Saturday, August 22, 2020

Ray Bradbury's 100th Birthday

It was 100 years ago that Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois. This is significant for me as Mr. Bradbury may well be my favourite author of all time. He certainly wrote my favourite novel of all time, Something Wicked This Way Comes. By no means am I alone in my admiration for Ray Bradbury. He would have a lasting influence on fiction and even film and television. He influenced writers from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman.  So great has Ray Bradbury's impact on modern day popular culture been that it would seem immeasurable.

Given Ray Bradbury wrote teleplays as well as short stories and novels, I can't say with any degree of accuracy when I was first exposed to his work. I can say that the first book by Ray Bradbury that I read was The Martian Chronicles. I read it in grade school and I remember that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The next book by Ray Bradbury that I read was Fahrenheit 451. While I had enjoyed The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 really impressed me. This was something different from much of the classic science fiction I had read. It was a work of depth, a criticism of the destruction of literature and the undue influence can have on the individual.

As impressed as I was by Fahrenheit 451, I was even more impressed by Something Wicked This Way Comes. It was not simply that the book spoke to me on a personal level, although it certainly did. I grew up on a farm outside a small town, so I could easily identify with the lives of Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade. Indeed, like Will, my father was older when I was born, although I was closer to my father than Will initially was to Charles. Beyond the fact that I could identify with the characters and settings of Something Wicked This Way Comes, there was also my realization that that it was a work of some depth. Certainly at its most basic Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story of the battle between good and evil. At the same time, however, Something Wicked This Way Comes is very much a coming of age story. Will and Jim are about to turn fourteen, and Jim is anxious to become an adult. Something Wicked This Way Comes also touches heavily upon the power of belief, conveying the idea that the power of a person, idea, or thing has over one depends largely on the power you give them. There is so much more to Something Wicked This Way Comes. While it is a short novel, it is also a very sophisticated one, so much so that one can come away with something new every time they read it.

Of course, Ray Bradbury was more of a short story writer than a novelist, and over the years I read many anthologies of his work. Mr. Bradbury's short stories were every bit as great as his novels, and equally as sophisticated. It should also come as no surprise that many of Ray Bradbury's short stories would be influential. His short story "A Sound of Thunder" is largely responsible for the popularization of "the butterfly effect." The story centres on a group of time travellers to the Late Cretaceous period who return to the present only to find it has changed dramatically, all due to one of them unknowingly killing a butterfly. Ray Bradbury's short stories often seem prescient. An example of this is "The Veldt," which deals in part with a virtual reality nursery that can produce any setting a child can think of. "The Burning Man" touches once more upon the struggle between good and evil.

If Ray Bradbury is loved among fans of speculative fiction, it is not simply because he was one of the greatest writers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction to ever live, if not the greatest. Ray Bradbury was also known for his great kindness. While I never met him, I know people who have, and every single one of them speak highly of Mr. Bradbury. He always had time for his fans and he always greeted them as friends.  Ray Bradbury was known to encourage young writers. Comic book writer and author Martin Powell, who was friends with Mr. Bradbury, attributes his career to him. I think I can speak for many fans when I say that Ray Bradbury felt like a beloved uncle, the one who always told you that you were worthy and that you can do anything you set your mind to.

Indeed, above all else Ray Bradbury was a voice for hope. Hope can be seen even in Mr. Bradbury's darkest works, including Fahrenheit 451 and Something This Way Comes. While Mr. Bradbury could portray the darker aspects of human nature, he remained an optimist. Indeed, one of the things that separates Fahrenheit 451 from other works of dystopic fiction is the hope that pervades the novel, even when things seem darkest. While Ray Bradbury knew all too well the darkness that can reside in the human heart, he also remained enthusiastic about life and even humanity. Ray Bradbury never characterized himself as an optimist, but in his work there seems to be the persistent theme that good will defeat evil if only we recognize the good within ourselves.

Ray Bradbury has had an enormous impact on me well beyond the fact that he is my favourite author. I honestly believe that Mr. Bradbury made me a better person. He taught me that it is always better to look to the good in oneself than to give into one's baser instincts. He taught me that even in the darkest of situation there is hope. I think it is very possible that if it were not for the lessons I learned from Ray Bradbury, that I might have given up long ago. I think that might be the most significant thing about Ray Bradbury, that he could save the lives of people that never even met him.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Ben Cross Passes On

Ben Cross, who starred in the movie Chariots of Fire (1981) and starred as Barnabas Collins in the 1991 revival of Dark Shadows, died on August 18 2020 at the age of 72. The cause was cancer.

