Sunday, September 27, 2020

The First Found Footage Story?: Orson Welles and the War of the Worlds.

A while back, I decided to set down what I expected to be just some minor opinions of my own on a very old art form.  The whole thing was really just a collections of notes and appreciations.  Nevertheless, the art known as Old time Radio was and still is something that I tend to hold in a rather high regard.  Its chief value lies in the way it forces you to pay attention to the stories it has to tell.  Because the medium relies on the very absence of any possible visual element, this very limitations forces the audience to pay closer attention to the writing of the story, and the quality of its language, rather than on questions of production value, or an ephemeral and fleeting star power.  Instead, the audience is left alone in the room the narrative itself, and all the possible impacts it can create and reverberate in the mind.

When I wrote down that original post, all I expected was a polite casual interest, the kind of thing you might look over once in some spare time between more important activities.  What came as a real surprise was just how much of a seemingly positive response that lone article was able to generate all by itself.  As of this writing, it has 314 views to its name.  That's not much in the big leagues, but in the starting circle of first time amateurs, that comes as something of a shock to me.  It's a very pleasant one, however.  I guess I'm just stunned to learn to that modern audiences can still hold such fervent interest in an art-form whose heyday was sort of already on the wane even to before the advent of the Beatles, and the whole Rock scene kind of eclipsed it for quite a while.  However a look at Google Trends reveals that interest the Golden Age of Radio currently stands at approximately 75%, with that number often rising sometimes as high as the 100 mark.  I am curious to know where this revival of curiosity for the format came from, as one of the stated goals of this site is to help foster just such a positive reaction to a lot of forgotten arts.  Whatever else this enthusiasm may mean, all I can be is grateful.

It's in the spirit of that gratitude, along with the mood turning toward Autumn and the season of haunts, that I thought it worth while to take another look at the old art form.  In particular I thought it would be interesting to examine a possible relation between Old Time Radio and one of the most notable (or just plain notorious) elements of our current Horror genre, the Found Footage Story.  It won't surprise me to learn that half the audience just left the room the moment they read that phrase.  In the strictest sense, I don't see how that's anything new.  Right now, Found Footage is shaping up to remain one of the most contestable sub-genres in the artist's toolbox.  It's a format that's regarded with both approbation and contempt in equal measure, and I don't see any sign of these disagreements going anywhere soon.  As long as some artists are tempted to try their hand at it, the argument over the format's strengths and faults will just keep right on going.

I'm pretty sure I'm the wrong person to throw my hat into this particular ring.  For one thing, I can't say whether I know much about it.  I don't care all that much about visuals in storytelling, not even when I'm convinced it's really good.  The question of production value and performance just never seems to have factored all the much into whether I consider a film good or bad.  Because of all that, I'm not quite sure where to begin or what to say about it.  The best I can do is offer an interesting idea.  What if films like the original Blair Witch or The Last Broadcast were really not the first actual Found Footage entries?  What if it's possible there were others who had beaten all these guys to the finish line?  Even better, what if a lot of the pioneers in this particular field are older than the 90s?  What if it's just possible to trace the roots of the sub-genre all the way back to a Golden Age in Hollywood?  It's quite a claim to set before a post-Paranormal Activity audience.  You'd have to find some very definite evidence to back up that kind of claim.  The good news is I think I've got all the proof I need, and a man named Orson Welles is just the artist to help out.

 Portrait of the Artist as a Young Auteur.

As of this writing, the reputation of Orson Welles stands at a respectable 50 to75% on Google Trends.  That's none to shabby, if you ask me.  It's even more of a surprising feat when you consider the fact that the guy has been six feet under since the mid-80s.  People from his era of filmmaking are in an interesting place right now.  In some ways, it seems like a mistake to claim they are forgotten.  In another sense, however, they do seem in danger of being overlooked.  There may be some who don't think this is such a big deal, however I tend to think it's a mistake.  For one thing, I've long been of the opinion that the nature of life is such that it often tends to force most of us into situation where a lot of us have to learn from the past in order to have a future.  That can often mean having to preserve as much of it as possible for the next generation.  It's the reason why human beings cook up such institutions like the Smithsonian and the Louvre.

