Spectacular Destruction

I have been watching the trailers and other footage of the soon to be released San Andreas and although the disaster scenes appear fantastic something seems off. Reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes are widely panning the film for the exact reasons I was fearing. The reviews are pretty consistent across the board that San Andreas is nothing more than disaster porn, no real plot and sadly no real characters or writing. That is fine if a viewer wishes to watch LA and San Francisco get demolished, again. Those two cities are 2 of 3 targets for disaster, the third being New York, I guess we could throw Washington DC in the mix and make it a nice round number. Back in the day disaster films were not about mass destruction, let me explain.

 

In 1972 Irwin Allen produced the Poseidon Adventure, a taught thriller about a small group of survivors trapped in a capsized luxury liner. The group struggles to escape an increasingly dangerous situation. This is Hollywood and there’s got to be a morning after, the audience just did not know which of the ragtag group would see that morning. The survivors struggle to overcome themselves and their violently overturned world. Steam, fire, water, and explosions were not nearly as dangerous as the group’s clashing personalities. The story is tight, the characters compelling and even 43 years later the film is just as good today. The ship was simply a set piece used to trigger deeper conflicts. If you have not seen Poseidon Adventure or it has been a few years, give it a watch for the movie is a true classic and a flawless gem of the genera and the first of the disaster trinity. The Poseidon Adventure was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won for best original song.

 

 

Irwin Allen sealed his title of master of disaster by producing 1974’s The Towering Inferno. Not only was the film a mix of two novels, The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N Scortia and Frank M Robinson it was produced by Fox and Warner. Two stories, two competing film companies and two competing lead actors surrounded by an all-star cast created a flaming, 4 hour, 135 floor masterpiece. Unlike the simplicity of Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno was an elegant tapestry of compelling characters and storylines. The flaming spire and the topsy-turvy Poseidon were just containers framing very human drama. Watching Steve McQueen and Paul Newman chew the scenery from both ends is a joy to watch and yet they do not overshadow the other characters. The Towering Inferno is and has been an absolute favorite movie of mine and with 8 Academy nominations and taking home 3.

 

Earthquake is the 3rd and final installment of the disaster trilogy. The producers attempted to use the dramatic formula of Poseidon and Inferno. The human element is in place but the massive destruction has taken a larger roll. Earthquake is the tipping point from human centered disaster films to destruction spectacular. There is none of the human hubris that is at the heart of Towering Inferno or the claustrophobic and intimate danger of Poseidon. The effects used in Earthquake are primitive, negative stretching and the blood spatter in the elevator scene is somewhat laugh inducing. In my mind Earthquake is the end of the great disaster films and the beginning of disaster porn. Earthquake was the 3rd highest grossing film of 1974 but it is far from the classic that Poseidon and Inferno are considered today.

 

The death of the good disaster movie can be tied directly into the rise of special effects. The use of computer modeling and rendering has made the scenes of mass destruction more spectacular than ever dreamed of in 74. It has become easier for directors and producers to split the earth and level entire cities than to create engaging characters and story lines. The movie have suffered greatly. The great modern disaster epics inflicted upon movie goers, thanks mostly to Roland Emmerich’s, Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow and 2012. The modern disaster flick is truly a disaster when compared to the early 70’s iterations. Very little more than quirky characters spouting quirky one liners superimposed on massive slick Rube Goldberg machines of distant and emotionless destruction. Sure that can be cool, and too much cool can be awesome but there is a danger zone where too much awesome can get stupid. The disaster scenes may be exquisite but that is not enough to make an entertaining film.

I would rather watch a well-crafted and tense human drama than slick effects extravaganzas. I have nothing against disaster and destruction I just want more than that from a film. Sure I could be getting old, crotchety, and filled with nostalgia for my childhood favorite films. I guess I have to accept that I am getting older, but it will be hard to convince me that any recent disaster film is as good as Poseidon, Inferno, and even the deeply flawed Earthquake. I will see San Andreas, I will not spend 14 to 20 dollars to see it on the big screen. On a cold winter day I will be sitting at home flipping channels and San Andreas will be playing. I will watch it then.

 

For now – GET OFF MY LAWN!

 

 

Please note that I did not forget about Airport (1970), I just chose to ignore it, it is my blog and I can do what I want

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Indian Dancers Cannot Wear Sun Glasses

Last year I submitted this image to a local photography club in the hopes that it would be selected for inclusion in a state wide photography contest.

