Let’s watch THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER in Iceland: 1.01: “Marionettes, Inc.”

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Title card with appropriate “digital clock” typeface.

SEPTEMBER 20th 2018 — Ray Bradbury loved cinema and cinematic storytelling all his life.

From trips to the movies with a beloved family member when he was a boy, he fell in love with the form and it never ended.

Two characteristics permeate all his writing: all of it is lyrical — he had the soul of a poet and that’s why he’s one of my favorite writers — and much of it is powerfully sensual. It engages all the senses.

He said one could film any of his stories by simply turning each sentence or paragraph into a shot. All the information was there, he said, in his writing: what to show and when and how.

From 1985 to 1992 the world enjoyed his TV series THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. It was filmed on location in many countries: Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and France.

Ray personally scripted every episode and proved his profound and natural understanding of how to tell a story in this form. His work for the series is a model of what to do and not do in scripting film and television.

(I prefer saying just “film” from now on. These are mini-movies in all but name.)

Scenes are allowed to unfold without drowning everything under too much dialogue. Just enough is said and not said. Sights, sounds, and yes, through the power of his work and that of his collaborators, also smells, tastes, and tactile experiences come through.

Iceland is to me Bradbury country and more like the remembered land of my childhood than anywhere else I have been as an adult. Magic is still possible here. The elements have power, like in his stories. The wind has a presence unlike anywhere else. There is the sea, there are mountains and waterfalls, and dark nights and summer cottages in pristine nature.

Stories live here and are respected. As is poetry. As is music. I write this in a snug bedroom with a great big bed and a slanting ceiling of the kind that through some geometrical alchemy seems to fire the imaginations of all creative people. I wish more than anything that I could really share all this.

In any case, Iceland is a great place to watch THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER. I also did so in Paris last winter, and before that in Finland. As an adult, and long ago, first in childhood.

“Marionettes, Inc.” (1985), directed by Paul Lynch (who also directed many episodes of the STAR TREK spin-offs), is not among my favorite episodes. I felt casting James Coco (1930–1987) as the protagonist was not the best choice.

But like all these episodes, this one too affords many incidental delights. Here are some of them.


This and every other episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER is available as part of a DVD box set. Despite nearly VHS-quality video, it comes with my warmest recommendation.

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The great auk and Fire Island

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Admiring the sea view with a friend on my first visit to Iceland. Late 2016, Reykjanes.

SEPTEMBER 20th 2018 — When I first visited Iceland in 2016, my hosts showed me many places, among them the southwestern tip of Iceland and of Reykjanes (“Smoky Cape”) Peninsula, a memorial site for geirfuglinn, the great auk. Eldey (“Fire Island”), where the last great auks were killed in the 19th century, can be seen 16 kilometers off the shore.

Other than the one above, I currently have no access to the photos I took at this particular place, but following my earlier post where I mentioned the great auk, Thomas Bouakache Trosborg in the Facebook group “International Students at the University of Iceland” kindly offered the photos below to share here.

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The stone statue commemorating the last great auk. This and the following photos by Thomas Bouakache Trosborg.
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Iceland has documented and annotated numerous sites with durable information plaques like this.
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Eldey in the distance, to the southwest of this most southwestern point of Iceland.
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Information plaque about the fateful (for the great auk) island.

Thank you for sharing these photos, Thomas!


The remains of the last male great auk were found in Brussels in 2017, as reported by ICELAND MONITOR:

https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2017/08/19/the_last_male_great_auk_has_been_found/

The Settlement Exhibition, Reykjavík

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Landnámssýningin (“The Settlement Exhibition”) in downtown Reykjavík, late August 2018. The flightless bird pictured at bottom right is the great auk. The last known members of this species died in June 1844 on the island of Eldey (“Fire Island”). Cause of death? Strangulation. By Icelandic sailors.

SEPTEMBER 16th 2018 — As part of the course Inngangur að sögu Íslands (“Introduction to the History of Iceland”) by Markús Þ. Þórhallsson, we visited The Settlement Exhibition on the Friday of the first week of classes.

The building was constructed around the remains of a viking longhouse excavated in central Reykjavík in 2001.

