Adaptations of H.G. Wells’ ‘War of The Worlds’

Before I move on to the main point of this article I must state how utterly astounding this novel is.

For start it was originally published during the reign of Queen Victoria as a serial in Pearson’s Magazine in 1897. Magazines were extremely popular at the time and many novels were originally published as serials before becoming hardback novels. In the case of ‘War of The Worlds’, the book form was published in 1898.

If a marker of the start of the modern world was the production line that produced the Ford Model T (the worlds first ‘affordable’ car), then the modern world was at least another ten years away – and yet here is a story about interplanetary travel!

Tripod Sculpture – Woking, England

Apart from the era it was written in, many of the ideas and concepts expressed directly or indirectly in the story touch on subjects that are still discussed or written about in the twenty-first century (with varying levels of seriousness). It certainly laid the bedrock for science fiction throughout the twentieth century and all of this began with an alien cylinder landing on Horsell Common, just outside Woking – 32 mile south of London.

War of the Worlds introduced the idea of an alien invasion (alien in terms of interplanetary rather than merely foreign). It also established the concept that Martians were aggressive, and that Mars was an ancient and highly advanced civilisation, but probably in decay. It can be read as a comment on Victorian society, imperialism and exploitation, advanced warfare and the mechanisation of war. There is also the influence of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the whole science-verses-religion debate (‘On The Origin of Species‘ was only published in 1859).

Orson Welles

There have been a number of significant adaptations for radio and film over the years and I will briefly touch on the most significant versions.

In terms of radio, the version that is most remembered is the 1938 adaptation directed and performed by Orson Welles, and which essentially made his name. The production, which went out on Halloween of that year, was startlingly innovative – it was broadcast in the form of a News Flash which appeared to interrupt another radio programme, and announced the invasion as though it was happening in real time at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. Apparently the story that thousands fled their homes in a blind panic, believing it was a real news report, was largely exaggerated by the newspapers.

In 1953 George Pal produced a big budget film version for Paramount Studios, which also placed the action in America. George Pall already had hit films with ‘Destination Moon‘ and ‘When Worlds Collide‘, so was particularly associated with Science Fiction, and would later film the classic version of H.G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine‘ with Rod Taylor, Alan Young and Yvette Mimieux.

Yet another version to erroneously place the action on American soil, was the 2005 Steven Spielberg film starring Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and Tim Robbins. Obviously, Spielberg’s filmography needs no explanation!

There have been other adaptations, but these have by far been the most significant versions to date.

Although the British release date has yet to be announced (it has already aired in a few other countries), there is a new three part BBC television series of War of The Worlds which is due to be broadcast in the UK sometime before Christmas. Surprisingly, it is the first time that the novel has been adapted by a British broadcaster. I am hoping that this new version will be good enough to be considered as one of the classics and there are a couple of reasons for this.

For a start it will be the first screen version to be based close to the era of the original novel – although not set in Victorian times, it is based in the Edwardian era, so not far off. Also, it will be set geographically where the the novel was set, namely London and Surrey – not America for a change! On the whole, this appears to be the most faithful adaptation so far – I just hope it’s going to be good enough – apparently it was originally due to be broadcast last year but was delayed due to technical problems with the special effects in post production (well, I’m hoping that was the only reason!)

What I will be interested in seeing is it’s portrayal of the Curate (if he appears at all) in the BBC adaptation. In the original novel, he is more than a little unhinged by what’s going on – he believes that the Martians have been sent by God to punish us for our sins. This could be seen as a comment about the fragility of religious dogma in the face of indisputable circumstances, or, in other words, in the face of rational and scientific observation (in contrast to the curate, the narrator of the novel is portrayed as the voice of reason). When the curate looses it completely the narrator effectively kills him with a shovel for fear of being discovered by the Martians.

Confronting the Martians with religion.

