RAY BRADBURY (1920 - 2012) - ZEN MASTER’S GRADUATION:
A PERSONAL POV
Bradbury wrote three great novels and three hundred great stories. One
of the latter was called 'A SOUND OF THUNDER.' The sound I hear today is
the thunder of a giant's footsteps fading away. But the novels and
stories remain, in all their resonance and strange beauty" - Stephen King (June 5, 2012) "For
many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury's death immediately brought to
mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young
age. His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our
world. But Ray also understood that our imaginations could be used as a
tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression
of our most cherished values" - U.S. President Barack Obama (June 6, 2012)
more can be said about Ray Bradbury? Not much. In the few days since
his passing, the outpouring of loving reminisces from every imaginable
media source and online social network has been nothing short of
staggering - on par (maybe even beyond) that associated with the demise
of a beloved President, Pope or other social / political leader. But then
again Bradbury was always more than a great writer (and master) in all
of the literary discipline’s off shoots - novels, short stories, screen
and stage plays, essayist. Name it and Bradbury was, ... no! … IS the gold
standard to which all current practitioners aspire.
Also, more than a
literary or pop cultural icon, Bradbury is perhaps the only modern
writer who’s name is worthy of mention in the same breath as Welles,
Shakespeare, Shelly, Twain and Voltaire: writer / social philosophers
who’s work not only influenced the world in which they lived, but also
helped alter it’s course into the better parts of what we today euphemistically refer to as society. His
THE ILLUSTRATED MAN remains required reading in nearly every elementary
and secondary school in the world (this is where we first discovered
Ray). His FAHRENHEIT 451 helped shape the concept of the modern library
(both physical and online), as well as help form (and inform) global debate concerning free
speech vs. totalitarianism and the squashing of socio-political ideals
via the banning and burning of what many still consider “morally reprehensible“ and “seditious“
printed material. And 50 years after it’s original publication, his
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES is amazingly still embraced by both
religious leaders and secular psychologists as one of the most valid and
perceptive dark parables ever written concerning the mind’s
predilection towards enslavement to it’s own past. Also amazingly however,
is how Bradbury managed to do all of this “deep penetrating socio-political”
tract-ing in the midst of fully engrossing yarns which were just, well ... plain damned
bad-assed, fun, and often even very funny reads. Little surprise
so many of his works were adapted to TV and film.
particulars: Ray Bradbury was born in 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois -
which would later become the fictitious stand-in “Greentown, Illinois”
in so many of his stories. An avid reader since youth, his faves were
the sci fi adventures of H.G. Welles, Jules Verne, the psychological
horror of Edgar Allen Poe, and especially the pulp fiction of Edgar Rice
Burroughs - particularly TARZAN OF THE APES and the JOHN CARTER: WARLORD OF MARS tales. He credited two childhood experiences
with setting his life’s course. The first was upon seeing Lon
Chaney in 1923’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME; and the second when at a
carnival, a showman calling himself “Mr. Electrico” touched the young man’s nose with
an electrified sword, made his hair stand on end, and intoned the words
“Live forever". At that moment he knew the magic was born.
Bradbury family migrated to Arizona then finally L.A., where Ray
would in time become one of the town’s cultural pillars. It was in L.A.
at a sci fi club founded by Forrest “Forry” Ackerman -
legendary publisher of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine, that at 18 Bradbury met
The two young men were brought together via a shared
love of dinosaurs, science fiction and cinema - in particular, Willis
O’Brien’s 1933 KING KONG. Bad eyesight refused Bradbury admission
into WW2 military service, but his friendship with Harryhausen
(who did enter) would last the remainder of their days - even
when Bradbury’s successes took him down literary pathways and
Harryhausen’s into film as the stop motion FX creator, producer, designer and frequent writer behind classics such as MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, JASON AND THE
ARGONAUTS, CLASH OF THE TITANS, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. In 1983 Harryhausen would pen the foreword to Bradbury's short story collection DINOSAUR TALES. And in 1992 Bradbury would present Harryhausen with the Motion Picture Academy's prestigious Gordon E. Sawyer Award.
