includes some concept art, and photos of Rodion with Ray: www.facebook.com/dandelionwinemovie

There have been many announcements of Bradbury-based film projects in recent years. So far, nothing has resulted from the planned versions of Fahrenheit 451 or The Illustrated Man - and things have gone quiet on Something Wicked This Way Comes. But Rodion and Natasha are different: producers who had a close connection to Ray, and who have a strong commitment to Dandelion Wine. I think adapting Dandelion Wine could be really difficult, but I hope they manage to pull it off!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

Forget Christmas. In Ray Bradbury's fiction, Halloween is the biggest holiday of them all.

As I was browsing through some files on my laptop, I came across a couple of images from The Halloween Tree which I don't think I have used before on Bradburymedia. They are background paintings, used as establishing shots in the 1993 Hanna-Barbara film based on Bradbury's novel. Ray wrote the script for the film, and won an Emmy Award for his efforts.

The paintings, below, are shown here as you never quite see them in the film. Both are used in panning shots - the camera moves across each one, from one side to the other. A couple of years ago, I took frame grabs from the DVD and stitched together several frames to create the panoramic images you now see.

I wish I could give due credit to the original background artist(s), but unfortunately I have no idea who they were. The film's credits are not specific about who created the backgrounds, and there are any number of artists who might have been responsible (see the full list of film credits here).

I've always been quite taken with the second image below, a representation of the fictional Green Town, Illinois. It looks very like old Waukegan, the real town it is based on.

Click on the images to embiggen.



Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Halloween Tree - in New York

Calling all New Yorkers! An event happening TOMORROW, based on Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree!

 
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The Living Libretto : The Halloween Tree

October 30, 2015 / 7:00 p.m.
The National Opera Center
330 7th Avenue / New York, NY 10001

From Egypt to Mexico, from prehistory to modern day, the epic journey the boys in Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree undertake in their search for their friend Pipkin manages to combine the light humor of Alice in Wonderland with the adventurous narrative of The Odyssey. Underpinned by a morality reminiscent of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the story travels across space and time, all the while offering valuable wisdom with respect to the cultural and historical traditions that have led to the contemporary celebration of Halloween. "From Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, to Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and Wuorinen’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, phantasmagorical adventures have sprouted from regular lifestyles, transporting the audience, along with the characters, into the wild world of imagination," write the creators.

“While it sticks to two of the Aristotelian unities for drama (it has one main plot and takes place within twenty-four hours), TheHalloween Tree disposes of the third unity, one physical location, in a daring manner by traveling through space and time,” explains librettist Tony Asaro. Composer Theo Popov continues, “There are moments in Bradbury’s novel that just beg for an operatic setting: the pumpkin chorus on the Halloween Tree, the funeral processions in antiquity, the lamentations of the Druids, the flight of the witches, the communal celebrations of the Mexican Day of the Dead…Most of all, the excited pace of the narrative, which can glimpse hundreds of years of history in mere moments, makes the story ideal for a staged adventure children and parents alike would enjoy." American Lyric Theater has proudly commissioned The Halloween Tree in cooperation with the estate of Ray Bradbury.

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Tickets and more information here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-living-libretto-the-halloween-tree-tickets-18439261327?ref=ebtnebtckt

Sunday, October 25, 2015

No More Whispers...

I'm breaking a longish Bradburymedia silence to report that The Whispers has been cancelled by ABC.

The Whispers was the most recent attempt to adapt Ray Bradbury for the screen, taking the premise of his classic short story "Zero Hour" and spinning out into a long-running TV series. As it turns out, only thirteen episodes were made, and in the face of declining ratings ABC decided not to bring it back for a second season.

This, of course, leaves viewers of the series with unanswered questions, principally "what was that all about?"

I watched the first three or four episodes, and although it really had little to do with Bradbury, I thought the plotting had some intrigue, with mystery being piled on mystery. The opening scenes of episode one actually reflected Bradbury's "The Small Assassin" as much as they did "Zero Hour". I have the remaining episodes stacked up, and may get round to viewing them at some point.

