Saturday, September 24, 2022

Alien: The High School Play (2019).

 Please see the following video for all the relevant background material.

 Further elaboration and trivia, courtesy of Adam Savage, can be found in the video below:

And now, our feature presentation.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Firestarter (2022).

I can remember the first time I encountered Stephen King.  Guess I'm just one of those dummies with all the luck.  He was right there from the very beginning, in a sense.  My childhood must be out of the norm.  Because it consists of a series of well preserved memories that were easy to stick in the mind.  A lot of it is helped by the fact that these were movie images.  It also maybe doesn't hurt that these flickering pictures were drawn from what some would consider the cream of the cinematic crop.  I can recall Lawrence of Arabia wandering through an endless desert.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart conducting both orchestra and audience as if he held the universe in the palm of his hand.  For a time, at least, he might have come near to just that.  Then there's a wild-haired Christopher Loyd and Michael J. Fox conducting a wacky science experiment with time on the face of a giant clock tower.  One of the strongest images turns out to be a group of kids in jeans and t-shirts perched on the edge of a set of railway tracks, looking out into the wilderness, trying to get a good, long look at the terrain ahead, before deciding to plunge headlong into it.  That last snapshot of memory came from a film with the simple, yet somehow grand title of Stand By Me.  It's a good film, with an equally brilliant soundtrack.  The irony is it took a while to realize it had anything to do with the work and writing of Stephen King.

So in that sense, I knew something of King's fiction, before I ever knew anything about the writer himself.  In retrospect, I think that just might have been the best introduction to the man and his stories any potential fan could ask for.  Stand By Me is one of those films that you look at for the first time, all unknowing, and see it as one sort of a film.  The kind of thing you might expect to find tossed off the cuff by the likes of John Hughes, or something like it.  Then, when you learn about King, and and go back and watch the movie again, it becomes something else, while also still managing to keep all the other elements you remember from when you were a kid.  It turns the film into a movie of layers.  It becomes a story with a higher sense of sophistication that belies its deliberately rough hewn quality.  In fact, it's this quality that can sometimes fool the audience, and single it out as its own little masterclass in storytelling.  When I first saw the movie, for instance, I was thinking the setting couldn't be in the 1950s.  I was thinking this was all taking place not far from my own backyard.  That's how good it is.

Let it stand as a testament to the achievement of King's writing.  Like I say, though.  While it might have been my first introduction to King's work.  It was quite a while before I learned to associate the film as having anything to do with King himself.  That seems to be an amusing recurrence with films like this.  The same goes for The Shawshank Redemption.  It's a tell on the cloud of prejudice that artists like King or Steven Spielberg may continue to exist under for some time.  After all these years, critics continue to harbor the idea that anything the majority of the audience likes just isn't worth considering as valid.  In recent years, it's gotten worse when it comes to a recent spate of pop cultural controversies that shall remain unexplored here.  The funny thing is I never seemed to have any such problems with all those old, 80s popcorn flicks, or ancient popular novels.  To me, all that matters is whether the final product was entertaining, whether or not it qualifies as "pulp fiction".  In that sense, when I finally picked up my first copy of a King book, it didn't take much time before I realized we were going to get along splendidly.  The writing itself was on a level of sophistication that I believe is genuine.  It's just that "Book People" insist on giving him a hard wrap, and a bad reputation to go along with it.

None of this mattered to me growing up, as I was beginning to gain slow familiarity with King's writings.  Far as I was concerned, there was nothing to suggest there was anything illegitimate about getting to know the work of a "popular author".  For me, this was a slow, gradual process, amounting  to a sort of informal word of mouth.  I'd be watching TV, minding my own business, and then suddenly a commercial for one of his books (such as Gerald's Game, or Needful Things) would appear for an instant, and then be gone in a flash.  I've got to give each of those hoary old bits of self promotion credit.  They did their job well.  They didn't just deliver the message they had to sell.  Whoever made them was smart to know you had to do it with just the right amount of style fitting for the works they had to peddle.  The results are these amusing, a little corny, though sometime just a bit creepy snapshots of 80s to 90s era nostalgia.  They've become glimpses into a world long gone, and yet it's this same reality which King was able to make his own.  It was all enough to get the attention of one ten year old boy who was otherwise engrossed in the adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.  It let you know that there was this dark, yet somehow interesting vista out there waiting to be explored.  Perhaps it also didn't hurt that long before I knew who King was, I'd developed a healthy interest in the Horror genre by then.