Another reason is a lot more difficult to get across.  That's because it places guys like me in an awkward situation.  One of the hardest lessons I've learned is that it is more than possible to make a cogent, objective argument for the validity of older forms of entertainment and media, and yet if the listening audience doesn't have a certain amount of literacy under the lid, then its almost like they have no real choice in the matter.  There's no way their own heritages can come off except as something from another planet.  To my mind, it doesn't say anything good when we a culture begins to forget the best of its own artistic legacies.  This fault gets compounded when a film like Casablanca gets dismissed just on account of its being old.  I can't deny the fact that its in black and white.  The charge also tells me nothing about where the value of a film like the one mentioned above lies.  Why does it even exist?  Is there something important about it?  These are the questions that should be asked about a lot of motion pictures, and books, that have gone on to achieve an objective classic status.  The trick is to get others to realize that.  Orson Welles is a good place to start in this regard.

He was the son of an affluent, middle-class household in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  All the trappings were in place for a fairy tale childhood, including a late Victorian American setting.  This prospect was dashed when his parents divorced, and from there the entire family began to fall apart one piece at a time.  Pretty soon, the young Welles was on his own.  During all that, Orson somehow managed to find the time to achieve the closest thing to an education he ever had at the Todd Seminary.  There he met a tutor named Roger Hill, who would later be acknowledged as the greatest influence on his life.  That really seems to have been the best part of his formative years.  With Hill acting as a father surrogate, Welles was allowed the opportunity to dive into all the subjects that interested him the most by that time.  These preoccupations all tended toward the field of the arts, and Welles seems to have taken to the subject like it was almost second nature (web).  In particular, it seems like it must have been during this time that Welles became familiar with the two topics that remained vital sources of inspiration throughout his life.  The first was the art of Renaissance literature and stagecraft.  The second, and to which he was the most devoted, was the writing of William Shakespeare.

Welles never seems to have had a college education.  Instead, he decided to travel the world (ibid).  In later years, Welles always preferred to embellish his own exploits at this time.  This has often left his biographers with the unenviable task of sifting fact from the director's own self-spun legend.  Welles liked to adopt a larger than life persona in almost all of his exploits.  It's something of a defining character trait.  Peter Conrad's Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life is pretty much devoted to all the masks the great performer liked to don throughout his years.  "He made up myths about himself, and permitted others to add to their store, because there was no other way to account for such a self-begotten being.  Once, trying to rid himself of all his accumulated lore, he claimed that his gigantism was forced on him by his bulk.  'I always have to be bigger than life,' he said.  'It's a fault in my nature (3)".  It may have been one of the more honest statements he ever made.  The curious part is how Welles often found ways of turning this penchant for myth-making to a surprising advantage.  It marks perhaps one of the few times when a potential bad habit is somehow put to good use.

 Welles got his start in the word of professional theater, yet he seems to have been one of those artists that are always on the lookout for whatever innovation might help either shape or broadcast their craft to a wider audience.  This led him, eventually, into the world of dramatic radio.  It was the new exploding medium of the time.  Perhaps that's a difficult idea for us to picture today, in an age when we habitually choose to eclipse a lot of the older formats in favor of everything digital.  It seems like there's a kind of historical irony attached to this preference, however.  Right now, the real big deal seems to be everything to do with streaming and online services.  I guess you could say that radio used to be the format that stood in for the streaming of its day.  The upshot, however, is that the advent of online broadcasting has somehow managed to serve up a minor, yet noticeable revival of what was once a lost art.  We're starting to see little indie groups coming together to stage various amateur or professional air-wave theatrical productions here and there.  Some good examples I know of include ongoing series such as Welcome to Night Vale, Alice isn't Dead, and Dark Adventure Radio Theater.  The success of projects like these seems to account for the new surge in popularity for a lot of the older broadcasts.   It was a type of performance that was at the height of popular demand in Welles's day, and the young artist was quick to notice.  It didn't take him long to find a way into that whole new world, and carve out a place for his own brand of art.