It turns out to be a mixed blessing that Bradbury's name was completely left out of the credits. Most casual viewers will have no clue that The Whispers was "Zero Hour". But if any of those are left disappointed by a lack of a solid conclusion, point them to the original short story - which has one of Bradbury's finest endings.

More information on the cancellation of The Whispers can be found here: http://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/the-whispers-cancelled-by-abc-no-season-two-38861/

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Sound of Thunder

Yesterday I posted a brief announcement that the Take Me To Your Reader podcast about "A Sound of Thunder" was now live. Today, I thought I would post some convenient links for anyone who wants to find out more about the story and the media adaptations.


First, here's the link to the podcast, featuring yours truly as "special guest".


The Ray Bradbury short story is still copyrighted, so shouldn't really be out there on the web. But it is one of the most reprinted stories in history, and it is quite ubiquitous online. Here is just one of many finds that Google led me to.


The Ray Bradbury Theater episode is a quite faithful adaptation of the story, and although it shows its age (and lack of budget), it's still a pretty good presentation of the Bradbury original - and has a script by Bradbury himself. Watch it on YouTube here. And if you want to know more, read my review of the episode.


The much-maligned 2005 film version has some entertainment value, but as we all agreed in the podcast, you really have to leave your critical faculties at the door, since the expansion of the story to feature-length has been done without much intelligence, logic or scientific understanding. Not that science fiction has to be scientifically accurate - but if you expect to fool the viewer into believing the impossible, you need to do it without insulting their intelligence. Watch it on YouTube here.


If you want to do the right thing, here are links for purchasing some of the above. These links are "Amazon.com affiliate links": each purchase made after following these links will generate a small donation to the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, to help preserve and promote the legacy of Ray Bradbury.


A Sound of Thunder (Widescreen Edition)

A Sound of Thunder and Other Stories

The Ray Bradbury Theater: The Complete Series

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ray Bradbury (1920 - 2012)


Today would have been Ray Bradbury's 95th birthday.

Let's start planning for the Bradbury Centenary in 2020. Onward!





Update: to tie-in nicely with Ray's birthday, the Take Me To Your Reader podcast I guested on has now gone live. You can listen to our lively discussion of "A Sound of Thunder" here:

http://pavementpodcast.com/podcast/tmtyr-episode-28-deaunt-chaynj-ennithnng-a-sound-of-thunder-feat-phil-nichols/

Special thanks to Seth, Colin and James for getting the episode edited and online in time for 22 August!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Take Me To Your Reader

Last night I joined the regular team of the podcast Take Me To Your Reader to record an episode devoted to Ray Bradbury's short story "A Sound of Thunder" and two media adaptations of the story.

The idea behind Take Me To Your Reader is that the presenters will read a science-fiction book or short story, and then watch the film(s) based on the story. Previous topics have included Planet of the Apes (in all its filmic incarnations), Carl Sagan's Contact, and Jurassic Park - and many, many others. I've listed to maybe six or seven episodes previously, and always found them enjoyable for their careful but accessible analysis of how stories adapt from one medium to another.

"A Sound of Thunder" is unusual in being a quite short story which has been adapted into a full-length feature film, necessarily entailing the invention of a lot of new material. The film, directed by Peter Hyams and released in 2005, went out into the world almost unnoticed: it had a limited release, and then went quietly to DVD with a minimum of publicity. It didn't help that the company behind it went bust, and it almost never got finished.

The earlier screen adaptation was from Bradbury's own script, for Ray Bradbury Theater. I've always quite liked this version, although it has its flaws - you can read my review of the episode here.

I won't pre-empt the conclusions of the Take Me To Your Reader episode, but let's just say that all of us involved in the recording found the movie to be hilarious in places... but it is, alas, not intended to be a comedy...

We spoke via Skype, with one end of the conversation being recorded in Oregon and my end being recorded in the UK, so  the episode now needs to be edited to make a seamless whole. It should be ready by the end of the month. I'll post a link as soon as it goes live.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in SF adaptations, why not check out some of the earlier episodes, here.

