Sunday, October 20, 2013

Good Movies and Their Place


7. Across the Universe [2007]. A tale of the 1960s set to Beatle music. Beautiful music, wonderful adaption of those songs, and a story suited to explaining the times. What the 19060s were about all tied in one. The geographic view is of Merseyside, United Kingdom; Liverpool,, United Kingdom; New York City; and Princeton, New Jersey. The English locations show an industrial zone and the housing of those living there. It has that old, dirty look, certainly one of some poverty. New York city is the stereotypic New York of apartments and urban life. Princeton, New Jersey is a typical university site.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Good Movies and Their Place


3. Peyton Place [1957]. My favorite book made into a great screen film. Melodrama at its best. Diana Varsi is marvelous as Alison MacKenzie. Hope Lange does an excellently troubled Salena Cross. And David Nelson not trailing his younger brother is a treat for those of that age. Lloyd Nolan is crotchety as the old town doctor. Russ Tamblyn is near totally perfect in his role as Norman. And all of this is Grace Metalious’s marvelously constructed story of small town New England life. And the view of New England is breathtaking. Your geographic view combines some stereotypic icons of New England like the leaves and the lobsters, with a 1941 look at the nature of housing and life.  The images in the credits are particular place setting and beautiful.  The view from Peyton’s Rock gives an over view of the area.  Of course, just the scenes of daily life take lace ina tre lined, lake, ocean area.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Casablanca [1942]

2. Casablanca [1942]. What can one say. The judgment of the world places this one on top most of the time. Made on the fly, it turned out one of the best stories ever told. Ingrid Berman and Humphrey Bogart carry this tale of love and war over the top. Claude Raines lightens the emotional load all the way. The location is Casablanca. while the location of the film you are watching is Morocco, the movie was filmed in Hollywood with one scene at Van Nuys airport. Nonetheless, one gets the look of the desert and the heat. Of course the most geographic line in the movie is where Claude Raines and Humphrey Bogart are outside talking.
Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.
or watch Misinformed.
[Sources: IMDb. 2013. IMDb. Online. . The Worldwide Guide to Film Locations . 2013. The Worldwide Guide to Film Locations. Online.]  Video Link]

Tuesday, September 17, 2013



Media Studies people are now beginning to use the word “trope” to refer to those items TV and other media people use to call upon elements the audience already generally knows to bring them into the story. As the site TVtropes says: “Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.” [Source: TV Tropes] Or, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency defines a troupe as “A troupe is a common pattern in a story or recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience.”

For geographers the term would include the place elements used by media people. How is a story of California or New York City told among media presentations. Heavy crime in New York city would be a trope used by many shows to create believability among the viewers.  The image part of the standards would relate to tropes.  The South Pacific as paradise is a trope.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

As Time Goes By


As Time Goes By invokes the great song from Casablanca, but focuses in on a more routine love story of two people, once in love during the early 50s, who are separated by war and a postal fluke. A misdirected letter leads the pair to think they are not a couple any more. Decades later they meet and discover the damage the fluke of delivery has done to them. Lionel and Jean begin life as lovers over again from a more mature perspective.

The series stars Judy Dench as jean and Geoffrey Palmer as Lionel. Dench has, of course, fame in movie circles in America. Among the other characters Janet Henfrey as Mrs. Bale is notable for her rigid, quirky behavior. Her rigid devotion to order and precise living is just wild to watch. She also connects into village traditions and marks their importance.

For geography you get to see the Holland Park section of London, where they live, and Hampshire, where Lionel's father Rocky has a country home. Beyond that you get to see a detailed slice of British life involving urban housing and issues contrasted with the cute eccentric nature of rural village life.

Holland Park is a park and a district in the west central part of London. The neighborhood is fairly well off and clean. Depending upon where you live in the Unnited Sates, the tight row house building structures may seem different. The suburban-rural viewer will find this very different. One takes a high stairs down to the sidewalk, often quite a number of steps. The front yard (garden in British terms) is tiny to non-existent.

