Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More Screenplays Coming Soon

More unpublished items are finding their way out of the Bradbury archives and into publication, and the latest trend seems to be unpublished screenplays. Bullet Trick is already out from Gauntlet, collecting several of Bradbury's television scripts ("Dial Double Zero" and "Bullet Trick" among them), and 2010 should see the long delayed Martian Chronicles volume from Subterranean Press, which will contain some of Bradbury's unpublished and unfilmed Chronicles screenplays.

And now comes news of more screenplays from the archive. Gauntlet has announced Dawn to Dusk: Cautionary Travels, which will collect for the first time the original Dark Carnival screenplay - written for Gene Kelly in the 1950s, and based on Bradbury's short story "Black Ferris", this was later converted by Bradbury into the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes... and subsequently converted back into a screenplay for the 1982 Disney film based on the novel!

I had the privilege of inspecting a copy of the Dark Carnival screenplay in the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies in Indianapolis earlier this year. It differs substantially from Something Wicked, but is also recognisable as essentially the same work. What interested me was Bradbury's screenwriting style, as this was written quite early in his screen career. His descriptive powers were arguably at his peak at this stage. His screencraft may not be as well developed as it would become later, but he certainly knew how to write clearly and evocatively for the screen.

Dawn to Dusk will also include Bradbury's screen adaptation of "The Next in Line", one of his better Mexican stories, and "Interval in Sunlight". The publication date is "fall 2010".

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Making of THE FLYING MACHINE

I just received an early Christmas present.

A while ago, I was contacted by Bernard Selling, the director of the short film based on Ray Bradbury's "The Flying Machine". The film is one of many "educational" adaptations of Bradbury stories out there - and like many of its type, it has slipped out of the regular distribution channels and all but disappeared. I have never seen the film myself.

Fortunately, Bernard has a copy of his own, and is seeking ways of getting it to an audience.

When Bernard contacted me, he promised to write up the story behind the making of his film. I'm pleased to report that Bernard kept his promise: his story is my early Christmas present.

So, without further ado, here is Bernard with the story of...


The Making of "The Flying Machine"


The year is 1978. Having made a number of short, 'relationship' films for the Franciscan Communication Center in 1974 and 75, I had begun to think about doing some films of an historical or literary nature. I talked to the people at BFA International Media. We agreed to do several films. I proposed a Stephen Crane short story, "The Three Miraculous Soldiers" because it had many of the same motifs and themes as the Red Badge of Courage.

While working on the Crane short, I acquired the rights to several stories including Ray Bradbury's "The Flying Machine," and Theodore Dreiser's "Phantom Gold." The Crane story turned out pretty well, though my working relationship with BFA was somewhat strained so I decided not to make the other short films for them.


Years went by and I started teaching film production.


One day, I started thinking about doing "The Flying Machine" and contacted a friend whom I thought could probably raise the money. She said she had a dream about working with me on a film so we began to develop the Bradbury story.


I had learned a lot from my experiences with the Crane story--principally that, as a filmmaker. I had to make the best film I could and not worry too much about whether it was close or not so close to the writer's 'literary' version. Thus I decided to turn Ray's two page story into a 15 page script. Once I had written it, I got in touch with Ray who urged me to come over to his office in Century City. A welcoming and gregarious person, he and I spent several hours chatting. Her encouraged me to take the story in whatever direction I felt would work best. I handed him a copy of the script and waited for his response. He looked it over, smiled and said, "This looks excellent. You have expanded all the places I would have expanded if I had been thinking of something longer."


My friend and I raised the $18,000 I needed to make the film without much trouble. We found a nice location for the outdoor meeting of the Emperor and his assistant--UCLA's Japanese gardens. The interiors we looked at the Yamashiro Restaurant in Hollywood. For the exteriors of the Birdman landing, we choose a park setting in Malibu.


I interviewed a young man for the part of the Emperor's assistant and he seemed adequate. He mentioned that his uncle was a well-known actor, Jimmy Hong. Jimmy and I met. A friendly man with the exact face I had hoped for, his only words were, "Hire my nephew and I will do the part." So I had two actors.


In quest of the birdman, I looked at a number of actors from the Asian Pacific Theatre Company in downtown Los Angeles. I found just the person I needed.


So we had money, locations and actors, although not much money for crew for a film that had to come in at $1000/minute. I contacted an assistant camerawoman who had worked on my Crane film and she agreed to do the film as long as she got credit as Director Photography.


Last but not least, I had to find someone to construct an authentic looking flying machine. I happened to see a TV special about the Wright brothers. The authentic looking aircraft had been constructed by a fellow who lived in Long Beach, California, not far from where I lived. His name was Jack Lambie. Jack and I met and he agreed to build what we needed for a modest amount of money, more for the fun of it than anything else. When he finished it, I realized that the flying machine would look quite beautiful on film. I was a happy director.


And so we began. The initial hitch came when we heard the conversation between the Emperor and his chief Mandarin, a burly fellow who looked the part but had a substantial Brooklyn accent. We all laughed at that little hitch, cut down his part to two lines and went on.


The next difficulty came in shooting the moment when the Executioner meets up with the Emperor and the Birdman. The shooting itself went well but in looking at the dailies, the sound was a huge problem--everything was out of sync. (The camerawoman had forgotten to flip the sync switch linking the camera and the sound recorder.) I spent many a long night cutting frames out of the mag track trying to get this very important sequence in sync.


When we went out to Malibu to film, we had plenty of light and a beautiful day in which to shoot. However, the camerawoman became hesitant and wanted to shoot take after take of each setup because she was unsure of the exposure. Finally I insisted that we shoot it at f5.6 and go on. The takes all looked just fine but we ran out of time to do some of the close-ups I wanted.


The last day of shooting took place at the Yamashiro Restaurant. I was surprised to find that the scene designer and the camerawoman had done nothing when we arrived at 9:00 am. My words to them had been 'build the set early in the morning and light it." To my consternation, the camerawoman was not willing to light the set herself and insisted on bringing in a 'lighting director' which cost me a cool $300.00 extra for the day.