 

The photo was immediately rejected by my fellow photographers. I still consider myself a hobbyist and a long way from a professional so I asked “why”. I was wondering if there was a problem with focus, exposure, white balance, composition etc. I was not quite prepared for the answer I received.

“I don’t like the sun glasses”

“If the dancer was not wearing sun glasses it would be perfect”

“The sun glasses are confusing.”

“The sun glasses are out of place”

I was pretty stunned but in hindsight I should not have been all that surprised. For generations Americans have been fed a strange static view of Native culture. Media and the education system has created and propagated a horse, leather, and feathers view of Indian people. Americans prefer their Indians as traditional as possible. This is probably the root of the rule that I and this young dancer violated.

Indian dancers cannot wear sun glasses.

If I had been more brave and less stunned I should have asked “why can’t Indian dancers wear sun glasses?”

Can cowboys wear baseball caps? Sure cowboys can wear whatever they want. No one expects or more to the point demands that cowboys wear only clothing or carry equipment from the 1800’s. The very idea is absurd on all levels. Unlike cowboys Indians are not allowed to violate the anachronistic popular conception that so many people hold. A cowboy is a cowboy even when wearing a baseball cap, yet a Native person that does not appear to have stepped out of an Edward S. Curtis image is deemed inauthentic to many observers.

I had enough wits about me to explain that wearing reflective sun glasses is normal, many dancers wear them but my words and even photographic evidence was not enough to sway deeply held views. Native culture is not canned or pickled for long shelf life. Healthy cultures continue to grow, change, and adapt to time, technology and other cultures. Only dead cultures never change.

In a real way I failed that evening.

Photography can be beautiful sunsets, majestic vistas, powerful or cute and cuddly animals, glamor shots, cute kids, and vacation memories. Photography can also shake the world, change perception, move people to action, and fundamentally change people, I am not saying the image I captured will cause a paradigm shift but I did want to challenge the viewers. I wanted them to think differently about Native people. I was shocked by how challenging the simple image above was for a good number of the people in the room.

This is my second shot at making the change.

 

Bonus content, just in case my readers still think the young dancer above is an anomaly. I bring you

Dancers in Sun Glasses!

 

 

 

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Marital Strife out of No where!

Last night I had a real life,” Well it’s Jake from State Farm” moment…

 

Let me explain, At the end of the month I have planned a photography trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks. I have been to Yellowstone twice before. Once when I was 8 and again about, wow was that 20 years ago? Yea I guess it was with Jonette. We both had a great time and I am really looking forward to the trip. In preparation I am looking for geotagged photography guides and I found 2 books and decided to go to the library and see if they could order them for me.

Ok now that is out of my system

They are ordering one of the photoguides, now I have to pray to make sure I get them before I leave for my trip. I pick up another interesting Yellowstone guidebook and a grilling cookbook go to the self-check out scan the books and grab my receipt. We get into the car and head home.

 

Jonette picks up the guidebook and starts flipping through it. As I am leaving the parking lot she says “Did you check out 3 books? I only saw you check out two?” I tell her I only have 2 books. By this time alarm bells are going off, how did the scanner pick up 3 books, boy I do hope that whoever checked out book #3 returns it because it is on my account. Jonette then reads the checkout receipt.

The scan is bad but the circled book is titled “Divorce after 50: your guide to uni” The rest is cut off. By this time the alarms have reached “Klingons off the starboard bow captain!” levels of urgency. “Did you check this book out? I only saw you check out 2 books not 3.” She hands it to me and I take a quick look, Well I checked out the Yellowstone one but not the divorce and the 3rd book is also different. Jonette takes it back from me and begins checking it out again. “Well at least I have 8 years to get all your money before you take off.” She quips. “I didn’t check that book out! And now I have to call the library to figure out what is going on.” thinking that this is just one more stupid thing on my plate.

 

Jonette then lets me off the hook. “The date on this receipt is Oct, 4, 2013 must be someone else’s.” She then grabbed the grilling book and my receipt falls out of it.

 

I am not the only one to use the library receipt as a bookmark.

 

Yikes… just Yikes. Jonette will mess with me for years over this.

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Peep cake, Peep Cake!, PEEP CAKE!

Making a better Peep!

On the first Saturday of every month my friends and coworkers gather for a party. The party is called 1st Saturday. We all bring food, and we all throw down some serious Noms, and play a game or two. Cards Against Humanity is in really heavy rotation right now. Jonette is always in a tizzy about what are we bringing to 1st Saturday. We can’t bring something we have brought sometime in the distant past. Well about 2 weeks ago she was flipping through a Food Network magazine and found a recipe for a “Peep Cake”

 

No it is not a cake made of Peeps; thank whatever gods you believe in for that. It is a cake with nuclear yellow icing and sugar. Jonette selected lemon supreme as her cake flavor and would make her own frosting. The yellow sugar was another matter that required several days to overcome.