It was Saturday Morning Cartoons who taught me what ghosts and monsters were, including the likes of the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man.  The punchline is I even owe my interest in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe to a Steven Spielberg produced animated series.  So in other words, TV is one of the influences that taught me how to have fun being scared.  The important thing to note is that all of this happened before I ever had a chance to know just who Stephen King was.  The perfect irony being that he was kinda-sorta always there, as a looming background presence that began to come into clearer focus as those early, impressionable years went on.  From seeing him advertised on TV, I soon wound up noticing his titles lining the shelves of various bookstores I'd happen to frequent.  From there, I moved onto the reading the plot synopsis written down in the front flap covers surrounding each book.  The ones that I recall picking up and examining at this early stage of my developing fandom were Wizard and Glass (a Dark Tower novel), along with The Green Mile and Bag of Bones.  The first tentative baby steps into King's secondary world on paper came from purchasing a copy of a comic book adaptation of Creepshow.  It looked and read as both gnarly and undeniably cool at the same time.

The next big step was to pick up a copy of Cycle of the Werewolf.  I'd read interesting things about in a small booklet known as The Films of Stephen King, and so I decided to see if it was all as cracked up to be.  Turns out it all seemed true.  There were some parts that were still difficult for me to read at such an early age, yet I remember being fascinated by it at the same time.  In retrospect, that little novelette might very have been the gateway text, any all-important piece of writing that can help make the prospective reader a fan for life.  What I know for certain is that it left me wanting more.  And I began to cast about for any of his books that would allow my reading of this writer to go further up and further in.  The book that managed to make me a King reader for life is not something even his many fans would cite as an example of his best writing.  However, I think I'm just about out of apologies for this one.  While the case for the defense may stay a going concern, I can't find any reason to be ashamed that it was Dreamcatcher which catapulted me into the Gothic heights of King's fictionThat book remains what it is for me to this day.  I'm still willing to call one of his most underappreciated works.

It's also the text that made me realize I was dealing with a genuine talent.  It's the one that allowed me to go on and pour through works like Misery, Salem's Lot, and The Shining.  My experience with all of this has allowed me to come away with the conviction that what we're dealing here is a man who deserves to be regarded as perhaps the premiere writer of Gothic fiction.  This goes not just for American, yet also English or Western Literature in the modern age.  What I do know for sure is that somewhere down the line, you might just see future scholars make an attempt at annotated additions of his best work, similar to the attention that J.R.R. Tolkien and Bram Stoker have received lately.  While it's a generally accepted idea that King has now cemented himself a place up there with the likes of Shelley and Lovecraft, the work I have to focus in on today is a bit more ironic.  It's something that formed a building block in my growing King fandom, and yet my relationship to it today is somewhat distanced, and a bit more up in the air in terms of its overall quality.  I don't know if that sounds like a comedown after all this build-up.  All I know for sure is that I hope you'll join in with me now, as I take the time to examine an adaptation of Firestarter, and what kind of work it amounts to in King's canon.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Man in the Funny Suit (1960).

Rod Serling is still a lucky man, as of this writing.  He's still remembered as one of the most important artistic pioneers in more than just one field.  On the one hand, he's regarded as one of a handful of legendary creators and showrunners who managed to revolutionize, and even bring a decent level of sophistication to the content of the TV shows that were brought into the American living rooms of the 1950s and revolutionary 60s.  Before he became really famous, Serling made a name for himself by penning a lot of well done teleplays for a revolving series of television anthology programs.  These were sparse, taught productions whose level of quality sometimes matched that of a live theater performance.  There were numerous shows that specialized in various types of drama that would tackle all kinds of controversial subject matter, most of it having to do with the question of morality in general, or civil rights in particular.  Considering that Rod got his start at the beginning of the Eisenhower 50s, this was a very hot button topic to deal with.  It was also an issue that everybody in live television felt the need to discuss.  The script writers and show producers who were willing to take on this and other famous subject matter has now become a list of half familiar names, such as Paddy Chayefsky, Reginald Rose, Arthur Miller, Fielder Cook, Norman Lear, and John Frankenheimer.

