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The future is here. It’s October 21, 2015. It’s the day that Marty McFly travels to in Back to the Future Part II.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the original Back to the Future. Should we expect to find Marty, Doc, and Jennifer walking in our world? Well, maybe if you live in the oxymoronically-named Hill Valley, California where they lived (or live, or will live), I would take a careful look around today.
A number of media outlets have been doing stories this year around the anniversary and looking at whether or not any of the movie trilogy actually predicted accurately the future of 2015.
I’m not concerned about arriving at a future with self-tying shoes, though that hoverboard would be fun to try out. I wrote about all this in more detail back in March so that people could get ready.
Yeah, I’m having a little Back to the Future party today. When does it start? At 4:29 PM, of course. Got the three films ready to go. It would be great if Marty or Doc dropped in and said hello.
“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” – says one of the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Ray Bradbury is known for his rather nostalgic and often small-town view of the world – and of other worlds too. But his novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes is much darker.
If his novel Dandelion Wine (which I have written about before here) is a novel of summer, then Something Wicked This Way Comes is his novel of autumn. It is one to read on a day when you might need a sweater or blanket over your feet
In it, a carnival rolls into town sometime after midnight. It is a week before Halloween. The calliope plays a song that lures the young people of Green Town, Illinois to Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show.
We follow two boys, friends who discover what can happen when wishes and dream come true but turn out to be nightmares.
The novel is a modern Gothic tale. Those young boys, James Nightshade and William Halloway, and the dark carnival of autumn intrigued and frightened me when I first read it one October night when I was 12. Coincidence? Synchronicity?
It you wanted a Bradbury summer of reading, I would suggest your third choice be Something Wicked This Way Comes takes its title from Macbeth, and you know something wicked is certainly coming. Mr. Dark shows our dark side to us. Mr. Dark with his tattoos, one for each person he has given their secret fantasy. And each of them in return is now part of the carnival.
I recommend the book, but the film version of Something Wicked This Way Comes is also very good. I still see it listed as a children’s film sometimes (it was made by Disney) but I would pre-screen it before showing it to kids – though it might make a good, scary Halloween movie night.
I have been doing some armchair adventuring that sent me back into my past. As a boy, I read the Classic Illustrated comic book version of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and imagined myself a castaway on some island.
It is an old tale, first published in 1719. At that time (and I suspect still today) many readers and non-readers took the adventures of Robinson Crusoe to be a true story of a real person and an actual adventure. The title for that first edition, in the style of the time, was The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.
I don’t think many people today are reading Robinson Crusoe but they may be familiar with the story or name – even if only because in the theme to Gilligan’s Island they sing “Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s primitive as can be.”
It is structured as an autobiography of Robinson (birth name Kreutznaer) and his time as a castaway for thirty years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad. Before he is rescued, he encounters cannibals, captives, and mutineers. Exciting stuff for a 10-year-old boy to encounter curled up in an armchair while eating some beef jerky for additional castaway effect.
I liked that even in the comic book version, it read like a journal. He builds a shelter and makes clothes and eventually befriends a native islander who he names Friday. Eventually, I saw a movie version of the story, but when I was reading the comic back in 1962, I also saw a cleaned-up, family film version of island survival called In Search Of The Castaways. No one should want to be stuck on some deserted island, but. of course, I did. As an adult, it all came back to me with the Tom Hanks’ film Castaway.
It wasn’t until I was an English major in college that I learned that Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was regarded by many to be the first novel in English. I read it for a class and it was a serious reading. James Joyce noted that the true symbol of the British conquest is Robinson Crusoe: “He is the true prototype of the British colonist. … The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit in Crusoe: the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity.” The interpretation in that classroom was that Crusoe tried to impose his society on the island via agriculture and his politics of being “king of the island” and by redeeming the savages, especially Friday, with his European ways. (Even though Defoe simultaneously criticizes the Spanish conquest of South America.)
I discovered in writing this that Daniel Defoe wrote over 250 books on economics, history, biography and crime, although we still know him best for the fiction, especially Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and Roxana.
As an English major and teacher, I should say that Defoe’s books had a big impact on me, but honestly as a kid at that time the book that had a greater grip on me was The Swiss Family Robinson (1812) which had to have been influences by Defoe. It is another story I first encountered as a Classics Illustrated Comic but that I went on to read after in book form. (That was true of many of those comics for me.)
I recall that the book seemed to have a like of moralizing about the author’s, Johann David Wyss, beliefs about Christian faith, family values, and the virtues of self-reliance. I was more into the fishing, boat-building, guns and general camping-in-the-woods stuff that sounded like a lot of fun. And their treehouse. I loved that. I still dream of having a treehouse one day. And I still love islands.
The story has had many versions in comics, books and on television and in films. Again, I don’t know that kids are reading books like The Swiss Family Robinson these days. the style and vocabulary is tough, even if the general plot is appealing. The Disney film version was the one I saw as a kid and I haven’t seen it since, so I don’t know how dated it might seem to a kid today.
All of this revisiting of my youthful armchair adventuring was inspired by seeing that August 7 is the anniversary of Thor Heyerdahl’s raft Kon-Tiki landing in French Polynesia back in 1947. The book Kon-Tiki was one I read was I was a young teen for a school book report. This true adventure is about a journey of 4300 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean by raft.
Thor Heyerdahl suspected that the South Sea Islands had been settled by an ancient race from thousands of miles to the east who traveled by rafts. Those people had been led on their ancient journey by a mythical Incan god named Kon-Tiki who walked the ocean.
He decided to prove his theory by duplicating the legendary voyage and on April 28, 1947, Heyerdahl and five other adventurers sailed from Peru on a balsa log raft. Balsa – like those little airplanes I had been buying and building all throughout my childhood.
They travels for three months on the open sea and hit storms, whales, sharks and everything you would expect. Finally, they sighted land. They had come to the Polynesian island of Puka Puka and took this as proof that early South Americans could have traveled across the Pacific and settled in the Polynesian Islands.
Of course, Heyerdahl and his crew of five had a radio, navigational equipment, watches and other modern conveniences and safety equipment, but the raft itself was made entirely of pre-Columbian materials. The crude craft was balsa logs lashed together with hemp ropes with gaps for the water to drain out. It had a bamboo cabin with a roof of banana leaves. The mast was made of planks of mangrove, and it held a square sail. It was a replica of the rafts that native Peruvians were using at the time of the first European contact in the early 1500s. Heyerdahl named it Kon-Tiki.
I read the book, The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas, that was published in 1948, and I saw a documentary film about the journey. It may have been the one Heyerdahl made when the book was released. I searched for it online and there are several film versions of the story including a dramatic movie based on the book.
I came across a few clips from the 1947 Heyerdahl documentary including this one that shows their encounter with the worlds biggest fish, the whaleshark.
I’m sure when I was 15, this would have had an exciting Moby-Dick adventure quality to it, but now I view it and wonder if they were in any danger and if there was any reason to attack the whaleshark other than to get some action footage.
Almost all my adventuring these days is of the armchair variety, and my take on survival and “helping the natives” has certainly gone in a very different direction from the ideas I had as a kid curled up with a blanket in a chair reading.
“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 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.”
His 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 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 Amazon.com 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.