Housing and life urban houses are tight and compact. Kitchens are small as far as appliances go. One notices the smallest of the refrigerator in many British comedy series. It is often the size of a normal American dishwasher. Along with this note they shop more often. Lionel often goes out just to get some sausages for breakfast. Things are minimal in storage at home. The pub is a focus for life as people seem to regularly just go out for a drink. The urban ones used seem like quiet places of discussion.

Hampshire is the setting for a number of funny episodes. It is a short drive to the West of London, and Jean and Lionel will make that drive often in certain periods of the show. That drive is along mostly clear of traffic country roads. They are well maintained and paved. Here we see the estate of fame. A large imposing house often seen in other media places. The garden area is large. We might note for English majors that Hampshire is the home of Jane Austin and Charles Dickens. Farming is obviously important, but of that smaller European nature versus North Dakota and Minnesota.

Life in the rural areas is traditional in British comedies. The locals can be, shall we say, different. as many 1940s Hollywood pictures used rural New England for people of quirky character, so do the producers use rural England for them. They have their traditional roles in village life, and seem not to question those spots in society. Part of that life is in very old fashioned looking pubs.

Of note, but not obvious to the viewer without background, is the tension of new people versus older residents. The islands of the United Kingdom have the most significant display of this. Richer urbanites move in and do not quite fit with the more poverty leveled local folk. This element if lightly seen here, but is present over the series. Out in the islands, this variables has led to more massive problems of land price increases and such.

And then there is Mrs. Bale. One ginat gem of a character. She is Rocky's housekeeper and epitomizes the rural traditionalist. She is eccentric to the max. She is precise. She listens to the shipping forecast (a detailed weather forecast of the weather in the channel, for shipping use), though one is never sure how this influences local weather. A joy to watch while seeing a stereotypical rural British character.

The show ran 1992-2002 with a 2005 reprise to catch up on things. Your PBS station is the place to look for it as many have it in rotation.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Tommy (1975)


Tommy was written by The Who.  It follows the life of a traumatized young fellow who is blind, dumb, and deaf.  He is, of course, the famous “Pinball Wizard.”  While shot at several sites in England, most notably around Portsmouth, the closing scene is shot at Borrowdale in the Lake District in Cumbria. 

In final the scene Tommy climbs a rocky crag of a mountain.  We see Borrowdale Water (lake) below.  A stunning scene showing a part of the United Kingdom.  The he Cambrian Mountains, which reach a peak in the Kjollen of Norway, are progressively reduced as they show across Scotland, England, and Ireland.  well worn down, most often with full vegetative coves.  The Highlands are their popular reference, as in the Highlands of Scotland.  While reaching over 8000 feet in Norway, they top at only over 3000 feet in the UK.  They do receive a height boost by the fact that the valley floors are often rather close to sea level, thus providing a great visual extent to the mountains.

Take at look:

Tommy-The Conclusion

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ride the Wild Surf


Ah, a surfing movie made to depict real surfers, as compared to the “beach movie” group who surfed, but mainly played on the beach. This grouridethewildlcp also plays on the beach, but the focus is on the surfing. It was 1964 and surfing was hot, but not ready for the British Invasion of that year.

Hawaii is the location for Ride the Wild Surf. While a number of beaches are mentioned or included, Waimea Bay is the main location for the real action. In any case, it is the place for the “wild surf” and the whole meaning of the picture. Note the meteorological basis for the movie. This is a regular event. Storms create a surfing contest most every year. The waves are in the 18-30 foot range at Waimea Bay. This makes them “big.” According to the Willis Brothers [surfers], “Waimea Bay off Oahu, Hawaii, Mavericks off California, and Todos Santos off Mexico are great great big waves.” [Great Big Wave]. Waimea Bay seems to be the place where a surfer must go to make a name for him/herself as being a big wave surfer. At Waimea Bay, a lava ridge apparently extends outward from the bay. As big storms in the Aleutians generate waves to 50 feet out in the ocean, they break on this ridge then flatten only to reemerge as gigantic waves near the shore [Surfline].