Finally, in the middle of the afternoon, we began to shoot the interiors. Jimmy Hong and the birdman both did a fine, quick job and we were able to get the interiors without a problem. However, at that point the Yamashiro manager told me we had to wrap up our shooting in half an hour because guests would be coming in for dinner at 5:00 pm.


I was pretty frantic: the light outside was falling fast and we had to shoot the birdman's escape from the Emperor's grasp, as well as the guards' pursuit. I set up the camera and told the camerawoman to shoot as best she could. I had the actors ready, staged the action and then shot the Emperor's speech and the birdman's escape all in twenty minutes. It turned out fine.


The light had fallen and we managed to get a nice silhouette shot of the guards hauling the birdman back to the Executioner's dungeon. We were not able to get a shot of the steep steps with flaming torches illuminating the action. Too bad. We had fire marshals standing by (at $200.00 a day).


Once the principal filming had been completed, I had to figure out how to shoot a scene of the birdman in the air, inside the 'flying machine'. At first, I put a dummy in the contraption and had a crane lift it up high into the sky. It looked fake. Next, I asked the birdman if he wanted to go up in the contraption. He begged off.


I realized I would have to do it myself.


A few days later, I asked Jack Lambie, the creator of the flying machine to come up and supervise, just to make sure the contraption would hold me 50 feet in the air. It wasn't built to hold anything but a dummy, which is what I felt like as I was hauled up to the 50 foot height.


Although Jack never made it to the shoot, we went ahead. I strapped myself into the contraption, perched on a single aluminum pipe and the crew hoisted me in the air. I flapped the wings, continually asking the cameraman if he had gotten the shot. The pipe felt like it was cutting me in half. Aww!!

At length, the crew lowered me onto the top of the VW bus from which I had been launched. The cameraman assured me we had gotten usable footage and we went home. Looking at the dailies of the afternoon's shoot, I was satisfied. It looked believable and cut into the film nicely.

Jack Lambie had flown his plane to the wrong airport and never made it to the shoot.


When I put it all together, I got a musician buddy of mine, John Braheny, to write a score. He had created the music track for an earlier film of mine, "Little Train, Little Train," and I knew him to be imaginative and reliable. He created a haunting flute-like improvisation that fit the film nicely.


“The Flying Machine” went into distribution and did reasonably well for the first year, at which time the distribution company went out of business. I approached another distributor who was willing to buy me out, enabling me to pay back the investors the principal plus a 30% profit, almost unheard of for an educational film.


Everyone who saw the film loved it, remarking that it seemed authentic, that the actors were very believable and that the theme-- progress vs. the status quo-- was a timeless theme. When I showed Ray the film, he raved about it, saying that it "resulted in a film that was every bit as good as it had looked on paper" the day we sat in his office. He went on to give me many more compliments which felt good coming from the author of this fine little story.


At that point, I felt good about my chances of making it to the next level as a filmmaker--making low budget, features or even modestly budgeted history films. I knew I could get good performances from actors and I knew how to create a fine visual look to whatever I undertook. I had learned the art of adapting stories to the film medium.


Sadly, I never made another film. During the three year period of time following the making of the films for the Franciscan Center, I had made no money in the film business and very little as a teacher. I had exhausted all my funds and had mortgaged my house to the hilt. Thus, I had to go back to teaching, more or less full time.


So much for the story behind the making of "The Flying Machine." A good time in my life, although all too brief, it seems to me, as I turn 71 years old.


Bernard Selling - Topanga, CA - December 19, 2009


Many thanks, Bernard - and Merry Christmas to everyone!


- Phil

Friday, December 11, 2009

Style Fingerprint

We all know that different writers have a different style to their work, and we often think we can identify the author by detecting their style in a passage of text. Some scientists in Sweden have taken this idea to a mathematical extreme, and determined that each author has a distinctive style fingerprint, which can be established by cataloguing the words the use and comparing their frequencies.

A yet bolder claim emerging from the study ("The meta book and size-dependent properties of written language") is that each time an author writes, s/he is drawing on a personal "meta-book". It sounds to me that this is another way of saying that an author has a basic repertoire, and each new work is built from that repertoire.

Most Bradbury readers will be intuitively familiar with this idea, and can certainly cite example of particular linguistic tricks and techniques that Bradbury uses over and over again.

One of the clearest reports on this new study is on the BBC News site, here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Don Congdon

It's just come to my attention that Ray Bradbury's literary agent of many years, Don Congdon, has passed away at the age of 91.

Congdon, I recently discovered, was also Francois Truffaut's literary agent. It was probably through early work on the film of Fahrenheit 451 that Truffaut first encountered Congdon, and he subsequently asked Congdon to represent him on his Hitchcock interview book and other published works.

There is an obituary of Don Congdon on the New York Times website.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Exclusive: New Martian Chronicles Adaptation

In a world exclusive, I am pleased to reveal that Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is to be given its first complete full-cast audio production.

The Colonial Radio Theatre already has award-winning productions of Something Wicked, Dandelion Wine and The Halloween Tree under its belt, and is now set to embark on a full-length dramatisation of the Chronicles, from a new script by Jerry Robbins.

Jerry says, "I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be able to produce this iconic work. Ray is allowing me to adapt the script for the audio production from his book as I did with The Halloween Tree, and for this I am doubly honored!"

Two of Colonial's earlier productions were audio presentations of Bradbury's own stage plays. Bradbury does already have a stage play of The Martian Chronicles. In my view, though, it is one of Bradbury's weaker adaptations - largely because Bradbury has written a very synopsised, yet highly episodic, adaptation. Bradbury has also written a number of screenplay adaptations over the years, some of which will shortly be published by Subterranean Press.

I asked Jerry what running time he envisages for his new adaptation. His answer I find quite pleasing: "I plan on adapting the entire book, so I'm not sure on the running time yet. I hope to have the script finished mid-December for Ray to read through. At that time I should have a rough idea as to the length. I don't plan on an abridgment of content by any means. If we're going to do Martian Chronicles, we're going to DO Martian Chronicles."