Ray & Ray - Book signing: Santa Monica (10/10/06)
Site Search Index:
"I have an idea that Bradbury's work would have given Edgar Allan Poe a peculiar satisfaction to have written them himself"
- Somerset Maugham
"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them"
- Ray Bradbury
In 1964, Ray would create the Pandemonium Theater (the name taken from his SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES) to produce the stage plays THE WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT, as well as THE WORLD OF RAY BRADBURY, and FALLING UPWARD, a comedy about the year he spent in Ireland penning the screenplay to John Huston’s epic adventure film MOBY DICK. Around this same time he’d create the layout scenario for “A Journey Through United States History” for the United States Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. And he’d also be instrumental in the design of “Spaceship Earth” for EPCOT Center at Disney World, Florida. He’d collaborate with renowned songwriter/lyricist Jimmy Webb (“By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, “Up, Up And Away”) on a musical version of his story, DANDELION WINE. And the opera version of FAHRENEIT 451 saw it’s premiere in 1988.
Bradbury’s awards and acknowledgements are far too many to name. But a few of the more intriguing include:
* A special citation from the Pulitzer Board in 2007;
* A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6644 Hollywood Blvd.;
* A National Medal of Arts medal, presented by President George W. Bush, in 2004; and
* AnEmmy Award for the 1993 animated TV adaptation of his 1972 story THE HALLOWEEN TREE;
Can't really bring myself to write the standard "Daily News"-type obit for Mr. Bradbury. Not sure why. But in addition to being, well … boring, it somehow seems strangely inappropriate. Don't think he'd dig that kind of uber serious and somber word-tone. It would also prove a bit of an impossible task as he was involved in so many endeavors during his creative lifetime. It rather seems more apropos to cite a few highlights from the Bradbury literary and filmic catalogs which have personally influenced, and continue to influence, both the creative lifeof your's truly, as well as inform the daily life philosphy of said person in general. I'm sure other creative sorts out there (be you other writers, illustrators, composers, photographers, film makers, actors and the like) have artistic icons who've influenced you both creatively and personally. Well, Bradbury is mine. Time for a bit of personal fawning, so if it becomes just a bit too damned much, and you decide to “click” to another page during any of it, I promise not to be offended.
ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING (1990)
Joshua Odell Editions / Capra Press
First read during a particularly dark period in my life (working a seemingly dead-end job while collecting a hefty collection of rejection slips from publishers and agents), Ray’s ZEN IN THE ART OF WRITING saved my creative soul from extinction. A series of nine candid (and extremely conversationally written - at times humorous) essays on writing craft, Bradbury states from the git-go his title "ZEN" really has nothing to do with the popular eastern philosophy, and that he co-opted it simply because it sounded somewhat catchy. But in point of fact, his book really does tap into a very basic truth inherent within the Buddhist tenant, as well as an important one for any creative life: namely - the staying in touch with the honest core of one’s childhood self and soul.
ZEN IN THE ART OF THE WRITING is hardly the standard manual detailing the mechanics of writing craft. But is rather an admonishment to remember that writing in particular (and creativity in general) should be “a celebration; not a chore”. So easy it is to get caught up in the (at times admittedly necessary) web of the contemporary “creative biz” and even the daily need to “put food on the table and pay bills” to the detriment of forgetting why one became enamored with a creative life course in the first place. The chapter “The Joy Of Writing” opens with:
“Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these worlds used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto”.
In the essay “How To Keep And Feed A Muse”, Ray posits that what everyone else in the world calls the “subconscious” - y'know, that thing which so many seek to lasso (and even deny the existence of), is in actuality the writer’s greatest asset - his muse. That in all of it’s magical, as well as dark and disturbing depths, it is the well from which the freshest water of his best work is drawn. Without a doubt however, the core of the entire book is “Drunk And In Charge Of A Bicycle”. Originally a 1980 essay, the “Zen in creativity” notion comes to full fruition and understanding in this practical mapping of how those subconscious musings lead to a life’s work:
“From the time I was seventeen until I was thirty-two, I wrote some half dozen dinosaur stories.
