I have stood here in the midst of the Arizona desert, feeling the power of the sun momentarily dispersed through the traveling court of clouds high overhead. In the quiet of pristine clarity, one comes closer to the ever evolving sounds of nature, hearing the sometimes muffled cries in the distance interwoven with the startling immediate presence & pulse of desert wildlife. The desert quail and other birds often respond to the sounds produced via the Audubon bird call, coming closer to inspect the source of the tweets, chirps and foreshortened birdsong. One feels the immense carpet of time-change sweep from early morning to late afternoon, noticing the colors of the day as they morph from brilliant hues to faded transparencies. These are the feathers of time, where the mountains, rocks and trees diligently mark the passage of years, decades, centuries and beyond. How great a privilege to see and hear this remarkable environment, a place of everlasting Light & Shadow.
There is a special majesty in watching palatial clouds silently sail above the Desert landscape of Arizona. I vividly recall Alexander Korda's 1940 fantasy film masterpiece "The Thief of Bagdad." When I view scenes such as the one included here, I am transported to another world, a place of enchantment foretold in "The Arabian Nights" stories. Antoine Galland popularized these spectacular tales in "The Thousand and One Nights" (1704), forever immortalizing names such as Sinbad, Aladdin & Ali Baba. Korda's film stars John Justin as Prince Ahmad, Conrad Veidt as Jaffar, June Duprez as the Princess, and Sabu as Abu. On a day when these splendid clouds sail high overhead, I reflect upon the stunning visual imagery captured by those magnificent flying carpet scenes. Through the art of wondrous special effects, I too fly high above the earth via a heightened sense of ebullient imagination.
Strings, Dreams & Orchestral Visions
A Colorful & Vivid Dream
Many years ago I awoke from a particularly vivid dream which I simply could not forget. Yet I did not think I could capture the full effect of this vision through drawing or painting or any other medium. In an attempt to graphically duplicate some of the dream's elements, I went into my studio and began to sketch on an artist's pad, trying to re-draw the forms and shapes and colors which I had so vividly seen just a few moments before. This sketch is represented here in a size closely representing the original 3" diameter pen & ink drawing.
An Atmospheric Landscape of Unusual Design
In my dream I visualized a brightly painted string instrument (violin, viola or cello) loftily sailing or silently floating above a large expanse of agrarian fields, allowing momentary musical notes to emanate from the instrument, each note gently descending into the cultivated soil below. Some of the notes disappeared entirely beneath the rust/ green fields while others almost seemed to become half-planted farm implements or scythes suited for agricultural harvest. There was a farmhouse in the distance which almost became a wooden music stand in my imaginative perception. A tree in the foreground appeared to be bright red instead of the usual earth colors we usually associate with the forest or hedges of greenery. The mountains in the left distance modeled a most unusual striped effect, exhibiting variations of orange and brown and almost seeming to become the feathered branches of the red tree in the foreground. The sky above breathed with a majesty of Prussian blue and a thousand small particles of ethereal light. From this elementary sketch I painted a more finished design in a 12" format via acrylic paint, a piece which now hangs on my living room wall. Both the original sketch and finished product come as close as I could have imagined in the capture and illustration of a vividly colorful dream.
Strings & Orchestral Sounds
This sketch reminds me of the evocative power of both the string orchestra and the symphonic orchestra, sounds which I have come to cherish ever since my first exposure to music in the 1950's. The string orchestra especially captivates my musical imagination in works such as Edvard Grieg's "Holberg Suite" Op. 40, Antonin Dvorak's "Serenade for Strings in E major" Op. 22, and Edward Elgar's "Serenade for Strings in E minor" Op. 20. All three of these marvelous compositions are performed by the Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra directed by Conrad van Alphen on Telarc. I also have the "Complete Music for String Orchestra" by Edvard Grieg featuring the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra led by Terje Tonnesen on BIS. Another superlative recording is entitled "Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride & Other Holiday Favorites" featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin on Naxos. Anderson's "Suite of Carols for String Orchestra (1955)" radiates a positive and enchanting glow which I never tire of, no matter how often I listen. There is great charm in Anderson's inventive style as can be heard in "Sleigh Ride," "Horse & Buggy," "Suite of Carols for Brass Choir," "A Christmas Festival," "The Golden Years," "Suite of Carols for Woodwinds," "Angels in Our Fields," "Bugler's Holiday," and several other holiday favorites. Such music becomes indelibly woven into the inner textures of our cultural character, producing notes which gently fall to earth from stringed instruments, offering a rich and bountiful harvest for future ages.