I hope to bring more news on this production as it proceeds, but you can also keep informed on Colonial's work on the Colonial blog.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Becoming Ray Bradbury...and other stories

I hear from Jon Eller at the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies that he finished his book Becoming Ray Bradbury: 1920-1953 in June. It came in at 200,000 words, and is now going through final cuts, down to 150,000 words, as he finalises publication with the University of Illinois Press. The book is a largely biographical influence study of Bradbury's early life and career.

Jon is already at work on the sequel, The World of Ray Bradbury: 1953-1972, and has completed the first 40,000 words of that volume to date.

From previous discussions with Jon - and from preview chapters he kindly allowed me to see - I can report that these new volumes will complement both Sam Weller's 2005 biography of Bradbury, The Bradbury Chronicles, and Eller and Touponce's Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction (2004).

As if he didn't have enough to do, Jon will be whiling away the winter months by finalising the contents for the second volume of the Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury, which will cover the 1943-1944 period. The first volume is already with the publishers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bradbury and Art and...

The artist most associated with Ray Bradbury has to be Joe Mugnaini. His designs have graced the covers of several Bradbury books - The Golden Apples of the Sun and Fahrenheit 451 to name just two. He also created the line-art images that accompany Bradbury's stories in Golden Apples and some editions of The October Country, and created memorable backdrops for many of Bradbury's plays.

But how much of Mugnaini's full body of work do we know? Not much, is my guess.

Fortunately, a new book is in preparation, which will showcase a fuller range of Mugnaini's work. Wilderness of the Mind: the art of Joseph Mugnaini is due for release in early 2010. The official website of the Mugnaini estate provides some tantalising thumbnails indicating what we might expect to find inside the book.

The book is written by Ryan Leasher, with layout and design by Jessica Forsythe and a foreword by Ray Bradbury. Diana Mugnaini-Robinson will be adding a preface. Ryan very kindly answered some questions about the book, which I gather he has been preparing as a sideline to his day job in the movie industry.

"The April Witch" from the portfolio Ten View of the Moon.
Image copyright The Joseph Mugnaini Estate, 2009. Used with permission.

Ryan says, "We've had unrestricted access to the estate's archives and, most importantly, to Joe's journals. What we've found is nothing short of amazing."

"No previous book has come even close to showing the depth of the collaboration between Joe and Ray. We've got stunning concept work, including the very first and never-before published Fahrenheit 451 sketches. They were discovered hidden in a scrapbook in the estate archives, safely tucked away by Joe's wife Ruth some forty-five years ago and not seen since. Well, until now."

The book isn't restricted to Mugnaini's work with Bradbury, but reveals the lesser-known side of his work: "The book will include Joe's views and teachings on art. Although Joe was best known to many as an artist and illustrator, his greatest impact was as a teacher."

For the first time the beautiful Ten Views of the Moon portfolio will be reprinted in its entirety, including both Ray Bradbury's and Norman Corwin's full text. The ten-lithograph portfolio was originally intended to be produced in an edition of a hundred and fifty full sets, but the printing stone for "The April Witch"(pictured above) - arguably the best of the portfolio - broke after only eighty-five portfolios were produced.

At first, Ryan says, the challenge (and the fun) was finding new pieces of artwork: "I even ended up travelling to Japan to meet with two Japanese collectors of Joe's work. Now, though, the challenge is figuring out how to choose which of the thousands of illustrations and paintings will make the final cut for the 400-page book."

The book isn't yet completely finished, partly because of the extensive work required to make sure the reproductions are as close to the original pieces as possible, with an emphasis on colour reproduction.

Ryan's final comment is, "We've already got quite a few surprises in the book and we're working on few more...and one of them is big."

The target release date for the book is currently "early 2010", but anyone wanting to be kept informed of developments is encouraged to use the email link on the Wilderness of the Mind website. When a date and price have been fixed, it should be available to order through the Art of Fiction link on the Wilderness site.

As someone who has searched in vain through library catalogues for works by or on Mugnaini, I will very much welcome this publication. My thanks to Ryan Leasher for providing details of the work in progress.



On Saturday 24 October, it was Ray Bradbury: Painter at a gallery in Santa Monica, where one of his classic paintings went on display. The LA Times gave this preview and interview with Ray.





Finally, If you're looking for strange connections, the Marooned blog has an interesting series of connections between Bradbury and Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx. Even if you have never heard of Sixx, the insights into Bradbury works are quite good - see the first instalment, on Bradbury and fire, for instance.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Forthcoming Event

The Ray Bradbury Theatre and Film Foundation has announced the programme of events for the forthcoming Bradbury Theatre and Film Festival.

On the bill are screenings of short films from Chard Hayward (The Pedestrian) and Chris Willett (The Attic), and live performances and workshops. Below are some flyers giving fuller details (click on them to enlarge). It sounds like a great event for anyone within travelling distance of Ventura, California.



On the subject of forthcoming events, a reminder that Bradbury's hometown of Waukegan, Illinois, will be presenting the annual Ray Bradbury Storytelling Festival this coming Friday, 30th October 2009. As usual, the event is held in the historic Genesee Theatre. Details of the event can be found at the Waukegan Public Library website.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Flying Machine

A while ago I requested information about The Flying Machine, a short film from 1979 based on the Bradbury story. I still haven't seen the film, but have been given more detail by the film's writer-producer-director Bernard Selling.

Bernard tells me he produced the film on a budget of $20,000. It has a running time of 18 minutes, and was distributed on the educational market by Barr Films of Pasadena. The film was shot partly at the Yamashiro Restaurant in Hollywood, whose pagoda is claimed to be the oldest structure in California. Exteriors were shot in Malibu.

As well as James Hong, the film features Hong's nephew Craig Ngu. Michael Chan plays the Bird Man.