Ben Cross was born Harry Bernard Cross on December 16 1947 in London. His father died of tuberculosis when he was eight years old. After leaving school, Mr. Cross worked as a window cleaner, waiter, and joiner. He also worked at the Welsh National Opera, and was the Property Master at The Alexandra theatre in Birmingham. When he was 22 Ben Cross enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After graduating from RADA, he performed at The Dukes in Lancaster and later joined the Prospect Theatre Company.

Ben Cross made his television debut in the mini-series Wessex Tales in 1973. In the Seventies he appeared on the television shows Strangers, ITV Playhouse, and The Professionals. He appeared in the TV movie Great Expectations. He made his film debut in 1977 in A Bridge Too Far (1977).

In the Eighties Mr. Cross appeared in the television mini-series The Flame Trees of Thika, The Citadel, The Far Pavilions, and Pursuit. He appeared on the TV shows Play for Today and The Twilight Zone. He appeared in the TV movies Coming Out of the Ice, Strong Medicine, Steal the Sky, and Nightlife. He appeared in the movies Chariots of Fire (1981), L'attenzione (1985), The Assisi Underground (1985), The Unholy (1988), Paperhouse (1988), and La bottega dell'orefice (1988).

In the Nineties he starred as Barnabas Collins in the short-lived revival of the supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows. He appeared on the TV shows The Ray Bradbury Theatre, Tales from the Crypt, and Poltergeist: The Legacy. He appeared in the mini-series The Potato Factory. He appeared in such TV movies as The Diamond Fleece, Hellfire, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Solomon. He appeared in the movies Eye of Widow (1991), Cold Sweat (1993), The Criminal Mind (1993), The Ascent (1994), Honey Sweet Love (1994), Temptress (1995), First Knight (1995), El último viaje de Robert Rylands (1996), Turbulence (1997), The Corporate Ladder (1997), The Invader (1997), and The Venice Project (1999).

In the Naughts Mr. Cross appeared in the movies Young Blades (2001), The Order (2001), She Me and Her (2002), Exorcist: The Beginning (2004), The Mechanik (2005), Wicked Little Things (2006), When Nietzsche Wept (2007), Finding Rin Tin Tin (2007), Hero Wanted (2008), War, Inc. (2008), and Star Trek (2009). He appeared on the TV show Trial & Retribution. He appeared in the mini-series Spartacus, Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial, and Ben Hur. He appeared in such TV movies as S.S. Doomtrooper, Hannibal, and Grendel.

In the Teens he appeared in such movies as Jack the Giant Killer (1991), A Common Man (2003), The Hurricane Heist (2018), Wildlings (2019), and The Rest is Ashes (2020). He was a regular on the television series Banshee and Pandora. He was a regular voice on the animated series Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja. He appeared on the TV show 12 Monkeys.

Ben Cross was an extremely talented actor and over the years he played a wide variety of remarkable roles. He was Harold Abrahams in the movie Chariots of Fire, Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows, King Solomon in the TV movie Solomon, Rudolf Hess in the mini-series Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial, and Spock's father Sarek on Star Trek. What is more Ben Cross, never gave a bad performance. While it is likely he will always be remembered best for Chariots of Fire, he gave a number of great performances throughout his career.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

"Mo'reen" by Paul Revere & The Raiders

Okay, those of you who know me know that August is not an easy month for me, particularly as it gets close to the 30th. That is why I haven't been posting as often as I usually do. It's for that reason that tonight I am taking the easy way out and simply sharing one of my favourite songs with you.

Ever since childhood one of my all-time favourite bands has been Paul Revere & The Raiders. My sister, who is 17 years older than I am, had a few of their albums and I listened to them often growing up. I am particularly a fan of their classic line-up, which consisted of lead vocalist Mark Lindsay, keyboardist Paul Revere, lead guitarist Jim "Harpo" Valley (and before him lead guitarist Drake Levin), bassist Phil "Fang" Volk, and drummer Mike "Smitty" Smith. In the mid-Sixties they released what I consider three of the greatest garage rock/proto-power pop albums of all time: Midnight Ride, Spirit of '67, and Revolution!.

Revolution! features one of my all time favourite Paul Revere & The Raiders songs, "Mo'reen." It is one of Paul Revere & The Raiders' heavier songs,  complete with fuzz bass. Although not as well known, I think it ranks along with "Just Like Me," "Kicks," "Hungry," and "Him Or Me – What's It Gonna Be?" as one of their best songs. Anyway, without further ado, here is "Mo'reen."