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“The Fog Horn” and “The Murderer” – two short stories by Ray Bradbury

Classic_stories_1The Fog Horn

When Ray Harryhausen and his producers were working on the story for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, they discovered that their story was very similar to Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Fog Horn,” published in 1952There seems to be some confusion about exactly how this happened. Bradbury said they had been inspired by his story, but forgotten that it was his story that inspired them. When he pointed this out, they promptly bought the rights to “The Fog Horn” and marketed the film as being based on his story. However, Ray Harryhausen said that while they were working on the story, they saw an image of a dinosaur attacking a lighthouse and they thought it would be a good idea to incorporate that into their script, and so bought the rights to Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn.”

However it happened, there is only one scene in the movie that is based on the short story, which only consists of one main event. I’m afraid Ray Bradbury’s story sounds a bit silly in a dry retelling, but there is nothing silly in the actual reading. It’s actually rather poignant.

Two men work in a lighthouse, one a younger man, Johnny, new at the job and another old-timer, McDunn, who is given to musing about the mysteries of the deep sea. As the fog horn of their lighthouse mournfully calls out one night, McDunn talks about how ancient the bottom of the ocean is compared to the land.

For all our engines and so-called submarines, it’ll be ten thousand centuries before we set foot on the real bottom of the sunken lands, in the fairy kingdom there, and know real terror. Think of it, it’s still the year 300,000. Before Christ down under there. While we’ve paraded around with trumpets, lopping off each other’s countries and heads, they have been living beneath the sea twelve miles deep and cold in a time as old as the beard if a comet.

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scene from the movie

But in some way, the fog horn has an affinity with that ancient world, with its mournful call and a creature (the last of its kind?) responds by visiting each year and calling back to the lighthouse as if it was its long-lost love.

A cry came across a million years of water and mist. A cry so anguished and alone that it shuddered in my head and my body. The monster cried out at the tower. The Fog Horn blew. The monster roared again. The Fog Horn blew. The monster opened its great toothed mouth and the sound that came from it was the sound of the Fog Horn itself. Lonely and vast and far away. The sound of isolation, a viewless sea, a cold night, apartness. That was the sound.

Not even Harryhausen’s monster was that sad! And when the fog horn is turned off briefly, the monster destroys the lighthouse in a fit of rage. Fortunately, Johnny and McDunn escape alive. But the monster is never seen again.

I’m not sure if I would have made the connection between the movie and the short story if I hadn’t known they were connected. The tone is completely different. The short story admirably calls up a sense of vastness, ancientness and loneliness. This was my first time reading Bradbury and his ability to create an atmosphere that hangs heavy over a mere nine pages is remarkable. I can sometimes have trouble focusing on a book when there is other noise or people around, but even in a waiting room I still felt like I was set amidst that vast loneliness and hearing that monster call – no mean feat.

The Murderer 

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Bradbury

After I read “The Fog Horn,” I was flipping through the collection – Classic Stories 1: From The Golden Apples of the Sun and R Is For Rocket – and read a few more short stories, including one that tickled my fancy. “The Murderer” was written in 1953, but is set in some distant time where radios are ubiquitous, including the wrist radio (used like a cellphone), and tell you what to do (rather like a GPS devise) and music is playing constantly in offices and on buses and houses remind you to wipe your feet. The noise is incessant, but most people hardly notice. They are too busy on their wrist radios, calling others to remind them about something or tell them about every trivial little thing.

Hmm….sounds familiar.