It is interesting to note that in the 1953 film version of the novel the religious representative, a Pastor, believes that the Martians must be essentially good beings because they too were made by God and that they will see the righteousness of God’s word. This belief is maintained even after having seen them kill other humans. He walks towards them reading from the Bible and swiftly gets blasted out of existence. Is this the way the world saw religion in the middle of the twentieth century, essentially powerless in the face of modernity and mechanisation, or was the Pastor a martyr standing up for religious belief no matter what. Interestingly, the film also has a scene in a church at the end when the Martians are dying, which suggests mankind was saved by the work of God.

In the 2005 Spielberg version the Curate does not make an appearance, but aspects of him are amalgamated with the artilleryman from the novel, in the form of Tim Robbins’ character – a crazed individual who wants to hunker down with the hope of planning a Guerrilla attack at some point in the future. He is killed with a shovel (like the Curate in the book) by Tom Cruise’s character through fear of discovery (apparently in this version the invaders were not from Mars, but some distant unnamed planet, largely because the idea of intelligent life on Mars has unfortunately been discredited). So, where is religion in this version (and for that matter, in the twenty-first century?) and will it feature at all in the new BBC adaptation?

The interesting point about War of The Worlds and it’s relation to religion is that it suggests that Science and Technology cannot save man, anymore than the belief in a Deity can. It is Nature which defeats the invading force – or the human race is saved, as Wells puts it in the opening paragraph, of the novel, by “the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water”.

Ultimately Wells may have been suggesting that it is not a good idea to sell your soul to any one belief system, but to be more widely aware of the world and it’s multitude of ideas and perspectives, because no single theory has all the answers…

The Cat and The Canary (1927)

The film genre ‘Comedy/Horror’ has produced a number of well known classics and many that are definitely not classics. Some that might come to mind may include ‘Scream‘, ‘Shaun of The Dead‘ and ‘The Cabin in The Woods‘. Or, examples slightly further back, could include ‘An American Warewolf in Paris‘, ‘Re-Animator‘ and ‘The Abominable Dr. Phibes‘. As we’re on the subject it would be a shame not to mention earlier examples like ‘Abbott and Costello Meet the Frankenstein‘, ‘Little Shop of Horrors‘ and ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers‘ – I could go on, but it’s probably best not to!

What I didn’t realise until quite recently was that the genre goes even further back than that. In the early sound era there was ‘The Old Dark House‘ (1932), which was directed by James Whale (better known for the classics ‘Frankenstein‘ (1931), ‘The Bride of Frankenstein‘ (1935) and ‘The Invisible Man‘ (1933)). Even more surprisingly are the pre-synchronised sound examples (in other words the era of ‘silent films’ – I didn’t use that term on purpose and I’ll explain why later). I was also unaware that the classic Universal Studios horror films of the 30’s and 40’s (which included those just mentioned) actually began in the ‘silent era’ and ‘The Cat and The Canary’ was one of them – a plane flew around the globe at the beginning with a smoke trail of the word ‘universal’ behind it.

In 1927, the year of ‘The Jazz Singer‘ and the breakthrough that was synchronised sound, there was a ‘silent’ comedy/horror directed by Paul Leni called ‘The Cat and The Canary‘. I am not going to do a plot summary in this article, there are numerous ones on the internet. Essentially it is an example of the old dark house sub-genre of the horror film. Although it is now a well established cliché of cinema, it was essential a new thing in the 1920’s; but it had already become such a well known trope by 1932 that the previously mentioned James Whale film was named after it!

The 1927 film has had numerous remakes since (including one starring Bob Hope in 1939, which unsurprisingly played it more for laughs), but it was the original version that was screened during the Chichester Film Festival 2019 on Friday the 23rd August.

Every era of film has good examples, not so good examples, bad examples, and occasionally, outstanding ones. ‘The Cat and The Canary‘ is well worth seeing, which for me categorises it as a good one (it’s not outstanding, but very, very few films are!).

The term ‘silent movie’ is misleading, there was always music to accompany the images – that may be an orchestra on big budget premiers, or small ensembles, or simply an organ or a piano, particularly in small town cinemas and village halls. What made this screening so appealing was the addition of live music – a rare experience in the age of blu-rays and downloads. Also, it was a comedy/horror screened in an old chapel (St. John’s Chapel, Chichester, England) – it couldn’t get anymore atmospheric.

