Passion for life and love burn brightly in prolific writer Ray Bradbury, 88, who will be honored at the Ojai Film Festival on Saturday, November 8, for a lifetime of achievements. A special showing of The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, a 1998 film he wrote about friendship and an unusual white suit, will also be screened.
He considers the Ice Cream Suit screenplay one of the best he has written. That says a lot from one who wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s Moby Dick, as well as Something Wicked This Way Comes and the Oscar-nominated animated film Icarus Montgolfier Wright. Like the Ice Cream Suit, most of Bradbury’s movies and teleplays originated with his short stories.
Sometimes in his body of published work-by some estimates more than 500 short stories, novels, plays, movies, teleplays, poetry collections, and nonfiction articles-it is hard to define where one form of writing ends and the other takes off. He has even turned his bleakly visionary novel Fahrenheit 451 into an opera.
Jumping categories appeals to Bradbury, who just passed the 50-year mark as a professional writer and shows no desire to unplug his imagination. The creator of a unique blend of speculative fiction has not been able to type since suffering a stroke in 1999 but works by dictating to a daughter in Arizona. She faxes the material back to him for rewriting.
Using such strategies, he has, in the intervening years, produced three novels, overseen at least 10 new collections of mainly previously published stories, and mined his unpublished material for novellas. A collection of new stories, We’ll Always Have Paris, is scheduled for release next February by Harper/Collins. Bradbury was happy to discuss life, love, and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit with The Independent:
Why did you choose to place The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit in East Los Angeles when it seems it could work just about anywhere? A friend of mine lived at Temple and Figueroa. His mother ran a tenement in which 200 people lived; they were mostly Chicanos. I went down every week to help him build a ceramics studio, so I got to know all the people in the tenement. All the names of the characters in the [original] story, and in the play and the film, are the real names of real Mexicans in the tenement nearly 70 years ago.
How old were you when you began to visit the tenement? I was around 20 years old. I lived off and on in that tenement five years and wrote about them in a short story, “I’ll See You Never,” which appeared in The New Yorker, which caused me to [be reprinted] in The Best American Short Stories. Chicanos changed my life in many ways.
Did you have a suit like that featured in the play you wrote in 1965? No. In the tenement, I noticed a few Chicano people who wore white suits. Some were Cubans, and white suits were seen on occasion. I always wanted to own one. After the play was successful, I had to wear a white suit, so I bought one.
Do you still own a white suit? I’ve got one, but I can’t wear it. It’s covered with signatures from the entire cast of the film.
Do you think, sir, that fantasy is always more attractive to youth than to adults? Fantasy has nothing to do with it. The ice cream suit binds together five young men who discover that they can love life. And the suit teaches them how to love life, if you love one another as friends. That’s not fantasy, that’s reality.
You once said you feared the Internet would become little more than “a toy,” particularly for young men who would waste their time playing games on it. Have you changed your opinion about the Internet? I hate the fact that young people waste their time listening to the Internet. They download music, [but] there’s no music anymore in the world. There are no songs, no lyrics. The last good music was done by people like The Beatles. I think the Internet is junk-it’s lousy.
Do you feel that people, young and old, are in danger of losing imagination from their lives, especially as television and other visual media become dominant? No, nothing can interfere with your imagination so long as you exercise it. If you want to be a writer, and you write every day of your life, nothing interferes with that. I’ve gone to see all these films growing up, one after the other. It didn’t interfere with my growing because I fell in love with gorgeous people, like Lon Chaney, and they taught me to be imaginative. So there [would be] nothing wrong with the Internet if it was filled with imagination, but it’s not. So I advise young people not to look at it.
For an Illinois boy who once wanted to be a magician, and who has created magical worlds of words for millions internationally, what would you describe as your major contributions in this life? Teach people around the world that I’m the greatest lover. If I’m the world’s greatest lover, imitate me. Fall in love with movies, fall in love with books, fall in love with libraries, but don’t have anything to do with stupid blogs. Find a woman who has a brain between her ears. My wife was a librarian and English teacher and a bookseller. She was a perfect, intelligent lady.
The Ninth Annual Ojai Film Festival runs Thursday, November 6, through Sunday, November 9. For tickets and more info, see ojaifilmfestival.com or call 640-1947.