The story encompasses an encounter between a psychiatrist and a man under arrest who is being evaluated. The man, Albert Brock, was arrested for the “murder” of electronic objects…anything that made noise. His first crime was committed against his telephone, which he sent down the “insinkerator.” Next he “shot the television set.” He goes on to pour French chocolate ice cream into the radio transmitter of his car. He then goes to work on his house, which is

one of those talking, singing, humming, weather-reporting, poetry-reading, novel-reciting, jingle-jangling, rockaby-crooning-when-you-go-to-bed houses. A house that screams opera to you in the shower and teaches you Spanish in your sleep…with stoves that say, “I’m apricot pie, and I’m done,’ or ‘I’m prime roast beef, so baste me!”…With beds that rock you to sleep and shake you awake. A house that barely tolerates humans…A front door that barks: ‘You’ve mud on your feet,sir!” And an electronic vacuum hound that snuffle around after you from room to room, inhaling every fingernail or ash you drop.

Brock systematically went through the house and killed everything that made a sound. The trouble is that he was only renting all these things.

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Max Smart demonstrates a wristwatch phone

His reasons for these crimes? He wants to “deliver” man from “conveniences” and the incessant noise. The demands that technology seemingly makes on people. The feeling that because there is a phone, therefore it must be used. The sudden need people feel to share every little thing, so that they can feel “in touch.” How people sit on the bus and give updates on their location. How music plays nonstop.

In touch! There’s a slimy phrase. Touch, hell. Gripped! Pawed, rather. Mauled and massaged and pounded…

It was only 1953 when Bradbury was writing, but he perfectly describes the social media/cellphone revolution.

My brother noticed it especially in 2007, when the iPhone became ubiquitous on the college campus When he first went to university, he had to take a bus and everyone on the bus either read or talked to their neighbor. In 2007, that all changed. Suddenly, everyone on the bus had an iPhone and would sit with head bowed over it. Almost like homage payed to a deity.

By the end of the story, one can’t help but feel that it is the psychiatrist – and everyone else – who is sick and that Brock is the only sane man around. The doctor says Brock “refuses to accept the simplest realities of his environment and work with them,” but perhaps Brock has a point that such things ought to be fought against. Maybe we should all turn into Luddites and run around murdering technology.

Except then I couldn’t blog…

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2016 in Books

 

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It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)

It_Came_From_Beneath_The_Sea_posterAfter the unexpected success of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in 1953, Ray Harryhausen teamed up with producer Charles Schneer for the 1955 It Came From Beneath the Sea, about a giant radioactive octopus that storms San Francisco.

The film opens with a brief discussion (via narrator) of the brand new 55 million dollar nuclear submarine. Commander Pete Mathews (Kenneth Tobey) and his crew are out on maneuvers not far from Pearl Harbor, when an unidentified object catches hold of their sub. They are able to break free, but a bit of the object is jammed in their dive planes and they are obliged to bring in some scientists – Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) and Professor Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue) – to investigate.

The scientists conclude that the object is a giant octopus that has rise from its customary habitation deep in the sea due to a lack of food. The octopus is radioactive – caused by the testing of the hydrogen bomb – and the radiation drives away its food. Now, it is aggressively hungry and indiscriminately attacking ships, people, and fish. Eventually, the octopus ends up in San Francisco, where it decides that the Golden Gate Bridge (built in 1937) is a good target.

In many ways, It Came From Beneath the Sea looks like an even cheaper film than The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. With an even smaller budget, there are a lot of rear projection shots and stock footage (not to mention a slightly puzzling romantic subplot). In addition, the octopus doesn’t seem to have the same emotional resonance as the Rhedosaurs of the previous year, possibly because it’s harder to see its face and since what we tend chiefly to notice are the tentacles.

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It’s a Kraken!

But there is something irresistible about watching that giant octopus attack San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Or even a ship (even if it is a model of a ship). That scene so reminded me of the scene where the Kraken in Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest attacks the pirate ship (just like Harryhausen’s skeletons reminded me of the skeletons in the first Pirates of the Caribbean – in fact, there seems to be a lot of similarities between those pirate movies and the fantasy films of Harryhausen). The more classic movies I see, the more vivid it becomes to me how much films are inspired by the films that came before.

Because Harryhausen and Schneer were on such a tight budget, they were obliged to omit two legs from the octopus, so it is actually a six legged octopus instead of eight, though I confess I would not have realized it unless I had read it. They do an admiral job keeping that fact from being obvious.