During the recording, I recommended that newcomers to Bradbury's fiction should start with one of the compendium volumes, either The Stories of Ray Bradbury or Bradbury Stories. The two books are completely complementary, with no overlap at all in their contents. Each book contains a wide range of story types, and each one makes a perfect introduction to Bradbury.

Below is an Amazon link. If you click on this link, any Amazon purchase you make will generate a small donation to the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies.



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Facebook

Bradburymedia has been a little quiet of late, for which I apologise... but if you are feeling deprived of news and insights on all things Bradbury, please make sure you visit the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies on Facebook.

I maintain the Facebook page in my role as "Senior Advisor" - and tend to make short quick posts there several times a week. Often it will be for posting links I have found to other resources, the kind of thing that isn't quite substantial enough to warrant a full blog post. Recent posts include details on August events to celebrate what would have been Ray's 95 birthday, and an obituary for the sculptor who created Disney's animatronic Abe Lincoln (the inspiration for Ray's short story "Downwind from Gettysburg").

And for those of you who avoid/despise/detest/don't understand Facebook, I should point out that the page is public. You don't need a Facebook account to view it. (But if you are a Facebook user, we would welcome a "like" from you, if you haven't already "liked" us.)

Join us here:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Center-for-Ray-Bradbury-Studies/766546360037269



Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Whispers - Premiere Episode

The Whispers - ABC's new SF drama series based on Ray Bradbury's "Zero Hour" - premiered on Monday. According to Variety, it got reasonable ratings, so I assume its future on primetime US television is assured for the time being.

The opening episode had some strong behind-the-scenes talent attached. Writer-producer Soo Hugh has been associated with Under the Dome. Not the greatest series of all time, but one which at least is sometimes able to sustain some mystery and suspense. Co-director Mark Romanek made the admirable Robin Williams film One Hour Photo, although his career since has never quite matched up to that early work.

Because of the Under the Dome connection, I half-expected The Whispers to be full of artificial suspense, shocks and surprises. Instead, it had multiple plot threads which started out independently but turned out to be connected. Nothing earth-shattering, but not bad TV plotting, especially in setting up what I assume might be a five-year series if those ratings hold up.

Not surprisingly, the show very quickly diverges from Bradbury's original story. However, what Bradbury-derived material there was seemed quite fine to me. There were the kids taking instruction from Drill, the parents talking on the phone and not quite paying enough attention to the kids - this taken directly from "Zero Hour". The mother at the beginning of the episode who died falling through the treehouse reminded me of another Bradbury story, "The Small Assassin", where a baby causes a mother to fall downstairs and die. Then there was the beardy guy in the hospital, who was covered with tattoos. Ah, Soo Hugh read "Zero Hour" in The Illustrated Man, I thought to myself. There's even one sequence which has visual echoes of "The Screaming Woman" from Ray Bradbury Theatre.
 
Of course, for every Bradbury element, this Amblin Entertainment production also had a Spielberg element: the kids, of course, plus the toys that take on a life of their own, and the mystery-object-found-in-the-desert (how could it possibly have got here?) - this could have been Close Encounters, or ET, or Poltergeist.

Overall, though, it was far better than I feared, and good enough to make me want to see more. I didn't care for the deaf kid (unconvincingly written and performed), and the mystery-object-found-in-the-desert (how could it possibly have got here?) was visually underwhelming. But otherwise, good stuff. I doubt there will be any Bradbury after this first episode, though.

One thing struck me as odd. There wasn't any credit to Bradbury on-screen anywhere that I could see. I imagine this is a contractual matter between ABC and the Bradbury estate, and it's none of my business. But if I were Don Congdon Associates, I would have insisted on a "based on a story by Ray Bradbury" credit at the head of each episode.
 