Welles founded the Mercury Theater on the Air.  It was his biggest break into the medium, second only to perhaps his performance as an old superhero known as The Shadow.  He showed a surprising amount of talent for it.  His penchant was to try and take the classics of world literature and give them a place on the airwaves.  This is one of those daring moves that I think might have got swallowed up by time, if Welles hadn't been as shrewd as he turned out to be.  When Welles was just starting to become a name in the business, radio was a lot like the early start of television.  It was mostly comedy-variety shows or various serials like The Lone Ranger.  It's not to knock any of these old efforts, its just there's the slight possibility that Welles might have been one of the first artists to get both producers and listeners to realize the full dramatic potential of the medium.  The result has to have been one of the first times people in their homes had ever heard of figures like Dracula, or The Count of Monte Cristo.  Welles might even have helped the resident of 221B Baker Street get his first bow in front of a popular audience.  The major difficulty was that not many people were listening in.  The Mercury Theater was a big hit with the critics, and yet it required some much needed income if it wanted to keep itself afloat.  The solution Welles hit upon was found in an old, Victorian Sci-Fi novel.  The net result was a leap into the next phase of his career.

Crafting the War of the Worlds.

It has to be the closest we will ever get to something like a prototype for the Outer Space Invasion story.  Hebert George (H.G.) Wells wrote wrote his novel about an alien takeover of Earth from the planet Mars way back in the 1890s, at the very tail end of the great boom in Victorian Literature.  Between the writer's glory days and that of the other Welles, an entire societal shift had taken place.  The Industrial Age had discovered its modern (or at least Modernist) face, and America had discovered what the possibility of a global conflict could look like.  The question the young Welles had to face in crafting his next radio play was how do you make it relevant?  How can you present the Earth being invaded by Martians in a way that doesn't have people rolling in the aisles, instead of cowering in terror?

Stated in those terms, the whole problem Welles faced centered around questions of respectability.  The director seemed to have been a fan of a lot of the popular genres in an age where all the taste-makers and respectable Book People had declared that Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror were persona non gratis in any format.  Authors like H.G. Wells had found their once great reputations consigned to what was known as the Sci-Fi Ghetto of the period.  If you wanted to read guys like him back then, you had to be prepared to fork over a nickel or two for collection of stories printed in magazines that were so shoddy they earned the nickname of the Pulps.  It was this bad reputation that Welles had to fight against, and it might also be the dilemma behind his now infamous choice of presentation.  

Perhaps the nature of the dilemma Welles was facing is one that summed up a few years ahead on the timeline.  It has to do with something Stephen King said about the greatest drawback and limitation of any given work of horror.  "(The) artistic work of horror," according to King, "is almost always a disappointment (Danse Macabre, 117)".  "It's the classic no-win situation.  You can scare people with the unknown for a long, long time...but sooner or later, as in poker, you have to turn your down cards up.  You have to open the door and show the audience what's behind it.  And if what happens to be behind it is a bug, not ten but a hundred feet tall, the audience heaves a sigh of relief and thinks, "A bug a hundred feet tall is pretty horrible, but I can deal with that.  I was afraid it might be a thousand feet tall."  "The thing is - and a pretty good thing for the human race, too () - the human consciousness can deal with almost anything...which leaves the writer or director of the horror tale with a problem which is the psychological equivalent of inventing a faster-than-light space drive in the face of E=MC2 (117-18)".  Bear in mind, Welles was supposed to sell an entire Martian armada to his listeners.

Two terms jump out at me from reading King's thoughts.  He never uses either term, yet they get right to the core of what he's talking about.  The struggle that a story like War of the Worlds faces is that is has to run a very difficult gauntlet between two poles of audience expectation.  They are called Literary Naturalism, and Romanticism, respectively.  I'm not sure how much airplay either phrase gets nowadays, however my own research into these matters leads me to believe that a lot of the reason the Horror genre, and its Found Footage incarnations get looked down upon so much is because it's a fundamental impossibility to for a story in that mode to bow to the demands of artistic realism, at least not if it wants to be true to its own identify, and hence do its job.  Even a film like Blair Witch is forced to break a lot of the rules in order to achieve the effect it was going for.  King talks about this placing the writer or director of such a story in a bind, however I don't think anyone gives enough attention to the necessary corollary to this problem.  The fact is the audience itself is always caught up in this same rattrap.  In the end, every work of Romanticism asks how far you are willing to go along with its flights of fancy, bearing in mind, some imaginations just like to go way out there, rules of real life be damned, they've got a story to tell.