This was the milieu in which Serling made a name for himself.  If I had to find a few words that best describe his output in these early years, then a good way to put it might be to say that his breakout material has this cozy, streetwise familiarity to it.  Most first time viewers to this new-old material, if they are willing to give it a chance, will soon discover that Serling didn't just break new ground, he also might have acted as a harbinger for the kind of work done by another famous artist a decade or so down the timeline.  Put another way, if the Fifth Dimension had never come along, then Serling might still have had a decent career writing and producing the same type of artistic material that Martin Scorsese would later make famous.  Much like Uncle Marty's later known best work, Serling's live television plays often focused in on main characters who find themselves caught out in a moral dilemma, the kind of thing that takes a heavy toll on not just the protagonist's conscience, yet sometimes even their very sanity.  Maybe its a corporate executive learning just how low he's willing to sink, as in 1955's Patterns.

Often times, Serling's main characters would turn out to be soldiers who were either combat vets haunted by the mistakes they've made in the past, or else fresh-faced officers with too many chips on their shoulders.  You know, it's the sort of mental handicap you that's usually a big no-no in military circles.  Whatever else may happen on the field of battle, you never send a basket case out to the front, where he's libel to cause more damage to his own side than the enemy's.  Still, that sort of thing does happens, every now and then.  And it was a topic that Serling appears to have experienced first hand.  Hence, his writing of stories like Bomber's Moon, or Forbidden Area were he attempts to try and educate the public on the costs of war.  The same type of creative strategy as that found in the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Though even this wasn't the end of Serling's early efforts in the field of live television.

There was this one script he did which contains a lot of the same storytelling elements that Scorsese would later put to his own iconic use.  In fact, I almost want to say that the Serling script I'm thinking of now could almost act as both a prequel and a coda to a film like Raging Bull.  It's called Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), and like the later De Niro picture, it details the fallout of what happens the minute a former (or near) champion boxer has reached the end of his career, and what, if anything, comes after it.  Anyone who is familiar with the Scorsese picture will have a rough idea of what's going on in Serling's Heavyweight script from just a bare synopsis.  It's where this down on his luck schlub is told to his face that the next time he steps into a ring will kill him.  His physical condition has deteriorated to the point where boxing is not a viable option for him.  Only trouble is, he's never really known much of anything else his whole life, and he's not what you'd call a sophisticated sort, either.  So, very much like Jake LaMotta, there's a lot of bitterness and anger to go around, and get worked through.  In fact, it's kinda eerie how close Serling and Scorsese's works mirror each other here.

Whatever the case, that turned out to be one of Serling's great early successes. It's the kind of screenplay that gets a guy noticed in a lot of the important showbiz circles.  In fact, it might technically have been an ironic contributing factor that led to Rod being able to make his greatest achievement, and leave his biggest imprint on the pop cultural imagination behind.  It's no secret that The Twilight Zone is still a household name, or that it remains Serling's major landmark.  It's what allowed him to leave a footprint in all the major popular genres, such as Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction.  As a result, he is placed up their alongside such genre ground breakers like Gene Roddenberry.  I think it's a title that's well earned, nor am I about to dispute it.  I just think we ought to take a brief detour here, and pay a brief article of acknowledgement to those live, hungry years, when Rod was still just a maverick in the business.  In particular, I think a special kind of attention is owed to the Heavyweight script.  Perhaps it will help us to gain a better sense of perspective.  Just as Walt Disney once admonished us to remember that it "all started with a mouse", so it could be said that the Zone owes its existence to that Requiem.

