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.


Dave Underwood said...

Hello Phil,

Thank you for this wonderful festival of Bradbury's film works. I attended last night's screenings of short subjects and enjoyed them all. Not ashamed to admit that I felt my skin crawl during "The Life Work of Juan Diaz", sinking a little deeper into my seat as I watched. And I'm looking forward to seeing "Fahrenheit 451" on the big screen for the first time in my life. Thanks again for making the long journey here to Indiana University for this special occasion.

Phil said...

Thanks for your kind words, Dave, and I'm pleased you're enjoying the series.

Come and say hello at the next screening!