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The actual longhouse. It was inhabited from about 930 to 1000, so from very close to the beginning of larger-scale settlement of Iceland. But apparently vikings were not the first to try to establish a foothold in Iceland. It seems Gaelic monks got here first — or if not first, at least before. But if I recall correctly something heard during a lecture, history does not tell us what became of them. They just kind of disappeared off the pages of history once the vikings arrived, though it is not difficult to at least theorize what happened.
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Bilingual signs. Iceland is highly bilingual with English. As more than one Icelander has pointed out to us, it can be difficult to get Icelanders to speak just Icelandic to you, since they can be eager to practice their often already considerable English skills. But it dismays me whenever I hear someone from another country fortunate enough to live here express lack of interest in learning any Icelandic. To me that is disrespectful and closed-minded.
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Ancient stone tools. Stone is also a widely used construction material in Iceland, often employed to impressive effect. The reason is logical: Iceland has little in the way of trees. Once there were more forested areas, but those disappeared when the wood was used up for various purposes. But even then, most likely the wooded areas comprised very low-growing birches. Hence a well-known joke here: What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest? Stand up. No rotten tomatoes, please, we heard it from Icelanders themselves!
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A panoramic display running around the wall, showing the view from this place as it existed in the old days, with animated sections showing some typical activities of the times. No really old thatched cottages survive for the obvious reason that they are naturally biodegradable.
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An interactive table display of the longhouse, with popup menus opened, scrolled through, and closed by hand movements above the surface of the table.

1st day of school

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Veröld (“World”) on the University of Iceland campus. This building — “hús Vigdísar” (“house of Vigdís”) — was founded in honor of Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (“Vigdís, Finnbogi’s daughter”), the first democratically directly elected female president in the world. She was president of Iceland from 1980 to 1996. Whereas my own country of birth, Finland, was the first, in 1906, to give women full political rights, i.e. the right to vote as well as run for office. But Finland got its first female president, Tarja Halonen, only in the year 2000. She left office in 2012.

SEPTEMBER 15th 2018 — My studies in Icelandic as a Second Language at the University of Iceland started with an orientation week in the penultimate week of August 2018. The first day was beautiful and sunny, warm but not too warm.

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Orientation event “The Keys to Success at the University of Iceland”.

I was especially impressed by the warmth radiated by the head of the program, Professor Jón Karl Helgason (“Jón Karl, Helgi’s son”). He spoke softly and with a glint of humor, starting his introductory talk with a photo of his newborn son. He told us this was going to be our competition for the coming year — he expects us to match or exceed the progress of the young one.

This warmth is something I have rarely felt in the presence of Finnish teachers, but in Iceland it is not uncommon. Many Icelanders know how to bring warmth to a whole room, as Jón Karl did. It made the place feel welcoming and supremely safe. Whereas in Finland, in my experience, it is more common for rooms to have a constant low-level tension. It makes a huge difference.

But I don’t mean to put down Finns, who can have fine qualities of their own. And I have been fortunate enough to have studied under several exceptional ones.

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The menu at the student canteen Háma (“Gobble”) on my first day.

During a break I found my way to the canteen, where I ate healthily: vegetable balls in curry pineapple sauce with pasta and salad, with a vitamin drink.

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First meal at my new “home away from home”.

Other orientation week activities included a guided tour of the campus, hotdogs and soda in the open air, and of course a student party at the on-campus Stúdentakjallarinn (“The Student Cellar”) — with free bjór (beer).

As we were told during a later visit to the Settlement Museum, beer has long been important in Iceland. In the old days, no feast would have been possible without it, and feasts were very important community-strengthening events.

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Landsbókasafn Íslands — Háskólabókasafn (“National Library of Iceland — University Library”) is the largest library in Iceland, with over a million items, including valuable manuscripts. So valuable that the library is surrounded by an actual moat. The building took 16 years to finish and opened in 1994.

I headed home in the evening to my apartment in Kópavogur (“Seal Pup Bay”), feeling it had been a good start.

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Aðalbygging (“Main Building”) at night. University of Iceland, late August 2018.

I would soon be moving much closer to the university, however. But that’s a different story.

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A cool jazz trio jammed at Stúdentakjallarinn at the close of the first orientation day.

Pitch shifting, rhythms, & a figure

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Audio Damage’s Discord4 pitch-shifting delay for iOS. This company was founded in the United States in 2002.

SEPTEMBER 13th 2018 — Today I continued several long-running threads in my life:

First, learning to use more music-making apps, in this case Audio Damage’s pitch-shifting delay Discord4.

This allows for creating various effects for which I have no immediate use — but I am proceeding methodically to build a strong and wide foundation in all areas of music-making. It is good to have skills to draw upon when the need arises. This one relates for me most to the end stage of putting flourishes on otherwise pretty finished pieces.

Second, building my personal rhythmic vocabulary. In Paris last winter, I started implementing this idea when I found a notebook perfect for this purpose. Rather than horizontal or horizontal and vertical lines, its pages are marked with matrices of small crosses.

