Monday, August 29, 2011

John C. Tibbetts

John C. Tibbetts is an academic and critic. Among his many writings have been interviews with and profiles of Ray Bradbury and a comprehensive review of Bradbury's filmed and unfilmed screenplays.

But Tibbetts is also an artist, who has sketched many of the famous people he has profiled, and often got THEM to sign the work. Here are a couple of his Bradbury sketches, taken from his own website:

If you've seen a lot of publicity photos of Ray, you will recognise some of the poses which Tibbetts has adapted in his sketches.

See more of John's amazing gallery of sketches of the famous here - and read about how and why he does it here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dandelion Wine

On Bradbury's 91st birthday (Monday of this week), it was officially announced that a deal has been completed for the production of a feature film adaptation of Bradbury's 1957 novel Dandelion Wine.

The producers of the new venture are Mike Medavoy, whose credits include Shutter Island and Black Swan, and Doug McKay.

Many times on this blog I have cautioned about getting too excited over announcements of film deals, since the vast majority of film projects (in Hollywood at least) end up going nowhere. In the case of Bradbury adaptations we have already seen announced versions of The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man disappear from the radar.

What may make Dandelion Wine different is that the writer-director attached to the project is Rodion Nahapetov, who has a definite commitment to Bradbury's work. In fact, as a student in 1972 he directed a short film based around the Dandelion Wine character of Helen Bentley.

You can read more about the feature announcement here. Nahapetov's connection to Bradbury, and the development of the screenplay for Dandelion Wine is discussed on his website here.

And if you click here, you can view Nahapetov's Dandelion Wine short in its entirety. In Russian, of course!

I am indebted to Pavel for the Nahapetov links.

Monday, August 22, 2011

happy biRthdAY

Today is the ninety-first birthday of Ray Bradbury. The man just keeps going, with new works coming out all the time.

For a much better written tribute, read what novelist Alice Hoffman has to say in this tribute from the LA Times.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

UK First

The UK first edition of Fahrenheit 451 differed from the US first edition: it contained only the title story, and omitted the other stories "The Playground" and "And The Rock Cried Out". The latter stories would later turn up in Bradbury short story collections.

Such minor differences between UK and US editions are quite common in Bradbury's books, and were there from the outset - even Bradbury's first book Dark Carnival had variant contents. Sometimes differences were prompted by the post-war paper shortage that drove British publishers to keep books short, and sometimes due to Bradbury requesting the opportunity to make changes between publication of the US and UK editions.

Bradbury was significant enough to his 1950s British publishers that they would often feature his books in their newspaper advertising. He rarely got "top billing", but here's one instance where he did: Hart-Davis' ad for the first edition of Fahrenheit 451 (click to enlarge).

This ad appeared in The Guardian on 9 April 1954, and probably in other publications of the time.

Indicentally, nearly all of the books in this ad are still in print today. The exception is The Golden Honeycomb, which has been out of print for about fourteen years.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

451 in the UK

When Fahrenheit 451 was first published in the UK, it didn't exactly make a big splash with the critics. The Guardian newspaper carried a single paragraph review, part of a "books of the day" column, although it was written by a significant literary critic.

Hugh I'Anson Fausset is little known today, but was evidently an important reviewer, as suggested by the list of his critical works in his Wikipedia entry.

Here is what he had to say about Fahrenheit 451 on 23 March 1954:
Mr Ray Bradbury is reputed to write science-fiction poetically, but in Fahrenheit 451 [...] his acutely picturesque manner ill suits the dreary subject matter - future America where the firemen's duty is to burn such books as remain or be destroyed as enemies of the State by a radar-controlled Mechanical Hound. The masses have given up reading, except comics and technology. They have four-wall television and high-speed games. If without a clue to the brains in control, we are visually thrilled when the Hound is up after Montag, a rebellious fireman, and there is real gusto in the descriptions of burning.
I'm not sure what Fausset is referring to with "high-speed games". Maybe he saw premonitions of Wii and PS3 in Bradbury's writing...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Critical Judgement

Do you sometimes read a TV or film review and wonder whether the critic has been watching the same thing as you?

I had this (familiar) thought when I recently read a contemporary review of the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock Hour production of Bradbury's "The Jar". The review was written by critic Derek Malcolm in The Guardian (13 March 1964).

Malcolm is generally dismissive of the series as a whole, saying "by the end of the show one generally feels a little cheated".

Of "The Jar" in particular, he writes

The story, which may have been a good one as written by Ray Bradbury, collapsed in a sea of cliches about half way through and drowned without trace long before the end. It revolved around a simpleton who buys a mysterious bottle from a carnival sideshow [...] The jar, reckoned to hold the secret of life and death, is wrecked by his baby-doll wife, so he ups and puts her in another one to regale the natives even further. Mock not that ye be not mocked appeared to be the moral of the piece. But it needed better handling than it got to drive the point home past the numbing tedium which spread like glue across the screen.

[...] Even old stagers like Slim Pickens and Jane Darwell were unable to retrieve the situation for more than a couple of seconds. However, one has seen better Hitchcock Hours than this. But even the best look like Hitchcock at his most glib and facile, so there seems little point in connecting him with such goggle-box ephemera at all. Maybe he needs the money.

While the Hitchcock Hours were generally not as good as the half-hour format used in Alfred Hitchcock Presents - and while I would tend to agree with Malcolm that any artistic correlation between Alfred Hitchcock, film director, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour was somewhat tenuous - I can't help thinking that he has almost entirely missed the point of "The Jar". First, the show hinges on the visceral and visual fascination of the jar's mysterious contents, which drives people to do strange things. Second, the direction of the episode by Norman Lloyd is deliberately contrived to mirror the way people sit around the TV, entranced by its vague and flickering movements.

