Jul 19, 2009

Square America: The Beach

LA has been hit with a heat wave, so let's go to the beach!

I like this photo a lot. I like the bluntness with which the pair of shoes draw attention to the absence of their owner - assumedly the photographer. We are rarely this aware that we are peering over the shoulder of someone when we look at a photo.

The collector of found photographs does not just pick up anything at random. It's a deliberate, meticulous search for the accidental art. What makes the collector salivate can be a number of things; an artlessly artful composition, odd subject matter, unintended social commentary, an innocently staged cliche.

These square format color - and sometime BW - photos were common in the 1960's, but disappeared in the early 1970's. Some have date stamps, some don't. They must have been connected to a certain type of process or equipment, but I have not been able to find out anything about it.

If anyone can enlighten me on the subject, it would be greatly appreciated.

Jul 11, 2009

Scenic Route

I have a map and I know how to use it. Well... not entirely. I have a tendency to make wrong turns, map or no map. Fortunately iPhone GPS is there to save my directionally challenged arse. Though, good things might come out of bad turns. I would have never found this field across the llama farm if I didn't go down the wrong road. By the way, can you really make a living llama farming? Who buys llamas? For what purpose?

Living in The Valley the quickest way for me to get out of town is going North, to the San Gabriel Mountains, through Angeles National Forest. I usually just look at my Thomas Guide and pick a road. Yesterday it was Lake Hughes Road. There are several lakes up there, Castaic, Hughes and Elizabeth.

There are odd little settlements along the roads. Some, like Green Valley, are actual towns, others are just clusters of houses along two-lane highways. Same as when I drive along Old Topange Canyon Road to the coast, I wonder what do the people living there do? Do they commute two hours a day into the city? There don't seem to be a whole lot of job opportunities locally. There definitely seem to be a contingent of artist types.

This is the Bouquet Canyon Reservoir. No people allowed.

A few weeks ago I took a long meandering trip with a friend to Acton and thereabouts. We were driving down on Soledad Canyon Rd. when we spotted this crazy miniature western town. It is like a shabby Hollywood set for kids in the middle of nowhere.

There were also some horses, two teepees, gallows, and a gumball machine at the premises. This is what I like about Southern California: The most unusual is totally normal here.

Right next door there is Tippi Hedren's Shambala Preserve. It deserves a little explanation. You might remember Tippi Hedren from Hitchcock's Birds, or as the mother of Melanie Griffith. In the 70's Tippi and her husband at the time, Noel Marshall, produced, filmed a movie called Roar. The film took 11 years to finish, cost $17 million, and made only $2 million worldwide - it's been called "the most expensive home movie ever made." The movie is about a family living in Africa (?) with a couple of elephants and dozens of big cats - lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs. During filming several cast and crew members were attacked by the big cats, but miraculously nobody died. After filming Tippi Hedren set up the Roar Foundation which now cares for abandoned and rescued big cats.

By the way, next to the mini Deadwood, there is a camp ground. We chatted up the lady in the office and she told us that at night they can hear the lions roar.

PS. According to the L.A. Times Tippi had a hand in (nyuk-nyuk) the nail salon business being dominated by Vietnamese Americans.

Jul 8, 2009

Take a Hike

I figured I should check out the Malibu Creek State Park before it gets shut down. The entrance is by the intersection of Mulholland Hwy and Las Virgenes Rd. Mulholland is one of my favorite drives whenever I start to feel too claustrophobic in the city.

It took me a while to get oriented. To be honest, I never did. I simply just picked a trail that looked promising and kept going. It ended up being a nice six-mile hike, or rather walk.

The park has a little bit of everything; grasslands, high peaks, streams, small lakes, forest. I saw a couple of large eagles of some sort, a few rabbits and a bunch of lizards.