Bernard is currently investigating the possibility of a DVD release for the film. His website features this intriguing flyer (pun intended!):

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Revealed: The Lonely One

"The Lonely One" is a shadowy figure in Bradbury's novel Dandelion Wine. A serial killer who haunts the Ravine by night, and suffuses Green Town with an unwelcome air of fear and death. He is brought most vividly to life in the chapter about Lavinia Nebbs, which has also frequently been reprinted as a self-contained short story called "The Whole Town's Sleeping":


And Death was the Lonely One, unseen, walking and standing behind trees, waiting in the country to come in, once or twice a year, to this town, to these streets, to these many places where there was little light, to kill one, two, three women in the past three years. That was Death...

Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine


Bradbury has never disguised the fact that his Lonely One is a fanciful extrapolation of a real criminal who held Waukegan, Illinois, in his grip:

Was there a Lonely One?
There was, and that was his name. And he moved around at night in my home town when I was six years old and he frightened everyone and was never captured.

Ray Bradbury, "Just This Size of Byzantium", introduction to Dandelion Wine


In some discussions, Bradbury has clarified further, and reported that the real Lonely One was a kind of cat burglar. This is the version of events recounted (albeit briefly) in Bradbury's official biography:


The identity of the real-life Lonely One would never come to light. The cat burglar was never captured.

Sam Weller, The Bradbury Chronicles


Actually, Weller is incorrect. The real Lonely One was identified and captured. His name was Orvel Weyant, and he was captured in 1928. He spent at least a year behind bars.

And he looked like this:

Orvel Weyant, image from Chicago Tribune, 18 Oct 1928

The real Lonely One's modus operandi was rather odd. According to the Chicago Tribune (2 August 1928, page 11), he would break into a gas station or a store and leave a note for the police, after helping himself to cash or goods. After months of such break-ins he became irritated at the lack of press coverage of his bad deeds, and wrote a letter of complaint to a local newspaper.

Eight months after he started his crime spree, Weyant was captured. He was spotted breaking into the Frank Burke Hardware Store in Waukegan, where he swapped his gun for a shiny new pistol.

The police cornered him. Weyant threatened to shoot himself, unless the police promised not to mistreat him upon his arrest. He was taken into custody in October 1928 (Chicago Tribune, 18 October 1928, page 16).

After his arrest, the previously unreported aspects of Weyant's crimes finally appeared in the press. Starting on 1 February 1928, he had broken into 33 places of business. Each time he broke in somewhere, he would write three letters. One was left for the owner of the premises, expressing his sympathy for their losses. A second was sent to the press, telling them how he did it. A third letter went to the police - telling them that they needed practice in solving crime. All letters were signed: "The Lonely One".

After just over a year in jail, Weyant was considered for parole. At this time, the Chicago Tribune (30 January 1930) reported that Weyant had stolen about $100 worth of goods from his burglaries, but was actually poorer after his spree than he had been to begin with. Police Chief Tom Kennedy suggested that Weyant was far from a master criminal, but was not averse to violence. He took potshots at the police on more than one occasion, although he didn't do this on the night of his arrest...but only because he picked up the wrong calibre of bullets to go with that shiny new pistol.

Weyant's parole was denied, and he continued serving a jail term of "one year to life".

It's not clear what happened to him after this point, but on 17 April 1974 the Waukegan News-Sun carried an article by one Arne Christensen, who claimed to have been at school with Weyant. Christensen contrasted the Weyant he had known ("a friendly, outsize, unmotivated sixth grader with a colossal contempt for anything smacking of book learning") with his recollection of the press coverage of The Lonely One ("...antics catapulted him into the role of a folk hero...the public found humor in the ineptness of the police in failing to foil him.")

Christensen's article ends with him asking if anyone knows what became of Orvel.

While some of the news reports name him "Orville Weyant" or "Orville Wyant", he is more often named as "Orvel Weyant". Beyond this, all we know is that he was born circa 1910, and that before his arrest he worked as a stoker for the E.J. & E "railroad roundhouse".

"Orvel Weyant" is quite a rare name. Google pulls up very few links. One of those few points to a reference to a 1920 Federal Census, showing Orvel (or Orville) as living in Lake County, Illinois, and with a birth date of circa 1910. Waukegan is in Lake County.

The other Google link points to a gravesite record in Honolulu: Orvel Weyant, 3 December 1909 - 6 November 1986.

I can't swear that this is the grave of The Lonely One, but it sounds a pretty good match. I wonder if he ever knew that he had been immortalised in Dandelion Wine?

If it were me, I'd have it etched on my gravestone.



I am indebted to Beverly Millard of the Waukegan Historical Society for unearthing the newspaper clippings relating to the real Lonely One.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I returned from my first ever visit to Ray Bradbury's home town of Waukegan, Illinois. From Bradbury's fictionalised version of Waukegan, as it appears in his books Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Halloween Tree and Farewell Summer, I felt I knew the place well - although I wasn't expecting an exact one-to-one correspondence between the fiction and the reality.

Because I knew I would only be in Waukegan for a very brief time (one working day, to be exact), I made detailed preparations. First, I made a list of all the locations I had read about in Bradbury's books and in the books by his various biographers. Then, I prepared a customised Google Map to help me plot a driving and/or walking route between the various places of interest.

My Google Map can be viewed here. I have included annotations describing each place on the map. Some of the locations I have marked are real landmarks, such as the historic Genesee Theatre. Others are more notional, such as intersections where significant carnivals came to Waukegan during Bradbury's formative years.

If you browse my map - and I would certainly encourage you to do so! - you may also find it useful to play with the Google "Street View" feature. You can access this easily, just by zooming right in on any spot on the map. You will find that Bradbury's childhood home, his grandparents' house, and the old Carnegie Library show up with remarkable clarity.

I have blogged previously on the close resemblance of the geography of Waukegan and the fictional Green Town. Now I have visited the place, I am even more taken with the resemblance. Take a walking tour of Bradbury's Waukegan, and you will get a clear sense of the scale of the world inhabited by Dandelion Wine's Douglas Spaulding.

Naturally, I toured Waukegan armed with a camera. You can view my photo album - complete with explanatory captions - by clicking here. (There's a pause button at the bottom of the screen if the slideshow is too fast.)

