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The Return of The Lathe of Heaven.
Making Dreams Come True.
By Frank Garcia
April 17, 2000
It has taken two decades, but the dreams and hopes of countless loyal fans for a resurrection of a beloved television adaptation of a classic SF novel, are finally becoming a reality. Just in time for a 20th anniversary broadcast, Ursula K. LeGuin's THE LATHE OF HEAVEN, is finally returning to the airwaves on Public Television stations in June, 2000.
Excavated from the darkened vaults of a PBS station in New York, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN is the surreal, haunting science fiction tale of a young man who has the ability to change the fabric of reality while in dreamsleep. The innovative film was a WNET-13 production done as part of the Television Laboratory in 1980, and was produced and co-directed by Fred Barzyk and the late David Loxton. First broadcast on PBS stations in January 1980 the adaptation of LeGuin's 1971 novel starred THE X-MEN's Bruce Davison as young George Orr, who has the unwanted ability to change the physical reality of the world around him in his dreams. Kevin Conway acted as Orr's foil and manipulator, Dr. William Haber, who used Orr's astonishing abilities for his own egotistical purposes. THE COLOR PURPLE's Margaret Avery also starred as the lawyer Heather Lelache.
LATHE OF HEAVEN will become available to PBS stations on June 1, 2000, and as part of this presentation, will include a rare interview with author Ursula K. LeGuin by journalist Bill Moyers.
For the past 20 years, the allure of THE LATHE OF HEAVEN has grown into its own mythological heights among fans and admirers. There has been an active underground videotape trading of the film among those who coveted a good copy or missed the original broadcast. The Internet has helped facilitate this proliferation. Author LeGuin says that throughout the years, she continues to get queries about the film even from fans who were not aware of the source novel.
'THE LATHE OF HEAVEN is the most requested program in the history of the public television archives,' says Susan Marchand, executive director, program marketing and distribution. 'And that's no surprise. The program is a gorgeous, haunting and sensitive production - the kind of program that really shows what public television is capable of. In 1998, Entertainment Weekly named it one of the top 100 greatest works of science fiction, saying, 'It's rarely been seen since its original telecast, which only adds to its mystique.' Well, we've decided that it's time to give the public another taste of this television classic.'
LATHE producer and co-director Fred Barzyk tells Fandom that 'I hope the film will be dedicated to my friend and the producer of the piece - David Loxton. It was his film. I am wondering how the audience will respond to a SF special with so little special effects. We had no money to create these amazing things that Ursula had written. We had to come up with inexpensive ways to startle the audience. It forced me into 'imagination' instead of specifics.'
After the summer broadcast, LATHE OF HEAVEN will be released on videotape and DVD with 'extras' to be announced in the fall.
For a deeper understanding of the films' history from within the hallways of WNET/Thirteen in New York, Fandom spoke with Joe Basile, director of Program Rights and Clearances, for their perspective.
'I've been here at Thirteen/WNET for just over five years, and I've known about the demand for a rebroadcast of this film almost since the day I arrived,' says Joe Basile. 'Some fun facts: LATHE is by far the single most requested program in the history of both the PBS Archives and Thirteen's own Viewer Services department. It is also one of the most requested videos according to the VideoFinders service run by our sister public TV station KCET in Los Angeles. The program has been seen only twice in 20 years - its original broadcast as part of the Thirteen series TV Lab in January 1980, and a second airing in New York in 1987 as part of a 'best of' series called 'Thirteen Revisited.' '
Thanks to technological proliferation, this 1987 broadcast was captured on videotape by faithful LATHE aficionados. 'Pirated videos keep showing up on online auction sites like eBay and Yahoo Auctions,' explains Basile. 'We are aggressively policing this infringement of our intellectual property rights, but the forthcoming release of a digitally remastered version of the film should stop dead in its tracks the illegal sales of the poor quality home taped version.'
The demand for the films' release, says Basile, is received by Thirteen, PBS stations and VideoFinders in the form of e-mail, phone, faxes and letters.
'The Internet has apparently been a great boon to LATHE fans, with dozens of Web sites and fan pages devoted to Ursula LeGuin's work and SF in general. One of these fan pages, put together by a woman named Jane Hawkins, had been disseminating misinformation about Thirteen's position vis-à-vis LATHE, accusing us of 'corporate amnesia' and other sins in ruthlessly warehousing the film and keeping it from the public.