Avoided for a long time because of the location’s role in ancient Hawaiian culture, this changed in the 1950s as surfers took the chance on these super waves. As the plot of the film goes, a storm off the Aleutians has sent these big waves toward Hawaii. The progress of the storm and the subsequence waves is followed on the radio. It is big news. Three surfers [Tab Hunter, Fabian, and Anthony Hayes] arrive from the mainland to take their chances at being the last one to ride the “big ones.” In so dws3oing they get to take a chance at getting that last ride’s fame and meet the loves of their lives in Barbara Eden [pre-“ I Dream of Jeanie”], Shelly Fabares, and Susan Hart. Of course, the mainland folk are up against the local surf bums, of which James Mitchum is the main figure.

Side trips are made to a waterfall for some crazy late night jumping meant to prove drunken courage, and an Hawaiian farm in need of some repair because an earlier surfer husband surfed too much. The film shows the diversity of the island’s population, but heavily focuses on Caucasian mainlanders. . The true point of the film is ”surfer culture” and the ethnic mix is not important. Some local Asians sell fireworks, but they are rather stereotyped and made to seem foolish. Hawaiians seem minimized. Susan Hart appears to represent the Hawaiians from her physical appearance, but her mother is clearly not the source of Hawaiian genes.

One of the drawbacks of the film is that the actors seem to wait for the great waves in nearly still waters. The obviousness of these not being out in the real waters of Wiamea Bay strikes a note of cheapness. So much of the film is real surfing; it was unfortunate that they could not do a better job of filming the surfers waiting for the surf.

A great film of an era from the past. It is flawed but then what can you say of a movie that has Barbara Eden as a brunette and Shelly Fabares as a blonde. It violates nature. It has to be confusing to older Boomers.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2005. Geography in Media: Ride the Wild Surf. Dakota Alliance XV (3): Summer 2005: 7.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Whale Rider


New Zealand has been going through a rare state of popularity with young Americans of late. The Lord of the Rings saga has been filmed there, and I have even seen some contests on television offering trip to New Zealand to be a part of that epic work.

Whale Rider involves a more realistic presentation of New Zealand, and, at the same time, is a great story with multicultural themes.

What you get to see is Whangara on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. This is a small Maori community that enjoys one wonderful view of the ocean. The hills have some roughness to them, and the view of the world is widescreen in nature. The Maori, being Polynesian, have a traditional focus on the ocean. Their whole culture is based on its relationship to the sea.

What you get to enjoy and appreciate is the story of a Maori girl who challenges the gender and historic circumstances of her family and people. Her grandfather is a Maori chief. He is troubled by the loss of concern and respect for the traditions of his people. His son is an artist involved in marketing Maori art in Germany. The son seems to have no interest in his potential tribal position and in village life. There are few of postmodern economic prospects to be found in the remote village. Also, his son died at birth. In sorrow he left his son's twin sister to be raised by the Grandfather. The daughter is interested. Her name is Piekia.

Piekia is drawn to her culture. She embodies everything the chief seeks, but is a twelve-year-old woman. The Grandfather has trouble accepting her role in the group's future until several whales are beached. While this process is not understood, and research continues on this phenomenon, the whales have a traditional importance in Maori culture. Peikia understands this and takes over to save the whales, finally riding one back to the sea. This is so significant to the village as it recalls that the Maori came to New Zealand guided by another Peikia riding a whale.

The issue, which few Americans would know, is that the Maori are a Polynesian group that reversed the route by which they penetrated the Pacific. Arising out of Southeast Asia, the Polynesians settled the South Pacific migrating from island to island as their population reached its maximum on each progressive island. Eventually they turned north and settled Hawaii. Around 1000 AD, the Maori settled New Zealand by reversing that path. From "Hawaiki" they sailed to the southwest. However, "Hawaiki" is a little mysterious. Once I read it was Hawaii, but the Cook Islands seem to be the more current choice.