Remembrance As a Path Toward Understanding
After the young Martin falls off the spinning carousel, the effects of focused light and Bernard Herrmann's music add tremendous drama to the overall evocation of this scene in "Walking Distance." As the light fades away, one by one the children leave the darkened, now silently still carousel horses, revealing a brief gallery caught by the camera. A succession of wonderfully carved horses momentarily fills the screen, each one cast in motionless pose, as if suspended in frozen animation. Herrmann's accompanying music brilliantly underlines the emotional sadness of this powerfully reflective glimpse into the human heart. We sense Martin's coming-of-age as he grapples with these uniquely personal events, a time of intense introspection as well as a time of endearing compassion. As the music and dramatic lighting bring key elements to the foreground, Martin's father (played by Frank Overton) steps forward after meandering through the maze of carousel horses still visible in the distance.
A Father Speaks to His Son
The quality of Rod Serling's writing can be seen and heard in the next few moments of this luminous story. Martin's father finds his adult son sitting at the carousel's edge holding his hand to his head in anguish over the series of recent events. The dad sensitively approaches his son with the kindly spoken words, "I thought you'd like to know the boy will be alright." Here there are intimations of healing for both the physical and the hidden aspects of Martin's life. "I know who you are," the dad continues, revealing that Martin's license and identity have been confirmed through the wallet he accidentally dropped at his parent's home earlier that evening. "You've come a long way from here and a long time....How? Why? ....You know things that will happen. There's no room, no place. You have to leave here." Martin listens attentively to his father speak these heartfelt words, carefully measuring each phrase with an eagerness to fully understand his present predicament. "It was once your summer....It's his summer now," (referring to the young 11-year-old boy). "We only get one chance. Maybe there's only one summer to a customer." Instead of looking backwards, Martin's father suggests tenderly, "Try looking ahead." Martin agrees with his dad, beginning to sense the wisdom imparted to him through this intervention in time. As the carousel silently starts up, Martin hops aboard to gain another ride, this time with a smile, with renewed understanding, now on a transitional journey toward the closing scene.
Final Scene of "Walking Distance"
The last scene revisits the drug store/ emporium which first appeared at the beginning of this story. Martin discovers a lively perspective as he enters this crowded atmosphere in the store which features his favorite three-scoop chocolate ice cream soda. Now there is loud music, dancing teenagers, and a different soda jerk at the fountain. Initially desiring to order his favorite dessert, Martin strikes up a conversation with the fountain attendant, but then decides to forgo the treat. The attendant asks about Martin's slight but noticeable limp and difficulty in getting up from the counter. Martin says that he injured his leg when he was eleven years old and fell off a merry-go-round. The attendant says, "Merry-go-round? They tore it down....condemned it!" Rod Serling's closing narration speaks eloquently and endearingly about the almost universal desire to go home again, "...that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth."
Between Afternoon & Night in "Walking Distance"
As Rod Serling begins his voice-over during the transition phase between afternoon and night at Homewood, we sense the rapidly changing pace of events for Martin Sloan in this seemingly idyllic neighborhood. Previously in the day Martin had attempted to meet his parents only to have them shut the door in his face, due to their incredulous reaction to his far-fetched claims. Now as the evening progresses, Martin finds himself again drawn to the home which he considers his own, a place which he fondly remembers from his childhood years. Under the mysterious mantle of descending darkness, Martin crosses the street and walks across the lawn of the house he once knew as a young boy. He rings the bell on a bicycle but another hand stops him abruptly, revealing the presence of Martin's father. "Back again?" Martin only wants to convince everyone that he is not lying and has proof of his true identity. As the porch light comes on, Martin's mother appears at the front door of the house, inquiring about the noise and unusual conversation on the front lawn. Martin leaps up the front steps and tries to convince his mother that he has factual personal history, a driver's license and further documentation to provide complete proof of his identity. But in an emotional scene etched with fear, fright and confusion, Martin's mother cuts off the conversation as a sign of rejection, no longer having the patience to listen to his irrational claims.