One night when my wife and I were walking along the beach in Venice, California, where we lived in a thirty-dollar-a-month newlywed’s apartment, we came upon the bones of the Venice Pier and the struts, tracks, and ties of the ancient roller-coaster collapsed on the sand and being eaten by the sea.
’What’s that dinosaur doing lying there on the beach?’ I said.
My wife, very wisely, had no answer.
The answer came the next night when, summoned from sleep by a voice calling, I rose up, listened, and heard the lonely vice of the Santa Monica bay fog horn blowing over and over and over again.
Of course! I thought. The dinosaur heard that lighthouse fog horn blowing, thought it was another dinosaur arisen from the deep past, came swimming in for a loving confrontation, discovered it was only a fog horn, and died of a broken heart there on the shore.
I leaped from bed, wrote the story, and it to the Saturday Evening Post that week, where it appeared soon after under the title “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms”. That story, titled ‘The Fog Horn’ in this collection, became a film (with visual FX by his boyhood pal Ray Harryhausen -.ed.) two years later.
The story was read by John Huston in 1953, who promptly called to ask if I would like to write the screenplay for his film MOBY DICK. I accepted, and moved from one beast to the next.
Because of MOBY DICK, I reexamined the life of Melville and Jules Verne, compared their mad captains in an essay written to reintroduce a new translation of 20.000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, which, read by the 1964 New York World’s Fair people put me in charge of conceptualizing the entire upper floor of the United States Pavilion.
Because of the Pavilion, the Disney organization hired me to help plan the dreams that went into Spaceship Earth, part of EPCOT Center, a permanent world’s fair, now building to open in 1982. In that one building, I have crammed a history of mankind, coming and going back and forth in time, then into our wild future in space.Including dinosaurs.
All of my activities, all of my growing, all of my new jobs and new loves, caused and created by that original primitive love of the beasts I saw when I was five and dearly cherished when I was twenty and twenty-nine and thirty“.
What more can I add to that? Not much. My muse currently says, "Leave it alone now. Don't add anything else. Let the man's words speak for themselves. Those who get it ... will get it. And those who won't, won't".
Farewell, Papa Zen Master. And thanks for helping save my creative soul!
National Endowment For The Arts: The Big Read - "A Conversation With Ray Bradbury"
OUR FAVORITE FILMS BASED ON THE WORKS OF RAY BRADBURY:
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES (1983)
Dir. by - Jack Clayton
Screenplay by - Ray Bradbury,
John Mortimer (uncredited)
Produced by - Peter Vincent Douglas
Cinematography - Stephen H. Burham
Music - James Horner
Running time: 95 mins.
Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Vidal Peterson, Shawn Carson,
Ellen Greer, Diane Ladd, Royal Dano, Pam Grier, Arthur Hill (narrator)
Two boys, at first enamored of a mysterious autumn carnival come to their quiet community, discover the diabolical horror behind it’s existence when it’s devilish owner, Mr. Dark, begins enslaving the souls of the town’s adult population via the bait-and- switch game of granting them their most deeply desired wishes.
Stylishly directed by Jack Clayton (THE INNOCENTS - 1961, THE GREAT GATSBY - 1974), SOMETHING WICKED was originally set up at Paramount in 1977 with Bradbury and Clayton (with whom the author had worked on MOBY DICK) attached. When the project went into turnaround, it was picked up by Disney, then seeking to do more adult themed (while still family friendly) material such as SPLASH, THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN, and TRON. Conflicts arose between the studio, Bradbury, and Clayton over the film’s tone and final cut. And in the end, the result was what Bradbury called “not a great film, no; but a decently nice one”.
We feel it’s one of the best adaptation of Bradbury out there. Stephen King would pay homage with his 1991 novel NEEDFUL THINGS - a contemporary rendition of the themes and plot of SOMETHING WICKED, with curio shop owner Leland Gaunt, becoming the devilish contemporary “wish granter” previously essayed as Bradbury’s Mr. Dark.
FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966)
Dir. by - Francois Truffaut
Screenplay by - Jean-Louis Ricard,
Prod. by - Lewis M. Allen
Cinematography - Nicholas Roeg
Music - Bernard Herrmann
Running time: 112 mins.
Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, Cyril Cusack,
Anton Diffring, Jeremy Spenser, Bee Duffell
In a future totalitarian society, social and philosophical ideaologies are government controlled; and in an attempt to curtail free thought and possible revolution, all books are outlawed and burned by appointed civil servant “Fireman”. When dedicated “Fireman” Montag’s most recent assignment leads him into a romantic relationship with “outlaw” literature-phile and book smuggler Clarisse, he finds himself for the first time in his life asking dangerous questions about his world: questions which threaten the lives of not only himself, but those he‘s come to love.
While Bradbury’s novel was a literary darling from first publication, the film version - the first color feature of French independent cinema master Francois Truffaut (THE 400 BLOWS, SMALL CHANGE), was originally dismissed by numerous critics of the day as “pretentious” and “plodding“. In later years, as the topic of free speech and it's attempted subjugationin South Africa, Poland, China and elsewhere became nightly news, FARHRENHEIT 451 the film suddenly became contemporary and pertinent once again, it’s cinematic cred remarkably increased to it’s current status as a respected modern classic. Martin Scorsese considers it an “underrated” gem which has greatly influenced his own work.
Having set the tone of science fiction music of the 1950s with his theremin centered THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, by the time Bernard Herrmann (PSYCHO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS) scored FAHRENHEIT 451 - he recommended to director Truffaut by Bradbury himself, Bernard Herrmann, the composer was tired of the electronic cliché sound of genre films he’d very much created. Therefore with FAHRENHEIT he chose an orchestra of all strings to give voice to the buried, very human Z(and illegal) longing for knowledge within the characters of this cold society.
The Hughes Brothers’ 2010 THE BOOK OF ELI, starring Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman, is very much a thematic homage to Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451. And in the early 2000s, at the height of his directorial popularity, Mel Gibson sought to bring to the screen a new rendition of FAHRENHEIT. Due to budgetary constraints the film never materialized.
A SOUND OF THUNDER (2005)
(Warner Bros. / Franchise Pictures)
Dir. by - Peter Hyams
Screenplay by - Thomas Dean Donnelly,
Joshua Oppenheimer, Gregory Poirier
Produced by - Moshe Diamant,
Howard Baldwin & Karen Baldwin
Cinematography - Peter Hyams
Music - Nick Glennie-Smith
Running time: 110 mins.
Edward Burns, Sir Ben Kingsley,
William Armstrong, Corey Johnson
A “Safari Package” of the future allows wealthy tourist / hunters to travel 65 million years into the past for the privilege of killing a T-Rex (the animal already slated for death by natural environmental causes). When during one such trip a hunter accidentally steps on an insignificant butterfly, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of minor events which, upon returning to their present, the hunters realize has altered the evolutionary course of all life on earth.
Bradbury’s famous short story, originally published in Colliers Magazine in 1952, got the big screen treatment under the directorial baton of frequent sci fi helmer Peter Hyams (CAPRICORN ONE, OUTLAND, 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT, TIMECOP). But numerous production setbacks, including flooding during filming in Prague, and the bankruptcy of the film’s production company during the post phase, caused a two year delay in it’s completion and release. Because of these and other financial hurdles the film’s visual FX run hot and cold from the damned impressive “intelligent” baboons to the cheesy T-Rex. Critics and audiences universally panned THUNDER, it currently holding an unbelievably negative (“WTF!!!” inducing) 6% aggregate review score on Rotten Tomatoes.com. But if you can ignore some of the visuals, one will genuinely find in A SOUND OF THUNDER a fairly decent (and one of the more clever) sci fi films of the past decade.
THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (1969)
(Warner Bros. / Seven Arts)
Dir. by - Jack Smight
Screenplay by - Howard B. Kreitsek
Produced by - Ted Mann, Howard B. Kreitsek
Cinematography - Philip H. Lathrop
Music - Jerry Goldsmith
Running time: 103 mins.
Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Robert Drivas,
Don Dubbins, Jason Evers
On a backwoods road a stranger named Carl (Rod Steiger) - his bodies covered in strange almost “living” tattoos, tells a story behind each of them to a fellow traveler he encounters. This anthology film, utilizing three of the eighteen unrelated stories in Bradbury’s same named 1951 collection, really isn’t that successful. It’s a murky, plodding, self-important, almost TV movie-like rendition of a trio of yarns which are mind-expandingly entertaining in printed form.
“The Veldt” takes place in a future “holodeck”-like nursery where children can create the world of their imaginations. When the mother and father of siblings threaten to take that nursery (to which the children have become addicted - like TV?) away from them, the children trick their parents into entering their recreated African predatorial veldt, where the adults are eaten by the resident wild life. And “The Last Night Of The World” concerns a married couple awakening to the knowledge that all life in the world will end that evening, … but who choose to go to work, shop and live their last day normally as if nothing odd were going to happen. Both episodes are handled rather dull-ingly.
“The Long Rain” however makes the entire film worthwhile. A well realized sci fi version of a Jack London-esque “To Build A Fire”-like wilderness survival tale, “Rain” details the drama of a group of astronauts stranded on the planet Venus, where it constantly rains, and where psychologically each is one by one driven insane by the monotonously harsh environment as they search for the respite of a strategically located “sun dome”.
In 2006 Warner Bros. commissioned director Zack Snyder (300, SUCKER PUNCH, the upcoming SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL) and his WATCHMEN screenwriter Alex Tse, for a remake of THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, but to date the project has failed to materialize.
THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES -
TV MINI SERIES (1980)
(NBC / Charles Fries Prods. /
Stonehenge Prods. / BBC)
Dir. by - Michael Anderson
Teleplay by - Richard Matheson
Produced by - Milton Subotsky, Andrew Donally,
Richard Berg, Charles W. Fries
Cinematography - Ted Moore
Music - Stanley Myers
Running time: approx. 238 mins (TV vers.) /
293 mins (DVD vers.)
Rock Hudson, Gale Hunnicutt, Darren McGavin, Bernie Casey, Roddy McDowell,
Bernadette Peters, Fritz Weaver,
Joyce Van Patten, Maria Schell,
“THE PEOPLE OF EARTH CAME TO MARS. They came because they were afraid or unafraid, happy or unhappy. There was a reason for each man. They were coming to find something or get something, or to dig up something or bury something.
They were coming with small dreams or big dreams or none at all.
The first men were few, but the numbers grew steadily. There was comfort in numbers. But the first Lonely Ones had to stand alone …”
The intro to the 1972 reprint of Bradbury’s 1950 short story collection - THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, sums the tone perfectly. 26 seperate but thematically linked tales detailing the personal stories, conflicts and waged warfare of various characters between the years 1999 - 2026, as human kind seeks to colonize the “New World” frontier of the planet Mars - at first unaware (in some respects like the first North American settlers) that an indigenous population already exists there.
Directed by Michael Anderson (AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS - 1956, LOGAN’S RUN - 1976), NBC’s star-studded three night mini-series event perhaps at the time suffered from low budget STAR TREK TV series-like visuals. But it’s script by award winning sci fi novelist Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME) more than compensates with a collection of super intelligent, emotionally gripping, and poignantly intertwined yarns which remains today some of the best written TV ever broadcast. Structure-wise very much a forerunner / template for later “multi-thread” narrative films such as TRAFFIC, CRASH, BABEL, LOVE ACTUALLY and VALENTINE’S DAY.
Bradbury himself wasn’t nuts over this adaptation of his work, feeling it was “just boring”. But sorry, Zen master, we think you were (understandably so) perhaps just a little too close to the source material to revel in it’s many positives. If you’re a fan of smart science fiction, great writing, or just a darned good mini-series, do yourself a favor and spend a rainy weekend with THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. You’ll be glad you did.
At one time (back in 1977) Universal was interested in doing a big screen redo, and to that end acquired the rights to Bradbury's novel for Steven Spielberg. That would have something to see! But the project failed to get off the ground and the option expired. Recent developments involve producer John Davis (PREDATOR, GULLIVER'S TRAVELS) picking up a new option on the property in April 2011. But to date no other info is available.
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