According to wikipedia:

"Malibu Creek State Park is a California state park near Malibu, in Calabasas. It opened to the public in 1976, This majority of the park is made up of land donated by Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan. Other parts of the ranch added later were owned by paramount studios and fox studios. Most recently an area formerly used by Soka university was annexed to the park. It is known as gillete ranch because the buildings were build by the original owner Gillete the razor manufacturer."

I had no idea. I did find the place where they once shot MASH. Some rusty old vehicles are still there.

There was also a shed with a sign on it, saying that due to repeated break-ins, the shed is now unlocked, and please respect the display inside and close the door once you are done. So I did. There were a couple of display signs and the road marker with the distance to places from Seoul to Boston, but I doubt that it was the original one. (What the heck is that called anyway?)

I think that mountain in the background might be the one over which the helicopters fly in, during the opening credits of MASH.

By the way, Robert Altman's movies are hit and miss for me. He is universally hailed for Nashville, but I could never stand it. Maybe because it doesn't have a single likable character. MASH on the other hand is one of my favorites, despite of its intermittent undercurrent of misogyny. At the time I first arrived to the US I had no idea that MASH was also made into a tv show, and was very confused seeing it in the tv guide scheduled in half an hour increments Monday through Friday. When I tuned in just got more flummoxed; it kinda looked like the movie, but it was not. I would have felt like I was on an episode of the Twilight Zone - if only I wasn't completely ignorant of that show too. I had similar experience with Beauty and the Beast - which I knew only as an old French film, directed by Jean Cocteau.

PS. Did you know that the lyrics of theme song for MASH ("Suicide Is Painless") were written by Robert Altman's then 14-year old son Mike, who made more money on royalties than his father did for directing the movie?

(Photos taken with iPhone 3GS)

Jul 1, 2009

First Sheep, Then Dogs, Next Grandma

So I read the news that 9/11 search-and-rescue hero dog Trakr was cloned 5 times. Couldn't have happened to a nicer dog. He is not the only dog cloned either. If you have the dough a South Korean bio company will be more than happy to deliver you another Sparky, or five.

You know that human cloning will happen eventually. Not because it should, but because we are human, and we can't stop ourselves. It was unfair to give Pandora the gift of curiosity and a closed box.

I feel vaguely apprehensive about all this. There are of course all the moral and ethical concerns, and the legal ramifications should be interesting. But my source of unease is more of ruminative kind.

I've been wrecking my brain - and the internet - for movies involving clones, that are at all worth mentioning, I found them to be a mixed bag, from the woefully bad to wickedly good. Multiplicity with Michael Keaton turned out to be a lukewarm romantic comedy. The Island is an unimaginative mess of chase scenes, special effects and soggy plot directed by the dependably dreadful Michael Bay. Alien Resurrection was probably the most regrettable installment of the Alien(s) franchise. A huge disappointment considering that it was directed Jean-Pierre Jeunet - half of the French director duo of such wacky fun movies as Amélie and Delicatessen. On the other hand, the two of them made the darkly comic City of Lost Children, featuring several misshapen copies of Dominique Pinon. Definitely one of the good ones. So is the recent Moon. The 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is by now regarded as Cold War era horror/scifi classic, and even its 1978 remake got a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Probably the most interesting treatment of the relationship of clones were in Moon, where the two did not get along right away. Who said that you are compatible with your own self? Could your internal struggles become external if there were two of you?

What all those movies, good and bad, share is that their clones are always the same age as their originals. That's all fine and well for fiction, but that would require biotechnology to be able to accelerate growth/aging then slow it to normal speed at will. I don't think we are anywhere close to achieving that. Dogs of course reach maturity in a couple of years, but with humans it takes a couple of decades. That opens a whole another can of worms.

What if you decided to raise your own clone as your child? Maybe you'd think that you could protect your younger self from all the mistakes and missteps you made in life, and impart all the wisdom you learned from them. Would it work? I'm somehow doubtful. I don't think there is any guarantee that you would even get along with your own younger self. Would it be poetic justice having to be mother to your own teenage self?

I could go on, but my head hurts.