In fact, there's kind of a funny, behind-the-scenes story to be told about the making of that teleplay.  It's now looked back on as the script that made Rod Serling, and that's all very true.  So is the fact that it almost wasn't.  Believe it or not, there were a few moments during the making of Heavyweight, when it almost looked as if the script, and Serling's entire future along with it, were close to circling the drain.  The reason for this all hinged on the fact that one of the actors kept proving to be something of a nuisance.  The kind of problem that could very well get out of hand and bring the curtain down.  Not in a good way, either.  It's issues like these that need to get sorted out quick before the final showtime call rolls around.  It's an interesting element of added drama to what should have been an otherwise straight forward series of rehearsals before the big broadcast day.  In fact, the whole affair was so harrowing, amusing, frustrating, and fascinating, that the making of Requiem for a Heavyweight was later on turned into a screenplay of its own.  It became an episode of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse

It was titled The Man in the Funny Suit, and Rod Serling played himself for the recreation of an important, near awkward turning point in his whole career.  I managed to catch this episode not too long ago, and thought it worth talking about.  It makes for an interesting look into the way that art gets made, and the way that sometimes what happens off camera can determine what happens in front of it.  More important than all of this is the way it helps the viewer to make a series of new and familiar discoveries.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

James Thurber's My World and Welcome to It (1969).

This time things are going to be a little different.  Perhaps that also means things will get a bit more interesting than normal.  For instance, it's always been the job of the critic to do just one thing.  That's to try and examine any given work of art, and see if it holds up as worthy of an audiences' attention and merit.  It's hard to say when all that got started, it's just the way things have been for a long time now.  However, what happens in a situation when both the critic and the artist are left trying to examine the same piece of artwork?  What does it mean if both parties are stuck looking at the work of someone else, and each is left trying to figure out just what it all means?  I'm not sure what you'd call that kind of scenario myself, if I'm being honest.  The best way I can describe it is an irony of circumstance, one in which all the usual roles have been reversed.  However impossible that may sound, it's the situation I found myself in not too long ago.  Which is sort of the reason I'm even writing this article at the moment.  It's precisely because the current situation is so unique that I'm going to have to ask the reader's indulgence for a moment.  Would you take a look at the image below, and tell me what you think?

I suppose that it looks kind of unusual, right?  Not the sort of thing you expect to see even in the pages of a newspaper or a magazine, much less anything to do with real life?  Yeah, well, even if that's the case, what do they say about seeing is believing?  Then again, that could always be just another dirty lie.  For now, let's agree to take it as a given that, like Mt. Everest, the cartoon pictured above counts as "just there".  We don't know why it is, but it is.  All well and good (unless it's not).  So what on earth does it mean?  I have some thoughts on the image, and it is a matter of some explanation.  I guess the best place to start unraveling this whole head scratcher is by letting you know that you're not alone in being puzzled by it.  It's a picture that has even puzzled other creative talents out there.  Some of them, like Mel Shavelson, went so far as to try and write an entire story around that weird idea of a seal in the bedroom.  It seems to have been his way of arriving at the best explanation he could find for it.

If the name of Melville Shavelson is not a household word, then it's not surprising.  He was one of those lifelong journeymen scriptwriters and showrunners during the waning days of Hollywood's Silver Age, that fascinating span of time before the remains of Tinseltown's Golden Age bowed out to the then New Wave Cinema of directors like Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen.  In fact, that last name, for better or worse, is somewhat pertinent to our purpose here.  Just bear with me, here.  I'll explain why in a minute.  For now, let's stick with Shavelson and the cartoon.  Mel got his start during the Golden era, and even managed to stick around during the Movie Brats period.  During all that time, however, that image of the seal behind the bed never quite left his mind, and its easy to see why.  It's one of those Mad Tea Party pictures, an imaginary snapshot so absurd that it manages to stick in the craw of memory. Like, seriously, how in the hell does a seal get into the average household bedroom?

The whole cartoon looks suffused with this odd sort of neuroticism that Woody Allen might have been able to appreciate, come to think of it.  Shavelson's thoughts must have been on a similar wavelength, because in 1969, when he helped launch a new TV series called My World and Welcome to It, one of the first things he did was to dedicate an entire episode of the show to trying to figure out the nature and meaning of the Seal in the Bedroom, and what it's implications could mean as a work of art.  That's where this article comes in.  I'd like to take a three degrees of separation look a Shavelson examining the work of another artist, and see if there's anything it can tell us after all these many years.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Xo Orpheus: The Sisters (2013).

Not too long ago, I did a review on a book edited and published by Kate Bernheimer.  It was one of those simple, under-the-radar type fantasy anthologies that you can easily find anonymously dotting the bookstalls of your local Barnes and Noble.  One of those obscure publications that probably doesn't deserve to be left collecting dust on a back shelf somewhere, in other words.  It's almost a commonplace of literature, and what it amounts to in practice is a sometimes great way of stockpiling curious volumes of forgotten lore for rediscovery at a later date.  I first heard of Bernheimer's anthology through a chance review of it on the Truth Inside the Lie blog.  It's one of those brief overviews that always manage to be handy enough to build up an interest in even the casual reader.  The merest description of the contents of the Xo Orpheus book were enough to one day get me to knuckle down and pick up a copy of my own.

The first result of these efforts were published a while ago, like I said.  It may even be possible to level the charge that I what wrote doesn't even amount to a review so much as an informal essay critique, one limited solely to Bernheimer's introduction to the entire collection.  My only defense for going that route was based on the fact that I still think Bernheimer's thoughts on the current state of myths in contemporary life is flawed at its core.  She seems to think that its impossible for anything so ancient to survive in whatever the modern scene happens to be, that all myths are doomed to oblivion in the inevitable march of progress.  Or at least that's what I took away from her editorial introduction.  My own take on that is pretty much the opposite, however.  I think all the best myths have a way of maintaining their own staying power.  It's like they one day take on a life of their own, and live on in the imaginations of new generations.  It appears to be a form of pop-cultural osmosis that is able to transfer all these old legends down through the ages, regardless of era, or zeitgeist.  If that weren't the case, then the content of Bernheimer's own anthology would probably never have been published at all.

What that says to me is that the main reason the figures of Greco-Roman or Norse folklore are able to survive and thrive in the 21st century is because more than anything else, they've managed to find universal forms of expression.  What I mean is something like this. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King once opined that what a good work of Horror fiction is looking for are what he called the "phobic pressure points" of the audience (4).  It's that innermost place where you live, and the good work of Horror is meant to play on those pressure points like a well tuned harp.  I think it's just possible to argue that a similar, yet differing process plays out in the case of all the classic myths.  The difference is rather than anything "phobic", what myth in general plays upon might be referred to, in a Jungian sense, as "perrenial pressure points".  These are the rest of the stock responses to be had in any well told story.

It's the part of our mind that responds to hopes, dreams, wishes, and wonders, in addition to the occasional shock of horror.  These "pressure points", or responses, are so universal as to permit the myths that create them an easy level of translation and understanding from one generation to the next.  It's a phenomenon that guys like Jung, Joseph Campbell or J.R.R. Tolkien spent their whole lives studying.  Sure it classifies them as a bunch of hopeless nerds, and yet that just begs the question.  How come everyone remembers their names, along with all or most of the myths they either helped create or translate for future readers?  I think a better way to explain the current state of myths in the contemporary scene is that all of them are there, on the table, for the asking.  The key thing that determines which myths receive the most prominence at any given moment depends on the particular direction the zeitgeist, or culture, is headed, or rather where it directs its perceptual lens.  It's a process that always seems to be a little all over the place at once.  Hence Bernheimer can get her collection of reworked mythological motifs published, and Dave Lowery can win acclaim with The Green Knight.

