Thursday, March 4, 2010

TZ Profile: Arlen Schumer (Part 2 of 2)

October 2, 2009. A crowd has gathered outside The Times Center in New York City, having purchased tickets to what promises to be a fascinating evening. Arlen Schumer has come to town, you see, and he’s brought The Twilight Zone with him.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the series, and Schumer’s celebrating it by presenting Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Forever: A Celebration of the Father of American Pop Culture on its 50th Anniversary, a “Multimedia VisuaLecture” that promises to explore both the recurrent themes of the series and the staggering imprint it continues to leave on American pop culture. Sounds like something tailor-made for a TZ nut like me, right?  Unfortunately, I live clear across the country in the Pacific Northwest. I’m raising four kids and a dog. There’s no way in hell I can go. Fortunately, my friend Bill Huelbig lives in Jersey, and he loves The Twilight Zone as much as I do. So he buys a ticket, attends the event, then reports back:

I work in Manhattan and live about two miles from Times Square, but I knew nothing about the Arlen Schumer Twilight Zone 50th Anniversary celebration being held there on October 2, 2009 until Craig, who lives 3000 miles away, told me about it. It really pays to have a friend who loves "The Twilight Zone" as much as he does. Without him I would have missed an amazing evening.

Even before it started it was worth the ticket price: an excellent sound montage of Twilight Zone dialogue and music played before showtime for what must have been a half-hour, but I lost all track of the time. Near the end of it, Arlen Schumer came into the audience and shook my hand like I was an old friend. Then he took the stage and began his multimedia lecture, and I learned things about the show I never knew in all my 50 years of being a fan. He showed the famous episode "The Eye of the Beholder", which was fun to see as part of an audience, and I was reminded that it was the program that probably got the strongest reaction out of me and my older sister when we first saw it back in 1960, more than anything else I'd ever seen on television before or since.

The highlight of the evening was a screening of "Where Is Everybody?", the Twilight Zone pilot which aired on CBS 50 years ago that very night, and almost that very minute. The second half of the show got off to a late start because of the free snacks given out at intermission so it didn't begin at exactly 10 PM as planned, but it was close enough. Weeks earlier I'd originally intended to watch this episode at home on October 2nd, but thanks to Twilight Zone superfans Craig and Arlen I got to be a part of a real Twilight Zone event, one I will not forget. 

Bill's ticket.  Note the all-too-common "Sterling" error (certainly not Arlen's fault!)

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this profile, Mr. Schumer (oh hell, let’s call him Arlen from here on) was kind enough to send me a DVD of the presentation. I’ve watched it twice, all 90+ minutes of it, and one thing is crystal clear to me: I missed something indescribably special that night (click here to read the sad tale of how I celebrated the show’s anniversary... alone). Arlen’s DVD, thankfully is the next best thing.

First and foremost, Arlen knows what the hell he’s talking about. He’s divided the series up into recurring themes and motifs. He draws numerous parallels between the visuals from specific episodes to various works of surrealist art. He illustrates just how deeply the series has permeated American popular culture, and how many television series and films have borrowed from it. Even I, who presume to know a thing or two about such matters, was stunned by the keenness of his eye and the depth of his knowledge. In other words, Arlen taught me a thing or two. He’s articulate, too, and a genuine pleasure to listen to. His enthusiasm is infectious; his passion, evident. The whole affair is like a college course, compressed into 90 dizzying minutes. I imagine the heads of those lucky enough to attend were buzzing for the rest of the night.

My single favorite passage is as follows:

“(T)here was only one Rod Serling. The delivery, the look, the style, that cigarette (by the way, that’s what killed him, of course), but that whole kind of aura that makes Serling one of the greatest broadcast voices of the twentieth century… he had the whole kind of CBS kind of broadcaster Edward R. Murrow type of respect, the same sort of dark Humphrey Bogart savoir faire… the whole quality: Walter Cronkite, CBS, Serling had that. Serling had that authority that makes him one of the three coolest guys of the early ‘60s. Him, John F. Kennedy… and there was something about Serling, he had that sort of Frank Sinatra, that swanky, sophisticated look, but he had that dark charm of Bond, James Bond. Serling premieres two years before Connery debuts as Bond, so in many ways, even though we saw a Who’s Who of Hollywood with The Twilight Zone, there’s really only one star, and that’s Serling.”

A highlight of the presentation (Christ, the whole thing is a highlight!) is a “live performance,” as it were, of his Sight, Sound & Mind DVD, which is essentially a multimedia translation of his brilliant Visions From The Twilight Zone book (both were covered in Part 1). As with most live performances, the energy is amped up a bit here; Arlen takes on the air of a Lutheran minister when he intones that classic Serling phrase: “Clocks are made by men. God creates time.” The Twilight Zone, filtered through Arlen, is as much religion as popular entertainment.

And then later, he cracks the joint up with the following: “Clocks are made by men. God creates The New York Times.” The guy’s a gem.

The Twilight Zone Forever, as presented on DVD, is an absolute must-have for Twilight Zone collectors. It’s imminently rewatchable (I’ve already partaken of it twice, and foresee many further viewings). Like his Visions book (and the companion DVD), this is an absolute MUST HAVE. Even if you were lucky enough to attend the event, it’s worth revisiting in the comfort of your own home. Are you tantalized yet? Contact Arlen directly at for more info.

Incidentally, a print version of the presentation is archived and viewable at It’s a bit more academic (and certainly less spontaneous) than the live VisuaLecture, but it makes for great reading.  Frankly, it would make a great book.

One other item to note: Arlen has also assembled a 45-minute audio collage of music and dialogue/narration from the series, entitled Sound & Vision: The Words & Music of The Twilight Zone (I suspect this is the montage that Bill heard playing before the Times Center presentation).  Drop it in your CD player, put on some headphones, turn out the lights, and prepare for a Serling-sponsored head trip. Hit Arlen up at for more details.

If it hasn’t been made evident by now, I’m a big fan of Arlen’s work. If you aren’t… well, you will be. Poke around his website: As you’ll see, The Twilight Zone isn’t the only trick in his bag.

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