Tom takes a look at the documentary that aims to shed some light on one of The Twilight Zone's most enigmatic figures.
Title: Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone's Magic Man (Director's Cut)
Director: Jason V. Brock
Starring: Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson
Certificate: Not Rated
Released: Out Now RRP: $24.95(DVD)
There’s a question that inevitably gets asked when anyone involved with The Twilight Zone gets interviewed: “what are your memories of Rod Serling?” For the generations that have been turned on to Serling’s work since his death, any new insight or detail about the man that we all wish we could sit down and talk to, are like discovering lost treasure. Gleaning information from those that knew him is a temporary distraction from the the sad truth that we’ll never know him ourselves. There is however some small consolation in the fact that many of his interviews still survive, and one only needs to tap his name into YouTube to watch them. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the second most prolific writer of The Twilight Zone, Charles Beaumont.
Produced by Jason and Sunni Brock, directed by Jason and edited by Sunni this 140 minute documentary talks to many of Charles Beaumont’s surviving friends and acquaintances. The documentary opens with some archived interview footage of Rod Serling pre-Twilight Zone and then shifts to his Emmy acceptance speech where he acknowledges the writers who helped make the show. It’s a nicely edited opener that puts us right in Serling’s corner as he bats away questions about whether his new series The Twilight Zone is the death of him as a serious artist, and then lets us share in the jubilation as he raises his Emmy, validating himself, and us as his admirers.
But this isn’t Serling’s show, merely a setting of time and place before the documentary turns down one of the more mysterious avenues in The Twilight Zone.
In his heyday he was a celebrated writer both in print and on television and wrote twenty two episodes of The Twilight Zone including the episodes Elegy, Long live Walter Jameson and The Howling Man. Beaumont’s life was cut tragically short by a mysterious illness that aged him prematurely and killed him before his 39th birthday. Without a wealth of video clips to look back on, Beaumont is even more of an enigma than Rod Serling but the release of the documentary Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man goes some way to correcting this.
One of the many triumphs of the documentary is that it works not only as a portrait of Charles Beaumont, but also as a document on a happening; a time in history where a group of talented writers pushed the barriers of science fiction far beyond what had gone before. They were young, talented and connected, feeding off each other’s creative energy and building on the foundation that one of science fiction’s Godfathers, Ray Bradbury, had laid. Even now, watching the recollections of those who were involved it’s easy to get caught up in that energy again, and even in his absence Beaumont is a powerful presence. By all accounts he was the kind of friend we’ll all hopefully have at some point, one who would bring adventure into the lives of everyone that he knew. This is beautifully illustrated in a sweet moment when one of Beaumont’s friends, John Tomerlin, sits talking to the camera with his wife Wilma in their kitchen at home. He describes how Beaumont was the kind of man who would get you into a situation, without any of you really knowing how you’d get out, but that was the fun of it. As John talks his face lights up with the recollection, and he loses himself in it for a moment, Wilma lays an understanding hand on his arm, taking pleasure in her husband’s obvious joy at the memory.
While everyone involved seems to take great pleasure in discussing their memories of Charles Beaumont, Jason Brock doesn’t shy away from touching on his weaknesses. As a young, successful and handsome man, temptation was often in his path, and he didn’t always refuse despite being a happily married man. The documentary too takes a detour looking at the accusations of plagiarism against Rod Serling and his falling out with Ray Bradbury. It’s not easy to hear this kind of criticism against Serling, but thankfully both sides of the argument are presented.
The list of interviewees that Jason and Sunni Brock have managed to put together on film is remarkable; Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Roger Corman and Harlan Ellison to name a few. Bradbury as the elder-statesman of science fiction is always deserving of our attention, and the recollections of George Clayton Johnson give any segment that he contributes to an irresistible energy; he’s truly a young man in an old man’s body (although saying that he still looks pretty spry), and his fierce intelligence is still as evident as ever. The creator of Famous Monsters of Film Land Magazine, Forrest J. Ackerman also makes a bittersweet appearance. As one of horror’s warmest personalities, it is of course a pleasure to see him, and he still has a talent for a good story. But sadly by this point Forry’s health had obviously deteriorated, and it’s sad to see the great man in such a weakened state.
Technically there are moments that let the production down, like some poor quality sound on a couple of the interviews; however it’s important to keep things in perspective. The documentary was made on a $25,000 budget (going by IMDB) and is the first video release from JaSunni Productions. This is obviously a labour of love piece. Were it a studio production and the sound on an interview with William Shatner came out poorly, then they would more than likely be able to re-shoot, but for a production like this it’s a case of making the best of what you have. I imagine nobody was more put out by these issues than Jason and Sunni Brock, but when faced with the choice of leaving a piece in with flawed sound or taking it out, of course they’d need to leave it in. But let’s not get distracted by this minor quibble; none of the interviews are difficult to hear, and they all do their job well.
Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man is a warm, nostalgic and good hearted look at a man that we lost too soon, and a happening that we as science fiction fans have been feeling the effects of for years. This director’s cut runs 140 minutes as opposed to the previously released 90 minute cut. It’s a hefty running time, but thankfully the documentary doesn’t out-stay its welcome. It’s a sad fact, as the inclusion of Forrest J. Ackerman illustrates, that these great minds may not be with us much longer. The stories of Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson and the others involved will endure, but the stories of the men themselves bear remembering too. These are the architects of a whole genre, and their stories have brought pleasure to millions. Spending this time with them through the camera lense of Jason Brock is a delight, and for that Jason and Sunni Brock deserve our thanks.
- Audio commentary by Jason V Brock and William F Nolan.
- Photo slideshow.
- 1960’s audio recording of Charles Beaumont’s story Black Country read by William F Nolan.
- 1960’s audio recording of My Fair Lady read by Charles Beaumont.
- 45 minutes of footage from the world premier event at The Egyptian theatre in Hollywood including director’s intor and Q&A hosted by Marc Zicree.
- Preview of the upcoming documentary The AckerMonster Chronicles.
To order Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone's Magic Man visit Jasunni.com.