In that sense, Bernheimer's concerns about the health of myths in modern society seems greatly exaggerated.  The good news is that none of this really matters for the actual contents of her anthology.  If Bernheimer is wrapped up in questions of the sustainability of myth in her duties as editor, the writers who have agreed to be a part of her collection are burdened by no such identity crisis.  Each of them to an artist has enough experience under their belt to realize that myth is a constant source of inspiration for their work.  As such, all they have to do is sit down at the writing desk, and then start digging for treasure.  That's why I get the sense that contributors like Sabina Murray have a much clearer view of things, and as a result are having a lot more fun with this gig than Bernheimer seems capable of.  I don't know what to say to any of that, other than to note an irony when I see it.  That just leaves us with Murray herself, and the work of hers that is on the docket for review.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury: Little America (2011).

Sometimes you don't know what to say.  That's just the way it goes, or so it seems.  It's difficult to tell where to begin with a name like Ray Bradbury.  I think there might be a number of reasons for that.  Part of it, of course, is to due to good old fashioned cultural amnesia.  Life itself seems to be moving at a pace where its a wonder if the man on the street is even aware of the town or city he lives in, what it's history is, or where it came from.  What in hell is an Alamo, for example?  Another, more complex reason is the way the reputation of certain ink stained wretches can sometimes grow to impossible seeming proportions over time.  We're not talking about your run-of-the-mill Mid-List fiction writer here.  The kind of authors I'm thinking of have left behind legacies that tower and dwarf over your Don DeLillo's and Sue Grafton's.  These are the simple scribblers whose works have become monoliths with the passage of time.  Something that turns them all into giants whose shoulders sometimes prove impossible to get a purchase on.  It's the case with writers like Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, or J.R.R. Tolkien.  It's also the truth about Ray Bradbury.

When he first got started way back in the day, pounding out a dollar a word for himself on whatever typewriter he could afford, spewing out copy for whichever pulp magazine would give him something for his next meal, he was nothing special.  There was very little to distinguish this near dirt poor hayseed kid from Waukegan, Illinois amongst the other toilers in the trenches of the yellow rag press.  It was a setup as far from the New Yorker as you could get.  We're talking dubious periodicals here, with names like Black Mask, or even something as generic as Thrilling Wonder Stories.  They dealt mainly in cheap thrills interlaced here and there with scatterings of work that might just show tell-tale trace elements of quality on occasion.  In other words, there was a lot to like about all of it.  Though you wouldn't suppose that this was the breeding ground for all of the major popular genres as we now know them.  More to the point, there was no way anyone could guess that some four-eyed hick from Illinois would wind up playing anything like a pivitol role in all of this.  You just have to laugh at the idea.

It also doesn't change the facts of history.  What the evidence reveals to us today is that if you have to look for any one writer who can be said to have helped set the definitive mold on Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, then Ray Bradbury is your best candidate.  This is where the difficulty comes in, because when you talk about the artistic achievement of someone like Bradbury, what you're really trying to discuss is the way all the modern forms of popular Fantastic entertainment took shape, and were given the final forms, or stamps of identity by which we know them now.  What we're dealing with, then, is tall order, one that would take a whole book in order to do it justice.  The best anyone can do in a limited amount of space like this is to offer the faint suggestions of a first outline of Bradbury' accomplishment.  Right now, the best way I know how to describe all that is to say that it all came down to two or three crucial ingredients.  The first was that of finding the right, contemporary voice.  The other two were locating the right sort of stage setting, and the proper creative imagery to go along with it.  What this means in practical terms is that Ray gave a voice and home for a lot of old myths.

If you want to get technical about, there was nothing all that new about the stage in which Bradbury set all of his fiction.  So far as I can tell, it's little more than the same one guys like Shakespeare used way back in the day.  All Ray did was stumble upon it while looking for story material, saw some potential in the old, discarded grand edifice, and found all he really had to do was apply a few new coats of paint, and then he was pretty much in business.  He might have done little more than give the forms, themes, and plot devices of ancient myth a surface makeover.  Yet the key thing to note is that in finding a working modern expression for a lot of hoary old tropes, Bradbury didn't just wind up writing a lot of good stories.  He created art in such a way that everything he wrote would go on to set the kind of basic standard for everything to do with either lands far away, worlds located in other galaxies, or else all those dark corners, lanes and byways that he would later designate as "The October Country".

