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Friday, June 08, 2012

Ray Bradbury

I met Ray Bradbury on a number of occasions. That statement is neither a boast nor an example of name dropping; it is simply another way of saying that I lived in Los Angeles in the 1970s. The dude got around. It was impossible not to meet him.

Many of his admirers may not know that Bardbury loved movies. He often popped by Filmex, the Los Angeles International Film Exhibition, where one usually saw him in the lobby of the larger Plitt theater, surrounded by admirers vying for the honor of driving him to his next destination. There's no mystery as to how he got around without a car; the mystery is how he ever found a moment to think his own thoughts. I'm not sure he wanted any such moments. By that point, his career was being Ray Bradbury.

The last time I saw him was roughly eight years ago at the Cinerama Dome, where a gorgeous 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia filled one of the world's largest screens. What a strange night! It seemed to be a remembered thing even as it was occurring. I knew that I never would see him again, just as I knew that I'd never again watch a classic film as it was meant to be watched. (Proper film projection is rare outside Los Angeles.) There was a time when I lived for great cinema done right. That part of the world I loved is gone.

Although Bradbury was a movie buff, his work has had an uncertain relationship with that medium. Truffaut's adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 is, in my view, quite under-appreciated. In that film, Julie Christie's self-absorbed TV addict offers an accurate portrait of what America would soon turn into, and the fake newscast at the end predicts journalism under Murdoch. On the other hand, the Twilight Zone adaptation of "I Sing the Body Electric" makes me cringe every time I try to watch it. Many foolish people presume that fidelity to a literary original is a cinematic virtue, but that's not always true. Sometimes dialogue works well on the page but not on the screen.

Bradbury's great rival was Theodore Sturgeon. Actually, one should not speak of rivalry, since people did not, in those days, routinely reduce art to a competition. One can, however, say this: At a time when literary critics deprecated science fiction, those who defended the genre usually spoke of Bradbury and Sturgeon before discussing anyone else.

Sturgeon was a family friend -- which is another way of saying that he had the hots for my mom, which is another way of saying that she was female and he knew of her existence. Sturgeon and Bradbury wrote the first two "evil carnival" novels, The Dreaming Jewels and Something Wicked This Way Comes, both fine works and still in print. I forget which came first. In that saner era, nobody felt a need to say that one book ripped off the other; enjoying both was perfectly permissible. Back then, even geeks understood that art is not sports. That understanding is gone.

My favorite Bradbury stories stand outside genre. I loved Dandelion Wine when I was young. Would I still like it now? I hope so. Other favorites include "The Anthem Sprinters" and "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit" and "A Medicine for Melancholy" and...

The short story.

Whatever happened to it?

We live in an age of Attention Deficit Disorder, yet many people who buy 900 page novels will snub a nine-page short story. Short stories are still written, but they no longer serve as cultural reference points; when a modern short story writer walks into a movie theater lobby, crowds don't gather. The form no longer provides a way for people like Ray Bradbury to master their art and affect the way we think.

Another part of the world I loved is gone.
You used to be able to read short stories in every kind of magazine. Poems, too. Not just in the New Yorker.

Nice tribute/s.
Bradbury wrote a collection of macabre short stories called "The October Country" which scared the bejesus out of me as a kid. I recommend it for anyone who wishes to see Ray's darker side.
Never a big fan of Bradbury. My favorite was A.E. van Voigt, followed by Poul Anderson (wouldn't The High Crusade make a wonderful big budget extravaganza?).
The circus of Dr. Lao - 1935
my eyes got damp when i read he had passed.

i haven't read a bradbury in years, but for my teenage years in the late '80s they were my opening to sci-fi...

in a time when we're all too serious about blight and decay, cyberpunk and dehumanization, i look forward to a few more tales about gleaming rocketships and their contrails int he sky.
Anthology dramas were big on 1940s radio and crossed over smoothly to TV in the 1950s. A large percentage of them were adaptations of magazine-published short stories, and the literary fee for selling them to the networks was usually much higher than the original cash the mag had paid to the writer. Often the most well-received stories would subsequently be licensed again, for even bigger bucks, for feature film adaptation, even if the result was only a "B" programmer for the bottom half of a double bill or as fodder for the drive-ins in the American South, that were open all year. Anthology dramas were gone from TV by the 1970s, casualties of the ratings wars that usually awarded victory points to shows with continuing characters and highly predictable plots, to which the dullard audience could become "loyal". And too many latter-day "B" movies began aspiring to "A" status, determined not to bother with humble short stories as source material. You're right again, Joe, it's a world to which we can never return.
One summer in the mid-70's my best friend and I read every Ray Bradbury book he'd written. The librarian in our tiny town ordered them from the regional lending library system since our own library had may be one or two of them. It was the best summer ever! To read of his passing took me back to that long-ago year when his stories took me to strange, mysterious and scary places that fed my imagination. It remains a special memory in my life, those long lazy summer days doing nothing but reading his wonderful ficion. He has always been a special writer for me. How can you even begin to thank someone for that? Wow, just wow!
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