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raymac Written by raymac
Mar. 23, 2011 | 8:03 AM

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

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The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” This quote perfectly encapsulates the brilliant career and tragically short life of Charles Beaumont who is best remembered as one of the main contributors to Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone.  As he has long been a favorite of mine, I looked forward with great anticipation when I heard that he was the subject of a new documentary. I am relieved to say that Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man does not disappoint.

A labor of love for writer/director Jason Brock, it is filled with interviews from Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, Forrest J. Ackerman, Harlan Ellison, Marc Scott Zicree, Roger Corman, William Shatner as well as a host of others.  The joy of this film is the opportunity to hear from this incredible line up of legends about a person that is clearly dear to them as well as learn more about this pivotal point in time for speculative fiction. Some of the interviewees are livelier than others but Mr. Brock, along with editor Sunni Brock, develop a good pace and nice visual style that keeps the documentary from dragging.

Charles Beaumont received his big break when his short story, Black Country, became the first work of fiction to be published in Playboy. He along with a host of other writers such as Matheson and Nolan made up a collective called The Group that changed the face of science fiction and horror by taking it away from rocket ship or spooky mansions and set their stories instead in ordinary places such as the suburbs which heightened the fantasy or terror by grounding it in reality.

One of the high points of the film is the making of The Intruder, based on his novel; it is an ahead of its time tale about racial integration and bigotry starring a very young William Shatner.  Shot on location in the Deep South, the cast and crew, which included Charles Beaumont and many of his fellow writers in pivotal acting parts, faced real danger from the police and local townsfolk which necessitated a run and shoot filmmaking style.  Its volatile subject matter limited distribution and it became known as the only film that Roger Corman lost money on. However, it is a powerful film that hopefully this documentary can bring it back into the spotlight along with Mr. Beaumont’s other works.

It was during this production that the first signs appeared of the mysterious disease that would leave him looking like a 70 year old at the time of his death at the age of 38. Friends in the documentary speculate as to the cause of the disease which appears to be a combination of early onset Alzheimer’s and Pick’s Disease. 

There are some technical glitches with the sound and the music is sometimes annoying but they are forgivable quibbles when weighed against the wealth of information that is conveyed about its subject.  This documentary is a must for fans of The Twilight Zone or of science fiction, fantasy and horror.

The 90 minute version of the film on DVD can be ordered from JaSunni Productions or you can pre-order the 140 minute director’s cut version with extras.

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