Whale Rider is a great story, with great geography. It links feminist issues with geography, anthropology, and multiculturalism. It illustrates the limited postmodern futures of native cultures caught in remote locations without good prospects in the global economy. It also shows the beauty and flaws of a far off place.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2003. Geography in Media: Whale Rider. Dakota Alliance XIII(5): November-December 2003: 7.

Friday, June 07, 2013



The Who’s rock-opera, Tommy, came to the screen in 1975. The Who pushed the limits of music in the 1960s and 1970s. Their stage performance was overshadowed by their tendency to smash their guitars and drums. This was music that lost its edge if played softly. A local band with their Fender amps up full still lacked the presence to make a song by The Who sound right.

Tommy is a massive indictment of postmodern life. It does this in a British setting showing the beauty and ugliness of the physical and social landscapes. While specifically exposing the underlying personal damage and conflict between the World War II and post-war generations, it digs at the fake lifestyles of today’s plastic world, a world at odds with the sustainable and sustaining natural world. Even the continual, near unrelenting build of the music speaks to the tension. It makes you nervous by itself.

Early on Tommy shows the human damage done by World War II. Thinking his father dead in a plane crash, Tommy’s mother [Ann-Margret] gives birth to Tommy then remarries. The real death of Tommy’s father at the hands of his postwar parents isolates Tommy from life. He becomes a “deaf, dumb, and blind kid.” He has shut out a world that alienates him internally. His parents try, but they cannot find any help for Tommy from among modern society’s psychological and spiritual counselors. The bankruptcy of society and its inability to deal with the sensitive human spirit are massively clear. Ann-Margret cavorting in a massive flow of baked beans drives the point home.

Of course, Tommy becomes the “pinball wizard.” He beats the champion while the famous song blares that Tommy plays by sense of smell. Pinball is a metaphor for postmodern life. It is an endless playing of a game that brings fame and acclaim, but no relief from real inner pain.

Tommy does revive his spirit and life. “See me, feel me, touch me” is the line Tommy repeats over and over in his frustration with society’s unconcern for his heart. In the end he sees, feels, and is touched. That spirit collapses in decadence as his stepfather immediately takes him down the road of religion for profit. He becomes the messiah for a bankrupt postmodern world. The short attention span of those in that world soon allows them to turn from Tommy’s healing message to one of disappointment with the underlying dirtiness of the money-grubbing.

The geography is that of everyplace, yet inherently British. The geography provides beauty and horror. The opening scene takes you to a British lake in which Ann-Margret and Tommy’s father share an idyllic moment, a picnic on a rock high above the lake, a nude swim in the rushing water in front of a waterfall. The beauty turns dark as the damage of the Blitz rips the dream world apart. The caged protective prison that is Ann-Margret’s bed during the raids is a stark reminder of the horror of it all. Afterward, the lower-class environments of his stepfather are an introduction to a hidden Britain. We often see the fine houses and castles, but now the haunts of the lower class are the focus. Things brighten as Tommy is cleansed in a lake set in the Caledonian-Age hills.

The natural world’s pull on people is a part of Tommy’s rebirth. Ann-Margret is dancing in a wonderful orange dress with a slit down the front. She is imploring Tommy to speak. She finally offers to break the mirror that holds them in a fake environment of cloth-hung walls and garish colors. They break free to the purity of water. They splash around in it as Tommy sings and opens his eyes. He is free, and the natural world is his host. The water is pure as can be. The sun is high in the sky and bright as the camera can take. “…and freedom tastes of reality” he sings finding the natural world. He runs through a war scene where they ignore his pleas. He ends up on a beach where people watch him run while seated in their cars, their sun glasses on, blank stares on their faces. Ann-Margret follows him into the water and is washed herself of her makeup, her jewels. She is baptized.

Tommy’s fame as a wizard brings young people to him as a messiah. This falls apart as they become disillusioned with the perversions of money on faith.

