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".

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
  • The Thief of Baghdad (1924)
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
  • The Lost World (1925)
  • The Black Pirate (1926)
  • The Mummy (1932)
  • The Skeleton Dance (1929, short animated film)
  • King Kong (1933)
  • The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936)
  • The Old Mill (1937, short animated film)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
  • The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)
  • The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
  • Fantasia (1940)
  • Pinocchio (1940)
  • Rebecca (1940)
  • Things to Come (1936)
  • Citizen Kane (1941)
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • The Third Man (1949)
  • Some Like it Hot (1959)
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  • Moby Dick (1956)
  • Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

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."


Philip Sokoloff said...

Ray adored Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," considering it an important film. "That's what it's all about," he said," Taking your culture out into the universe and living forever."
I appeared in two stage productions of "Fahrenheit 451" in Los Angeles, produced by Mr. Bradbury in 2002 and 2008. He stated that Truffaut's ending for the film "redeemed" it.

Phil said...

Thanks, Philip, that's really fascinating. Ray was always positive about CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, and was flattered that Spielberg claimed IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE as its inspiration.

Ray was also usually positive about Truffaut's film, even to the point of adopting elements of Truffaut's version for his stage play. But there were some interviews in his later years where he was more critical.

Anonymous said...

Ray Bradbury also listed many of his favourite horror films in his essay "Death Warmed Over", incl. "The Phantom of the Opera", "Dracula", "Nosferatu", "Vampyr", "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", "The Mummy", "The Bride of Frankenstein", "King Kong", "Isle of the Dead", "The Body Snatcher", "Cat People" and "Curse of the Cat People". Internet Archive has scanned the article as part of the Jan. 1968 Playboy here . It's on pp. 100-102, 252&253. Bradbury fans have an excuse to read the articles, but beware . . .
Mervyn Schipke

Phil said...

Thanks, Mervyn. "Death Warmed Over" is an interesting article, and one which doesn't seem to have made it into any collection of Bradbury essays.

I believe that Ray started writing it as a TV documentary treatment - the article refers to this in passing, and I have found a version of the treatment in the files at the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies (although the version I found postdates the PLAYBOY article).