One of the things I love most about the writing of Ray Bradbury is the descriptive quality of his prose. This visual imagery must be one of the things that attracts artists in other media to his work. If you just can bring yourself to sit down and read you can so easily visualize what goes on in a story. If you can’t you can watch or listen to any number of his works on radio or television and of course several have been made into movies.
There was magic about him, quite literally. When he was only 12 he became fascinated with and began to do magic, his first great love. It was also the year he was himself enchanted by the carnival magician, Mr. Electro. Even though described by Bradbury with great clarity and detail the mysterious Mr. Electro has never be tracked down or identified. As Bradbury relates in an interview in The Paris Review “One autumn weekend in 1932, when I was twelve years old, the Dill Brothers Combined Shows came to town. One of the performers was Mr. Electrico. He sat in an electric chair. A stagehand pulled a switch and he was charged with fifty thousand volts of pure electricity. Lightning flashed in his eyes and his hair stood on end.”
After fleeing the funeral of his favorite uncle he went to see the magician who claimed to recognize him as the reincarnation of a friend he lost in WWI, taught him a magic trick and introduced him to all the carnival performers. These people would all be reincarnated themselves as characters in Bradbury’s stories and novels, especially Something Wicked This Way Comes. The following day, he attended a performance during which the electrified Mr. Electro touched his head with the sword he head and said “Live forever!” It was just a few days later he began writing and never stopped. To me this narrative is so like one of his own stories, it’s uncanny, and leads me to believe the stories were “drawn from life” so to speak..
In 1969 a film version of The Illustrated Man came out. As with the book, it frames the individual stories with the narrative of the main character, The Illustrated Man himself. The three short stories used from the book were “The Veldt”, “The Long Rain”, and “The Last Night of the World”. I can’t recommend it really. Even Mr. Bradbury said “Rod (Rod Steiger who play the Illustrated Man character) was very good in it, but it wasn’t a good film…the script was terrible”. I actually prefer “The Martian Chronicles” which was aired on NBC in January 1980 in three episodes with a total running time of just over four hours. This screenplay was written by Richard Matheson, no stranger to fantasy, horror and science fiction. The original book was a series of vignettes and short stories written over a span of time, not a novel. Matheson had challenges in creating a cohesive narrative and made many changes to do so. Also, as Ray Bradbury said himself, The Martian Chronicles is fantasy, not science fiction. In trying to present it as such for television I think some of the subtle ideas in the stories were lost. Still some of the episodes do well in conveying the spirit of the original pieces. It may not be great art but for me it ane an enjoyable evening.
In 1966 Fahrenheit 451 was filmed by director Francois Truffaut. As with many films it was not initially that well received but has gathered more respect over time. Is it a classic? I cannot say. Martin Scorsese claims it is underrated. What I find interesting is that eventually Ray Bradbury decided the more upbeat ending Truffaut provided in the film, with Clarisse surviving, was a good idea and when he adapted the story for a stage play he followed suit. I myself also preferred the film ending. In addition to being more positive it is a beautiful piece of cinematography, the final scene of the departing Book People was filmed in a rare and unexpected snowstorm that occurred on lead actress Julie Christie’s birthday, April 14, 1966.
I Sing the Body Electric was first written as a script for the 100th episode of the show The Twilight Zone. The episode was first aired on May 18, 1962. Although Bradbury contributed several scripts to The Twilight Zone this was the only one produced. Later, it became the basis for a short story of the same name which was published in 1969. The title comes from Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name.
From 1985 to 1992, Bradbury hosted a syndicated anthology television series, The Ray Bradbury Theater , for which he adapted 65 of his stories. Each episode began with a shot of Bradbury in his office, gazing over mementoes of his life, which he states are used to spark ideas for stories. During the first two seasons, Bradbury also provided additional voiceover narration specific to the featured story and appeared on screen. It featured many well know actors and since Bradbury had a lot of control, the episodes are very faithful to his intentions.
If you are looking for something a little different in film or television, you should know that Bradbury is deeply respected in Russia, and Bradbury’s fiction was adapted into five episodes of the Soviet era science-fiction TV series This Fantastic World which adapted the stories film version of “I Sing The Body Electric”, Fahrenheit 451, “A Piece of Wood”, “To the Chicago Abyss”, and “Forever and the Earth”. In 1984 a cartoon adaptation of “There Will come Soft Rains“ («Будет ласковый дождь») came out by Uzbek k director Nazim Tyuhladziev. He made a film adaptation of “The Veldt” (“Вельд”) in 1987. In 1989, a cartoon adaptation of “Here There Be Tygers” («Здесь могут водиться тигры») by director Vladimir Samsonov came out. If you can find these they might be quite interesting. I’ve found Russian shows based on respected material to be very high quality.
Mr. Electro commanded him to “Live forever!” The body of the man may not have, but it seems the body of his work will indeed, no better immortality to be found.