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“That which you believe becomes your world. ” – Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson is a fantasy, horror, and sci-fi writer whom I discovered through the episodes he wrote of The Twilight Zone. That was my favorite TV series as a kid. It scared me, amazed me, made me think and sometimes amused me.  I was happy to discover he was, like me, born in New Jersey (Allendale, 1926).

He also wrote for Star Trek and other shows. A good number of his more than 20 novels and 100 short stories became films.  Later, I discovered Matheson’s books, including I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, which was later retitled The Incredible Shrinking Man as a film.

Stephen King said that “When people talk about the genre, I guess they mention my name first, but without Richard Matheson I wouldn’t be around. He is as much my father as Bessie Smith was Elvis Presley’s mother.”

His 1978 novel, What Dreams May Come, is my favorite. The film that was made based on his novel stars Robin Williams. Along with The Fisher King, it is one of my favorite films with Robin.  In the book, Chris dies and goes to Heaven, but descends into Hell to rescue his wife.

Matheson stated in an interview, “I think What Dreams May Come is the most important (read effective) book I’ve written. It has caused a number of readers to lose their fear of death – the finest tribute any writer could receive.”

As far as the science in the fiction, Matheson says in an introductory note that the characters are fictional but almost everything else is based on research. He even included a bibliography.

The title comes from a line in Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be…” speech: “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, / Must give us pause.”


The plot also makes several allusions to the journey through the underworld in Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy. Characters quote the 18th century Christian mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, theories from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Raymond Moody.

Matheson was struck with the stories told by revived suicides which were much more frightening tales than those near death experiences of others who came back. The references are often ones that might be termed “New Age.” For example, reincarnation is viewed as a choice rather than the automatic cycle found in Hinduism and Buddhism.  It is a subject that everyone considers at some point in their life. A new TV show, Proof, focuses on investigating supernatural cases of reincarnation and near-death experiences funded by a terminally ill man who hopes to find evidence that death is not final.

Trailer for What Dreams May Come (film)


I am quite taken today with Anthony Howe’s massive kinetic wind sculptures. Some people say they look alien. He says they emulate human feelings.

Anthony Howe was born in 1954 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He creates wind-driven sculptures that move and pulse and play with vortices. He uses computer-aided design, shaping the metal components with a plasma cutter, and completing his work by use of traditional metalworking techniques.

Because it is difficult to predict the effects of strong wind, he says that he “over-engineers” his work. I like that he tests the sculptures by fixing them to his pickup truck and driving down a highway. Imagine passing that on the road.





I had breakfast with my movie buddy Scott this morning. We were talking about odd films that we saw years ago and can’t seem to find on TV, DVD, streaming or some bargain bin. One that I thought of was Get to Know Your Rabbit.

I had read something about it around 1970 and wanted to see it, but it never appeared in theaters. It’s about a corporate executive, Donald, who decides to get off the rat race wheel.  He wants to become a traveling tap dancing magician. His mentor is Mr. Delasandro. (And early lesson is to “get to know your rabbit.”

get-to-know-your-rabbit-6His old boss, Mr. Turnbull, wants him back and so follows him on the road. Turnbull becomes intrigued by the adventure and the two of them end up forming “Tap Dancing Magicians.” It’s a course/workshop for business people who are feeling the pressure and need some escape.

As you might have guessed, their course becomes very popular and Donald ironically finds himself feeling the same way he did when he originally quit his job.
It is an odd one. It is cultish. I know of a few other people who have seen it and like it. Great film? No. Interesting film? Yes, especially if you consider the people involved in making the film.

Director: Brian De Palma, coming off his 1968 underground comedies, Greetings and Hi, Mom!.
Starring: Tom Smothers as Donald Beeman. Yes, the Smothers Brother Tom.
John Astin (best known then as Gomez Addams  in TV’s The Addams Family, as his boss, Paul Turnbull
Katharine Ross coming off my all-time favorite, The Graduate, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (two films in which she broke my teenaged heart) is wonderfully and accurately billed in the credits as the Terrific-Looking Girl.
And Orson Welles plays the magical Mr. Delasandro.

It seems Warner Brothers studio and Tommy Smothers weren’t happy with De Palma’s direction and he was fired “due to creative differences.”

It took two years for it to be released (1972) and without any marketing it disappeared from theaters without a whimper.

I caught it at college in 72 or 73 in the student center film series paired with Welles’ Touch of Evil. (You figure out the programmer’s thinking on that double bill.)