Perhaps Malcolm, being best known as a film critic, was unable to appreciate this as a particularly televisual production. Or perhaps this is a reading of the show which is more evident today than it would have been in 1964.

My own review of "The Jar" can be found here. I also have reviews of the Ray Bradbury Theatre version, and the weak 1980s Alfred Hitchcock Presents version.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Back in '53

Back in 1953, you could get a hardcover novel for $2.50... or a paperback for 35 cents. Specifically, you could get Fahrenheit 451 for those prices, in the first edition from Ballantine Books.

Strictly speaking, I suppose Fahrenheit 451 was a collection rather than a novel, since that first edition also contained two other stories: "The Pedestrian" and "And The Rock Cried Out".

Among the first reviewers of Fahrenheit was J. Francis McComas, then co-editor of the influential Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Writing for The New York Times, McComas described the book as "an unsettling experience". He characterised the book as "a polemic: moving and convincing at times, this glum portrayal of a dismal future seldom makes its appeal exclusively to the emotions."

McComas uses some extreme terms, describing the book's "virulent hatred for many aspects of present-day culture" in its depiction of "a grisly world". He does, however, acknowledge the idea as intriguing and not altogether implausible.

Ultimately, McComas finds the world of the novel to be sketchily portrayed, and particularly criticises the lack of detail in accounting for the politics behind the all-out atomic war. He also finds the characters lacking, "spare symbols whose imagined lives are curiously inconsistent with established fact."

I have some sympathy with some of McComas's observations, but I tend to disagree about the atomic war. Bradbury tells the whole story from the restricted viewpoint of Guy Montag, whose knowledge of what goes on in his world is very limited. Montag's understanding dawns slowly, and does so in what immediately surrounds him. His knowledge of government and politics is completely lacking precisely because of the lack of meaningful information allowed to citizens of 451's world.

(Source: "Nothing But TV", New York Times, 8 Nov 1953, p BR43)

Friday, August 05, 2011

By Definition

Ray Bradbury writes across many genres. I've never counted up how many stories are SF, how many fantasy, how many horror, how many "mainstream" - but I would estimate that only a small percentage are out-and-out science fiction. Bradbury himself claims that only one of his novels is science fiction: Fahrenheit 451. The Martian Chronicles, on the other hand, he considers to be fantasy. Yes, it uses the gimmicks, hardware and aliens familiar from the science fiction genre, but the overall situation of the book he considers to be impossible, and hence fantasy.

Ironic, then, that The Martian Chronicles was the book that first branded him with the science fiction label.

Bradbury's views on his own writing were being clearly expressed way back in the 1950s, and probably earlier. In 1951, the year after The Martian Chronicles was published, he was interviewed by Harvey Breit for the New York Times.

Breit systematically asks Bradbury for his definitions of SF and fantasy. Bradbury makes his distinctions clear, with this description of science fiction:

Science fiction is really sociological studies of the future, things that the writer believes are going to happen by putting two and two together [...] Science fiction is a logical or mathematical projection of the future.
And as for fantasy?
It's the improbable. Oh, if you had a leprechaun or a dinosaur appearing in the streets of New York - that's highly improbable.
In light of these definitions, it is quite clear why Bradbury continues to characterise Chronicles as fantasy and 451 as science fiction. It is evident that Bradbury's take on SF is that it is primarily about warning us about the future ("If This Goes On...", to borrow a short story title from Robert Heinlein.

Of course, 1951 was also the year of publication of The Illustrated Man, a collection of mostly SF short stories, most of which take the line of "if this goes on". In the Times interview, Bradbury says, "The mechanical age is crushing people. People are confused", and this attitude is reflected in various ways in some of the stories in The Illustrated Man and in Fahrenheit 451. It is this warning about the future that earned Bradbury another label he has struggled to shake off: as someone who is anti-science and anti-technology.

Interestingly, the Times interview ends with Bradbury showing his optimistic side: "When we move out into space, what a revolution!" he declares.

(Source: "Talk with Mr Bradbury", New York Times, 5 Aug 1951, p182)

Monday, August 01, 2011

Logan's Run - audio dramatisation

I've been listening to another Colonial Radio production: Logan's Run - Last Day.

It's a full-cast dramatisation of various story elements from the Logan books, although I gather it is more directly adapted from the comic book series from Bluewater Productions.

I haven't read the comics, so I can't comment on this aspect of the adaptation, except to say that the radio dramatisation has a breathless pace which is rather like a comic book.

Logan's Run began life in 1967 as a novel, written by two friends and colleagues of Ray Bradbury: William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. (Nolan had previously been known for his Ray Bradbury Review, and Johnson had been known for his Bradbury collaboration Icarus Montgolfier Wright... and an association with The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and Ocean's Eleven.)

I don't think it's a coincidence that Logan's experience has some parallels with Montag from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: both are responsible men in neo-military organisations in a dystopian future, who come to a realisation that there is more to the world than they had imagined... and who both find like-minded others when they go off searching for a kind of sanctuary. It's actually a good template for a science-fictional story, and Bradbury, Nolan and Johnson were neither the first nor the last to exploit it.

Colonial's production is fun and not too taxing. The pseudo-historical back story for Logan's world is, I believe, modified and updated from what appeared in the novel (as, presumably, is the case in the comic-book). I didn't find it quite as profound as some of their work with Bradbury stories, but it doesn't really need to be.

I was hoping for was something that was better than both the old Logan's Run TV series and feature film. I was not disappointed.

Ordering information for the audio version of Logan's Run - Last Day is here. And for the comic book, click here!