Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ray Bradbury's favourite films (1993)

Ray Bradbury was in love with movies. He claimed to have vivid memories of the entire film of the Lon Chaney Hunchback of Notre Dame - from seeing it in a cinema with his mother when he was three years old in 1923.

Later in life he took to writing scripts for television and film, and actively tried to get his books and stories to leading film-makers, in the hope of collaborating with them. Among those he would approach were David Lean, Carol Reed, Akira Kurosawa and Steven Spielberg.

As an active member of the screenwriter's guild, in the 1950s he was instrumental in establishing and running a film club for screenwriters, a venture he undertook because he was astonished by the number of Hollywood screenwriters who were not well versed in the latest film releases.

In 1993, the American Film Institute ran a season of films selected from Bradbury's list of favourites. In the brochure for the event, they posted the full list. Here's what the Ray Bradbury of 1993 considered to be his favourites, listed "in the order in which he first saw them".


As you can see, the films of his formative years hold most of the places in this list of favourites. And Bradbury somewhat immodestly includes three films (the last three) that he had connections with: he wrote the screenplay for Moby Dick and Something Wicked This Way Comes; and both Something Wicked and Fahrenheit 451 were based on novels by Bradbury. His inclusion of the latter two films is significant, as by the mid-2000s he would speak openly of his feeling of being betrayed by Jack Clayton in the making of Something Wicked, and would accuse Francois Truffaut of "ruining" Fahrenheit 451. His inclusion of the two films is a reminder that, for some time, he had genuine affection for them.

The AFI brochure includes a few comments from Bradbury on his selections. Of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he is quoted as saying "it caused me to walk strangely for months." The brochure goes on to say that Bradbury "sat through a whole program of films three time just to see [The Skeleton Dance] again and again."

As for Things to Come, Bradbury is quoted as saying it "so stunned me that I staggered forth to attack my typewriter, fearful that the Future would never come if I didn't make it." And of The Third Man: "If I were teaching cinema, The Third Man would be the first film I would screen to show students exquisite writing, casting, directing, composing and editing."

Finally, of the mighty King Kong, the AFI quotes Bradbury as follows: "When Kong fell off the Empire State he landed on me. Crawling out from under his carcass I carried on a lifelong love affair with that fifty-foot ape."

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Illustrated WOMAN

Many people are familiar with Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man - but not so many know of "The Illustrated Woman". It's a short story which first appeared in Playboy in March 1961, and concerns a woman who is covered with tattoos... or is she?

Today, you can find the story in the Bradbury collections The Machineries of Joy and The Stories of Ray Bradbury, but here is how she looked in magazine publication. (Click to make her even more immense!)



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Thursday, April 10, 2014

THE ILLUSTRATED MAN on Film

The Illustrated Man is one of Ray Bradbury's finest short story collections, first published in 1951. Bradbury wrote a number of screen adaptations based on the book, starting in 1960 - and ending in the mid 2000s. In each case, he selected a few of his short stories to make a portmanteau film - making the selection not just from The Illustrated Man book, but from across his whole body of short stories - and then wrote framing scenes involving the character of the tattooed man.

For various reasons, his own scripts were not filmed. But in 1969, Warner Bros released a feature film based on the book, written by somebody else (Howard Kreitsek) and starring Rod Steiger. The film is oddly incoherent, so much so that some reviewers have called it surreal. My own view is that they are mistaking incoherence for surrealism! Bradbury always maintained that the screenplay was written by a real estate agent, which might explain its incompetence.

Director Jack Smight probably did the best he could with the materials he had to hand, and managed to make the linking scenes with the tattooed Steiger moderately interesting, although they have little in common with the linking scenes in Bradbury's book.

Here is the programme/press book from the 1969 screening of the film. Click on the images to enlarge.





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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Bradbury, Cover Star

Look who's on the cover of the February 1967 issue of Writer's Digest:


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Sunday, April 06, 2014

From the Bradburymedia Archive: THE WORLD OF RAY BRADBURY

This is the programme from a Pandemonium Theatre production of The World of Ray Bradbury. The cover art contains clues to the one-act plays making up the production. As usual, I highly recommend that you click to embiggen!






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Friday, March 21, 2014

Ray Bradbury on THE HAUNTING (1963)

From The Times, 12 December 1998, Ray Bradbury gives a hearty recommendation to Robert Wise's classic understated horror movie The Haunting:



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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Time Intervening


Time is so much present in one way or another in my work. The aging process. Death. The urgency one feels to celebrate before it’s too late.

Last night there was a warm wind at midnight. I thought, ‘I should roll down the lawn like I did with my daughters when we were young.’

I didn’t.

But I could savor it, freeze it with my art, get it on paper.

- Ray Bradbury, interviewed by Aljean Harmetz. New York Times, 24th April 1983, page H1.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Something Wicked Turns Round and Comes Back for More



Deadline Hollywood is reporting that a new film is to be made based on Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Disney has attached Seth Grahame-Smith to the project as director - his first feature film in this role - and he is due to produce a treatment, after which a writer will be assigned. The story is here.

Well, it IS the twenty-first century, that period in history when Hollywood is only interesting in re-treading old product (as this fascinating infographic makes plain).

Whenever I hear of a new Bradbury-based film, I always say two things.

First, don't hold your breath. The history of Hollywood is one of options being taken out, traded and dropped; of scripts being written, rejected, rewritten, thrown away and written again from scratch; and of change in management that make one day's hot property the next day's embarrassing liability. Whatever happened to the Frank Darabont Fahrenheit 451? The Zack Snyder Illustrated Man? That proposed version of Dandelion Wine?

And second, don't pre-judge. The history of SF and fantasy film is that, based purely on announcements and rumours prior to release, fans get up in arms about who is attached to a project (they will ruin it!), changes to the story (that's not in the book!) and changes to the characters (he wouldn't do that!). Sometimes the adaptation will work despite such misgivings, sometimes not. The only way to find out is to wait and see.

That said, who exactly is Seth Grahame-Smith, the neophyte film director who is being entrusted with this undertaking? None other than the creator, writer and director of the MTV sitcom The Hard Times of RJ Berger (2010-1), the screenwriter of Dark Shadows (2012), the author and screenwriter of novel and film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2010 & 2012 respectively), and writer of the book (and forthcoming film) of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009 & 2015 respectively). More information here.

On the plus side, an association with darker themes. On the minus side, someone whose entire cinematic oeuvre to date is dependent on re-tooling existing stories and characters in a "quirky" way.

Hmm. Let's wait and see.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Orbiting Ray Bradbury's Mars...in Arizona

Orbiting Ray Bradbury's Mars is a new book edited by Gloria McMillan (University of Arizona and Pima Community College, Tucson). Yesterday, McMillan appeared on Tucson public television to discuss the book. You can view the TV show below - the Bradbury book is the headline of the programme, and then the first full report after the news summary.

The accompanying web page refers to the book as "kaleidoscopic", because of the many facets of Bradbury that it tries to bring out. The book's subtitle claims for it "biographical, anthropological, literary, scientific and other perspectives", which does indeed sound multi-faceted. So far, I have only dipped into the book, more or less at random, but at some point I will post a review of it.

The original call for submissions to the book mentioned the Arizona connection, suggesting that the book would be "keyed to the fact that Ray Bradbury spent a formative teen year in Tucson, Arizona, that impressed his young mind, largely shaping his metaphorical Mars" and it is precisely this aspect that Arizona's AZ Illustrated picks up on here, leading off with the scientific view of Mars.



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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Directing SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES

For my PhD thesis (forever a work in progress...) I am currently studying Something Wicked This Way Comes. You may know it as a 1962 novel by Ray Bradbury. Or a 1983 film scripted by Ray Bradbury. But its origins go right back to the 1940s with a short story called "The Black Ferris", and its development continued well into the 2000s with Bradbury's stage play version.

It's something you might call Bradbury's life work...

As part of my research, I've been tracking the changes in all the different versions - including a number of screenplay versions which have neither been filmed nor published. Along the way, I've been keeping tally of who might have directed the Something Wicked movie at various points in history. Here's a quick summary. (If you also follow me on Facebook, you may have seen me post this on there recently.)

People who might have directed SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, if things had played out slightly differently...


No. 1: Gene Kelly, pictured here directing the "Circus" section of INVITATION TO THE DANCE - the film which triggered Ray Bradbury's creating SOMETHING WICKED in the first place!





No. 2: Blake Edwards, who said he wanted to do it, but never seemed to take any steps towards it.




No. 3: Federico Fellini, who Ray Bradbury asked a producer to consider, given Fellini's apparent interest in similar themes. Fellini is pictured here on the set of LA STRADA with Richard Basehart (who performed in the Bradbury-scripted film version of MOBY DICK around the same time as this).

Bradbury subsequently realised that, as a writer-director auteur, Fellini would have little use for a Bradbury script - but the two would meet and become good friends, although they never worked together.




No. 4: Sam Peckinpah. According to Bradbury, Peckinpah's method of filming SOMETHING WICKED was to be as follows: "Rip the pages out of the book and stuff them into the camera". Given that Peckinpah was himself a writer, and had a habit of re-writing the scripts he directed, I suspect that it might not have been so straightforward. Bradbury wrote at last one complete screenplay version of SOMETHING WICKED for Peckinpah, but the production didn't come together.




No. 5: Ray Bradbury! After deciding that he and Fellini wouldn't be compatible, Bradbury seriously proposed directing the film himself. He would tentatively consider directing again later in his career, but didn't get round to it.







And finally, the person who DID direct SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983)...



Jack Clayton.

Ray Bradbury and Jack Clayton had been friends since Bradbury's visit to England in the 1950s. For decades they had talked about working together, but were unable to find anything that worked for both of them. Clayton rejected THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, saying that he liked the book but it wasn't the kind of film he felt he could make. Given that one of Clayton's great successes was THE INNOCENTS (based on TURN OF THE SCREW), it should have been obvious that he was a perfect match for SOMETHING WICKED.