We could find all kinds of sugar, big sugar crystals, and small granulated sugar crystals; the problem was that we could not find the classic radioactive yellow classic Peep color. All the white sugar we found was granulated or powdered. Natural sugar in the larger crystals we were looking for were darker in color. Jonette would use corn starch and food coloring and the result was always a dark gold color, which was not acceptable. I kept telling her to call a cake place and ask for yellow sanding sugar. Nope purchasing yellow sugar was not an option yet.

By Thursday night I grew tired of the endless failed experiments and the resulting crystalline detritus that had the kitchen looking a bit like a forgotten Lawrence of Arabia set. Even the cats were getting coated with sugar. If this had been summer time the ants would have been swarming. So I found a local cake supply place and told her “Try here!” I get home from work on Friday and surprise we had yellow sanding sugar.

Cake assembly was relatively quick and painless. The frosting however was not stiff enough and it was hard to sculpt into that classic Peep shape. I was lassoed into help with the final production stages; I grabbed a spatula and after some work did create a peepish shape. After cleaning the table, a few place mats, ceiling, walls, carving utensils, and cats the Peep cake was complete.

 

The Peep Cake was a huge hit at the party and after eating some of it, a party goer suggested that we cut a big gash in the head so it looked like Pac Man! Once the Pac Man modifications were complete another party goer used tooth picks to create a Hannibal Lector theme. Jonette claims that she was not responsible for the last transformation but I know she did it or encouraged another to do so.

The final remains of the cake were brought into the CQG kitchen. I sent out a message saying that the sad but delicious remains of a peep cake were available. It is an odd thing when you bring sweets into work. The cake or item will slowly be consumed until there is one serving left. That last serving will slowly get smaller and smaller as people pick at it but do not want to be the one to take the last of it. I understand their thinking. I want the cake but I cannot handle being “that guy” or “that girl” that takes the last piece of cake or donut or whatever.

I bit the bullet and took final responsibility for the peep cake and ate the last mouthful just a few minutes ago.

 

If you want to make your own Peep Cake go here.

 

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/peep-cake-recipe.html

 

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You Ate What?

Earlier this year Jonette and I would carpool to go to work. She would drop me off at the light rail station in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon. She had taken the day off but still wanted to carpool. I got to work just fine but my return trip was very different. I disembarked from the train, located the car and sat down in the driver’s seat as normal. Jonette looked horrible, really sick, like ebola sick, as if she was going to turn into Monty Python’s parrot at any moment sick.

Me “What’s wrong?”

Jonette “I ate something bad and now I do not feel good.”

Me “What did you eat?”

Jonette “I’m not going to tell you.”

I put the car in gear and reverse out of the parking spot and head for the exit of the parking lot. Jonette suddenly starts scrambling around for something. She strikes gold in finding an empty Cheezit box on the back seat, the remains of a recent road trip. Clutching the box tightly in her hands she bends over and ralphs violently into the box. A sticky sweet smell of raw cake batter fills the car.

Me “You ate raw cake batter again didn’t you?”

Jonette between hurls, “Yes”.

Me “How much did you eat?”

Jonette “Not all of it” *spew*

Me “That is not what I asked, How much did you eat?”

Jonette “half” she whimpers as she blows yet more chunks into the Cheezit box.

I am now rolling down the windows to try and alleviate the yeasty cake batter smell but it is no use, Jonette continues to evacuate her stomach with alarming frequency and violence. By this time I am not sure who wanted out more, me or the cake batter. I pull over twice on the 12 mile trip home to let poor Jonette toss her cookies alongside the road.

Once home I carefully extracted the now somewhat soggy Cheezit box from her clutches and toss it into the trashcan. It appears that her upchucks have concluded and I put her down on the couch with a blanket, pillows and a big bowl. Over the next 4 hours I needed to dump the bowl twice as she slowly recovered.

I have never seen her more miserable as that evening and even though it has been many months since the incident she has yet to eat raw cake batter. I do hope this trend continues, for both our sakes.

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Traditional Dance

Traditional dancers are exactly what the name implies; they are old style dancers using old style materials in their outfit. Traditional dancer use their movement to tell stories of the hunt and combat.