In the end, I'm afraid the best answer is that its a problem each artist and audience member is going to have to figure out for themselves, on an individual basis.  You can never really coerce anyone into liking art, just as a thing, however it can be possible for open minds to learn to develop a higher imaginative taste, even for a film like It Came from Outer Space.  King himself posits that, at the end of the day, its best to just throw the door open and let the cards fall where they lie.  Though, to be honest, I think he sort of backtracks on that statement in his own writing.  In his books and films, King seems to prefer to follow the suggestion of another writer.  In Danse Macabre, he notes that Lovecraft came up with an interesting solution to how much horror can or should you show.  "Lovecraft would open the door," King says, "but only a crack (119)".  King says he disagrees with this practice, yet his own efforts seem to show him choosing that route more often than not.  Even the creature in It is never described.  It may be that Lovecraft provided the best solution?  Open the door, yet just a crack, thus giving the audience a taste of the horror, while also leaving a lot unsaid?

In any case, Welles's solution seems to have been to apply a version of the ideas outlined above.  Here is the point where I begin to wonder if he didn't kick-start the kind of tropes that are now known as Found Footage.  The idea that a Millennial sub-genre has its roots in a lot of older art forms is one of those theories that are often met with skepticism by a modern audience.  That's why it's something of a relief to realize I'm not just one voice crying out in the wilderness on this subject.  Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is one of the actual published voices to note how the Found Footage story may owe something of a debt to Welles.  This can all be found in her book-length study, Found Footage Horror Films: Fear and the Appearance of Reality.  In the opening sections of her study, Nicholas notes that while "The Blair Witch Project marked the beginnings of" all the tropes we are familiar with today, "the subgenre's origins stretch back much further.  Few would debate the importance of previously identified ancestors such as Orson Welles's broadcast from 1938 (6)".

She goes on to make a claim that may sound either bold, or else just plain nonsense.  Yet I'm willing to go along with the idea that there is at least a decent enough amount of sense in a few of the words she has to say about Welles's Airwave Panic Play.  Nicholas tells us, for instance, that the "essential elements of contemporary found footage horror were to some degree established in this notorious radio broadcast, both in terms of the mechanics that create confusion about the ontological status of a text (is it real? is it fake?), and - perhaps even more crucially - that create fear in its audience.  It was described by Chuck Berg and Thomas Erskine as nothing less than "the most sensational program in the history of radio...It's notoriety stems from the fact that many members of the listening audience believed what they heard to be true primarily because it so convincingly mimicked the familiar news radio format, leading Craig Hight to define it as an "aural mockumentary."  Listening to a recording of the broadcast today, it is noteworthy that the fictional status of the Welles' story is flagged throughout, with Welles himself even stating at its conclusion that their adaptation was their "own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying 'Boo!'"  As has been observed in a number of critical evaluations, however, timing is everything.  For a number of reasons, it was highly likely that a significant portion of the original listening audience missed these admissions of fictionality (37)".

It's in paying attention to Nicholas's words that a subtle, yet overlooked truth can reveal itself.  A lot of the reason for the the fame of Welles's manufactured invasion stems from the fact that people still like to talk about how it scared the crap out of listeners to this day.  As a result, a lot of the discussion of the radio War of the Worlds is to a large extent a discussion less of the story, and more of the history of its audience reception.  It's got to be one of the rare occasions when the reception has almost occluded the original event that set it all in motion.  It does sort of beg the question, is there no value in narrative?  Isn't a story supposed to be weighed and valued on its merits as story?  Turning to examine the text itself, we find an interesting aspect that I don't think gets as much space devoted to it.  It's true enough, I think, to call the broadcast a forgotten mockumentary.  However, no one pays much attention to the fact that right at the mid-point of the action, Welles, and the narrative, switch gears.  

The story is a fascinating blend of of two storytelling modes rolled into one, and comprised of two acts.  Act one is where all the new ground gets broken in.  The audience is introduced to a fake historical event using the trappings of factual journalism to put the audience under its spell.  Once Welles has done that, he then decides to drop the mock format of the first half, and switches over into to straight up narrative in the second.  The net result is one of the first notable mockumentaries that is also something of a hybrid text.  It isn't any kind of pure, singular and sustained narrative format.  Instead, it's a deliberate unification of opposing narrative strategies.  The question with such a composite narrative is whether or not the final product is able to hold together in any satisfactory way.  On the whole, I'd have to say, yeah, it works.  I can recall the first time I actually listened to the whole thing from start to finish.  What makes looking back at it now so interesting is the possibility that I didn't have a clue what was going to happen next, and I suppose its possible I might have had some guesses about how the story could go on, and yet the final result is that I was kind of blind-sided to hear a straightforward narrative after all the strangeness of the first act.  The good news is that Welles was the kind of director who was just as talented at straight narrative as he was in helping innovate the early prototype of the Found Footage tale.

Conclusion: A Forgotten Legacy.

I may as well admit I didn't expect to arrive here in so short a time.  Anyone whose read any of the posts on this blog will know I tend write non-fiction articles that can sometimes be the length of a legit short story.  In some ways, while I've devoted at least a decent enough amount of space to highlight all the trail-blazing aspects of Welles's production, the net result still comes off looking cramped compared to my usual format.  That could be a mistake when talking about a important production like that.  I just get the sense it's the kind of thing that deserves a more in-depth conversation.  It's easy enough to see why an attempt like this ought to be made.  We're talking about a very submerged, and almost overlooked legacy of one of the pivotal moments in the history of old time radio.  Not only was The War of the Worlds a landmark in terms of storytelling technique, but it also highlights a forgotten legacy of one of the most talented artists in the history of American entertainment.  The idea of Welles as one of the unsung co-creators of the Found Footage genre is something that still doesn't seem to get talked about enough.  Alexandra Nicholas is one of the few who recognize the old auteur's achievement.  This article here is just one more attempt at getting the word out there.

 In some ways, however, the story about this one, single radio broadcast is not quite over.  Don't get me wrong I've had a blast writing this one up.  It's just that I soon realized I haven't really devoted all that much space to the most important thing of all.  I talked above about the importance of story as story.  It's the one element that remains paramount above all others when talking about any possible work of entertainment, regardless of medium.  It's also the first time I've talked about it the least in anything I've written.  That just comes off as a missed opportunity, really.  If you fail to pay attention to the one thing all the other narrative elements hang on, then it almost feels like I've unintentionally cheated the reader on some level.  Don't get me wrong, focusing on the Found Footage legacy of Welles's project is something that needs to be said and discussed at great length.  

The one major drawback of that discussion, however, is that all we're talking about, really, is just the matter of style and technique.  That may be enough for some.  I have heard that there are some critics and writers who contend that style is the most important factor in storytelling.  It's an idea to which I have always had just one reply.  The medium, in and of itself, can never truly be any kind of message.  All it is is nothing but a simple mode of transmission for the message.  If there were no information to broadcast, all transmission mediums would lay dormant, or else just cease to exist.  By limiting the conversation to questions of style, the main ingredient, content, gets left out of the proceedings.  To talk about how Welles pioneered certain mockumentary conventions while leaving out the story it was all in service of leaves a great deal of useful information untold.

It's why I kind of have to end this post with an apology.  What I  realize now is that what drew me to completing this particular article is precisely the realization that Welles had made a contribution to a modern sub-genre.  In that sense, this article is not a total screw up, inasmuch as it does accomplishes the goal it set out to achieve.  I think I'm also repeating a big mistake, however.  It's one that's been repeated by just about all the major writings on the Panic Broadcast.  In all of the books I've read on the subject, it's always the same.  They either devote their time and effort to the technique used to pull the whole thing off, or else they obsess, dissect, and in some cases even try to dispute the audience response to the way Welles told the tale.  It's never about the narrative itself.  It makes me think all I'm doing is just perpetuating a mistake made by others.