Tommy is an examination of the bankruptcy of global culture where plastic replaces reality. That world will not satisfy what human beings need.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2001. Geography in Media: Tommy. Dakota AllianceXI(2): March-April 2001: 11.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Summer Place


A Summer Place [1959] is one of those Hollywood potboilers that filled theaters decades ago and now pops up on AMC and TCM. Based on Sloan Wilson’s novel, it is a 1950s coming of age epic that treats the viewer to some of the best footage of the coast and islands of Maine that can be found. Rocks and waves galore, unfortunately it is all California.

The story is that of a crumbling family desperately attempting to hold on to the family’s island resort home. Arthur Kennedy and Dorothy McGuire are the last remnants of the family. His drinking is damaging her ability to keep the guests they have. Richard Egan, a lifeguard at the place long ago aMV5BMjE3MzkyMzUxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzE3NjM0MQ@@._V1._SY317_CR25,0,214,317_nd now wealthy, and his wife Constance Ford show up and the sparks fly. The lifeguard is now the rich guest. Kennedy cannot stand it. Of course, Egan and McGuire had an affair during the earlier era, but then moved on, though not in their hearts.

Complicating this are the children played by Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee. They fall for each other amid struggles over virginity, love, kissing, sex, and what ever else they can toss in. Here in 2004, one wonders about the quaintness of it all. Troy and Sandra move ahead in their love, while Egan and McGuire rekindle.

The setting for all of this action is Pine Island. Even the opening credits have the crashing of waves, all set to Max Steiner’s brilliant music. [Percy Faith’s more famous Theme from a Summer Place is actually the love motif for Dee and Donahue. If you can recall dancing to that, or have the record album, then you are a true child of the early 60s.] Donahue takes Dee on a sail around the island ending in a wreck. The crashing waves take their toll mostly on the parents. Everything comes to a head with Egan and McGuire getting back together after twin divorces. Donahue and Dee find themselves in each other’s arms after a little more time.

The most spectacular scenes come as Dee and Donahue visit the now married Egan and McGuire in their prairie-style Frank Lloyd Wright home on the beach. If you are into Wright, you just want to join them in this magnificent house. If you just need to see it: try The site lists it as the Mrs. Clinton Walker house, on the beach in Carmel, CA as built in 1948 and since altered by another architect.

The human setting is one that shows the pleasant summers of Maine, but contrasts that with descriptions and suggestions of the lonely nature of island life during the winter. Health care requires notifying the Coast Guard for transportation. The mail comes by boat. The place screams “empty.” Aside from the geographic elements, the film is a time capsule of the values and questions of the 1950s. Dee worries about dabbling in a sexual world while remaining a “good girl.” The parents tussle over admitting their children have sexual sides, or whether to place them in straight jackets while ignoring the issue. In the end Dorothy McGuire has the classic line, said to her son played by Donahue: “We live in a glass house. We’re not throwing any stones.”

As it goes in the world of Hollywood, it appears that the movie was made in California. The Film in America web site claims that Monterey County was the filming site. Oh well, I guess ocean waves look alike when they crash. So you are getting the West Coast version of the East Coast. But then, they claim the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty was made there, too. That is one of the issues involved in Hollywood’s presentation of the world: the film maker can make one place into another. In the end it is all beautiful, if only a bit mislocated.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: A Summer Place. Dakota Alliance XIV (2): April-May 2004: 7.

Monday, May 13, 2013

South Pacific


South Pacific is one of the classics of the American Theater, and part of a current wave of revivals; it is a musical journey to what I consider one of the most geographically attractive areas of the globe. Certainly as I look back at my development as a geographer, books and movies on the South Pacific loom very large in pushing me into the field. The National Geographic took me there starting around 1962, In high school and college I acted in productions of South Pacific, and read bo51HRPJZW7BLoks on the place. Even today I subscribe to Islands magazine and get dreamy over every issue.

South Pacific is the creation of Richard Rogers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein, II (lyrics). It traces itself back to James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific (another item on my high school reading list).