'In September 1997, I wrote an open letter to Ms. Hawkins setting the record straight, and to her great credit, she posted it on her site (www.oz.net/~jhawk/lathe). Since that time, I have been deluged with mail from LATHE fans all over the globe. I have a stack in my office of printed email messages from LATHE fans that is about the width of a medium-sized phonebook. This represents just the people who wrote to me since 1997. This incessant barrage of paeans about LATHE and 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.'
This prompted Basile to seriously discuss with his colleagues in-house about getting the film released. 'I discovered that virtually everyone had fond memories of it and a story or two to tell about its popularity. Meanwhile, Thirteen became involved in a large re-clearance project where we took the best drama programs produced by us in the 1960s and 1970s and began clearing them for worldwide television and home video distribution. So the clearance bug was in the air, you might say; the time was finally ripe to look again at LATHE.
'In 1998 my boss Susan Marchand, began trying to rustle up some interest among home video distributors and also began taking formal steps to get the program back on public television. That led her to the New Video Group in New York, which is the company that will be distributing LATHE in the retail home video and DVD markets beginning this September.'
Re-releasing a 20-year-old film is not cheap says Basile. The first step to take was to remaster the film for today's technical standards and to recontact all talent involved for clearances and compensations. One very interesting and difficult aspect of the revival is a project that is ongoing at press time, and that's arranging a celebrity interviewer to talk with Ursula LeGuin. Says Basile, 'We wanted to find an interviewer befitting Ms. LeGuin's superb reputation as the doyenne of science fiction-fantasy writers. We were thrilled and very lucky to persuade our own Bill Moyers to conduct the interview. Of course, both Mr. Moyers and Ms. LeGuin are very busy people, and as a result, this interview has already been scheduled and rescheduled about half a dozen times in at least three cities on both sides of the continent. As I write these words, the interview still hasn't taken place, but we've finally locked in a date and time - let's hope!'
Another very interesting obstacle to be solved has to do with music. The Beatles' hit song 'With a Little Help from My Friends' is briefly played on a record player in one scene of the film. And the Beatles are notoriously finicky about the licensing of their songs. Remember several years ago, a controversy erupted over the NIKE commercials using 'Revolution?'
'Because our original distribution of the film was limited to public television, we were allowed to use a one-minute snippet of the actual Beatles record in our soundtrack,' says Basile. 'Without smothering you in the details, U.S. copyright law allows public broadcasters the right to use certain music on public TV without getting prior permission from copyright owners and without negotiating license fees. But if and when we seek to use the same music in 'commercial' markets like home video, we need to obtain proper permission.
'We approached the Beatles through their company, Apple, and asked for permission to re-use the snippet. We were told that an answer from the Beatles would be a long time in coming and would likely cost us a small fortune, if we even got their permission in the first place. However, we were given permission to re-record the song using different musicians, and this is what we ultimately did. It's not an ideal solution, but if we wanted to re-release the film before Y3K, we needed to do it this way. I'm happy to report that Michael Jackson had nothing to do with any of this.' (Jackson owns the publishing rights to the Beatles cataloguein essence, the rights to the songs in printed formbut that has nothing to do with recording and performing rights.)
But what about Ursula K. LeGuin, the author of LATHE OF HEAVEN? For years fans consistently wrote to her asking about the film and she, too, shared their frustration that it was untouched in a darkened vault, almost forgotten. 'Susan Marchand has spoken to her several times in the last couple of months and reports that Ursula LeGuin is very happy about the impending rebroadcast and re-release of LATHE. In fact, one of this program's legion of wonderful fans put Ms. LeGuin in touch with me back in 1998, before our plans had crystallized. She is also very excited at the prospect of being interviewed by Bill Moyers next month. She doesn't accept many interview requests, but she made an exception for us for the sake of the public television rebroadcast.'
The film is so loved not just by fans but the cast themselves. The dreamer himself, actor Bruce Davison is so taken with LATHE's lyricism that he's expressed interest in filming a remake of the story. Basile reports that LeGuin 'preferred to see the 'rebirth' of our film to the plans she had in development (and may still have) to remake the film.'
If there's any moral to this event, it is that impossible dreams can come true and those responsible - with their collective dreamsleep bringing this event into reality - are the fans.
In his final words, Basile says, 'I am heartened by all the fan clamor that led to this rebroadcast and re-release. We here at Thirteen are very excited about our plans. If ever there was a win-win situation, this is it!'