In each case, without ever really meaning to, Bradbury created an artistic mold, or paradigm in which later arrivals such as George Lucas or Gene Roddenberry, Neil Gaiman and Steven Spielberg, or John Carpenter and Stephen King could find room to thrive and carry on where the old Waukegan Martian left off.  Indeed, it could be argued that all King did was to find his eventual way into Ray's October Country, and then set up a permanent office space there.  Just recently it even looks as if King's son, Joe Hill, is more or less poised to take over the management of the Old Country for future posterity.  This then is just a preliminary suggestion of the myriad legacy that was left behind by Ray Bradbury.  It's an accomplishment whose effects aren't lost on the likes of Sam Weller and Mort Castle.  It's the main reason they banded together to help create Shadow Show, an anthology of short fiction dedicated to and inspired by the work of Ray Bradbury.  If I had to take a guess, then it's Weller who started the idea.

He's no stranger either to Bradbury's work, or the author himself for that matter.  Weller spent a great deal of time interviewing Bradbury during the final years of his life.  It was a brief yet impactful meeting of two minds.  At the end of it, Weller had come away with enough of an understanding on who Bradbury was to later give us a full-length, published biography way back in 2006.  So far it remains the standard introductory text to Ray and his particular brand of Gothic Science Fictionalism.  With this knowledge in mind, a collection like Shadow Show takes on an air of inevitability.  Odds are even it's possible that Weller felt the need to give a little something back in return for the writer opening his house and home to him for such a gracious period of time.  So together with Mort Castle, Weller canvassed a list of some of the best names in the Fantastic genres, and this is the final result.

In his introduction to the anthology, Weller lays out the main premise better than I can, really:

"In Shadow Show, this celebration of Ray Bradbury, artists who have been profoundly influenced by him pen their own short stories in homage, stories that through image, theme, or concept are either ever so obviously or ever so subtly "Bradbury-informed."  From the lyrical magic of Dandelion Wine, to the shifting sands of Mars, to the roiling mist of The October Country, Bradbury's literary achievements in all their scope are honored by a host of today's top writers.  Shadow Show presents our most exciting authors, who, like the honoree, are not contained or constrained by category or locale, as they touch the Bradbury base for inspiration to explore their own singular, wildest imaginings.The stories in this volume are niether sequels nor pastiches but rather distinctive fictive visions by writers inspired by a single common touchstone: the enduring works of Ray Bradbury (4-5)".

It's a book I think I caught in passing, is all.  Like maybe it was a title that caught my eye as I was running my gaze over the list of titles in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of a local Half-Price Books, or something.  I didn't snatch it up then and there.  However, it seemed like something that could maybe be worth keeping an eye on.  Sooner or later this idea turned from a lingering possibility to a promise more or less kept.  I think what might have cinched the deal for me was a positive review I caught of it from the Truth Inside the Lie blog.  The result was the same, either way.  I knuckled under, paid the ticket, and took a ride.  What follows is a review of the first carnival attraction I took on the Shadow Show.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

War of the Worlds (1953).

We almost could have had a Hitchcock version.  Let that sink in for minute.  This would have all happened a long time ago.  Some way back during the 1930s, or so I'm told.  What I've heard is that old "Hitch" once went so far as to track down the author of the original, 1897 Sci-Fi novel, The War of the Worlds, just so he could get his permission to adapt it into a feature-length film.  This is information I picked up from within the pages of Bill Warren's massive, encyclopedia length survey of Science Fiction films from the 1950s, Keep Watching the Skies (878).  As far as I was concerned, I'd never had a clue that ever happened.  It's one of those pieces of trivial information that doesn't matter much except to a small sector of the world known as either bookworms, or various genre geeks and aficionados.  To the vast majority of the world, such information has no choice except to come off as unexpected, and confusing.  That reaction is pretty much the same for biblio and SF cinephiles.  The difference in our case is that rather than just giving a shrug of the shoulders, that kind of information can't help but sound incredibly cool to our ears.  It sort of explains why we're a minority, and yet there's no apologizing for it.