The songs are the show in this one. The grand overture sets the stage for the sweep of the waves (it was not included in the Fritz production, but the videotape has it). "Some Enchanted Evening" is one of the great love songs. Bali Ha'i, itself, casts a mystical mood over those caught by the lure of the islands, but trapped by snow drifts, city traffic, or too many committee meetings (one of those has to apply to each of you). "Carefully Taught" brings in the message of tolerance, or the world's lack of it. The comedy tunes lighten the ultimately romantic and tragic mist of the story. There is even sexism in "There is nothin' like a dame." (It is World War II.)

The setting is the beautiful South Pacific. Every production has the expected palm trees and sparkling water, but remember that even details of life in the region are shown. For instance, Bloody Mary is Tokinese. She represents the heavy Asian (Chinese, Indian) immigration into the island realm.

As we teach geography we have to remember that we love it because it personally says something to us. We fell in love with specific places, or places in general. This pushed us into the field. South Pacific is one more opportunity to catch some kid's imagination and bring her/him into the fold.

For your classroom, the 1958 film version, widely available at cheap prices on DVD, was produced in Kauai, Hawaii, with some of the Bali Ha'i scenes shot in Fiji. Charles Champlin [Ballyho and Bali Ha'i: Hollywood's love affair with the South Seas. 1994. Islands (October): 160] points out that filming on one island andSouth_pac_reba_2005 calling it another is very common in Hollywood productions about the Southern Pacific region. So, we combine geographic theater with great songs and educational themes. A true classic.

If your room is filled with Country Music fans, then the Carnegie Hall version with Reba Macintyre as Nelly Forbush could be your choice. The geography is diminished as this is a concert version. However, you can draw her fans into the story. At the time her casting was criticized by the eastern press, but what would a girl from Little Rock sound like if not Reba Macintyre?

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 1995. Media Beat: South Pacific. Dakota Alliance January 1995: 7.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Shogun [1980]


Shogun takes us back to both an earlier time in television history and a significant point in the history of Japan. James Clavell's novel was transformed into a spectacular and well-watched mini-series in the early 1980s. It follows the exploits of a ship's pilot named Blackthorne as he leads a crew into the unknown world of Japan around 1600. Crossing the Pacific Ocean was not easy; but attempting to make inroads into the Portuguese controlled Far East would prove harder.

The basic story involves the Englishman Blackthorne's shogunjourney in becoming a samurai. Crash landing in Japan during a wild storm, Blackthorne arrives in a Japan having early relations with the Portuguese. The Pope has given the half of the world containing Japan to the Portuguese. Blackthorne is trying to find his way to this treasure trove. He ends up in the middle of a battle between various factions of the ruling class, and between the Portuguese and that ruling class. The figure who would become Shogun recognizes Blackthorne's animosity toward the Portuguese as a useful trait to nurture. He eventually has Blackthorne isolated in a village where it is decreed that the whole village will be put to death if Blackthorne does not master Japanese in a short set of months. Blackthorne is outraged at this barbarous decree, but he struggles on to learn the difficult language. He meets Mariko who knows English and can translate for him. A love interest develops, only hindered by her death and her samurai husband.

In becoming a samurai, Blackthorne puts himself in the middle of the battle to control Japan. An essential lesson of the book and program is in this battle. Japan is trying to deal with the pressure of a major colonial power. The damage of colonialism is going to be clear in the places seized to the west. Japan is paying tribute, but the question is how to avoid being taken over.

The answer not fully given. After the end of the story Japan will kick the Portuguese out of Japan, trading only with the Dutch and only through the port of Nagasaki. The damage of colonialism is avoided. This will allow Japan to economically develop in the later 1800s without the damage inflicted by the colonial period. In short, without a colonial power in control there is no one to prevent their successful development.

Of course students might question why being a colony was such a bad experience. All one has to note is that Britain was damaging the colonies in New England in the 1700s. That damage cast against the push of Calvinist-based religions to prosper, is the underlying cause of the American Revolution. "Taxation without Representation" was just a theme to get the rest of the colonies to go along. Damage is never even, and the Middle and Southern Colonies were not being damaged at the level New England was. They had agricultural product of value to the system, New England did not. New England wanted to manufacture products, which was Britain's role as the British saw it.