The subplot involving Commander Matthews, Dr. Carter and Professor Joyce is, to say the least, unique. Mathews (played by Kenneth Tobey, who shows up as a military man in a number of 1950s sci-fi movies) is a bit of a chauvinist, a “man’s man” who is very attracted to Professor Joyce and they flirt while she’s investigating the octopus. She, on the other hand, has a warm professional relationship with Dr. Carter and the two of them respect each other’s scientific knowledge and abilities. I couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be a love triangle or not. Dr. Carter certainly doesn’t seem jealous that Joyce is attracted to Mathews. But Mathews is always trying to “protect” Joyce and Carter’s trying to explain that the “new women” want to be treated as the equal of men. By the end, Mathews suggest she quit her job and marry him, but she’s not interested.

It’s like the film was playing around with the idea that there is an incompatibility between physical attraction (Mathews and Joyce) and intellectual attraction (Joyce and Carter), and that as an academic woman you can’t have both.

Taking out the Golden Gate

Taking out the Golden Gate Bridge

It Came From Beneath the Sea is also significant for being the first film that Harryhausen would make with Charles Schneer. It was an important partnership that would provide Harryhausen the support and financial backing he needed to be able to bring his visions to life, something that Harryhausen’s idol, Willis O’Brien, always lacked. Apart from King Kong, Willis O’Brien was never given free reign. But with the support of Charles Schneer, Harryhausen was able to create some of his best work for films like The 7th Voyage of SinbadMysterious Island, and Jason and the Argonauts.

Another thing that interested me about It Came From Beneath the Sea was the repeated attention drawn to the nuclear submarine as the new, up-to-date, shiny machine that was so efficient that at the beginning of the film the crew complain that it practically runs itself. This was indeed very new. The first nuclear submarine – the USS Nautilus – was launched in 1954, just one year before the release of the movie. It was also the first submarine to navigate through the Arctic (though not punch through the ice at the North Pole – that wasn’t until 1959).

It is fascinating how the film reflects the issues of the day. The concern over the possible negative effects of the use of atomic bombs, but at the same time the super-efficient new nuclear submarine also saves the day. Not to mention the quirky exploration of women’s new roles in the workplace. But the real reason to watch the film is Ray Harryhausen’s giant octopus!

This is my second contribution to The Ray Harryhausen Blogathon, hosted by Wolffian Classics Movie Digest. Please click here for more posts celebrating Harryhausen!

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Posted by on July 13, 2016 in Movies

 

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Cocoon (1985) – Remembering James Horner Blogathon

download (2)Two days ago – June 22nd – marked a year after the tragic death of composer James Horner in an airplane crash and in honor of his memory Film Music Central is hosting the “Remembering James Horner Blogathon.” Be sure to check out the other great posts here. For my contribution, I am focusing on James Horner’s score from Cocoon, a sci-fi/fantasy that was directed by Ron Howard in 1985.

As a fan of Don Ameche, I’d been curious to see the film for some time after I’d read that he earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. I’m not usually very familiar with actors from the 1980s, but Cocoon is actually full of familiar faces. Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Gwen Verdon, Maureen Stapleton and even Tyrone Power’s son, Tyrone Power Jr. (who looks like his father, but has none of his charisma).

The film begins with three friends – Art (Don Ameche), Ben (Wilford Brimley), and Joe (Hume Cronyn) – who live at a retirement home, but sneak into an empty neighboring mansion to swim in the pool. But after four mysterious strangers rent the mansion and charter a boat captained by the somewhat awkward Jack (Steve Guttenberg), they start bringing cocoons up from the ocean and putting them in the pool.

The three men discover that the pool suddenly has regenerative powers. They feel more alive and vital and Joe’s cancer goes into remission. Ben and Joe’s respective married life suddenly comes alive and Art starts going out with fellow retiree Bess (Gwen Verdon). Soon all six of them are swimming in the pool, recapturing the romance and excitement of their youth.