Highlights of my whistlestop tour of Waukegan included a behind-the-scenes tour of the Genesee Theatre, a rare visit to the hidden depths of the disused Carnegie Library, a chance to view some unique Bradbury materials in the library of the Waukegan Historical Society, and a strange hour spent alone in a graveyard, trying to find Bradbury's forebears. Thanks to the Historical Society and Union Cemetery, I have been able to make some updates and corrections to my Bradbury family tree.

Why did I bother to visit? Was I just being an obsessive fan, the ultimate geek?

Maybe.

However, Bradbury's work is all about transforming the familiar into the unfamiliar. Reworking the real into fantasy. Writing and re-writing. Adaptation. And if we think of Dandelion Wine et al as adaptations of Waukegan into Green Town, then visiting the real Waukegan is simply another attempt to get back to the source of Bradbury's writings.

I believe I have gained an insight into Bradbury's work from making this trip. Stories such as "Exchange", "The Night" and "The Utterly Perfect Murder" have not - as I feared - been rendered mundane by my experience of the real Waukegan. On the contrary, these stories are now much more grounded in realism for me: before, perhaps, they were "magical realism"; now, they are "magical realism".

For making my visit such a success, I owe a debt of gratitude to the remarkably hospitable people of Waukegan, especially Wayne Munn, who provided important personal contacts and was instrumental in getting me into some less obvious places. I am also especially indebted to Rena Morrow of the Genesee Theatre; David Motley, the city's P.R Director; Richard Lee of the Waukegan Public Library; and the remarkable archivist Beverly Millard who, from the slightest of clues, was able to track down gravesites, coroner's reports and much else.

In the coming weeks, I will be blogging more on my Waukegan discoveries, including:

  • the TRUE STORY of "the Lonely One", the murderous presence that holds Green Town in fear in Dandelion Wine. Yes, there really was a "Lonely One" - and despite what you may have read in Sam Weller's biography of Ray, he was caught and imprisoned.
  • the mysterious case of Lester Moberg, Bradbury's uncle who was murdered in the same year that Bradbury had his fateful encounter with Mr Electrico.
In the same US trip, I also visited the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies for the first time. I will blog about this soon.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One of the Missing

One of the Missing is a film originally produced for public television in the US. It was written and directed by J.D. Feigelson, and based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce.

The 2006 DVD release features a restored version of the film, with enhanced visuals and a few minutes of material cut from the original broadcast version. It also includes a brief introduction by Ray Bradbury from one of its public television screenings in the 1970s, and from the same screening Bradbury interviewing Feigelson.

The story is one of Bierce's American Civil War stories, taken from the collection Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. It concerns a soldier on a scouting mission who finds himself trapped in a collapsed building. The story is similar in tone to Bierce's more well known Civil War story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", a story whose fame has no doubt been enhanced by television adaptations on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.


Feigelson's film takes a couple of liberties with the source material (his scout is a confederate, Bierce's was from the other side!), but creates a strong dramatisation of the story. He does this with minimal dialogue, and with a deftly created image system. Watch for the parallels between the actual Civil War photo at the beginning, the soldier trapped beneath a fallen tree, a spider web in a flashback, and the final shot of the film.


It is rare for Ray Bradbury to act as the host of a TV show - Ray Bradbury Theater being the one exception. So what led him to take this "job"?

There seems to be a couple of answers to this. Judging by his comments in the introduction and interview, he seems to be an admirer of Bierce. But the main reason is that Bradbury was Feigelson's mentor. This isn't mentioned in the video content of the DVD, but is discussed in the director biography on the disc.


In the interview, Bradbury and Feigelson discuss their shared love of Hitchcock - one of Feigelson's influences in the styling of One of the Missing. They also discuss previous adaptations of Bierce, such as the Twilight Zone episode.

Some years after One of the Missing, Bradbury would be instrumental in landing Feigelson a job on the revived version of The Twilight Zone. Feigelson would write and direct "The Burning Man", in my view one of the best adaptations of a Bradbury story. You can read my review of this episode, and more information about how Feigelson got the job, here.


One of the Missing is an interesting DVD, but something of an oddity. The film is less than an hour in length, and is something of a slow starter. The DVD commentary is shared between Feigelson and a producer, and although it contains some interesting insights, they spend much of the time describing the story.

There is also some confusion over when the film was actually made. According to the DVD sleeve and IMDB, it was 1979. But according to the copyright date at the end of the film it was 1969 - and during the DVD commentary Feigelson mentions shooting in 1968.

I wouldn't recommend buying the DVD just for the Bradbury content (which amounts to about fifteen minutes at best), but if you like a suspenseful, visual and short Civil War movie, this is a good one!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ancestry

I'm not really one for genealogy, but sometimes a simple family tree is all you need to be able to make sense of a biography. Whenever Ray Bradbury is biographised [find out if that is a real word - Ed.], his biographers have a tendency to trace his family history back to two solid points:
  • the first Bradbury to arrive in the Americas (Thomas Bradbury in 1634)
  • Mary Bradbury, accused of witchcraft in Salem (in 1692)
Unfortunately, there are a good ten generations between Thomas, Mary and Ray; ten generations in which certain names get re-used: there are a lot of Hinkstons, Spauldings and Samuels in the family. I find it difficult to keep my head straight when a biographer is talking about "Samuel Bradbury" - do they mean Samuel IRVING Bradbury, Samuel HINKSTON Bradbury, Samuel Hinkston Bradbury JUNIOR, or one of several plain old Samuel Bradburys (no suffix, no middle name)?

Oddly, none of the biographers has thought to provide a family tree. Maybe they are as confused about all this as I am...

To resolve the problem, I had to draw up a family tree myself, based on information gleaned from various sources. Most helpful were The Bradbury Chronicles by Sam Weller and Red Planet, Flaming Phoenix, Green Town by Marvin E. Mengeling. I had to cross-check some information on full names and dates using www.rootsweb.ancestry.com, an excellent genealogy resource, although one which is prone to occasional error since, like Wikipedia, anyone can contribute to it.

