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:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bradbury on Screen: It Came From Outer Space

Tonight, we continue the film event Ray Bradbury: From Science To The Supernatural in Bloomington, Indiana - with a rare 3D screening of It Came From Outer Space.

The film was made from a detailed screen treatment by Ray Bradbury. In 1952, with no real screenwriting experience to speak of, Bradbury was contracted to create and develop a film story for Universal. Being somewhat naive, and perhaps getting carried away with his idea, Bradbury wrote several versions of his treatment, culminating in one which was over a hundred pages long. In all but its technical formatting, this was a screenplay rather than a treatment.

To turn Bradbury's screen story into a shooting script, Harry Essex was brought in. Essex freely admitted that his job was very easy, as all he had to do was re-shape the treatment to conform to the screenplay format, and add some dialogue.

It Came From Outer Space joined the wave of science fiction films which had begun with Destination Moon in 1950, continued with The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951, and with War of the Worlds in 1953. By the end of the decade, the SF film genre would deteriorate into repetitive monster movies - but for now, Bradbury was able to make a significant contribution to an intelligent form of SF in which being alien doesn't necessarily mean being evil or hostile.

Twenty-five years later, Steven Spielberg would declare It Came From Outer Space as one of his key influences in developing Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

My review of It Came From Outer Space includes some extended quotes from Bradbury. You can find it here.

Tonight in Indiana University Cinema in Bloomington, Indiana, we will be presenting the film in 3D. Viewers will be given the classic red and blue glasses. Jon Eller and I will introduce the film, and we will be joined on stage by IU's resident 3D film expert Chris Eller. There will be a post-screening Q&A session. Details of ticketing arrangements can be found here:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bradbury films online

If you couldn't get to the opening night of Ray Bradbury: From Science to the Supernatural - or if you were there and want to see the films again - here is a handy collection of links to online versions of some of the films.

Icarus Montgolfier Wright
This is a different print to the one we screened, and lacks the Bradbury introduction (which was added c.1970).

And The Moon Be Still As Bright
From The Martian Chronicles.

The Burning Man
 From The Twilight Zone.

Marionettes, Inc.
From The Ray Bradbury Theater. Watch out for the Bradbury stand-in in the title sequence. (From the front, the legs and arms of "Ray" are significantly skinnier than the real Ray.)

The Life Work of Juan Diaz
From The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TV + Shorts Programme

Today sees the opening night of Ray Bradbury: From Science To The Supernatural, the film event I am co-hosting in Bloomington, Indiana. We're starting with some short items, for two reasons: first, I maintain that the short form invariably gives a better representation of Bradbury's storytelling (he was more of a short-story writer than a novelist); and second, it allows us to give a rapid overview of the range of Bradbury's work.

In this one evening, we can show Bradbury the visionary of the space age, alongside Bradbury's nostalgic recollection of his childhood; Bradbury's considered reflection on the rights and wrongs of explorers pushing forward into new territory, next to his fictionalised reflection of his own experience of the "alien" Mexican approach to death.

Here's what we're showing:

Icarus Montgolfier Wright
This Oscar-nominated short animation from 1962 (it lost to the Hubleys' "The Hole") is based on a story first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1956. George Clayton Johnson - who would become known as a significant writer for The Twilight Zone, Star Trek and the original Ocean's Eleven - drafted the original screenplay directly from Bradbury's story. Bradbury then re-wrote the script, taking the opportunity to tweak the story. The two writers share screenplay credit.

The imagery for the film comes entirely from the artist Joe Mugnaini, who by 1962 had become intricately connected to Bradbury's work. His illustrations had graced the covers (and interiors) of a number of Bradbury books, most notably Fahrenheit 451 and The Golden Apples of the Sun.

And The Moon Be Still As Bright
When NBC broadcast its Martian Chronicles miniseries in 1980, Ray Bradbury famously declared to the press that he found it "boring". And indeed, the series as a whole is remarkably lacklustre, with a leaden pace. Oddly, the teleplay - by the usually excellent Richard Matheson - seems blameless: for the most part, the miniseries follows the fascinating events of the novel. And yet the Bradbury magic is mostly lost. The blame must surely lie with the director Michael Anderson, whose previous forays into science fiction territory (1984, Logan's Run) were similarly unengaging.

One segment which came close to capturing the dynamics, mood and tone of the Bradbury original comes in the last part of the first episode of the miniseries, which adapts the turning-point story "And The Moon Be Still As Bright". The story (and episode) captures the shocking discovery that the native Martians have been wiped out by disease brought from Earth, and then considers the dilemma of what to do: press on, and take over the Red Planet, or seek to preserve the remains of the lost Martian society. Bernie Casey puts in an energetic turn as Spender, the Earthman who speaks for Mars.

The Burning Man
This episode of The Twilight Zone from 1985 has a script and direction by Ray's friend J.D. Feigelson. I have always put this episode forward as one of the best examples of Bradbury adapted for screen. It's short, atmospheric, and engaging. Roberts Blossom dominates the screen.

For more on this episode, see my review, here.

Marionettes Inc.
One of the better early episodes of Ray's own TV series, The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985), this one stars James Coco in dual roles: Braling, and the robotic Braling II. As with all episodes of Ray Bradbury Theater, the script was written by Bradbury himself, and allows us to see how he re-imagined the story nearly forty years after its creation: it's a Bradbury classic, dating back to 1949.

It's been adapted for TV several times, including a version for Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the 1950s. Read my review of the Ray Bradbury Theater version here.

