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THE LATHE OF HEAVEN: The Resurrection

By Frank Garcia     July 17, 2000

In a re-release that began in June, at various dates and times across the United States, a remarkable resurrection of a favorite genre film is being broadcast over 300 Public Television stations. The 1980 film adaptation of Ursula K. LeGuin's classic 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven starring Bruce Davison, Kevin Conway and Margaret Avery is finally being released after 20 years of laying dormant in a vault, almost forgotten.

For those who may not have read the novel or recall the film, The Lathe of Heaven is a wonderfully rich tale of a young man named George Orr (Bruce Davison) who's gained the power to change reality when he dreamsleeps. Frightened by his ability, Orr meets with a psychiatrist, Dr. William Haber (Kevin Conway), who realizes George's belief is real when a horse appears in his office upon a suggested command. Realizing that Haber is in a position to manipulate his abilities for his own purposes, Orr visits a lawyer, Heather Lelache (Margaret Avery), for help. But each and every dreamsleep suggestion that Dr. Haber gives to Orr unravels catastrophes and nightmares.

The broadcast is a tribute to a dedicated band of fans who have consistently written, faxed and e-mailed WNET-13 in New York, which holds the rights to the film, and demanded that it be re-released. Joe Basile, the Program Rights and Clearances director at WNET-13 told Fandom that he has a telephone book-sized compilation of all these communications. 'This represents just the people who wrote to me since 1997,' says Basile. 'This incessant barrage of requests that we rebroadcast the film started the whole ball rolling here at Thirteen. In a very real sense, the Lathe fans have themselves to thank for this re-release.'

Beyond just WNET-13, the four principals who were involved in the making of the film--author Ursula LeGuin, the actors and producer Fred Barzyk--have consistently received comments, letters and accolades for the work over the last 20 years. Celebrity fans of the film includes actors Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and Jason Alexander. And when contacted by Fandom to discover their emotions about the films' re-release, Barzyk and the stars were quite willing to respond.

'I'm thrilled that they finally got it out!' says Bruce Davison, who can currently be seen as Senator Kelly in The X-Men, which opened July 14. 'It's like rediscovering King Tut's tomb. I'm really glad. I know how long it's been trying to get it out. We all put so much effort into it so many years ago and not a lot of people have seen it.'

'I'm elated that after all these years this particular piece is being rediscovered,' agrees Kevin Conway, who has two films appearing later this year--August's low-budget comedy, Two Family House, and October's Thirteen Days, starring Kevin Costner, about the Cuban Missile Crisis. 'I'm just blown away by it. I think it's great. Lathe seems to be an important piece of 'speculative' or science fiction that I used to love when I was a kid. I read the greats: Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein. It stimulated your imagination and I think that's what The Lathe of Heaven does.'

Today's media seems to find a lot of interest and merit to cover the re-release of a 20-year-old film, too. According to a list provided by WNET-13, a number of online and print media have devoted attention and interviews to Lathe, including Time, TV Guide Online, Entertainment Weekly Online, New York Daily News, New York Magazine, New York Times Syndicate and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Conway reports that he's become a target for this media attention as a result of the film's resurrection. 'For me, in the last couple of weeks, it's been non-stop! I've been talking to people in different venues who want to know about it. Some of them remembered it, others who are young kids, who have never seen it before and are now writing about it. It's going to be very interesting. I'm just hoping that it's going to get the kind of ratings that it deserves. They're not publicizing with a lot of money behind it. It's been word of mouth.'

For Davison, he's been so enamored by the films' story and despondent that it would never be seen again, that in recent years he's endeavored to mount a remake. In fact, Ursula LeGuin sold the remake rights to Showtime. This event, he says, only helps that new dream. 'Oh, it's probably good for it, I would think,' says Davison. 'If they can make Seven Samurai 20 different ways...hopefully we can get a deal made. But in the meantime, I think this re-release can do nothing but help that.'

One of the tangible benefits of a remake would be improved special effects, but Davison is conscious that the 'FX' is not what the story is about. At least, next time, he wouldn't need to reconstruct styrofoam turtle aliens. And perhaps, there could be another way to visualize the final confrontation sequence without resorting to smoke and lasers.

'I've gotten a lot of comments over the years,' continues Davison. 'It's very highly rated in the films that I've done that people want to see. You know, there's so many things that are buried or long forgotten that...it's very nice to see one of your children having a rebirth.'

As part of the re-release, WNET asked Davison, Conway and Barzyk to reunite for intermission interviews during their broadcast of the film on June 3 (this footage is exclusive to WNET but can be seen as video clips on the official Website). 'It was wonderful to see Kevin again,' says Barzyk, who just completed a 'high-definition' drama for television, The Ryan Interview, an adaptation of an Arthur Miller play starring Ashley Judd. 'I missed Bruce, who had to leave early. Kevin felt that it was amazing what we were able to accomplish in his 12 days of shooting. He had very fond memories of the production.

'I hadn't looked at the film for many years and it was a joy and cringe. The actors and Ursula's story hold up real well. The abstract and electronic effects of the alien's attack and arrival show the lack of money we had for special effects. However, some of the 'effective dream' sequences such as the plague (which features a group of people around the table growing old, who're covered by dust and scrim with Orr screaming and the door opening with strange lights flowing out) and the last fight between Orr and Haber are still effective in both content and realization.'

If Lathe of Heaven hasn't turned up on your local PBS station, or if you missed it, don't worry. Beginning August 29, the telefilm will be released on videotape and DVD.

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