Friday, August 29, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
It was only by the 1950's problems arose due to over-damming. Mighty rivers such as the Colorado have become sluggish because too many dams were built along it. But in 1933, when the Bonneville Dam began construction on the Columbia River, dams were a viable source of power and water, and even liberal Woody Guthrie could find no fault with them.
In the spring of 1941, Woody Guthrie was hired by the Bonneville Power Administration to write some songs. The BPA was building the dam east of Portland, Oregon and they wanted some good press for the event. Today they may have hired someone like Paris Hilton or Miley Cyrus to write a few songs. Back then, the only person coming close to that level of fame was Woody Guthrie.
The BPA hired Woody Guthrie for thirty days. In that time, he wrote twenty-six songs, with titles like Roll On Columbia, Roll, Columbia, Roll, Columbia's Waters, The Biggest Thing That a Man Has Ever Done, and Oregon Trail. None were huge radio hits, but Guthrie got paid $10 per song and that was fine.
The songs, I have to say, are pretty good. I'd never heard this much Guthrie - my previous experience was with Billy Bragg and Wilco's Mermaid Avenue. That was a collection of Guthrie lyrics newly put to music, but the Bonneville Dam album was pure Guthrie: lyrics, music, singin' and playin'. Some people complain that folk music is too homogeneous; one song sounds just like the next. I was surprised at the variations, both in his lyrics and his voice. True, the tunes were often recycled folk standards, but I'm kind of a sucker for that old timey music anyway.
I also felt the thrill of catching Guthrie's references. Usually, folk songs take place in the South, or maybe in England (if you like Donovan), or the Midwest. I've never heard too many songs that take place in the Southwest or the Pacific Northwest. It's a different listening experience when you are familiar with the place names and can picture them in your mind.
Today the Bonneville Dam still stands, a testament to Guthrie's songwriting and the mad skillz of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Nearby there is a salmon run made of concrete steps; the fish can still swim upstream to their breeding grounds.
I am conflicted about the usefulness of dams. On the one hand, they are the original green power. They generate electricity and create reservoirs so farmers can grow crops. But, like so many good ideas, dams were overused and have become a detriment to the rivers they utilize. Maybe the answer is to take some of these dams down. (For the record, the Glen Canyon Dam would be my first suggestion.) Dams can still be part of our effort to stop the reliance on petroleum. With what we know now about river ecology and average yearly rainfall, we can better maintain the rivers and still keep the dams that keep western America truckin'.
A few resources:
Woody Guthrie Timeline.
A nice summary of the time Woody Guthrie spent near the Columbia River.
The Bonneville Dam.
Monday, August 25, 2008
As many of you have no doubt heard, Barack Obama chose his running mate over the weekend. Joe Biden, US Senator from Delaware. Joe Biden has voted on a number of bills since 1972, when he was first elected to the Senate. It's amazing how many things you can vote on in 36 years.
I'm not going to mask my disappointment here. While Biden seems like a great guy, a good running mate, and has a beautiful smile, he is not the person I would have chosen for Obama.What about the Man from Plains? Ol' Number 39? Is a Nobel Peace Prize not good enough for you, Mr. Obama? How about bestselling author? Habitat for Humanity? Do none of these qualities strike you as fitting credentials?
I shouldn't be too hard on the man. Maybe Obama asked Jimmy Carter and he refused. After all, Mr. Carter keeps a pretty busy schedule as it is. Being Vice President would cramp his style.
But a guy can dream. After all, the theme of Obama's candidacy is "hope." I "hope" Obama will read this blog one day and realize he's made a huge mistake. In the meantime, do not let this minor burp sway your position on Barack Obama. He's still a great candidate and worthy of your vote. I'll do some research and find out if there are any similarities between Joe Biden and Jimmy Carter.
Does anyone know if you can write-in a vice presidential candidate on election day?
Friday, August 22, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
In honor of Wall Arch, here is a drawing I did a while back. This arch sits near Moab, Utah, which is the closest town to Arches National Park. This arch probably knew Wall Arch.
Rest in peace, Wall Arch. We will miss your shade and your undisputed arch-ness.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
You may have heard of this character. His name is Indiana Jones. There was a movie about him this summer, called Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Yeah, maybe this blog is getting too obscure in its references.
I liked the movie, but there were mixed reviews and a lot of people didn’t think it was as good as the previous three. In particular, there was a lot of talk about multiple scripts and a long development process. It makes sense: 20 years after The Last Crusade, there must have been tons of ideas for
Having read the Darabont script and seen the finished movie, I’d like to compare the two. What were the major changes? Which characters had bigger parts, smaller parts, or were completely new? I will also attempt to answer the most burning question of all: which is better?
First, a bit of background. In 2001 or 2002 Steven Spielberg hired Frank Darabont to write the script, which came to be called Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods. Darabont said in interviews that he spent a year writing and rewriting under close supervision by Spielberg. After they had a script they were both happy with, he took it to George Lucas, who grimaced and threw it in the garbage. Lucas then hired David Koepp, another screenwriter, to rewrite. Koepp’s version, renamed Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, is what we see today. Was the rewrite necessary?