Early on Sunday morning, 9AM is very early on a powwow weekend, there was a veterans dance special. Vets from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan were asked to assemble and dance. Lakota’s, like all other Native nations, still highly honor their veterans and warriors. A small group of dancers dressed out and participated. The following is a pictorial representation of their story…

 

 

The dance begins, warriors bent over looking for evidence of their quarry. They move slowly, hunched over looking for the tracks or other signs of an enemy’s passage.

 

 

 

Tracks are found! The dancers are now more mobile still looking at the signs but moving towards their targets. It is time to chase something down.

 

 

 

 

Once the target is acquired the battle is engaged. The dancers range in a smaller area, body movements are exaggerated, dodging, weaving, and spinning to get the advantage over their foe.

 

 

 

 

The enemy is finally but inevitably finished off with a final blow or shot.

 

 

 

The dancers then celebrate their victory, their survival, to live another day!

 

 

 

 

There are other stories as well. Hunts and the rescue of a fallen warrior are also danced.

Many years ago I was dancing at Daniel’s Park Tall Bull Memorial Grounds just south of Denver. At the time there was a very large light post in the exact center of the dance arbor. There were 5 or so other dancers out there with me and we were given a sneakup song. We all started dancing in our own way; there was no communication between us. At some point near the end of the song we all decided that the light pole was our enemy and on the very last beat of the drum we all struck the pole with our dance sticks. As the song died out we stood there and looked at each other as smiles crept over our faces, we had all danced the same story. It remains one of those very strange synchronis, yes apparently I just made that word up and I like it so it will stay, moments in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Powwow Photography

Powwows are a public celebration of Native song, dance, food and culture that are open for anyone to enjoy. No one tribe can claim full ownership of the powwow but each nation has added their own style and flavor to the family friendly celebrations. Capturing the colors and movement of a powwow is as rewarding as it is challenging. Conditions at powwows can range from bright sunlit outdoor arbors to dark indoor gymnasiums. Both venues have unique challenges that a photographer needs to overcome.

Fees –

Photography is encouraged at powwows; however there may be a small photo and video fee that is requested by the powwow committee. This fee is almost never required of participants using cell phone and smaller digital point and shoot cameras. If you are using a DSLR camera with larger lenses it is best to ask about these fees at the dancer registration desk before shooting. You will be handed a photo/video pass that needs to be displayed prominently on your equipment. There are also some basic behavior rules that photographers should follow during their shoot.

10 Powwow Photography rules –

  1. Listen to the Master of Ceremonies the MC, he is there to not only inform and instruct he will have an endless supply of really bad jokes to throw out during the powwow.
  2. The MC will ask spectators to stand during the grand entry, invocation, flag song, and victory dance, please stand when requested to do so.
  3. Dancers in the dance circle are free game, shoot to your heart’s content. If dancers are not dancing and outside the circle please ask permission first.
  4. Do not interfere or chase the dancers, stay on the edge of the dance circle. A good rule of thumb is to go no further into the dance circle than the drum groups.
  5. There will be an arena director, if he asks anything of you or gives you directions please follow them. In the old days arena directors carried whips or sticks and would use them on dancers and spectators that were not following instructions.
  6. During the competitions there will be judges standing or moving around the outside of the dance circle, stay clear of them so they can do their job. You can identify them by clipboards and their serious looks.
  7. Please do not photograph any feather pickup ceremonies. When an eagle feather drops from a dance outfit; 4 veteran dancers will be asked to dance around the fallen feather and retrieve it from the ground. Once again listen to the MC he will let everyone know when this is happening.
  8. Flash or Speedlites, I must confess that this is a personal rule. Before I picked up a camera I was a traditional dancer and I developed an intense dislike of photographers using a speedlite. It was distracting to me, especially during contests.
  9. During intertribals if you ever feel the need to get out there and dance, go ahead and do so, that is what intertribals are for.
  10. Feel free to talk to the dancers, singers, spectators, and vendors interact with them when not behind the view finder.

     

It is not necessary to have large and expensive equipment. I have made some spectacular images using a point and shoot digital camera and even the camera on my cell phone. The disadvantage of a point and shoot digital is many seem to have a serious lag time between hitting the shutter button and actual shutter response. I have found that it is nearly impossible to get a good image of the fast moving fancy dancers. If you have a quick reacting point and shoot give it a try. Cell phones and DSLR cameras have much faster shutter response and are therefore easier to use.

 

I will follow up this post with more information regarding suggested equipment, and the more technical aspects of powwow photography in the near future.

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