Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Bible on Vinyl, and Apps

A few weeks ago I caught a moving episode of “The Twilight Zone” from its first season: “The Last Flight,” written by Richard Matheson, who recently passed away.

A Nieuport biplane emerges from a cloud and lands on a modern American Air Force base in France. The biplane looks pitifully fragile next to the modern aircraft. Major Wilson orders the pilot from the plane and takes him to see Maj. Gen. Harper. The pilot is a British man who identifies himself as Lt. William Terrance Decker and seems genuinely confused when the American officers interrogate him as to why he is wearing a World War I uniform and flew his plane into military air space. Decker thought he was landing on an Royal Flying Corps base in France, which the Americans knew was an early precursor to their own base.

Wilson asks him today’s date, and when Decker tells him March 5, 1917, Wilson informs him that it’s March 5, 1959. Realizing the officers aren’t joking, Decker states that he had become lost in a cloud in which he could no longer hear his plane engine, while flying patrol with his comrade, Captain Mackaye, and once he emerged from the mysterious cloud, he found this base.

General Harper becomes more suspicious as to Decker’s intentions. Mackaye---now Air Vice Marshal Mackaye, a great British military hero in World War II---was coming to the base that day, and surely Decker’s unauthorized appearance was no coincidence. Decker protests that he did not know that, and furthermore, before he became lost in the cloud, Mackaye was under attack from seven German planes. Thus Mackay couldn’t be coming to the base that day, for he had died in 1917.  

Harper orders that Decker be taken into custody until Mackaye arrives, at which point they can get to the bottom of Decker’s story. Major Wilson feels that Decker seems sincere, though his supposed time travel makes no sense, so he and Decker talk. How did Mackaye survive that hopeless fight in 1917? Why is Decker so distressed and ashamed when he learns of Mackaye’s heroism? And why is so reluctant to see him? Would Mackaye even show up at the base that day, given Decker’s certainty that he had been killed forty-two years before?

Matheson’s script is a wonderful exploration of facing one’s fears, dealing with regret, and the seizing of second chances. At the end, the time travel theme is well done, fitting seamlessly into the story. The Twilight Zone's unsettling karma provides us yet another set of life lessons.  

Alexander Scourby and Kenneth Haigh
My daughter is a theatre person, and so I like to look up the careers of actors to see what else they had done. Kenneth Haigh (Decker), who turned 82 this year, was known in English theatre and film, and appeared in Cleopatra and A Hard Day's Night, while Simon Scott (Wilson) was a busy character actor whose many credits included "Trapper John, M.D." General Harper was played by Alexander Scourby, who also had a long acting career. I learned that Scourby (whose attractive and resonant voice I’d noticed in this episode) was noted for his narration and audio recordings and, in fact, he had recorded the entire Bible for LPs, in addition to about 500 other books.

These Bible recordings later became available on cassettes and then CDs, and when I checked ebay I saw several sets available, both new sets and vintage LPs. Looking around online at some articles, I learned Scourby’s recordings were sold by a variety of companies before court cases finally straightened out copyright issues.

I listened to some of Scourby’s Bible recordings on YouTube and they are, indeed, wonderful to listen to! Although I hate to have a 62-CD set of anything around the house (I’ve downsized my CD collection considerably), I think I’ll listen to more of them on YouTube. (Plus, his readings are available at a phone app!) How would Scourby and his rich voice tackle some of the Torah law codes or the 1 Chronicles genealogies or the depressing prophetic oracles of doom?

But I’ve also a nostalgic motivation, because I still have my first KJV Bible, which I’ve written about here, and I’ve warm memories of some of my parents spoken-word records in the 1960s----not this Scourby set, but others. Our little turntable seemed to go so slowly at 16 rpm, compared to the high speed of our already-antique 78s. Nostalgia is perhaps not the best motivation for loving the Bible’s text, but memory certainly is---memory of blessings past, memory of previous instruction (cf. 2 Tim. 1:5), aspects of earlier faith with which one can connect now---and memory was a motivating factor when I felt led to deepen my faith and discipleship during my college years.

Here is Scourby, reading the Letter to the Hebrews: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQB1UZWsxEY

1 comment:

  1. SPOILER ALERT. Realizing what he had to do, Decker escapes from Major Wilson, returns to his plane, and flies into the mysterious cloud. After a while, Air Vice Marshal Mackaye (played by another distinguished actor, Robert Warwick) arrives, and Major Wilson importunately asks if he knew a Lt. Decker. Mackaye---without knowing the day's previous events---says that indeed he knew Decker, who had years before saved his life! He said that when (Mackaye) was under attack during WWI from seven German planes, Decker had disappeared into a cloud and seemingly was gone---but then Decker suddenly reappeared and shot down three of the Germans before he himself was shot down. After Mackaye verifies that the Germans had never returned Decker's personal effects, as was customary, a nonplussed Gen. Harper produces Decker's effects, confiscated earlier in the day, proving that Decker had indeed visited 1959 and then returned to 1917 to save his friend.