No doubt there will be some real genealogists who will be unhappy that I haven't filled in every branch of the Bradbury family tree. My excuse is that I created this to help me make sense of the biographies I was reading. Uncles Bion, Inar and Lester seem to have been influential on Bradbury's life and art - so they are shown. Their spouses and offspring don't seem to have been so influential - so they are left out.

See for yourself: click the image below to reveal my attempt at the Bradbury family tree:


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury


Ray Bradbury was born on this day in 1920.

He claims to remember the moment of his birth.

He expects to live forever.


Here is the birthday card I sent to Ray:



(click image to enlarge)

(The card depicts the hazard of placing birthday cards too close to birthday cake candles...With apologies to Peter Goodfellow, whose classic cover for Fahrenheit 451 is shamelessly mashed-up in the above design.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Breaking News - Bradbury Thirteen

Here's some great news: it's been brought to my attention that Bradbury Thirteen is available for download from Twilight Zone Radio.

This is one of the all-time best radio dramatisations of Bradbury stories. The full story of the series' creation is told on my Bradbury Thirteen page.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bradbury vs. Welles

I have blogged before on the question of the Father Mapple sermon from the 1956 film Moby Dick. This, you may recall, is a feature film directed by John Huston, for which Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay.

Bradbury had a protracted battle with Huston over the proper screenplay credit. Huston claimed a co-writing credit, Bradbury contested this. Bradbury won an adjudication in his favour from the Writer's Guild of America, but this was overturned on appeal, despite the lack of any new evidence to justify this.

Fifty years later, Bradbury exacted sweet revenge by publishing his original screenplay. Here, plain to see, are the major structural modifications Bradbury made to Melville's original tale, making a convincing case for Bradbury's authorship of the screenplay.

Meanwhile, in occasional interviews, Orson Welles had been claiming that he wrote his Father Mapple speech himself. This wouldn't be unusual - he claimed to have re-written many of his film roles.

Bradbury's published version of the Moby Dick screenplay didn't shed much light on the issue. The version of the sermon published there didn't bear much resemblance at all to the version in the finished film. This COULD imply that Welles' claim was correct. Alternatively, it could simply indicate that the scene was shot from a later draft of the screenplay than the one Bradbury chose to publish.

However, I now have a clear solution to the matter.

Here's the scene as it appears in the film:




And here's Orson Welles' stage version of Melville, his play Moby Dick - Rehearsed:


And here is the start of the Mapple speech:




It might be argued that Welles' stage version of the speech is just a condensed, selective version of what Melville wrote, which indeed it is. You can do the comparison quite easily by reading the original Melville at Project Gutenberg.

What's important, though, is that the selections from Melville are almost identical in Moby Dick - Rehearsed and the released version of the film. The sermon even begins and ends at the same points, although one section from the play doesn't make it into the film.

My conclusion is that Welles did indeed write the script for the Mapple sermon used in Huston's film. Sorry, Orson, for ever doubting you...

Here's the full version of what Mapple says in Moby Dick - Rehearsed. Why not set the YouTube clip running, and compare it for yourself?

Beloved shipmates, clinch the last chapter of the first verse of Jonah - "And God has prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah."

Shipmates, the sin of Jonah was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God. He found it a hard command; and God's command is hard, shipmates - for in obeying God, we must obey ourselves. But Jonah Still further flouts at God by seeking to flee from him. JOnah thinks that a ship, made by men, will carry him into countries where God does not reign! With slouching hat and guilty eye, prowling among the shipping like a vile burglar hastening to cross the seas, at last, after much dodgin search, he finds a ship receiving the last items of her cargo. As he steps aboard the sailors mark the stranger's evil eye...."Point out my state-room," says Jonah. "I'm travel-weary; I need sleep." ..."Ye looks it," says the Captain, "there's your room." ...All dressed and dusty as he is, Jonah throws himself into his berth.

He finds the ceiling almost resisting his forehead; the air is close, and Jonah gasps. In that contracted hole he feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his bowels' wards.

And now the time of tide is come; the ship, careening, glides to sea. ...But soon the sea rebels. It will not bear the wicked burden. A dreadful storm comes on; the ship is like to break, the bo'sum calls all hands to lighten her; boxes, bales and jars are clattering overboard; the wind is shrieking; the men are yelling. "I fear the Lord!" cries Jonah. "The God of Heavens who hath made the sea and the dry land!" -

Again the sailors mark him. The God-fugitive is now too plainly known. And wretched Jonah cries out to them to take him and cast him overboard, - for he knew that for his sake this dreadful tempest was upon them.

"And now behold Jonah taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea" - into the yawning jaws awaiting him; and the whale shuts - to all his ivory teeh like so many white bolts upon his prison. Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord out of the fish's belly. But observe his prayer, shipmates. He doesn't weep and wail. He feels his punishment is just and leaves his deliverance to God.

Shipmates, sin not; but if ye do, take heed ye repent of it like Jonah.

And now - how gladly would I come down there and sit with you and listen while some one of you reads me the more awful lesson Jonah teaches me as a pilot of the living God. How, bidden by the Lord to preach unwelcome truths in the ears of the wicked, Jonah sought to escape his duty and his God by taking ship. But God is everywhere; and even "out of the belly of hell" God heard him when he cried. Then God spake unto the fish; and from the shuddering cold and blackness of the sea, the whale came breaching up to the sun, and "vomited out Jonah" upon the dry land; and Jonah - bruised and beaten - his ears, like two sea-shells, still multitudinously murmuring of the ocean - Jonah did the Almighty's bidding. And what was that, shipmates? - To preach the truth to the face of Falsehood!

Shipmates, woe to him who seeks to pour oil on the troubled waters when God has brewed 'em into a gale! - Who seeks to please rather than to appal! Yea, woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness, and who - as the great Pilot Paul has it, - while preaching to others, is himself a castaway!