To the Park Amidst the Lights & Music of a Carousel
After facing his parent's rejection, Martin runs to the local Park where a carousel is brightly lit and revolving. In an incredible moment, he sees himself riding the carousel, at age eleven just as he remembers from his treasured past. Through an overhead camera angle, situated precariously high upon the carousel superstructure looking downward at the horses and children, we see the adult Martin furiously chasing the eleven-year-old Martin, as the horses prance rhythmically in motion and the carousel spins unrelentingly forward. Suddenly the young Martin falls off the carousel as we hear, "Oh my leg, my leg!" The adult Martin, out of reach of his eleven-year-old counterpart, clutches his own leg as he grabs forward in pain. There is the realization of the adult causing the injury to the child. At this moment the music of Bernard Herrmann is almost overwhelming in its power and emotional impact. Martin walks slowly toward the boy just as a sense of strong light enters the picture and the children one-by-one dis-mount their fanciful steeds. "I only wanted to tell you...Martin, I only wanted to tell you that this is a wonderful time of life for you. Don't let any of it go by without enjoying it." The carousel operator holds the injured boy in his arms and carries him away. At this moment the light fades in the distance and the children all begin to leave. As the light still focuses upon Martin (in a unique spotlight fashion), there is tremendous sadness expressed in the accompanying music. "That's all I wanted to tell you," Martin repeats as violins recite some evocative phrases in falling lines, with still shots in half-light of the various carousel horses all silently bearing witness to the tragic nature of events which have just transpired. This is one of the most beautifully expressed, carefully composed and hauntingly photographed scenes in all of the five seasons of "The Twilight Zone," a tribute to the very high production values of this series overall.
Passages of Time - The Carousel & Bandstand
Rod Serling's "Walking Distance" exhibits some bittersweet moments for a man in search of his past. When Martin Sloan's parents do not recognize him, there is a sense of loss and sadness at the doorstep of the home he once knew. In the next adjacent scene, we briefly meet a young man who is admiring a brand new car, freshly minted out of Detroit. As Martin takes in the shiny visage before his very eyes, the young man states that the car is a 1934 Roadster, leaving the distinct impression that this event is taking place through an incredible regression in time. Now Martin begins to understand this inexplicable excursion beyond the rational elements he initially expected via his revisit to Homewood.
Atmosphere & Drama in a Series of Events
The next scene is one of the most atmospheric moments ever presented on "The Twilight Zone." Having left the young man with the 1934 Roadster behind, we now realize that nightfall has descended upon the neighborhood, with church bells gently ringing in the distance. Lampposts along the street radiate their distinctive glow as interior lights fill the windows of Homewood's stately houses. At this moment I am reminded of the memorable artwork of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte (1898-1967), an artist who often captured that otherworldly atmosphere just between sundown and early evening. One such masterpiece is entitled "The Empire of Light" painted between 1950 and 1954, a lovely composition delineating some of the enchantment and charm of this unique time of day, with the light of the sky acting as counterbalance to the positively mysterious glow emanating from streetlamps and interior houselights along the boulevard. One cannot perfectly distinguish whether Magritte has painted either a day scene or a night scene, yet the evocation of transient light remains fascinating and almost hypnotic in overall effect.
Rod Serling's voice-over enters this atmospheric night scene, a moment of literary and philosophical insight adding dramatic pause toward further contemplation. "A man can think a lot of thoughts and walk a lot of pavement between afternoon and night." Here we begin to grasp this integration of varied elements, in retrospect realizing both the short and long passages of distance and time, from the country gas station to the Homewood sign to the people who live in this rather special place. Serling continues as narrator, "Memory suddenly becomes reality....Martin Sloan is back in time....his resolve is to put in a claim." Full realization of all these unusual elements will take place as Martin comes face to face with a powerfully emotional event from his childhood. A chance, a time of life and a revisit will help to clarify the hazy textures of Martin's treasured youth.
The Inspiration of a Great Writer
Rod Serling (1924-1975)
One of the great writers associated with live television dramas of the 1950's was the American screenwriter, playwright and television producer Rod Serling. Serling became well known for his dramatic presentations entitled "Patterns" (1955) and "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1956). Kraft Television Theater, Appointment with Adventure, Hallmark Hall of Fame and Playhouse 90 provided Serling with a host of opportunities to share his creative vision through the writing of highly original scripts during this fertile period. Eventual awards would include the Emmy, Hugo, Peabody and Golden Globe alongside the popular notoriety gained through the ground-breaking anthology which came to be known as "The Twilight Zone."