For guys like me, the fact that an auteur genius like Hitchcock would turn out to be enough of a fanboy of the prototypical alien invasion story gives the old Hollywood legend this strange sense of humanity that goes a long way toward making him seem less aloof, cool, and detached as his now famous public persona.  It suggests the image of this young kid growing up on the outskirts of London, and rather than a pint-sized version of the dapper, sadistic Master of Suspense, he's like this walking cliche of geekdom.  The sort of kid you might expect to find making his way home from school in suspenders, with maybe a bottle of soda pop in one hand, and either a newspaper comic, a dime novel purchased off a drugstore rack, or maybe the latest issue of The Strand Magazine tucked under one arm, hoping against hope that Arthur Conan Doyle might have found his way back to Baker Street one more time.  

The information provided by Warren allows us to imagine a further variation on this image.  Instead of an Across-the-Pond equivalent of a Pulp Crime serial, its one of those early periodicals that were making their first tentative stabs at Interplanetary fiction, just before the advent of Hugo Gernsback's Amazing Stories helped launch the genre's much touted Golden Age.  The picture of a young nerd immersing himself in the Fantastic genres is as cliche, and dime a dozen as they come.  Nor was it anything like an isolated incident even back then.  The proverbial woods, as the saying goes, was and is still "full of 'em".  What comes as a shocker is to find out that a guy like Hitchcock counts as one of the tribe.  In retrospect, I guess that knowledge shouldn't come as too great a surprise.  Hitch would never have been the artist he became if didn't have an understanding and sympathy for the popular forms of storytelling.  I think it's just the way he presented himself in public, and the style he infused into his best work always manages to give off this sense of class, and taste.  He makes you feel as if you're watching a type of cinema for sophisticates.  Realizing he was a Sci-Fi nerd is a left field surprise.

What Warren's information tells the astute reader, more than anything, is just how much of an impact H.G. Well's Martian novel has left on artists and fans throughout the world.The best way to describe a phenomenon like that is to label it a template setter.  It's the sort of thing that, like Mt. Everest, just happens  every now and again.  Some artist comes along, and either by the purest dumb luck, a burst genius, or most likely a combination of the two results in one of those stories that manages to burrow its way into the unconscious zeitgeist of the culture at large.  This seems to have been the fate of Wells's space yarn, and it's shelf life in the public consciousness appears to be guaranteed for quite some time.

It appears to have left enough of an impact on the mind of someone like a young Hitchcock to such an extent that the man who would later leave a definitive stamp on the Mystery genre still felt compelled to hunt down one of the main shapers of Speculative Fiction all the way in Nice (ibid), and try to ask his permission to make a movie out of it.  It's one of those great what-if moment that history like to tease us with.  Because: reasons.  It means at one point, we could have had an early, big screen, Invaders from Mars epic from the same director who brought you Psycho, and quite possibly featuring Orson Welles himself in the starring role.  None of that ever happened. And it's at moments like these when it's possible to understand how people keep asking the question: Why can't we have nice things?

Wells doesn't seem to have shown any reluctance to Hitchcock's film proposal.  The one monkey in the wrench, as Wells pointed out, was that the rights for the novel were then locked up with Paramount studios, and Hitchcock was still a young novice at the time.  His star was rising, yet even though his career would soon be on the make, it was still at that point were he was considered "Little People" by the moguls running Hollywood at the time.  That's got to be one of the sharpest kicks in the teeth history had in store.  What makes it worse is that it was lying in wait for such a long time, and still you never see it coming.  So, the movie rights to the book languished away, possibly in some studio vault, way out there in the Paramount lot in Hollywood.  There the rights to the novel sat, and waited, with all the time in the world, and nothing to do.  Hitchcock became a film legend, and still no one bothered with the property.  H.G. Wells himself, the man who first brought Mars down to earth, shuffled off whatever we think these mortal coils are supposed to be, and the rights to his work stayed right where the were.  A carbon copy paper version of the Sphinx, and just as inscrutable.  Nothing important happened with them for the longest time.  And then Hungarian producer George Pal took them up.