Over on io9, a reviewer suggests that The Whispers misses the point of Bradbury's story. It's a good review, which gave me a few chuckles. But it seems to me that you can't expect an open-ended TV series to have the same point as a short story that runs to just a few pages. I would hope that The Whispers is designed to reach a conclusion at some point, but it's not being advertised as a closed serial of defined length. Rather, it is typical network TV fare, working on the principle of "let's keep it going as long as we can, and possibly consider concluding it at some unspecified point in the future - if we don't get cancelled at short notice". The best we can expect, I think, is that "Zero Hour" be treated honorably as the jumping-off point for the series, after which it becomes its own thing.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Whispers = "Zero Hour"

On Monday 1st June, ABC airs the first episode of The Whispers, a science-fiction TV series based on Ray Bradbury's short story "Zero Hour". The series was announced a long time ago, and has been delayed several times. Let's hope the wait has been worth it.

"Zero Hour" was first published in 1947, in the pulp magazine Planet Stories, a regular home for Bradbury stories in the 1940s. Today you can find it in several Bradbury books: it's in the 1951 collection The Illustrated Man, the 1960s compilation S is for Space, and the 2003 retrospective collection Bradbury Stories: 100 of his most celebrated tales.


Planet Stories, fall 1947 issue.  Click to embiggen.


Bradbury's story is about an alien invasion with a difference. The alien - Drill - finds a way of communicating with Earth children.The children incorporate Drill's ideas into their play, and eventually enable Drill to take over the Earth. Like John Wyndham in The Midwich Cuckoos, Bradbury manages to tap into something inherently frightening about children. Perhaps they are too innocent, so that they just have to be up to something.

But what Bradbury's story is really about is... bad parenting. As with another of his classic short stories, "The Veldt", the parents just don't pay enough attention to the kids. They've got enough adult things to pre-occupy them, and would rather just send the kids off to play, or to sit in front of the TV. Their lack of interest in what their kids are up to, and specifically their lack of interest in the children's play, becomes the parents' downfall.

Bradbury often said that he didn't predict the future, but instead tried to prevent it. "Zero Hour" is a classic Bradburyan warning: pay more attention to your kids, or else...

"Zero Hour" has remarkable staying power. Although the story is dated in places, and clearly reads like something from the 1950s (although it was written in the 1940s), it is sufficiently non-specific about future technologies that it can stand up well today. It has long been popular in other media, too. It was all over American radio in the 1950s: it was adapted for Dimension X in 1950; Lights Out in 1951; Escape in 1953; Suspense three times (1955,1958 and 1960); X Minus One in 1955. And it has been made into a short film, and adapted by Bradbury himself for TV's  Ray Bradbury Theater - see the Youtube video below.

Although Bradbury's short story is still in copyright, somewhere along the line Anthony Ellis' 1950s radio script for "Zero Hour" slipped into the public domain, and has become a popular source for re-enactors of old-time radio. You can find the script here.

At the time of writing, I haven't seen The Whispers. Given that there have been some dreadful adaptations of Bradbury over the years, I am not expecting much from the series. But I have my fingers crossed that Bradbury's concept is strong enough to shine through whatever ABC can do to it!



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ray Bradbury - "Minor Poet"

On 10th July 1972, Ray Bradbury​ was the first speaker in a twelve-week series of free lectures entitled Cosmic Evolution: Man's Descent from the Stars at San Francisco's Exploratorium. "I will be participating as a minor poet and sub-minor philosopher," Ray said, "seeking to explain our age and the great three-billion-year age ahead."

By this time, Bradbury had been closely associated with space - partly through his fiction, but more importantly through his non-fiction writings and public speaking.

Other contributors to the lecture series were all scientists, including: Freeman Dyson, who lectured on intelligent life in the universe; Nobel Prize-winning chemist Melvin Calvin, on the origin of life; and Philip Morrison, who concluded the series with "The Context of Mankind: a Summation."

Five years later, Bradbury and Morrison would sit together on a NASA panel with novelist James Michener and explorer Jacques Cousteau, discussing "Why Man Explores". The answer to such a question clearly required not just a scientific answer, but a poetic one.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Start Date for THE WHISPERS, based on Bradbury short story

After much unexplained delay, ABC has finally announced an air date for the new series The Whispers, which is based on the classic Ray Bradbury short story "Zero Hour".