Silent films can be fantastic to watch at home with a pre-recorded soundtrack (and it is always worth supporting the restoration of old movies by actually buying them), but the opportunity to see one with live music should not be missed. It makes the film become an event, a performance, and as close to the way the films would have been seen when originally released. It is something which everyone interested in silent films should experience whenever possible. The music on this occasion was provided by Stephen Horne and he made fantastic use of a keyboard (largely with the piano sound), an Accordion, a Flute and a few other ‘instruments’ – it suited and enhanced the film perfectly!

On entering the Chapel were were given a photocopied A5 piece of paper which had the cast list one one side and a 1927 New York Times review of the film on the other. The review is by the fantastically named Mordaunt Hall, who was apparently The New York Times first regularly assigned film critic. I did not know the film and didn’t want to spoil it, so I actually read it the following day. I thought it would be a good idea to include it here if anyone’s interested (by the way, if you right click on the image and ‘open image in new tab’ the click on it again it should become easily readable!)

The Art of Science Fiction

It’s common knowledge that Science Fiction (or Scientific Romance as it was originally called) was very much a product of its time.  A combination of Victorian adventure story, the influence of war and Empire, the speed and revelations of the industrial revolution (and the associated scientific advances), and, in the hands of the best writers, a literary critique of the times.  There are earlier traces of the speculative and the fantastic, but it was the Victorians that firmly set the template of what we now know as Science Fiction.

Title-pageEven early explorations of this new form of writing were associated with striking visual art, which is wholly appropriate for the nature of the genre.

A good example are the illustrations for the 1905 French edition of H.G. Well’s ‘The War of The Worlds’ (first published in 1897).  Henrique Alvim Corrêa (1876–1910) was a Brazilian artist working in Belgium who created wonderfully atmospheric images, full of darkness, light and menace, an example of which can be seen to the left.

As was common at the time, many of the stories we now know as novels began life as serialised stories in popular magazines like The Strand Magazine, Pearson’s Magazine, and The Idler.  It’s wasn’t until the 1920’s though that specialist Science Fiction magazines began to appear.Amazing Stories

Beginning with Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories in 1926 – these highly illustrated magazines soon proliferated and spread the graphic iconography of the genre as much, if not more, than the words from which they originated.

In a strange way the magazines, which were there to spread the ‘word’ of Science Fiction were superseded by the images they used to illustrate the text.  When the cinematic Science Fiction boom of the 1950’s took hold it would only be a short time before the age of the magazine was over (apart from a few survivors).

Although I love early Science Fiction stories (I’d read all of H.G Well’s short stories before I’d left school), I did not feel as much of a fondness for the mid-20th century stuff (and the space operas were just a drag!).  I was far more attached to the films of the 1950’s Science Fiction craze (many of which were based on novels) and even now I would rather see a Science Fiction film than read a Science Fiction book (probably because Science Fiction is such a fantastically visual genre).  I think this is part of the reason why I have migrated to the relative of Science Fiction in the speculative fiction genre that is The Weird.

Village Of The DamnedSince the magazines lost their near-monopoly on Science Fiction stories and the eventual decline in such movies (The Village of The Damned being one of the last original stories of the era), the graphic or illustrative element of the genre flourished on the covers of paperback books.

I remember in the 80’s and 90’s seeing loads of classic Science Fiction paperbacks with cover art from the 1960’s and 70’s in charity shops – but of course, like so many other things, I did not appreciate them at the time!  It is now rare to see the striking and strange book covers at all, and particularly the first editions (paperback or otherwise) anywhere at all.

Fortunately I recently came across a collection of these speculative stories from another age and I decided to buy the lot!  They look stunning and on the whole are in fantastic condition; but my mind is skewed towards the Weird and that is where my heart is, so reluctantly I have decided to pass them on.  Just looking at the covers makes you wonder what imaginative wonders the pages contain and I would love to have the time to read them all but it’s just not possible.

