Saturday, September 14, 2019

Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of The Twilight Zone's Magic Man (2009).

Nobody knows him.  I'm not sure how many even realize he existed.  Is it possible for a real person to become a myth, or figment of the imagination if enough people never realize that you're there?  Either way, if you mention the name Charles Beaumont, the sad fact is people are going to have no other choice except to give you a blank stare in response.  If you mention someone like Rod Serling or The Twilight Zone, however, then you might be lucky enough for someone's eyes to light up.

The Zone premiered in 1959 as the brainchild of TV wunderkind Rodman Edmund Serling.  After half a decade of having to fight for his scripts to get an airing in the censorious world of 50s network television, Serling's idea for an anthology series centered around the horrific and fantastic was a spark of inspiration that provided just the platform that could solve his woes.  Serling found that network a lot of network executives were squeamish if you wanted to put on a dramatization of subject matter like the death of Emmet Till.  However, if you couched you're messages in the generic forms and formulas of Sci-Fi or Horror, then you were given sort of a free pass.

The reason why Serling was given liberty to say whatever he wanted with the Zone is very simple when you realize that that popular genre fiction was never regarded as something that mature people were meant to take seriously.  All that sort of thing was little more than juvenile trash.  Who could possibly care for any of it?  It's even less than a deck of cards.  The curious part is that a lot of viewers still remember and re-watch the Twilight Zone long after it's original critics have been shuffled out the door.  I think a lot of great names should be so lucky.

One of those names belongs to a part of the of crew that Serling gathered around him to help create his fabled 5th Dimension.  I'm not at all sure whether it's true to say that the Zone had anything like an actual writer's room, with a fixed staple of creative talent waiting in the wings and on-call whenever a new idea had to be brainstormed for next week, and the one after that.  It at least sounds like standard operating procedure as far as most contemporary television goes.  However, I still don't know if that's how Serling ran his operation.

What I do know is that Rod would employ a continuous, returning roster of talent to pen some of the most well-known and remembered episodes during the entire series run.  Richard Matheson, who wrote such classics as The Howling Man and Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, is probably the closest author anyone can recall in connection with the show.  However that unofficial roster included quite a few other names as well.  George Clayton Johnson was responsible for the Robert Redford episode Nothing in the Dark, Kick the Can, and what I still consider his best effort of the series, A Game of Pool.  There was a third name in that roster, however.
He was Charles Beaumont, and almost no one knows who he is.  That's why filmmaker Jason Brock has probably done history a favor by making a documentary about the creative legacy of a forgotten name.  The best part about Brock's efforts is that he gives his viewers more than enough clues to not just reconstruct the life of Beaumont, but also the nature of his imaginative writings, and how they have managed to shape the current nature of the fantastic genres in America.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Dave Made a Maze (2017).

Meet Dave (Nick Thune).  How does one describe someone like Dave?  There's no real outstanding feature about him.  He's just a regular guy living in an apartment complex with his live-in girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani).  The worst part is Dave is not some isolated loner.  He's got an active social life with plenty of friends.  In fact, one of Dave and Annie's closest acquaintances is Harry ( James Urbaniak), a documentary filmmaker.

With all this neat stuff happening all around him, Dave must have a lot of things worth doing, right?  At least that's probably how a normal person would handle it.  Don't misunderstand, Dave's very normal.  He so ordinary he qualifies as wall-paper.  That's sort of the problem.  In a world full of stuff happening, Dave somehow never manages to find out what to do with himself in all of it (his to-do-list includes: "Finish Concept Album.  Make Ultimate Sabbath Mix", and "Fix Front Door").  He's never made a real contribution anywhere, and he can't figure out where to begin.  To say Dave sort of has an inferiority complex about his troubles is a bit like saying Niagara Falls runs downhill.  The thing is Dave would like to be able to say there is at least something out there, in the world, that he can say he has achieved or accomplished with any kind of professional pride.  It's just that he can't figure out what that is.

One day, out of the blue, Dave had an idea.  He would try and build the world's greatest maze.  Right here, in the middle of his apartment.  He would just start from somewhere at random, and build on from there.  It sort of helps that Annie was away for the week, otherwise none of what happened next would be possible.  Dave built his maze alright.  He finally did something.  There is one minor setback, however.  You see once Dave got started, he didn't much of any ground-plan, or layout in mind.  He really just seems to have gone wherever his thoughts took him from one moment to the next.  He must have had some idea for an exit.  Though maybe he can't quite remember where it is, what happened to it, or if it even existed in the first place.  Dave made a maze right in the middle of his own living room, and now he's stuck there with no clear idea of how to get out.  The worst part is that somewhere along the way Dave made an unsettling realization.  He's not alone inside the maze.  And whatever it is that's stalking him, it's hungry.