There are no villains in Cocoon. The four strangers are revealed to be aliens who used to live on earth thousands of years ago and are trying to rescue their friends, who are in the cocoons. The aliens seem to have remarkable healing abilities and do not experience old age or death by natural causes. Their leader, Walter (Brian Dennehy), agrees to let the six of them continue to swim in the pool (since Joe will die if he doesn’t), but only if they keep it a secret, which isn’t easy to do because all the inhabitants of the retirement home have noticed their remarkable rejuvenation and want to share in it.

Cocoon

Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Wilford Brimley

The movie is a meditation on life, death and love and although the beginning seems like more of a comedy, ultimately there is a melancholy and gentle vibe to the film which James Horner’s score perfectly captures, or rather, frames. His music is as much a star as the excellent cast. I was crying at the death of a green and shriveled alien. That had to be the music. The music is at times whimsical, melancholy, but also full of wonder and I was unexpectedly moved by the beauty of the score.

(plot spoilers ahead)

The wonder is reserved partly for the aliens, with their unique ability to make people feel good when they are around. They are the friendliest, most normal aliens one will ever encounter, who can empathize with the frailty of the humans, even though they do not experience that same frailty. But when Walter is unable to save a few of his friends, he too learns what it feels like to grieve, feel helpless, and he offers to take all the members of the retirement home back with him when he leaves earth.

Its like the adventure of a lifetime for many of these people who thought they were going to live out the remainder of their days in increasing illness as they watch those they love die, but it is still hard not to see their leaving with the aliens as partly a metaphor for life after death.  A new adventure, leaving earth behind forever. The wonderment and difficulty of imagining what that will be like is present…as well as the regret of leaving behind the life that is known. This isn’t as much of a problem for most of the people, who do not seem to have family, but Ben (Wilford Brimley) and his wife have a daughter and grandson, who they are particularly close to, and it’s hard to say goodbye, especially to their grandson.

the alien (as they really look when not wearing their human skin) welcomes them to the pool

the alien (as they really look when not wearing their human skin) welcomes them to the pool

One man believes that the aliens and their cocoon are cheating death and the natural passage of time and prefers to stay “home” on earth. His decision is sympathetic, too, especially after his wife dies. You can see that he and his wife were a couple essentially satisfied with life, with no regrets, and now that she’s gone, he’s ready to go, too.

(end spoilers)

Cocoon provided the first opportunity for James Horner to work with director Ron Howard and they would collaborate on seven films, including Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind. But his score for Cocoon is particularly poignant. There is a gentleness to it, a transparent simplicity that also gives space for reflection.

What was also fun about the soundtrack was the inclusion of many songs from the 1940s. As the retirees recapture their youth, they sing and we hear the songs of their youth. Don Ameche sings “I’m in the Mood for Love” and goes down on one knee to sing “Some Enchanted Evening” to the woman he’s wooing. We also hear “Dancing in the Dark” and “You’ll Never Know.” There is even a contemporary eighties song called “Gravity,” which Ameche (and his stunt double) dances to demonstrate the level of his rejuvenation.

This post was part of the “Remembering James Horner Blogathon.” I want to thank Bex at Film Music Central for hosting this wonderful event!

james-horner

On the website James Horner Film Music, the soundtrack is discussed for Cocoon, pointing out the piano and guitar used during the song “Rose’s Death,” which is a scene guaranteed to have you bawling. To quote the article, “The composer recently said that he wants to look for melancholic colors echoing the past with certain instruments that are the key to unlocking the heart”.

James Horner repeats the theme in “First Tears,” when the alien dies, this time using horn and oboe. I defy anyone not to cry during this scene.

And here are the end credits, which encapsulates the entire score, the entire theme of wonder, awe, longing, loss and love. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.

And just for good measure, here is the trailer.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2016 in Movies

 

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