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This little book from Paris holds my catalogued rhythmic vocabulary so far. After noting down each new rhythmic pattern with simple Xes over the cross matrices on the pages, I transfer each pattern to three solid favorite music-making apps. I’ll be able to draw upon this treasury of inspiration and material for the rest of my life.

I had long been pondering this notion of starting to create a personal catalogue of rhythms, because I had come to realize that this is a key to much greater musical productivity in the future.

I derive these rhythms from melodies and harmonies of music as well as strictly percussive music and personal inspirations. And these rhythms can be used not only for percussive but also melodic and harmonic ends in creating new pieces.

As for the notebook, it didn’t hurt that its cover is themed in pink Tiki symbology. That made me smile. Tiki paraphernalia, so linked with 50s Americana of a certain kind, holds for me a quaint, carefree charm.

As for the figure mentioned in the title of this post, I learned yesterday that our little dark adventure game SERENA (for which I was one of the writers) has now been downloaded 1,684,328 times on Steam.

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More than 1.6 million downloads.

It is quite mind-boggling. Over 1.6 million souls all over the world have for a myriad reasons downloaded and experienced our game. We all poured our best work possible at that time into this game — I remember the exactly two months it took us to make it from conception to release as an extremely fertile, productive, inspired time — but it is safe to say this popularity has exceeded all our expectations. It seems to have struck a chord in the hearts of many.

Bradbury country

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THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER 1.01: “Marionettes, Inc.” (1985).

SEPTEMBER 10th 2018 — What is Bradbury country? It’s a place where the magic of life and childhood are still possible. Where the elements and outwardly simple, primal sensory experiences can still get to you. The night means something, and the wind, and all the repeated rituals of life.

The first image and sound of the first episode of THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER after Mr. Bradbury’s introduction:

Boiling eggs, closely followed by brewing coffee and toasting toast. I can’t begin to say how refreshing it was to me to see and hear these things. I could taste and smell the eggs, the coffee, the toast.

I was reminded of the good things in life, the things we would miss most if we were shot out into space, never to return.

Where in our filmed fiction these days do we even see or hear these things anymore? And when we do, nearly always they are no more than halfhearted daubs of color to lend the thinnest surface gloss to a story without real human warmth.

In Bradbury and other fiction I can love, these things are primal, self-sufficient experiences that need no other justification. They may serve some story functions, but that’s not really why they’re there. They’re there because in these things our love of life finds expression. We share.

But that’s already getting too far into analysis. Better to just experience and savor when we can.

Why am I so preoccupied with what I call human warmth? And why the same with thoughts concerning childhood?

The questions are nonsensical to me, because I cannot imagine a human being I could love or even like who cared nothing for human warmth, and no artist or kind person worth much of our time has lost touch with or stopped caring about childhood — their own, and that of others.

And a person with a reasonably healthy and developed mind who did not concern himself or herself at all with thoughts and hopes of making the world a better one for children to grow up in could perhaps be called something of a monster.

When I came to Iceland again, one day I was alone pushing a cart in a supermarket,  feeling sad for reasons I won’t even try to put into words — and remembering the amazing scenes with Sarah Palmer at a grocery store in the TWIN PEAKS Season 3 trailer and episodes — and suddenly I heard a child’s voice that made my eyes sting.

It was so clear from that voice that this child was growing up in a caring family, in a world that is largely safe and where real childhood is still possible.

I had not heard that anywhere since my own childhood. Not in Finland and not in Paris.

It is a quality that I see and hear here, in passing, all the time. But I don’t remember it from Finland since I was a kid myself.

And like I’ve said, I believe there can be no greater gift you can give in this life than giving a child a safe, happy, good childhood and start in life.

We are here now — but one day we won’t be. We have to care and do what we can.

Sometimes I have days or nights when I feel I am on the very edge of the cliff. In my life, in better days, and on better nights, I have been lucky enough to be the recipient of great human warmth in many forms.

Words, deeds, from people very close and from people very far and even personally unknown to me. They all found some ways to pour some of their warmth out into this world, to pass it forward, and to give some of it to others.

When I feel on the edge of that cliff, I must remind myself that even if a wind were to gust up and blow me over that edge, I should try to turn around and hurl as much of my warmth back into the world as I can, even in that last moment — like a wizard casting their life energy as a final message and protection and strength over those with life still ahead of them.

I am not a wizard, but I care. Whether in art or daily life, if we find ways to do that, we are helping.