Brian De Palma soured on the studio system after this experience, but went on to make lots of films. He is probably best known for a string of 1980s films: Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, Body Double, Wise Guys, The Untouchables and Casualties of War.

Welles continued to be Welles.

Ross made more films, but none as good as The Graduate or Butch. Tommy Smothers did not become a film star.

For years I looked for the film on TV or VHS or cable to no avail.  After today’s conversation, I did another search and was surprised to find that Get to Know Your Rabbit is on in all its glory AND that someone posted it in its entirety on YouTube. Better catch it before the copyright cops take it down. That’s my Friday Night at the Movies tonight. I hope it is close to what I remember from 1972.

movie card


The last film about space I watched was Interstellar.  My wife wouldn’t watch it with me. She suspected it would get all scientific. Well, movie scientific, anyway. She was right.

I liked the film, but the science (which I know was done carefully) gets wonky and farfetched in the end. Still, I’m planning to watch another space film, The Martian , when it comes out in November.

The novel it is based on is a first novel by Andy Weir. It is science fiction. An American astronaut, Mark Watney, becomes stranded alone on Mars and must improvise in order to survive. A review I had read described it as Apollo 13 meets Cast Away.

You never know how a film adaptation will turn out, but the director is Ridley Scott and it stars Matt Damon. That’s a good start.

The author is the son of a particle physicist and I had read that he researched the science to be as realistic as possible based on existing technology.

It has an interesting publishing history. Weir hadn’t had success with publishers in the past, so he put The Martian online in serial format one chapter at a time for free at his website, and the he made an Amazon Kindle version available at 99 cents. That is where I found it on the advice of a friend.

It sold 35,000 copies in three months, got the attention of publishers, was “legitimately” published and debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list on March 2, 2014

I watched the Official Trailer for the film. The basic story is there. Stranded alone on Mars with few supplies, Watney must survive and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive. Back on Earth, scientists work to bring home “the Martian” and his crewmates also plan a rescue mission.


The story reminded me of an old sci-fi film, Robinson Crusoe on Mars. This 1964 film is a science fiction retelling of the classic novel Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Dafoe.

It sounds like it would be a truly “B” film, but is more thoughtful than you would expect. I hope the same will be true of The Martian.

A spaceship crash landing on Mars leaves astronaut Paul Mantee abandoned. He must figure out how to survive in this hostile environment. (They shot most of the film in Death Valley.) Now hang on to your credulity. He is aided by a monkey from his ship.

It is a vote of quality that the DVD of this film is one of the Criterion Collection which gives it a nice presentation including a commentary track, interviews, a featurette and an odd little “music video.”

Before the 1960s, all the sci-fi about Mars was about aliens that lived there. Now, the “Martians” are us.

If you want to follow The Martian film pre-release:

Many people learned about the Big Dipper when they were children. Perhaps a parent pointed it out, or it was in school or at a planetarium show.  Lesser known is the Little Dipper.

Are they constellations? No. They are asterisms which are star patterns.  These Dippers are part of the constellations of the Big Bear and Little Bear (Ursa Major and Minor).

In all my years of stargazing, I still can only see those constellation shapes on a chart or planetarium show when someone connects the dots – and even then it is a stretch of the imagination!

But the shape of a dipper (once used to get a drink of water from a larger vessel or well) is pretty easy to see. This month you can find the Big Dipper high in the northern sky. The two outer stars in its bowl are referred to as pointer stars because they point to the North Star (Polaris) which is the end of the Little Dipper’s handle.

In Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, it says that the ancient Greek writers (like Homer) didn’t mention Ursa Minor or the dipper shape.  I always marveled at seeing the stars and planets as a child thinking that I am looking at the same sky that ancient people saw.

This group of stars became the “wings” of the constellation Draco the Dragon. When, around 600 B.C., the Phoenicians showed the Greek philosopher Thales how to navigate by the stars, he supposedly used the Dragon’s wings to create a new constellation. This might have been to make it easier to show them how to locate the north celestial pole.

Ursa Minor was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. The Bears’ tails are the dippers’ handles.

Further falling away of my childhood star knowledge came when I learned that our Polaris,  which marks the north celestial pole in the sky, was not the star those ancients would have used to navigate. Kochab and Pherkad at the end of the Little Dipper were closer to the north celestial pole in 600 B.C.

Learning how our sky view of the heavens has changed over the centuries isn’t at all disappointing to me, but rather a reminder that everything is changing.


The Liitle Bear with The Dragon looping around it, as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825


UrsaMinorCC.jpgUrsaMinorCC” by Till CrednerOwn work:
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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