SOMETHING WICKED got off to a false start with Clayton as director, and the production nearly evaporated like so many other Hollywood projects. Eventually, it got back on track and was finally made, with ANOTHER Bradbury screenplay.

The Bradbury-Clayton relationship, cordial for decades, was unfortunately soured when Clayton had Bradbury's script re-written (without his knowledge or permission). RUMPOLE creator John Mortimer was Clayton's uncredited script doctor.

When SOMETHING WICKED was previewed, the audience didn't respond well, causing Disney to re-work the film. With Bradbury's involvement (and with Clayton effectively sidelined), new material was shot - which is why the two child stars inexplicably age in a couple of scenes - some visual effects were added, and a new music score was commissioned.

The film, then, was a compromise. But it might have been similarly compromised with Gene Kelly, Blake Edwards, Sam Peckinpah or Federico Fellini at the helm!

Jack Clayton is pictured here on the streets of "Green Town, Illinois" during the making of the film.



 

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Monday, March 03, 2014

Bradbury Doodles

Anyone who ever corresponded with Ray Bradbury, or had a book signed by him, will likely be familiar with the doodles he was fond of adding, such as the charming little Moby Dick fellow you see here.

Frank Palumbo and his students kept up a correspondence with Bradbury for a decade or more, and Frank kept not just Bradbury's letters, but the envelopes they came in. Thanks to Frank's generosity, I am able to share some of them with you here.

One or two items have been tidied up a little (by me), mostly to remove folds, creases and inkblots. (The whale above is one of my Photoshop efforts, but you can see the untouched Bradbury original below, with the original message.) The most common items in the Bradbury doodle repertoire are faces and animals. The humans sometimes look angry, sometimes perplexed, sometimes just grotesque. The animals are a bit more straightforward.

The last item is a simple Bradbury annotation of the Edgar Allan Poe postage stamps on the envelope, indicating Bradbury's idea of the familial relationship between the two authors.

Onward!

















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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

Nominations have been announced for the Nebula Awards, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which includes the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. (Strictly speaking, the Bradbury Award isn't a Nebula - the winner receives a different type of trophy - but it is balloted for, and given, along with the Nebulas. Shown here is Neil Gaiman's Bradbury Award for a 2011 Dr Who episode.)

Here are the nominees:

Doctor Who: ‘‘The Day of the Doctor’’ (Nick Hurran, director; Steven Moffat, writer) (BBC Wales)
Europa Report (Sebastián Cordero, director; Philip Gelatt, writer) (Start Motion Pictures)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, director; Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, writers) (Warner Bros.)
Her (Spike Jonze, director; Spike Jonze, writer) (Warner Bros.)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, director; Simon Beaufoy & Michael deBruyn, writers) (Lionsgate)
Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, director; Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, writers) (Warner Bros.)

It will be interesting to see what the SFWA membership makes of this. Gravity would seem to be the natural winner, but my impression is that it has had quite a critical reception among SF types. While the general filmgoing audience might have found it novel, seasoned SF old-timers see Gravity as 1930s or 1940s SF, the kind of story that Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke (or Bradbury) could have bashed out in an afternoon.


Winners will be announced later in the year. Details of all the Nebula nominees can be found on the SFWA website. Previous winners are listed on Wikipedia, here.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Ray Bradbury Miscellanea

Here's a playful poster from a 2000 production in Alabama. Note the tiny acknowledgment along the bottom of the poster which mentions the various artists who inspired this piece - and note also that Bradbury seems to have something of Emperor Ming about him, Alex Raymond-style.

Click the image to enlarge.



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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ray Bradbury Interview

Here's a little-known interview, taken from a 1988 issue of Atlantis Rising, a PR publication from Atlantis Productions, co-producers of Ray Bradbury Theatre. Bradbury talks about the episodes of the series then in production, including "Gotcha", an unusual episode in which Bradbury created new material set in a fancy-dress party; this new material would evolve into the short story "The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair".

Click on the image to embiggen.



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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ray Bradbury Miscellanea

Remember VHS? When collecting a series would require a significant investment in shelving?

Here is an Australian set of sleeves for a VHS release of Ray Bradbury Theatre. Note the appalling number of typos, and the rather free-and-easy way the episode titles have been altered, presumably to save some space (for example "The Haunting of the New" becomes just "The Haunting"). Note also the privileging of familiar names and faces, so that supporting player Leslie Neilsen gets star billing, even though James Coco is the actual star.

As usual, click on the images to embiggen.














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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ray Bradbury Miscellanea

Courtesy of fjp, here's a photo of Ray Bradbury with writer William F. Nolan. Nolan is best known as a novelist, short story writer, biographer and screenwriter. He also produced the first studies of Bradbury's work: the original Ray Bradbury Review and The Ray Bradbury Companion. More recently he put together Nolan on Bradbury, a compilation of his best Bradbury-inspired writings.

(As always, click images to embiggen.)











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