The good news is that if the actual content of Welles's project remains a relative form of virgin territory, then that means this whole thing is just getting started.  There are still whole realms of secondary vistas to unpack in the story Welles had to tell.  Right now I think all that is going to have to be the subject of later revisits back to this same topic, albiet with a better and proper focus on the actual engine of the story itself.  All I've done here really is to take a brief pause and draw everyone's attention to what seems to be an overlooked aspect of what has shaped up to be the most influential dramatic radio broadcast in American history.  

If it makes sense to view Welles's War of the Worlds as a Found Footage story, or Mockumentary, then it at least raises one intriguing question.  Are there other examples of this same technique lying around out there in Radioland?  It's a question that I think is kind of worth asking.  Maybe it doesn't make as much sense to label these hypothetical audio episodes as undiscovered, so much as that they remain unheard of.  The high popularity of the older dramatic format of radio, even at this late date, has to mean that a great number of listeners out there have had more than enough time to reacquaint themselves with titles such as Quiet Please, X Minus One, of Suspense.  Each of these shows was devoted to telling tales in a fantastic genre in one way or another.  Whose to say there might not be other dramatic broadcasts out there that try to replicate Welles's formula in their own way?

I think a better way to view the particular phenomenon I'm talking about is to say that they are not missed, or missing, so much as they are perhaps not paid as much proper attention to as they deserve.  My basic working hypothesis at the moment is this.  If Welles helped bring the Mockumentary format to radio, then it stands well enough to reason that there are more than a few other examples of the same style out there, each time being utilized in the service of the same dramatic audio format.  It's the kind of idea I find easy to latch onto.  I can think of a number of potential candidates that match the specific kind of programming I have in mind.  Maybe this is something that deserves a deeper dive into in its own right.  I'll have more to say on this later, and perhaps more than just once or twice.  For now, it's enough to acknowledge an aspect of Welles's artistry.  It's probably some kind of testament that even after all these years, the man many consider to be the greatest filmmaker out there can still find ways of getting our attention and keeping us thinking and evaluating his achievements after all these years. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval (1995).

Lately, I've had time to reflect.  This seems to have been something of a gradual process.  After giving a few genre matters a lot of thought, my mind seems to have started out on a process of some kind.  My thoughts keep turning back to the Horror genre, though perhaps not in what's expected as the usual way in which the genre gets practiced today.  For some reason, in particular, I find myself going elsewhere.  I keep thinking about some of the old pioneers who helped give the Horror field the kind of shape and definition as we know it today.  I seem to be coming back to a concept I've mentioned once or twice before.  There are moments in history where the minds of several differing artists can nonetheless find themselves beginning to combine or coalesce into a series of mutually sustaining creatives groups.  These artistic formations seem to come about largely as a response to elements going on in the cultural zeitgeist of the times in which the artists find themselves.  It's happened once before in the Renaissance when scribbling fellows like John Donne, Ben Jonson, Chris Marlowe, and Bill from Stratford, England went on to make up a collection representing the high point of early modern literature.

The phenomena has repeated itself in various ways throughout the years since then.  The rise of the Modernist Movement in the early years of the 20th century may still be regarded as the most memorable forms this process can take.  For some reason, nobody has taken the time to look at other examples of this same experience.  I can think of at least two other times this happened in the field of American letters.  Author Peter S. Beagle, for instance, recalled being accepted for a Wallace Stegner Fellowship college grant that sent him packing to the shores of the West Coast to attend Stanford University.  What stands out about his time as a college student, aside from coming of age in the 60s, was the contents of the English class he had to attend.  It was less the course itself, and more the students Beagle found himself surrounded by.  When one considers the nature of these students, perhaps it makes better sense to speak of the talent involved in that long ago classroom.

According to Beagle's own account, it was "An amazing gang.  I admit that at times I felt completely overwhelmed.  There was Larry McMurtry, the first friend I made there, known now for Lonesome Dove and The Last Picture Show...He was only a couple of years older than I was, and really talented.  He wrote most of Leaving Cheyenne during our sessions.  There was a 25 year-old Ken Kesey, at that point working on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  There was Judith Rascoe, who was the niece or great-niece of a very influential critic named Burton Rascoe; Judith went on to write stories and some very good screenplays.  There was a Scottish guy named Robin MacDonald, whose wife, Joanna Ostrow, was Bronx Jewish like me.  Robin was the one with the fellowship, but Joanna turned out to be the real writer.  She would sit in on the class and years later, after the class was long over, she published an excellent novel called In the Highlands Since Time Immemorial.  There was Chris Koch, an Australian writer whose best-known work over here is probably The Year of Living Dangerously (The Last Unicorn, Deluxe Edition, 251)".