One of the problems in reviewing Shogun for geographic content is that one would just have to suspect that the mini-series is permanently buried in the vaults at Paramount. It was a multi-night affair, and the networks seem to be out of that stage. A two-hour videotape version is available.

Shogun represent the deepest trek into the cultural past of another country that American television has likely made. The focus is on Japanese culture at all levels. The group nature of society, particularly at the village level is brought home with strength. The essence of samurai culture is a central element of the plot.

The videotape does have drawbacks. (1) If you have watched the full series, you might be jarred by how they cut the many hours down to two. (2) Mariko and Blackthorne do take a furo, or bath. She is partially nude. (3) The videotape is based on the first showing of Shogun on television. The Japanese is translated for the viewer only if it is translated to Blackthorne. In the second showing on television subtitles were added. Their appreciation of what was going on increased. This version does give a better experience of what explorers faced in dealing with language. Most students would be unwilling to face that experience.

In the end, this is one of television's finest moments. It is an enriching experience in learning about culture.

The final issue is finding any version of this in 2013. Netflix has the full version available and you will find that superior to the short version. You are making a major commitment in time to that version, but it is worth it.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: Shogun. Dakota Alliance XII (5): November-December 2002: 7.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Seven Years in Tibet


Seven Years in Tibet. A German mountain-climbing expedition to mount Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas begins this true, epic tale of personal growth among the people of Tibet and their mountains. The expedition is doomed by the weather and the times. Driven to climb Nanga Parbat because it has become the "German" mountain, a nationalist effort. Everest, of course, wasnot yet conquered. Failing to climb to the summit because of the snowstorm and avalanche problems common in the Himalayas, the German expedition finds itself arrested and interned because of the outbreak of World War II. Finally escaping from the internment camp in Kashmir, Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt) makes his way to Lhasa where he eventually meets Tenzin Gyatso, the young Dalai Lama. While at first the film carries on with the fascination of the Dalai Lama for information about the West, the takeover of Tibet by the imperialistic Chinese communists takes over the film.

Through out the fseventibetilm the lifestyle and nature of Tibetan life is a constant element. From the seemingly naive clapping of hands to ward off the foreign devils, the more illuminating details of life are continually offered. Striking one from the start is the theocratic nature of this once religious state. The Dalai Lama is the center to political life. The meaning of gestures and the intrusion of western influence on a traditional place take us deeper. The poverty of Tibet is present, yet easily overlooked because of the general acceptance of life and the happiness people have with it. The poverty is obvious, yet not important in the least for most of the picture.

It is only when the Chinese imperialists invade in 1950 that the poverty becomes blatant. This is because it suddenly can be compared to a form of non-poverty. The pitifulness of traditional societies resisting the power of modernity becomes a comedy noir. The Chinese communists are armed with all the weapons of modern warfare. The Tibetans have primitive guns, a few cannons, and spears. Life falls out of adjustment, the poverty becomes painful.

The geographic aspects of Tibet are a focus for the film-makers. They even have regular on-screen maps to show us where we are and where we are going. The maps are the simple hand-drawn jottings of the explorer, but that is the history of mapping. All of our fine world and other maps have simple drawings and jotting somewhere back in their past.

The Himalayas are magnificent. In reality the film was shot in Argentina, so one really is seeing the beauty of the southern Andes. The substitution of environments is common in film production, factors of cost, remoteness, government regulation, and other elements of film-production location dominate over full reality. To the viewer the difference is of no value. To the geographer the film and this practice are like that unlabeled slide sitting on the shelf in front of the boxes of carefully trayed and labeled slides: it looks like mountains west of Denver, but without any label or other clear reference, it could be from the Rockies, Andes, or the lower Himalayas. If you could make out one more tiny detail, you would know, but you cannot. We would let it sit outside of the trays we use, but if Brad Pitt says it is the Himalayas, that is good enough for most that walk this planet.