The Twilight Zone 1959-1964
Out of a total 156 Twilight Zone episodes, Rod Serling wrote the scripts for 92 stories, altogether offering a rather impressive collection of both science fiction and fantasy elements. Each week I looked forward to watching this series and then sought out alternative interpretations or individualistic impressions from my family, friends and like-minded viewers. For the first time I sensed that television could offer the very best writing, casting, photography, set design, soundtrack music, direction and brilliance of production which normally might be associated only with motion pictures or the classic films shown at movie theaters. I still find this series to offer some highly original thoughts and thoroughly imaginative scenarios, ideas capable of stimulating the creativity of the contemporary mind.
A Dimension of Sight, Sound and Imagination
Serling's introduction and voice-over always begin each episode with some thought-provoking phrases, ideas or tantalizing prospects. He speaks about the vastness of space, the timelessness of infinity, the "middle ground between light & shadow, science & superstition," an area which stretches from "the pit of man's fears to the summit of his knowledge." Both the introduction and the epilogue provide a personal journey into the unknown, the fantastic, the supernatural as well as the sometimes very human elements interwoven into the science fiction/fantasy genre. I find Serling's initial and concluding comments for each episode to be a recitation of some of the most vivid, memorable and fascinating lines from the entire five seasons of "The Twilight Zone."
Highway 260 - Panoramas of Earth, Sky & Marvelous Light
The highway system which connects Cottonwood with Camp Verde also exhibits wilderness tentacles stretching out toward Jerome and Page Springs, areas southwest of Sedona, Arizona. Years ago I traveled north from my home in Mesa to visit Fort Verde State Historic Park and tour the extensive beauty of this fabulous landscape. Highways 169 and 69 extend further south and west toward Prescott, once the territorial capitol of this state. On a bright and clear day, I drove along miles of Arizona highways, taking in the awesome spectacle stretched out on the open road before my very eyes.
An Intriguing Panorama For the Visual Artist
As I drove along Highway 260 after spending the entire day touring the area, the sky began to grow dark and the colors of the landscape subtly began to change, from vivid earth colors to subdued shadows mixed with a thousand desert/ mountain textures and hues. The night sky spread out in celestial grandeur, hovering above the palaces and hidden canyons of the Arizona landscape, like jewels upon an infinite sea. Here was a passport of observation for the traveler, a compass for the hunter, and a living map for the avid adventurer.
A Poem for the Open Road and Highways of Arizona
Whether as particles or waves,
once light illumines the view,
vision paints true perspective,
a cast of ebullience & spirit renewed.
Further Thoughts on Portrait of Jennie (1948)
At the beginning of this film we hear a voice-over of artist Eben Adams (played by actor Joseph Cotten) reciting an overview of his present state of despair. Adams calls it "a winter of the mind," a time which author Robert Nathan describes (through Cotten's distinctive voice) as follows:
"There is a sort of desperation which takes hold of a man
after a while, a dreadful feeling of the world's indifference,
not only to his hunger or his pain, but to the very life
which is in him."
One senses the bleakness of the artist's predicament, having sold so few paintings and facing the consistent pressure of providing for rent, food and the basic necessities needed for survival. The film paints a somber portrait through the deserted scenes at Central Park, highlighting the artist's struggle to keep alive amidst a season of discouragement.
The Gallery Scene with Matthews and Miss Spinney
This is one of the most fascinating scenes in the entire film, with superlative performances by Ethel Barrymore as Miss Spinney and Cecil Kellaway as Matthews. When Eben Adams enters the gallery we almost immediately sense his rather desperate situation. He wonders if the gallery might be interested in buying some of his pictures. When Matthews offers to take a look at the artist's portfolio, he rather dismissively states, "Of course, we buy very little....almost nothing....and the times being what they are...." Cecil Kellaway perfectly demonstrates the noble, elegant demeanor of the professional gallery owner who is not overly impressed with a relatively unknown artist in the competitive field of Art sales. Matthews barely has the time or patience to deal with the forlorn Mr. Adams, brushing quickly aside the examples of "bridges....landscapes....flowers," for which there is apparently no contemporary market.
The Entrance of Miss Spinney into the Conversation
When Miss Spinney comes over to meet Mr. Adams, we sense that the artist is already retreating into his shell of protective obscurity, having been suitably discouraged by the professional gallery assistant (Matthews). She says that Adams "...needn't be defensive about" mentioning his name or simply introducing himself. As she looks through his uninspired collection of paintings and drawings, she finds one that she likes and decides to purchase it for $1.25, a first sale in ages for the grateful artist. The sale has an electric effect upon Adams, though Matthews says to Miss Spinney (after Adams leaves) that it's not worth the money. To which she replies, "No, but Mr. Adams is." This perspective offers profound insight into the art of encouragement.