"Submitted for your approval (or disapproval in this case), one Douglas Brode, an ersatz Rod Serling who in 26 pages of this new 'Tribute' has convinced me that while his feet may be planted on terra firma, his head is definitely NOT in the Twilight Zone!"
Why do I say this? Well, firstly because I was really looking forward to this book - and am thus far in the reading of it thoroughly disappointed. How it ever got so many grand blurbs from not only TZ writers but other media luminaries is utterly beyond me. But there is one egregious blurb on the inside front cover from TZ writer George Clayton Johnson that is totally at odds with the thrust of this book - and that is Rod Serling's literary masterminding of the Zone (a grand theme, mind you, but poorly executed herein for reasons outlined below). But back to Johnson's blurb: "Rod Serling as 'the producer' was the contractor. The writers were the map makers and architects. The Director played the part of foreman on the job, but it was the actors who built the shrine called THE TWILIGHT ZONE, transforming the scripts into the sights and sounds that make up a film. Here at last is the definitive book on THE TWILIGHT ZONE, the first ever to accurately describe the working process for that great series." Now - I have quoted this blurb in full (and it is on the inside front cover flap) because it is obviously written by someone who has not read the book they are commenting upon. The book is NOT 'definitive', it tells next-to-naught of the 'working process' of the series, it insults Mr. Serling by relegating him to the role of 'contractor' and does NOT include him as one of the map-maker writers and falsely claims that it was the actors who built the shrine of the classic series. Well, I admire Mr. Johnson's contributions to the TZ immensely - but in this blurb he seems to be zoned-out (and not in the good sense). Come on - an actor is only as good as his lines, and the 'sights and sounds' are more than great actor's voices and faces (and TZ had some of the best acting anywhere, in this dimension or the fifth!): but what about the settings, the lighting, the editing and, my God, the wonderful, magnificent music of each show! And the Director is much more than a "foreman on the job"!
Back to Mr. Brode: I knew this book was sinking while reading his introduction. On page xviii Brode uses the word "coda" where he should have used "code." No big deal, a typo perhaps. (Where were the proof-readers?) But wait. Let's go on: on pages xxvi and xxvii: "Week after week, ZONE offered modern Grand Guignol, the theatre of horror, a freak show...Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman, once blood-curdling visages, now appeared...quaint and curious. The book now closed on what horror had once meant. A new volume opened for the likes of Rod, Richard Matheson, and Ray Bradbury to fill." Wow! Even the gracious, grand Carol Serling (in her own foreward) understands that "in actuality only a few of the programs were intended to scare." So what is Brode waxing ecstatic about a new volume of horror for? "A theatre of horror" - poor words to describe the magical, mystical, metaphorical mysterious realm of the ZONE!
But there is more: further on page xxvii we have this tortured sentence that means absolutely nothing: "Between ZONE's initial conception and its premature demise, the series survived the Eisenhower era's final years and pushed into Jack Kennedy's New Frontier. However brief-lived, at the time (and on the show) a spurt of youthful optimism emerged, only to be shattered that day in November 1963 when the global community learned of the president's blood spilling out onto a Dallas street." Now, I somehow sense that Brode is attempting to sound like Rod Serling, but his is a poor imitation. His sentence and syntax are completely ludicrous, as is the meaning of it all. The TZ did not have a premature demise; even Rod Serling realized this. And is Brode trying to connect the death of the TWILIGHT ZONE series somehow to JFK's assassination??? And instead of 'global community' why not just say 'world' - and as to 'the president's blood spilling out onto a Dallas street'....I might expect such a description from a sixth-grader but not from a man with 30 books to his credit! (Then again, I haven't read anything else by this fellow.)
On more item in the zany introduction: "ZONE was never subtle; elitist sophistication was not Rod's way. Nor is it for popular entertainers, influenced by him, such as Stephen King and Steven Spielberg. Let others worry about the literary/arthouse crowd.." What is Brode actually saying here? TZ wasn't 'literary' or worthy of an 'arthouse' or ever 'subtle'? It was ALL of these and more! I think Brode wrote this introduction..just to write an introduction.
Once we're into the book, all it is is a wordy rehash of what the shows so eloquently say for themselves - except that in Brode's recounting there are several errors which lead me to believe he hasn't watched the episodes he lamely philosophizes about for some time. A few examples should suffice: In "Walking Distance" the merry-go-round is not on an "amusement pier." (Maybe Brode was confusing this episode with "In Praise of Pip"?) When Martin Sloan talks to his just-injured youthful self, he doesn't "whimper" his eloquent ode to childhood. There are other errors in describing this episode....but let's move on briefly to "A Stop at Willoughby": Brode believes the two boys William's sees in that imaginary town are the actual Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn when there is NO reason to suppose this. He also assumes that all of the other business executives at the meeting that opens the episode all "harbored creative desires" and "each junior exec inwardly cheers Williams on.." when he blasts back at the boss. There are no grounds to draw these conclusions. Brode also exonerates the bitch-wife of this episode, even though it is, indeed, she who helps "push, push, push" her husband over the edge and off the train - especially when she hangs up on him in his hour of ultimate need! In Brode's account of "Where is Everybody?" he has Mike Ferris realize he is air force when, in the movie theatre, he sees the film of a jet taking off. According to Brode: " The manner in which we discover our identities by watching moves" is addressed in this scene. The trouble is, Ferris realizes he is air force when he sees the poster of the movie and not while watching the movie. On pages 23-24, Brode goes into a full paragraph about the ringing telephone and the fence that is there in one scene and not in the next, saying that most viewers are so absorbed in the story that they don't notice it - and those who do write it off as a "continuity film-flub". "Here is one incident during Ferris' mental odyssey that isn't explained when we reach the final revelation" concludes Brode, meaning that the disappearing fence is a Zone mystery til the end, unexplained even after we learn that Ferris is an astronaut in training. "Such a theory (somethings can't be logically justified), antithetical to Hitchcock, provides ZONE with its unique identity," continues Brode in his confused and jumbled way. Trouble is: the fence is in every shot of the sequence discussed!!! One last example: jumping ahead in the book, in describing "The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine" Brode believes that the Ida Lupino character literally dies at the end, despite the maid telling the agent that the actress is nowhere to be found and despite the fact that Martin Balsam's character runs the film and sees Barbara Trenton alive and on the screen where she always wished to be. Even Rod Serling's closing narration admits to a dream come true...since this is, afterall, the Twilight Zone! Oh, and "The Lonely" was not the "series' second episode" as Brode claims on page 23. It was the 7th.
Anyway - I love the Twilight Zone - was lucky enough to have been a child when it first entered our homes - and love it with a love that is more than love - thus my disappointment in this book that claims to be "The 50th Anniversay Tribute." I'm sure more sorrows and disappointments are to come as I read on. Perhaps one day a book truly worthy of the classic series will come along! Until that day, we have the classic episodes to watch and rewatch. Thank YOU, Mr. Serling!