TVLine.com broke the news, and published the first preview of the official poster.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is the latest release from Colonial Radio Theatre, the audio drama company whose previous hits include Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Halloween Tree.

As with Colonial's Bradbury productions, 20,000 Leagues stays true to the source material - although if you are only familiar with the 1954 film (or any of the many TV remakes), there may be some surprises for you here. The first surprise might be the cover art, seeming to imply that Captain Nemo is perhaps some kind of Indian nobleman, but even this is true to Jules Verne, although it is in Verne's sequel The Mysterious Island that this aspect of Nemo's past is revealed.

Verne's extraordinary voyage is really a tour of the world under the sea, in itself a rather undramatic premise. It succeeds by the vividness of the wonders he describes, and by the verisimilitude of the fantastic events that befall the cast of characters: the French scientist Arronax, his assistant Conseil, and Canadian whaler Ned Land, all of whom become unwitting captives of the myterious Captain Nemo. The other element which draws the reader (or listener) forward is the mystery of Nemo himself. What motivates his vengeful attacks on ships of all nations? Who are the other occupants of Nemo's wondrous submarine the Nautilus? How can they possibly survive life beneath the oceans?

Colonial's Nemo is J.T.Turner, who plays him as appropriately larger than life. Although we never fully discover all of Nemo's secrets, we do learn of his intense sadness when there is loss of life among his own crew, and we do learn of an emotional trauma related to his wife and children. It is to Colonial's credit that these humanising elements of the story are retained alongside the rollicking adventure of fighting giant squid and escaping from cannibals.

Something else I admire about this production is its period setting. It might have been tempting to either update the story, or eliminate the specifically outdated elements. But I'm pleased to see that this version clearly keeps the story before the completion of the Suez Canal, and even allows Verne's mistaken assumption that the South Pole is on a floating ice cap (as the North Pole is), rather than on the terra firma of the continent of Antarctica.

Ordering details for Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea can be found on Colonial's website: http://www.colonialradio.com/

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The April Witch



Into the air, over the valleys, under the stars, above a river, a pond, a road, flew Cecy. Invisible as new spring winds, fresh as the breath of clover rising from twilight fields, she flew. She soared in doves as soft as white ermine, stopped in trees and lived in blossoms, showering away in petals when the breeze blew. She perched in a lime-green frog, cool as mint by a shining pool. She trotted in a brambly dog and barked to hear echoes from the sides of distant barns. She lived in new April grasses, in sweet clear liquids rising from the musky earth.

It's spring, thought Cecy. I'll be in every living thing in the world tonight...

- Ray Bradbury, "The April Witch", Saturday Evening Post, April 5th 1952.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bradbury on Screen: Twin Evils

Today sees the climax of our film series Ray Bradbury: From Science to the Supernatural in Bloomington, Indiana. To finish, we have two films with screenplays by Ray Bradbury.

Moby Dick (1956) was not Bradbury's first screenwriting job, but it was certainly the one which established him as a quality writer for the screen. He shares screenplay credit with John Huston, but a study of Bradbury's final draft script with the finished film shows that Bradbury wrote the majority of what was filmed - although he was, of course, working under guidance from Huston.

The film influenced Bradbury's career in many ways, and really echoed through much of his work that he did in the following forty years or so, some of which I discuss in my review of Moby Dick, which you can find here.

Our second Bradbury-scripted film can also be said to have occupied Ray for thirty-five years, in that it has its origins in a 1948 short story, "The Black Ferris", which Bradbury then developed into a screen treatment in the late 1950s, turned into a novel in the 1960s, and finally scripted (several times) in the 1970s and 1980s. Something Wicked This Way Comes, finally produced by Disney in 1983, was directed by Jack Clayton, and features some memorable scenes - such as the library confrontation between Mr Dark and Mr Halloway - which Bradbury refined through his many re-writings as the story evolved from initial premise through to final screenplay.

Unfortunately, the film didn't do well with preview audiences, and so it was extensively re-worked. New scenes were written and shot, and the whole finale sequence was re-edited. Special visual effects were added to give a more supernatural dimension to some scenes, and the original George Delerue score was replaced with a new one by James Horner.

