Thursday, October 28, 2010

Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone's Magic Man

When I was a young man I owned and worked in a used book/comic book shop. One of the people who frequented the store was a kid named Jason Brock. So I have to say right away that I've known Jason since he was just a boy. An exceptionally intelligent and precocious kid, for sure. I always figured he would do some important things in his life that would set him apart and make him known if not nationally, then at least within the genre fiction that he enjoyed in those days.

Years passed, and I lost touch with Jason. I stayed here in the south and he ranged far and wide. Eventually, because of the wonder of computers and the Internet we linked up again just a few years ago.

Me and Jason Brock, October 2010. Photo by Sunni Brock.

At that time, Jason was hard at work on documentaries about two of his childhood idols: Forrest J. Ackerman and Charles Beaumont. I figured he'd finish the one about Ackerman first, but as things went he completed the Charles Beaumont film first.

When I finally got a copy of the finished film I was expecting a competent work, but nothing more than that. After all, this was his first documentary and with it would come the various missteps ones expects of a first-time filmmaker. So after I put the disk in my DVD player and sat down to watch CHARLES BEAUMONT: THE SHORT LIFE OF TWILIGHT ZONE'S MAGIC MAN, I figured this would be a competent movie but nothing more than that.

Because of friendships Jason had made over the years he had lived in Washington and California, he was able to get in touch with most of the people still living who had been close to Charles Beaumont or who had worked professionally with him in publishing, television, and in feature films. This access enabled him to get as close as was possible to the tragic figure of the writer, Beaumont.

My own knowledge of Charles Beaumont was limited. I knew him best--as most of us do--as Rod Serling's go-to writer of teleplays for the ground-breaking TV series, THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The power and breadth of Beaumont's talents are today still on view on millions of TV screens around the world because of his wonderful scripts for that show. Of course, as the documentary shows, that was only the tip of the iceberg.

Brock's documentary covers as much of the man's life as I think we are likely to know within the brief moments of a documentary. He takes us from the man's childhood to his teen years as friend to the likes of Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and William Nolan. Each of these men are able to add to the data as Brock weaves the story of Beaumont's formative years as a struggling writer to his meteoric rise as a creator of fine short stories (for the likes of Playboy Magazine) to the break into television work, then to novels, to feature films, and the unrealized potential of what should have been.

The documentary does more than just bring us to meet the people who knew him best--his friends and his son--it also takes us pretty darned close to the man himself. Toward the end of the documentary we are faced with Beaumont's own nightmares as he faced the illness that eventually stole his intellect and took his life. There are sections of consummate camerawork and truly imaginative effects that left me feeling real horror. For this was the way a man actually faced his life and dealt with a hand one would not wish on anyone. To have it happen to an artist of such skill makes the telling all the more terrible.

Jason Brock has done a wonderful job of telling about the life and work of Charles Beaumont. This documentary stands as a truly solid tribute to the writer. The editing for the film, handled by Sunni Brock, was perfectly rendered. There's not a wasted moment in this movie.

I'm not sure where the film is headed. For now, you have to be lucky enough to attend a showing of THE SHORT LIFE OF TWILIGHT ZONE'S MAGIC MAN at one of the conventions and film festivals where the Brocks are taking the documentary. But I hope that soon it will be commercially available. Watch this space for that day.


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