Saturday, May 31, 2014

Truffaut's FAHRENHEIT 451

I will be guest-editing a forthcoming issue of The New Ray Bradbury Review, devoted to the Francois Truffaut film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. The issue will be published in 2016, timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the film's release.

Truffaut happens to be one of my favourite film-makers, so this was a natural theme for the issue. However, I consider Fahrenheit 451 to be one of his weakest films. I attribute this to the peculiar circumstances in which the film was made: it was Truffaut's first and only film in English... a language which Truffaut struggled to learn, and never really mastered. The film was made with a British crew, and Truffaut had to address them through an interpreter. Fortunately, his cinematographer, the legendary Nic Roeg, was fluent in French, so Truffaut was at least able to converse with this one key collaborator.

The New Ray Bradbury Review is a scholarly journal, published by Kent State University Press and produced at the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies (Indiana University). But it has always been an accessible journal, not full of obscure academic language. If you feel you have something to say about the Truffaut film, I would welcome you submitting a proposal. Proposals will be considered on their merits, not on the basis of the academic track-record of the writer.

If you're interested in contributing, please read the call for papers here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Harlan Ellison at 80

I find it impossible to believe, but Harlan Ellison is eighty years old today. And still writing and publishing like crazy (visit to see his most recent new publications, and for his past works - all still in print).

He and Ray Bradbury were friends for years, and appeared together at many events. Here's a photo from an NBC Tom Snyder show, which I would guess was taken in the late 1970s. (Left to right: Ray Bradbury, Tom Snyder, Harlan Ellison - and an unknown fourth person. Any guesses?)

UPDATE - 1 JUNE 2014 - Several people have suggested that the person on the right is Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, and that this photo dates is from The Tomorrow Show which aired on August 19, 1974.This sounds highly credible, and I can believe that it's the back of Roddenberry's head that we can see there. Thanks to Brian Sibley, who was the first to point this out!

Thirty years ago, David Gerrold wrote a piece for Starlog magazine in which he attempted to account for the various different ways that people see Harlan Ellison. His explanation for their widely divergent views is simple: it's like the blind man and the elephant. The cartoon accompanying the article put it best, so here is Phil Foglio's "What is an Ellison?" (Click on the image to embiggen.)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spielberg's The Whispers = Ray Bradbury's Zero Hour

Somehow this one just snuck up on me: a new TV series from Spielberg's people, inspired by Bradbury's classic short story "Zero Hour". The premise of the story is that an alien invasion takes place through children's play, and the story has been adapted for radio and TV countless times.

The trailer for the TV series clearly presents this premise - although it looks as if it rapidly moves to Close Encounters territory - with perhaps a hint of Bradbury's "The Small Assassin" thrown in for good measure.

I don't see anything yet from the ABC network to confirm the Bradbury connection, but it's been mentioned in a number of places such as this announcement in Variety. There's a bit more (but not much) about the series here. And here is the trailer:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2001: A Space Odyssey

During my recent treasure hunt in the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies archives, what was my coolest find? Some long-lost manuscript? A previously unknown screenplay?


Two tickets for the West Coast premiere of 2001: A Space Odyssey, complete with invitation to the post-screening champagne reception.

According to the in70mm website, 2001 had begun screening in Washington DC first, then New York City, and then on 4th April 1968 it began its run in Hollywood at the Warner Hollywood Cinerama Theatre. By attending the screening in that first few days of release, Ray Bradbury saw 2001 in its original state, before the film's director Stanley Kubrick had shortened it by nineteen minutes. On 9th April he wrote a review of the film for Psychology Today.

Bradbury's review is mixed. Among his positive comments, there is great praise for his friend and fellow SF writer Arthur C. Clarke: the film's basic idea is "immense and moving". The photography, too, is outstanding: "truly beyond belief"; "probably the most stunning film ever put on screen."

But Bradbury's assessment of the heart of the film, the scenes on the spaceship Discovery, is scathing. He refers to the two astronauts played by Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea as "two Antonioni people" who give us nothing to care about.

Nevertheless, Bradbury heartily recommends that everyone should see the film, preferably before (as he seems certain will happen) MGM cuts 90 minutes out of its running time. "Forgive it, if you can,  its huge and exasperating flaws," he writes, and then mourn "for the experience we so much wanted to have." That missed experience is no less than "the painting, in one night, of the Sistine Chapel" - nearly, but not quite achieved.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Exclusive: New BBC Radio Productions of Bradbury Stories

Next month, BBC Radio 4 launches a new week of science fiction drama, starting and ending with dramatisations of two of Ray Bradbury's most celebrated works.
On Saturday 14th June at 2.30pm, The Illustrated Man opens the series. This all-new production is written by award-winning radio dramatist Brian Sibley, whose previous works include the 1990s series Ray Bradbury's Tales of the Bizarre as well as the classic BBC Radio adaptations of Lord of the Rings, Gormenghast and The History of Titus Groan. Brian knew Ray personally, and tells me he is particularly pleased that the new production airs forty years to the week since he received Ray's first letter. (Brian is also a doodler, as you can see from this "Sibleytoon" of Ray.)

Of course, The Illustrated Man is not a novel, but a collection of short stories linked loosely together with the framing device of a tattooed man whose tattoos have a life of their own. As with previous adaptations, due to limitations of time it has been necessary to select which stories to adapt. Brian has chosen (in this order): 'Marionettes Inc', 'Zero Hour' and 'Kaleidoscope'  - and has managed to also include passing references to other stories in the collection, as well as the separately published short story 'The Illustrated Man'.
Studio recordings were completed last week, with Ian Glenn playing The Illustrated Man and Jamie Parker the Youth who meets him and hears his story. The drama is currently in post-production.

The broadcast launches a short season of dramas entitled 'Dangerous Visions' that runs for the week with a two-part classic serial (beginning on Sunday 15th June) of Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and five thematically-linked afternoon plays from Monday to Friday (details yet to be announced)
And to end the season: The Martian Chronicles will be aired on Saturday 21st June at 2.30pm. Unlike the in-house BBC production of The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles is an independent production created by B7, the team behind the radio adaptation of Blake's Seven. The dramatisation is by Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle, produced by Patrick Chapman and directed by Andrew Mark Sewell. While I don't have full details on this production yet, early notes on the dramatisation suggest that the stories selected from Bradbury's book will include: '...And the Moon be Still as Bright', 'The Off Season', 'The Long Years' and 'The Million Year Picnic'.
These new productions, acting as bookends to such a major new series, promise to add to the already impressive BBC Radio track record for Bradbury productions (as you can see from my Bradbury radio list). Radio 4 streams live on the web, and can be accessed from anywhere in the world - and their shows usually remain online for catch-up listening for seven days after broadcast. The Radio 4 web page is here.