What's interesting to note about Beagle's experience is the way it sheds light on the phenomena of artists getting drawn together in order to create a series of landmark works.  What's interesting to note, however, is the idea or at least suggestion that a sense of group interaction is part of what makes such creativity possible in the first place.  It may sound speculative, however I'm willing to go out on a limb and maintain that the same creative clustering that formed the Renaissance writers and the Modernists was also at work for a brief time in that simple Stanford classroom.  If it all sounds haphazard, then it begs the question of why any conscious planning of these events is necessary at all?  I know there are authors or individuals who often can't go through a single day without trying to plan ahead.  The difference is that for the most part, what history reveals is that each creative voice starts out in isolation, then there's a connecting period where various voices are allowed to establish various form of contact with each other.  This is followed by a situation where inspiration, criticism, and feedback occur.  This moment, for however long it lasts, is often when the most competent voices are able to create their best work.  It is just possible, for instance, that Shakespeare would never have perfected his craft so well without the encouragement and criticism of Marlowe to spur him on.

The reason for highlighting that Stanford Class Collective is because of the way Beagle sort of helps link up one group of writers with another.  I've written about this second cast of characters before.  Together, they form of a collective known as the California Sorcerers.  I think Christopher Conlon still provides the best summary of this particular group, and their artistic achievements.  "For these men were, from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s, part of a close-knit brotherhood of writers centered in the Los Angeles area that came to dominate not only printed SF and fantasy, but movies and TV as well as scripting between them many of the period’s best-known films (including most of the Roger Corman / Edgar Allan Poe movies), along with classic segments of Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, One Step Beyond, and virtually every episode of The Twilight Zone. At its peak this association of creative artists also included, among others, Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Jerry Sohl, Ray Russell, and Harlan Ellison. These outstandingly gifted men were collectively referred to by several names, including “The Southern California School of Writers” and “The Green Hand” (after the Mafia’s “Black Hand”). But they were most commonly called, simply, “The Group (web)".  It's not much of an exaggeration to say this is the group responsible for our sense of the Modern Fantastic in arts and letters.

I'd like to take another look at one of their number.  The one I'm focused in on this time is a fella named Rodman Edward Serling.  He's lucky in that I don't think he needs much of an introduction.  If you know about The Twilight Zone, you might still have a rough idea of who he is.  He's that cool, creepy guy introducing everything to us.  Fair enough, yet where did he come from?  How many people know the host didn't emerge out of nowhere from the ether, and instead represents something of an American anomaly.  He was a Jewish New Yorker who was born and raised in an almost idyllic small town.  Apparently they still still had those back in 1924.  That's just one element many people don't know about him.  There are a lot of other facts worth uncovering.  Part of the reason for telling it has to do with questions of definition.  I've had some time to do a lot of thinking about the nature of Horror fiction.

After reading and looking around long enough, my mind seems to want to lay out a lot of things, so that modern audiences can gain a sense of bearings in the genre.  Part of that means helping to gain a realization of where all the best bad dreams come from.  In order to do that, sometimes it helps learning where certain tropes and ideas come from.  That's where shows like the Zone and guys like Serling come in.  For better or worse (and I'm more than inclined toward the former category), the host of the 5th Dimension is one of those sorts who helped shape and mold both Horror, Fantasy, and even a bit of Sci-Fi into what they are today.  How and why he did it are the real questions worth asking.  If you can provide at least part of the answer to either of them, then you're closer to understanding the works of art that help define a culture.  That's why it's gratifying to know that at  some point in the mid-90s, PBS devoted a slot of their time to what, at this writing, seems to remain the only full-length biography of the man who unlocked a door with the key of imagination, and found beyond it another dimension.  It was called Rod Serling: Submitted for Your Approval, the reasons for looking into it go as follows.