I currently have them for sale very cheaply on eBay, here, but be quick, the first lot end this Sunday evening (25th Oct.) – why not try a few, you never know what astounding stories await!

Here are just a few of the books available:-

DSC_0084DSC_0108DSC_0119DSC_0112DSC_0102DSC_0096

Children of the Stones

Children of the Stones is one of those rare children’s television series whose reputation has given it a cult attraction over the years, largely due to the disturbing impression it left on those who were lucky enough to see it when it was first broadcast.Children of the StonesI am not quite old enough to have seen it in 1977 (well I was, but it might have been a bit too scary for me then!).  It is one of a series of programmes from the late seventies and early eighties which hold a strange fascination for people who, like me, crave that rare strata of storytelling which incorporates intelligent ideas with weird elements.

I have just received the DVD in the post and although I have only seen the first few episodes, it is certainly living up to its reputation.  The themes and ominous mood of the series bring to mind a plethora of other films, directly and indirectly; from Val Lewton’s ‘The Cat People‘, through to ‘The Village of the Damned‘, ‘Quatermass and The Pit‘ and ‘The Wicker Man‘.

The soundtrack is quite unique and unnerving by itself and reminds me of the strange choral sounds which arise in ‘Invaders From Mars‘ when the holes appear in the sandpit, but it is far more guttural and Pagan sounding.

The story (created for the series by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray) is certainly not dumbed down for its target audience – if only more children’s television series were brave enough to stretch the minds of its viewers.  Supported by an excellent script, great camera work and classic 70’s acting which all adds to its strangeness and to what made it so memorable at the time and what still makes it so appealing today.

The series was filmed in and around the Avebury stone circle (renamed as Millbury) as well as the HTV Bristol Studio.  From what I can gather so far, it draws on myths and legends, occultism, Ley lines, magnetism, Paganism and the eternal tension between science (rationalism) and folklore (superstition).AERIALS 2002 PIC DAVE EVANS 1.6.02It is only seven short episodes long (about 25 minutes each) yet it has not been repeated on British television since its second showing in 1978.  It is supposedly the one of the scariest children’s programme ever screened and today actually carries the unusually high 12 certificate on the DVD.  It was released as a book  in 1977, and more recently a follow-up book called Return to the Stones (also by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray) was also published (in 2012).

'Children of the Stones' book version

In a way it deserves to be remade, but on the other hand I think it would be a wrong move – we seem to have become far too superficial in our tastes (and rational thought has oppressed our folk memory); at the same time we are usually fed simple stories as if we are unable to process complex plots.  Not only that but so many great films have been remade and ruined (basically they’ve been dumbed down!) – ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ is a perfect example!  ‘Quatermass and The Pit’ is another fantastic story which deserves a good remake, but I’m sure the multiple layers of ideas would be stripped out and it would end up as a simple horror (horror in the modern sense – gore over mood).

If you are at all interested in strange goings on and atmospheric storytelling then ‘Children of the Stones’ is well worth a look!

“Happy day!”

