June 29, 2004

I hope Ray Bradbury is not being exploited.

Ray Bradbury did a phone interview with Andrea Mitchell on last night's Hardball. He's upset, as has been widely noted, that Michael Moore derived the title "Fahrenheit 9/11" from Bradbury's title "Fahrenheit 451." You can read the transcript at that link or listen to the interview, which I recommend. Here's a key passage, with a bracketed addition of mine in boldface:
MITCHELL: Well, what would fair compensation be for taking or appropriating the title “Fahrenheit 451”?

BRADBURY: The fair thing would be giving the title back. ... And all I want is my title back.

MITCHELL: You don’t think that you should get a piece of the $21.8 million they made in the first weekend alone?

BRADBURY: No, I don’t care about money. That’s not the point. The point is that he stole something. All I want is to have it returned.

MITCHELL: Certainly, all of your works have been politically conscious and this one in particular. So what harm does it do to have this documentary use the name?

BRADBURY: He’s putting my title on his film. I had nothing to do with his film. Therefore, he can’t take credit; he can’t take my name and my title and have it apply to his film. [Someone in the background is heard whispering.] My novel is not a political novel. It’s an aesthetic novel; a philosophical and a sociological study in modern history. It’s not political at all in any way yet a study of humanity and education.

Note how he changes what he is saying after the whispering is heard. I realize the whispering could just as well be occurring at Mitchell's end, but let me test out a theory.

Throughout the interview up to that point, we've heard Bradbury expressing that his feelings were hurt that his title was used without asking. He says he made one phone call to Moore then waited and waited for six months. That is, he did nothing during the entire period when the film was being prepared and advertised and there was any serious potential for changing the title. Finally, he comes forward. Why? Is someone pushing him forward? He says he doesn't want compensation; he's just mad that his title was put on a work that was not his and that Moore has tried (in Bradbury's view) to gain stature by connection to a book/play/opera that Bradbury is very proud of (with good reason).

When Andrea Mitchell asks how is he harmed, considering that his work is "politically conscious," Bradbury's response is to repeat the same point. Then, after whispering is heard, he says something entirely new, and he says it in a much less whiny way. I find him much more appealing at this point, when he denies that "Fahrenheit 451" is a political novel and locates it outside of politics in the sphere of philosophy, sociology, history, humanity, and education. I found that immensely touching. Yet, I can't help wondering, who was whispering, and why didn't that idea that I found so compelling occur to him at first? Did someone prompt him?

I think most people would, like Andrea Mitchell, think of "Fahrenheit 451" as a political book (albeit not necessarily Moore's brand of politics). So I'm wondering if someone is using Bradbury. I'm sorry if this sounds disrespectful to the great old author, but this interview made me suspicious. I'm no Moore supporter--I just wonder what's going on.

No comments: