A Graveyard For Lunatics
|Published||1990 (Alfred A. Knopf)|
Ray Bradbury produces particularly thin names for his Hollywood alter-egoes. There’s the stop motion animator Roy Holdstrom and the director Fritz Wong, who are based on Bradbury's friends Ray Harryhausen and Fritz Lang — the latter combined with James Wong Howe.
Another character, the autograph collector Clarence, can be read as an autobiographical image of Bradbury himself, who as a young person hung about the old-time film studios for glimpses of movie stars. It's a crazy gang, in a crazy business, in a poetic, Gothic and mysterious crazy town called Hollywood.
The satire of Hollywood is difficult to assess in A Graveyard for Lunatics, possibly because Bradbury is too close to his subject matter, and feels a tremendous love for it. Sure, we all love the movies and love collecting trivia and hearing Hollywood tales, but most of us can look at the bigger picture and see what a dumb farce the business is. That’s a crucial word that — business — because it suggests that Hollywood is making productions — products — for financial purposes.
I feel that Bradbury really did love Hollywood, and to take it away would have left him bereft. A Graveyard for Lunatics is set in 1954, when Bradbury was working as a writer at a Hollywood motion picture studio — in A Graveyard for Lunatics it’s called Maximus Films — and there he helped create such masterpieces as It Came from Outer Space, King of Kings, and Something Wicked This Way Comes.
When I picked up A Graveyard for Lunatics I didn’t know that it was Part Two of a set of three mystery books, being Death is a Lonely Business, A Graveyard for Lunatics, and Let’s All Kill Constance — but I don’t think reading these out of order is too much of a problem, it certainly didn’t bother me although in retrospect I would have probably wanted to do these in the correct order.
For a hook, what have we got? On Halloween night, the Bradbury character sees a dead man on the wall that separates the studio from the neighbouring cemetery, and he finds that it is the body of the former leader of the studio, dead now for twenty years. Then he notices that the body isn’t actually real, and that it’s a dummy — and from there we enter a maze of lies, nostalgia and deceit that the studio has held on to for decades. There have been murders aplenty, secrets are revealed, and there is at least one actual monster that haunts the movie sets.
Although he mostly wrote what we class as SF, Ray Bradbury’s storytelling is suited to the mystery genre. He can drag the reader pretty far in to the ghastly depths with those sharp claws of his, although on its ground level, the writing can be a little disjointed and you have to concentrate to keep up at times.
Ray Bradbury started writing in pulp science-fiction magazines in the 1940s, and in The Martian Chronicles (1950) he offered the colonisation of Mars in the 21st Century as a retelling of the frontier style American stories that are always popular, while getting in some great commentary concerning the destruction of Native Americans, creating an elegiac book in a way.
By the mid-'50s, Bradbury’s stories were appearing in Esquire, and Gilbert Highet had called him "the finest living writer of fantastic fiction". Bradbury was in the 1950s a rising star in film writing also, working on projects including "It Came From Outer Space" to John Huston's "Moby Dick."
A Graveyard for Lunatics is a kind of nostalgia trip for Bradbury and he describes both the Hollywood he aspired to as a kid and the Hollywood he came to work in. The book shows no mercy as it presents itslef as a collision of the two.
From this tall tale,a true rendering of the Hollywood Gothic style emerges in which Bradbury's unnamed narrator, whose biography parallels Bradbury's own, meets many wild characters including Stanislau Groc, the makeup artist responsible for embalming Lenin, and a guy called J.C., a philandering alcoholic who’s played Christ in so many films that he has permanently adopted the role. Bradbury’s moody poetic style is also to the fore as he describes the last dying momentray glow of the great studios of yore:
Late at night a motion-picture studio talks to itself. If you move along the dark alleys past the buildings where the editing rooms on the top floors whisper and bray and roar and snack-chatter until two or three or four in the morning, you hear chariots rushing by in the air . . . or Niagara pouring itself down the studio towers into the film vaults . . . the night people keep working these shadowed hours because they prefer the company of Moviolas and flicker-moth screens and close-up lovers to the people stranded at noonday, stunned by reality outside the walls. It is a long-after-midnight collision of buried voices and lost musics caught in a time cloud between buildings, released from high open doors or windows while the shadows of the cutter-editors loom on the pale ceilings bent over enchantments . . .