Days Of Fear and Wonder – A Celebration of Science Fiction at the BFI

We are living in an era of astounding possibilities, in many ways the very futures that science fiction always dreamt of.  Yes, the genre has changed in many ways since it’s earliest incarnations in the minds of Jules Verne and HG Wells, but essentially it has retained the same core concept – that of extrapolating our deepest fears as well as our idealised hopes for the future of both the individual and the whole of human society.
imageIt was no coincidence that the scientific romance (or what became known as science fiction) appeared during the Victorian era, when the dirt and disease which spread with the cities accompayning industrialisation, as well as the awe-inspiring technical wonders of the industrial revolution itself, were strikingly evident and of serious social and political concern.  The fantastical possibilities that the swift technological advances implied for both the good and the detriment of ordinary people became a fertile ground for the imaginative author.  Also, by the end of the 19th century the political unrest, particularly across Europe, spawned ‘invasion’ novels and the idea that technology for all it’s wonders could easily be turned against us, whether by colonising Martians or our own kind.image
The moving image was one of the many astounding innovations of that productive era.  Although we are no longer shocked to the point of dodging the approach of a train arriving at a station, film still has the power to captivate our imaginations, move our emotions or shock our senses.  It was partly because of this that even from the early days of cinema, science fiction was felt to be a natural subject for this futuristic medium and most of our preconceptions of the genre were in evidence from the beginning – from Georges Melies ‘A Trip To The Moon‘ (1902) and his many other fantastical creations, to the ever popular mad-scientist ‘Frankenstein’ (1910) – (by the way, the formation of the monster in this film is quite grotesque!), to our fascination with Martians and not to mention wacky futurist costumes and sets in ‘Aelita:Queen of Mars’ (1924), to time out of context in ‘The Lost World’ (1925), or the ultimate dystopian/utopian/saintly girl/evil robot/future city/slave to the machine/freedom fighting/love story of them all ‘Metropolis’ (1927).
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The fascination that film makers had with science fiction continued with the advent of sound and the development of what became known as special effects, which made even more visually possible. I wont go into the many variations of the genre which proliferated throughout the decades (although here’s a thorough list), but there has, on the whole, been a healthy mix of the deeply thought provoking and the entertainingly trashy.
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The BFI are scanning the decades with a range of classic science fiction films between October and December 2014 – Sci-Fi Days of Fear and Wonder.  If you can’t actually make it to London (or a few other places around the UK) to see the films on the big screen, it would definitely be worth re-assessing your ideas of what science fiction can be by checking out at least a few of these films.

wpid-brazil.jpgFor some reason the general idea of what a science fiction film is seems to have changed over the last couple of decades (unless I am missing some great films) – it has lost its insight into contemporary issues, the mystery of discovering worlds beyond our own, or the thrill and wonder of technologies just out of reach. It has become a by-word for little more than an action movie in space or a horror movie in space. Of course they can be both of these, but they could also be so much more. Where are our own Quatermass equivalents?

I’m not calling for remakes – look at the vacuous remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still for instance! But I believe we would all benefit from more involved story lines than the recurring ‘kill the ugly alien monster’ one.  Hopefully this season will remind film makers of the infinite possibilities inherent in the limitless realms of thoughtful science fiction.

By the way, watch the trailer – how many have you seen?
imageHere’s a list of some of the films that will be on show, I’ve highlighted some of my favourites.  I think they are also showing The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961) an excellent slice of British atomic sci-fi, directed by the under-appreciated Val Guest.  Although they do include ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ I would also have shown Jack Arnold’s superior The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) – a stunning piece of existential Sci-Fi and a lot less laborious than another memorable existential genre film, the equally stunning Russian film Solaris (1972).  Another recommendation is Robert Wise’s The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), which is still probably one of the best introductions to intelligent Science Fiction.  I don’t think these are on the list, which is a shame, but I might be wrong!:-

Metropolis (1927), William Cameron Menzies’ Things to Come (1936), Joseph Losey’s The Damned (1961), Jean-Luc Godard‘s New Wave offering Alphaville (1965), Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Planet of the Apes (1968), George Miller’s Mad Max II: Road Warrior (1981), Terry Gilliam’s surreal masterpiece Brazil (1985) and the dystopian vision from Margaret Atwood’s novel in Volker Schlöndorff’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1990).  The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936), John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966), starring Rock Hudson, David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979), James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984), Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and Michel Gondry’s emotive Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).  A Message From Mars (1913), Byron Haskin’s War of the Worlds (1953), Fred Wilcox’s Forbidden Planet (1956), Roy Ward Baker’s Quatermass and the Pit (1967), Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running (1972), Steven Spielberg’s chilling Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977); there will be an Extended Run of Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and screenings of Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake starring Donald Sutherland, Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), Robert Zemeckis’ Contact (1997) and Gareth Edwards’ Monsters (2010).

Which would you choose and which have they missed out…?

The Small World of Sammy Lee (OST) by Kenny Graham

A few things I know nothing about:- The Small World Of Sammy Lee, British Jazz, Soho in the 60’s, Kenny Graham.