Clayton and Bradbury had a serious falling-out during the making of the film, and although they maintained a diplomatic silence about this while the film was on first release, Bradbury later let it be known that his and Clayton's decades-long friendship was over. The two had met in 1954 - when Bradbury was working on Moby Dick.

Both films play on ideas of evil, and both make use of omens to build an atmosphere of fear. The great Royal Dano appears in both films, and is the prophet of doom in each one.

In between the two films, there will be a discussion session, where Jon Eller and I will attempt to unravel the complex production histories of the two films. If you can join us, we'd love to see you there.

I've blogged quite a few times on Moby  and Something Wicked: Moby Dick posts are here; and Something Wicked posts are here.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Two Ways To Burn A Book...

 Tonight, the Ray Bradbury film series Ray Bradbury: From Science to the Supernatural continues in Indiana, with a double bill and a discussion panel.

First on screen is a genuine rarity: an episode of the classic 1950s live TV anthology series Playhouse 90 which has never been given any kind of repeat broadcast. Nor has it ever seen any kind of commercial release. "A Sound of Different Drummers" is an original TV drama written by Robert Alan Aurthur, about agents of the state who send books for incineration.

Now, if you think that sounds like Fahrenheit 451, imagine what Ray Bradbury thought when he saw it back in 1957.

Bradbury initiated legal proceedings, claiming that Playhouse 90 had taken his story without permission. At first, he lost. But on appeal, and with the presentation of evidence that Aurthur had prior knowledge of Fahrenheit, he won.

There are three good accounts of "A Sound of Different Drummers". One is online, in Stephen Bowie's excellent Classic TV History blog. Bowie has actually watched the episode (researchers can access a copy at the Paley Center in New York), and makes some great observations about John Frankenheimer's direction. A second account is given in Gene Beley's book Ray Bradbury Uncensored. The third account, and the one which gives most detail of the legal case, is in Jon Eller's biography Ray Bradbury Unbound.


Jon Eller will be co-hosting tonight's screening, and also participating in the discussion panel which will be sandwiched between "Drummers" and Fahrenheit 451.




Which brings me to our second offering of the evening: Francois Truffaut's film version of Fahrenheit 451. This 1966 film is a curious item. Not exactly typical Truffaut - it was Truffaut's first colour film, his first film made for an American studio, his first film made outside of France, and his first and only English-language film.

Truffaut declared that he wasn't interested in science fiction, and this makes him a curious choice to direct Fahrenheit. What attracted him to the story was the very notion of book-burners. As a lifelong bibliophile, he took great delight in thinking through the consequences of a world without books.

Contemporary viewers and critics were somewhat perplexed by the film. The mere fact of it being a British-made film of an American book, directed by a French filmmaker, gave it a strange feel. The decision to largely avoid any chemistry between the characters of Montag, Linda Montag and Clarisse gave it a coldness. Some interpreted this revealing a lack of ability on Truffaut's part. My own view is that Truffaut was very conscious of what he was doing, and indeed his films prior to Fahrenheit demonstrate a clear understanding of human relationships. The coldness of Fahrenheit is not a failing; it is the central message of Truffaut's view of a world without books.

Showing Truffaut's vision of Bradbury's text immediately after Aurthur and Frankenheimer's view of a similar (but not identical) scenario will, I hope, allow us to consider different interpretations of the same basic idea. Aurthur and Bradbury were both writing in the 1950s, the era of McCarthyism, but also the era when television was becoming the leading popular medium, threatening to bring about the end of radio, cinema, theatre and literacy. Truffaut was responding to the 1960s, with television rapidly moving towards McLuhan's vision of the "global village".



In between the screenings this evening, there will be a discussion panel. Jon Eller and I will be joined by Ray Haberski, who heads American Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and by De Witt Douglas Kilgore, a leading science fiction scholar from Indiana University.

Details of how to obtain tickets for tonight's free events are here: http://www.cinema.indiana.edu/about/visiting-the-cinema/