Frank Darabont made his name on such well-regarded Stephen King adaptations as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. (His most recent movie was another King adaptation, The Mist. It was not a huge hit in theaters but I really enjoyed it. Be sure to watch the black & white version if you rent it.) His projects tend to be studies on human emotion. In that way, he can take a premise that might seem pure fantasy and make it easily relatable.David Koepp has written some pretty big blockbusters.
What surprised me the most about the script was how close it was to the finished movie. Overall, script and movie run parallel to each other. The adventure is still about a mysterious Crystal Skull, a buried spaceship in
The touch that bothered me the most about the film is nowhere to be found in the script. The prairie dog, that hopelessly bad computer rendering that opens the film, is apparently George Lucas’ idea of a great opening shot. Darabont didn’t include it.
There aren’t as many corny references to Indy’s old age. I think, we see Harrison Ford, we already get how old he’s gotten. We don’t need to see him tripping or falling or whatever to show that he is an older man that he used to be. Let Indy age a little more gracefully. Going along with that, there is a very funny moment in the script when Indy is in the university library. His collected treasures are on display, under glass cases. He spontaneously decides he’s going to steal back the idol that nearly caused him to get crushed by a rock in
City of the Gods opens with Indy and Yuri on an archaeological dig. I really liked that – it showed how Indy was getting along as he became more professor and less adventurer. Of course, things quickly move toward action, but it’s nice to see Indy at work before we see him dragged into his old ways one more time.
There is a more coherent subplot regarding Indy’s suspicion as a traitor. Not only do we see agents at the beginning of the movie, he is actually followed into
The snake joke is better. In the jungle of
The dialog is just as bad as Crystal Skull, maybe worse. Every line seems to be ready for the trailer, strangely disconnected from everything around it.
Henry Jones, Sr. appears twice, briefly. Once in bathrobe and once at the end, where he sings a warbly song at his son’s wedding. Is this Sean Connery’s triumphant return to the screen? It struck me as a shameless tie-in; not necessary but something Darabont and Spielberg thought the audience would want to see. Also, at the beginning of the script Indy is an old bachelor living with his father. Wow, that’s sad.
The bad guys seem to be interchangeable and have little new to offer. Without Cate Blanchett, the script feels a little too much like “Indy runs from armed men” over and over. The new characters are all stereotypes with little new to offer.
The ending feels a little too much like the end of the Last Crusade. Too pat. Now Indy is immortal AND he has all the knowledge in the universe? Also, the aliens’ trap for the weak-minded treasure hunters is pretty obvious.
Cate Blanchett. There are few finer actors around, of either gender. Cate brings a certain comic weirdness necessary to any Indiana Jones movie. Without her, the bad guys would have been bland and forgettable. She was essential.
I also happened to like Shia LaBouf's character. I liked his character's entrance, and I liked the scenes he and Indy shared. Thinking of Indy as a dad gave the movie something new and differentiated it from the others. This was a fine way to show Indy’s age.
The university chase scene was better, even though it made less sense than the script. Why chase on foot when you can use motorcycles?
The ending was slightly better. I liked that the aliens were not made as definitely evil as they were in the script. There is more left open in this version. I know: George Lucas and ambiguity appearing in the same sentence? I’m going to chalk that up to the other makers of the movie. Possibly credit goes to David Koepp for not creating another race of evil aliens. Perhaps Spielberg was tired of making alien invasion movies. In any case, the result was more satisfying.
A small touch, but a nice one is that Indy appears "in costume" from the beginning of the film. In the script he doesn’t put on his fedora and jacket until nearly a third of the way in. This is just not acceptable. Indy needs to wear the costume as much as possible.
In Lucas and Koepp’s version, Indy sees an alien body at the beginning of the film. Why, then, does he act surprised when it turns out aliens are involved with the crystal skull? If you’re going to tip your hat like that, don’t try to act like nobody saw it.
Dialog remains a chief weakness, just as it was in the script. It isn’t hard to write witty banter. There should be a writer in
Overall, I have to give my endorsement to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While City of the Gods does the action scenes well and has (at times) a more mature tone, Crystal Skull dispenses with another suitor for Marion, a truly forgettable cast of bad guys, and an ending too similar to The Last Crusade for my taste. Also, did I mention Cate Blanchett was in Crystal Skull?I don't think it was a matter of Spielberg, Ford, and Lucas finding just the right story to tell. I think it was a case of egos, and of other projects diverting each of them. Personally, I think they should have made three more movies in quick succession. Not a trilogy per se, just three individual adventures, the final one leading to Indy's retirement as tenured professor. I like to imagine an epilogue with Indy as a grizzled old man in his 80's, teaching his final course to freshmen. He has so many stories to tell, so many that the students will never know to ask about. He will have become as mysterious and elusive as the objects he once sought from the ends of the Earth. That’s my