The Life Work of Juan Diaz
This Bradbury-scripted episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour dates from 1964, and is based on a short story first published in Playboy the year before. Bradbury was inspired by his visit to Mexico in the 1940s when, as a young writer, he encountered the Mexican Day of the Dead, and visited the famous mummies of Guanajuato. That short visit gave him experiences which would surface in a number of short stories, including "The Next in Line", "El Dia de Muerte" and "The Candy Skull".

This episode was directed by the estimable actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, who produced and directed most of Bradbury's work for the Hitchcock series. My review of the episode is here.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Ray Bradbury: From Science To The Supernatural

This week sees the start of the film event Ray Bradbury: From Science To The Supernatural, a week of screenings in Indiana of film and television works scripted by Ray, or based on his work.

The germ of the idea came a year ago, when Jon Eller - Director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies - was in discussion with Indiana University Cinema, headed by Jon Vickers. IU Cinema hosts major film events, including visits from luminaries such as Werner Herzog, Meryl Streep and Peter Weir.

When I visited the Bradbury Center in Indianapolis this time last year, Jon and I spent a bit of time bouncing around ideas for a Bradbury film series - and the result is From Science To The Supernatural.

But why that title?

We wanted to reflect the breadth of Bradbury's writing, presenting him not as "just" a science-fiction writer, or "just" a fantasist. At the same time, we were conscious of Ray's close association with space scientists - while not a "hard" SF writer, Ray's poetic vision of humankind's future in space made him a leading advocate of the American space programme. We wanted to acknowledge Ray's influence on a couple of generations of space visionaries, while also presenting some of the best adaptations of his work which, as it happens, tend to be at the more fantastic end of the spectrum.

Jon Eller and I both had some instant ideas of what to screen in our imagined ideal Ray Bradbury film festival, and we were partly influenced by the treasures held in the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, which include Ray's personal 16mm and 35mm prints of some of his film and TV work. After bouncing around ideas, we gradually homed in on the selection in the current programme.

And so, when the series begins in IU Cinema on Tuesday 24 March, we shall be offering the following:

TV + Shorts:
  • Icarus Montgolfier Wright - the Oscar-nominated short animation from 1962.
  • And The Moon Be Still As Bright - the best segment of the otherwise lacklustre 1980 TV miniseries of The Martian Chronicles
  • The Burning Man - an episode of The Twilight Zone from 1985, with a script and direction by Ray's friend J.D. Feigelson
  • Marionettes Inc. - one of the better early episodes of Ray's own TV series, The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985)
  • The Life Work of Juan Diaz - a Bradbury-scripted episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour from 1964, based on one of his Mexican stories
It Came From Outer Space - the influential 1953 science fiction film (presented in 3D), from an original screen story by Bradbury, and directed by the legendary Jack Arnold.

Playhouse 90: A Sound of Different Drummers - a TV drama which borrows from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury sued over this, and won).

Fahrenheit 451 - Francois Truffaut's Hitchcockian 1966 take on Bradbury's best-known novel.

Moby Dick - the film which effectively launched Bradbury's screenwriting career, directed by John Huston in 1956.

Something Wicked This Way Comes - the only major film to have been made of a Bradbury book from a Bradbury script during Ray's lifetime. This 1983 Disney film was directed by Bradbury's friend Jack Clayton, but friction between the two unfortunately brought their friendship to an untimely end.

If you happen to be in Bloomington, Indiana, during the coming week, grab yourself some free tickets to our screenings - detailed scheduling and ticket information are here:

I will be blogging about the film event every day that we have a screening. Watch this space for more on Ray Bradbury: From Science To The Supernatural.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Moby Dick (1956) on Blu-Ray

Somehow it passed me by, but back in July a Blu-Ray version of Moby Dick was released - in Australia.

It's officially labelled as "region B", but there are many reports that the disc is actually region-free, which means it should play on any Blu-Ray player, anywhere in the world.

The few brief reviews I have seen indicate that the disc is quite plain, with no special extras, and the transfer is nothing special. It appears that no particular restoration has taken place. However, the Blu-Ray does offer one distinct improvement over the previous commercial releases of the film: it is in the correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio. This means that, for the first time, home viewers can see the full film frame, and not have Oswald Morris' careful compositions wrecked by inconsiderate cropping to a 4:3 frame.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

You can't fail to have noticed the widespread tributes to Leonard Nimoy, who died recently at the age of 83. Of course, Star Trek, and of course, Spock. But Nimoy also had an incredibly long career that spanned stage, television, film - and was recognised for his acting, teaching, writing, directing and photography.

It would be impossible for science fiction giants like Nimoy and Bradbury to have never crossed paths, and indeed their paths did cross on several occasions - but curiously the only times when Nimoy acted for Bradbury were all voice work.

Nimoy recorded a couple of spoken-word albums of Bradbury material, which included short stories chosen from The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles. Today, we would call these "audiobooks", but back in the day they were released as LPs.

Later, Nimoy put in an energetic performance as Bradbury's character Moundshroud, in the Emmy-winning animated TV film of The Halloween Tree. On this occasion, Nimoy was performing directly from a screenplay written by Bradbury himself.

It's been interesting to see the tributes to Nimoy, which have come not just from Hollywood, but from NASA, astronauts, and President Obama. He inspired people to dream of space, and of the future; much as Bradbury did. I haven't been able to locate any photos of Bradbury and Nimoy together, but I've sure they met at some point, and no doubt they would have much in common to talk about.