What little I do know about:- Anthony Newley, London, British Films, Jazz (but only in general – well, essentially the popular American bits).

What I now know:- British Jazz is very different from American Jazz (and I like it too), I need to see this film.

Small World Of Sammy Lee - album cover artThis was supposed to be a review of sorts about the latest release from Trunk Records, but I really don’t feel qualified in terms of my knowledge of British Jazz to do that, so this posting is more a way of highlighting a discovery than a proper critique.

Trunk Records specialize in releasing for the first time, or re-releasing, forgotten music in all its retro forms – from old Library Music discs, the music to half-remembered children’s TV series, weird folk recordings, a few naughty things and the soundtracks to films which were not big enough to get a soundtrack album at the time.  For anyone bored of shiny pop and looking for something a little different (or a lot different, for that matter!) this is an absolute godsend!

The forgotten film this time is The Small World Of Sammy Lee.  It was Anthony Newley’s first film lead and is a story about a nightclub compère, Sammy ‘Lee’ Leeman (Anthony Newley), who gets seriously into debt and has to quickly find the money to pay off the bookies.  It was filmed in and around the sleazy streets of Soho in the early 60’s and sounds like a real-time capsule of a movie.  I must see it!

So, to the brand new soundtrack album to a 50 year old film – after finally tracking down the original master tapes (through Kenny Graham’s oblivious daughter, I believe) we can hear the music which was especially composed for the film by one of the UK’s premier exponents and promoters of modern jazz throughout the 1950’s, 60’s and beyond. The music generally has a plaintive mood about it, but is at turns wistful (Soho At Dawn), playful (The Hustling Starts), cool (Four O’Clock Hop), swinging (Dash To Bellman’s) and groovy (Thoughts At Home).

There is no Wikipedia entry for Kenny Graham, which is a real shame – from the evidence of this album of previously unreleased music he deserves to be much better known, and hopefully, with the increasing interest in British Jazz, he soon will be.

Postscript:- Allmusic mentions Kenny Graham, and there is a decent obituary in The Independent newspaper from 1997.  If you would like more of Kenny Graham’s music try his re-interpretation and response to Moondog’s music – Moondog and Suncat Suites.  And if you don’t know Moondog (also known as Viking of 6th Avenue) then check him out too – you’ll never know where it’ll lead!

Boat Buildings

When I was a lot younger I remember watching the 1935 version of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield – apart from W.C. Fields and the dotty, but loveable, Mr. Dick (played by Lennox Pawle) the one thing that stuck in my mind above all was Peggotty’s house on the seashore, which was constructed from an up-turned boat.  It felt so warm and snug against the stormy weather outside – I really wanted one (and I probably still do!).

The only picture I can find of this boat-house is on another wordpress blog called Paradise Leased, about the architecture and people of old Hollywood.  Apparently the boat-house ‘prop’ was moved and became the home of Mr. R.H. Stiles (pictured below), who intended to turn it into a seafood restaurant – whether he did or not, I really don’t know.Peggotty's House RelocatedThere are similar up-turned boats used as sheds and dotted around The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, just off the northeast coast of England (see below).Boatshed near Lindisfarne

But the main reason for this posting is to highlight how this quirky and quite Victorian-looking interpretation of recycling has been updated and turned into a very trendy winery in Mexico.

It is featured on the ever-bountiful designboom website.  The architecture uses discarded boats from a nearby port to form the ceiling and walls and is a wonderfully practical way to reclaim wood.  Not only do we get to see the curvacious lines which are usually submerged under water but, by the very nature of it’s original purpose, the underside of a boat is just as effective as the upside of a building.  The fact that there has been very little re-processing involved in changing one use to another is also a huge positive in environmental stakes.  Although the architect is not mentioned (which is a real shame!) hopefully this ingenious and elegant re-interpretation will inspire other architects to think a little differently about the materials they use.

Vena Cava Winery in La Villa del Valle 1

Vena Cava Winery in La Villa del Valle 2

Vena Cava Winery in La Villa del Valle 3

Vena Cava Winery in La Villa del Valle 4