But oh, shipmates! Delight is to him - who, against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, stands forth, his own inexorable self! - who gives no quarter in the truth, and who destroys all sin though he poluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges! Delight - Top-gallant delight is to him who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to Heaven. And eternal delight and deliciousness will be his, who, coming to lay him down can say - O Father! - mortal or immortal - here I die. I have striven to be Thine more than to be this world's, or mine own. Yet this is nothing; I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Another Jar...

After blogging about "The Jar" the other day, I remembered that there were at least two more media versions of "The Jar" in existence - one for Bradbury's own TV series, and one for his own radio series.

So I now offer a new review of the Ray Bradbury Theater version of "The Jar" - click here! Like all episodes of RBT, it was scripted by Bradbury himself. It's better than the revived Hitchcock version from 1986, but not as good as the original Hitchcock version from 1964.

The radio version, for Tales of the Bizarre, will be reviewed at a later date.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Jar...and other ways to be useful after death...

Good evening.

Somehow that seems the only appropriate way of introducing a blog post that mentions Alfred Hitchcock's TV series.

As I have posted before, Ray Bradbury did a lot of work on Hitch's TV shows, scripting several episodes of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. I now have reviews of the Hour episodes on my site: here you can read about "The Life Work of Juan Diaz" and "The Jar" - which, according to director Norman Lloyd, was Hitchcock's favourite episode of the series. It also earned an Emmy award for dramatist James Bridges, who would later write and direct The Paper Chase, The China Syndrome and Bright Lights, Big City.

Both of these Hour episodes involve characters who provide spectator sports, long after their demise. (Imagine Hitchcock saying it.)

I have also reviewed the less than inspiring 1980s remake of "The Jar". Here you can read about Tim Burton's early career effort for the revived Alfred Hitchcock Presents. (Yes, the one hosted by a fuzzily colorised Hitch.)

I also have a sidebar story on the origins of "The Jar", and a link to Norman Lloyd discussing the Bradbury episodes.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Something Chilly This Way Comes

In Bradbury's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, shortly after Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives in Green Town, Charles Halloway's attention is caught by something in a shop window:

Halloway's eyes leaped to the poster on the inside of the window.
And back to the cold long block of ice.

It was such a block of ice as he remembered from travelling magician's shows when he was a boy, when the local ice company contributed a chunk of winter in which, for twelve hours on end, frost maidens lay embedded, on display while people watched and comedies toppled down the raw white screen and coming attractions came and went and at last the pale ladies slid forth all rimed, chipped free by perspiring sorcerers to be led off smiling into the dark behind the curtains.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE WORLD
And yet this vast chunk of wintry glass held nothing but frozen river water.

No. Not quite empty.

Halloway felt his heart pound one special time.

Within the huge winter gem was there not a special vacuum? a voluptuous hollow, a prolonged emptiness which undulated from tip to toe of the ice? and wasn't this vacuum, this emptiness waiting to be filled with summer flesh, was it not shaped somewhat like a. . .woman?

Yes.

The ice. And the lovely hollows, the horizontal flow of emptiness within the ice. The lovely nothingness. The exquisite flow of an invisible mermaid daring the ice to capture it.



I wonder if Bradbury might have been inspired by a real-life ice stunt which took place in Illinois (probably Bradbury's hometown of Waukegan) when he was ten years old:



Read more about this bizarre event here on the excellent Illuminating Lake County blog.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Gift

"The Gift" is one of Ray Bradbury's shortest short stories, and one of the few Bradbury stories with a Christmas theme (Halloween will always be Bradbury's holiday of choice).

The story first appeared in 1952 in Esquire magazine, where it was accompanied by a magnificent painting by Ren Wicks (left).

A few years later, Bradbury took the story's central premise and placed it within a completely different narrative and setting, adapting it to the USAF-inspired TV series Steve Canyon (itself based on the comic strip by Milt Caniff).

The long-unseen episodes of that series are being gradually released on DVD, in an excellent piece of restoration work. Bradbury's episode is now on release (all 25 minutes of it) in Steve Canyon on TV Volume 2.

You can read my full review of the episode here.

Finished reading the review? Good. Now you can go and order the DVD! Click on the image below:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Montag Sings. Oh yes, Montag Sings.

One of the more bizarre aspects of Bradbury's work is its frequent slippage from one medium to another. He will start with a screenplay, turn it into a short story, adapt it for stage, novelise it, on and on.

And on more than one occasion he has added music, or at least had a composer add music.

Now, with something as potentially light as Dandelion Wine, I can just about accept and understand why someone might want to create a musical. But I struggle with the idea of operatic renditions of works such as Leviathan '99 and Fahrenheit 451.

Which brings me to this odd little item: a German language operatic version of Fahrenheit 451, by Brenton Broadstock. If you get bored with the introduction, fast forward to about 1:30. That's where the drama begins. Enjoy!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bradbury Park

From Lake County Sun-News comes this story about the re-dedication of Ray Bradbury Park in Bradbury's hometown of Waukegan, Illinois. the re-dedication is scheduled for 11am on Saturday 27 June 2009.

I've never visited, but I blogged about the park a couple of years ago (click here) when discussing the relationship between the real Waukegan and the fictional Green Town, setting for several of Bradbury's books.

If you click here, you will be taken to a map of the park which is clickable - that is to say, click on parts of it to be shown photos of the details. Try it!

And you can learn more about Waukegan's parks from the Waukegan Park District.

Ray Bradbury Park was originally dedicated in 1990, and the dedication is marked with a plaque which references Bradbury's poem "Remembrance":


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Inspired by Bradbury?

I'm constantly amazed at the places where Bradbury references turn up, and the range of creative works that owe something to Bradbury (whether explicitly acknowledged or not). In many cases, they are works I will never have the chance to experience firsthand. Example:

The Bird Machine. From what I can gather from this review, this is a small-scale but in its own way extravagant piece of theatre, with some points of similarity to a Bradbury story. The review doesn't name the source or inspiration, but I would imagine it's "The Flying Machine", a short story from The Golden Apples of the Sun.

Concrete Temple Theatre's own description of the production is here, and they have photos and video of the show. I just wish I could get there to see it!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Unchanged Habits

The Ventura Country Reporter has just published a new interview with Bradbury, which shows his writing habits to be unchanged, despite his eighty-eight years. Mind you, you can't believe everything you read: this article claims that Bradbury still travels the world giving lectures. Not quite. He doesn't venture beyond Southern California these days, because of his health. Anyway, read the interview here.

Update: the New York Times features a similar (but better written, more quirky, more fun) article in its 19th June issue. I am told this was a page one story!




Here's a nice idea - and one I have used with my own Video & Film Production students on occasion: making a trailer for a book!

Digital Book Talk is a literacy scheme from the University of Central Florida. It has synopses and film trailers for lots of books. One such is this neat trailer for Fahrenheit 451, and another for The Martian Chronicles.




The Steve Canyon volume 2 DVD is now on release. This is the second collection of episodes from an old TV series. The significance for the Bradbury fan is that this volume includes the episode that Bradbury scripted, a Christmas tale called "The Gift".

Reviews of the DVD can be found at DVD Talk and Comic Mix.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Miscellaneous

From the "right up my alley department": news of a new radio drama series on US public radio, which will begin with a dramatisation of Bradbury's story "It Burns Me Up". This is a tale from Bradbury's murder-mystery short story collection A Memory of Murder, the story told from the point-of-view of a corpse!

Details of the series are here.

Found in the blogosphere: Bradbury is a regionalist: an interesting blog post on why Bradbury can be seen not as an American writer, but as an Illinois writer.

...and some interesting observations on Fahrenheit 451 from this "e-zine for teens".

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Bradbury in...Belgium!

I'm recently returned from Belgium, where I presented a paper at the "Science Fiction Across Media: Adaptation/Novelisation" conference. My paper, entitled "Adaptive Behaviours", was another in my series exploring ways in which Bradbury's prose fictions adapt to other media. This time I focused on the short story "A Sound of Thunder" and discussed key adaptations for TV and film, as well as various graphic adaptations. It was an elaboration of some ideas I first considered in this post.

Also presenting at the conference was Aristea Chryssohou of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, who did an excellent analysis of Francois Truffaut's film version of Fahrenheit 451.

There were additional delights of being in Belgium, one of which was the opportunity to visit the iconic Atomium. Although this has no direct connection to Bradbury, there are certain thematic connections, which I hope to blog about soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bradbury news

Author Alice Hoffman - writer of Practical Magic and The Story Sisters, among others - has written a short piece for NPR about Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. "I owe Ray Bradbury a huge debt, one that can never be repaid," she says. Read the article here (I originally linked here, but this link seems to have died.)



California Artists Radio Theatre has updated its website with some photos of the recent performance of Leviathan '99. The production was recorded for future release by CART. See photos of the cast - including William Shatner, Sean Astin, Norman Lloyd, Samantha Eggar, Walter Koenig - with Bradbury and the legendary radio producer Norman Corwin here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bradbury in...Bulgaria!

Bradbury's work is often written about it the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK. But he has a wide readership throughout the world. A remarkable insight into how Bradbury is perceived in Russia can be gleaned from friend Pavel's website, www.raybradbury.ru. I don't read Russian, but just clicking around the links is interesting, and if you have the patience to use an internet translation service, you can read some of the site in sort-of English.

Until today, I knew nothing of Bradbury's reception in Bulgaria. It hadn't even occurred to me that Bradbury would be known in that country. But Young Jedi's Holocron has this fascinating account of Bradbury's critical reception in that country, complete with cold-war era distortions of fact, such as the time that Bradbury's house was burned to the ground. (Don't worry, never happened. But someone in Bulgaria thought it did. Apparently.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

F451 Graphic Novel

News on a new graphic adaptation of Fahrenheit 451: artist Tim Hamilton has, with Bradbury's approval, been preparing this new version which will get its debut in Playboy, of all places. This isn't such a bizarre place, though; Bradbury's original book-burning tale first saw print in Hefner's adult magazine, as the short story "The Fireman".

Read about the publishing plans in this Publishers Weekly story, and read more in this profile of Tim Hamilton.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

F451 Comes Alive

Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 continues to be a popular choice for theatrical staging. News reaches me of a current production in Goshen, Indiana. Ticketing information is here.

The SouthBend Tribune has a behind-the-scenes article here.

And here's a video clip:




Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Manifest Urban Arts Festival is bringing Bradbury's characters to life. Learn more here - or by watching this video clip:


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

More F451

It's been a good five years since the picture on the left was taken. It shows a meeting between Ray Bradbury and screenwriter-director Frank Darabont, when Darabont was delivering his screenplay for the proposed new film of Fahrenheit 451.

The wheels turn slowly in Hollywood, if they turn at all. IMDB stills lists Fahrenheit 451 as in development for 2010. The last news that came my way was a year ago, when Darabont announced with regret that he was looking for a leading man for the project, to replace Tom Hanks.

If you're wondering what all the fuss is about, the Mystery Man On Film blog has recently posted an excellent article about Bradbury's original novel, Truffaut's 1966 film adaptation, and Darabont's as yet unfilmed screenplay. Read it here.

I have some pages of my own on various incarnations of Fahrenheit 451: you can read about the origin of the book here, and Bradbury's own stage play adaptation (British premiere) here.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Meryl Streep reads F451!

Coming up later this month is a new initiative in New York, called Project 451. Designed to promote literacy, it's being launched at the 2009 Literature to Life Awards. Find out more at the event website and at the Project 451 website. Who thought we would ever watch Meryl Streep read from Ray Bradbury? Here she is:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pick up a penguin...

Despite his long publishing history, only one of Ray Bradbury's titles has ever been released through Penguin, the distinguished British paperback imprint. That one title is The Day It Rained Forever, which is a variant of the US book A Medicine for Melancholy.

This is one of many Penguin SF titles documented in a new website devoted to the art of Penguin SF, put together by James Pardey. It looks an excellent resource, and I have already spent a few hours rambling through the contents.

The Day It Rained Forever is covered here - but don't limit yourself to just this one book!