In those mountains you get rugged rock faces, avalanches, and snow storms. The winds prevent your progress. The rocks hurt your feet. The views stagger the mind they are so vast in white and gray.

The cultural landscape is also impressively shown. The material poverty of Tibet in the 1940's is clear. The clothes and foods, the art work, and the religion are fully presented. What a learning experience.

The music assists the experience. The John Williams score makes use of both local instruments and the western themes that suggest oriental culture and the vastness of mountains. Yo-yo Ma provides cello solos along the way.

In a more postmodern political role, this film plays a part in the international campaign to return Tibet to the Tibetans. While generally low key over time, Tibetans have an organized movement to gain world support for the removal of the Chinese. At the same time the low key nature of this effort suggests the weakness generally shown by the West toward China. With one out of every five consumers being Chinese living in China, can the viciousness of Chinese imperialism be opposed by those who value money and sales over freedom and justice?

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 1997. Media Beat: Seven Years in Tibet. Dakota Alliance Summer (July) 1998: 6-7.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Parent Trap II


The Parent Trap. In this remake of the 1960's Hayley Mills classic, viewers get a mixture of the Napa Valley, London, and "Camp Walden" (presumably in Massachusetts). The original contrasted California with Boston; its camp could have been anywhere from Wisconsin to Maine. The new film offers a more international setting, but still compares a stereotypic stuffy place with semi-country.

Its Napa Valley is warm and sunny, with a sense of remoteness imposed by the small plane service to its airport. The landscape is one of vineyards, displayed though panoramic shots of the fields and hills. The vehicle of choice is an SUV, home is a ranch. Yet even a rural portion of the state is impacted by the California of hypocrites and golddiggers, usually associated with southern California. The future stepmom offers this role. Fraud in the fields.parenttrap1

London is "so far away that they haven't heard of Leonardo Decaprio." Classic shots of Big Ben, Harrods, and old buildings tell us where we are. The one I just had to love was a shot of the star and her mother crossing Abbey Road as pictured on the album cover for the Beatles. Even the Volkswagen bug is there. One travels by Rolls Royce. The accents are strong.

Camp Walden is probably in Vermont or Massachusetts, but it is unclear. Easily accessible by car and bus, nestled in the trees, it is still so remote that even the cell phones do not work.

The film/video has some great outdoor scenes that have helped make the movie a success. As a devotee of the original, I have to admit that the original film and the environments were better. The story is much the same, and the acting quality good. It is just that the film has to hit you over the head thinking you might not get the line or the place. The classiness of the original is sacrificed to make sure you "get it." As a youngster I understood the first one perfectly. I knew it was California, and I knew it was Boston. The new one assumes young (and older?) viewers cannot do this. I think they can. They may not be able to find California or London on a map, but they have heard about them.

In the end, it is a pleasant experience for most. I was turned off by the construction of the script, but most would not.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 1997. Media Beat: The Parent Trap. Dakota Alliance 9 (4): April-May 1999: 7.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Peyton Place


Peyton Place is a chance to enjoy a widescreen view of Mapeytonplace1rk Robson and Jerry Wald's panorama of small town New England life and environs in 1941. Yet, for all its beauty, Peyton Place is the namesake of small town pettiness and vicious gossip.

Peyton Place is a small company town in the hill-mountains of New England. It opens with a sequence of typical rural New England scenes depicting the structures of the region thru the seasons. According to the Meeker Museum, the critical hilltop scene where Allison and Norman climb to her special secret hilltop to exchange their first kiss, was filmed at Mount Battle near Camden, Maine. The view is spectacular befitting a cinemascope production. But you do not need special places to establish that the towns of the region are romantic looking little postcards of themselves, most scenes of even people walking and shopping lend themselves to professional photographers and their cameras.

In the 1956 novel Metalious begins this regional vignette with her statement that "Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one can ever be sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay." From there on the relationship of human beings, their society, nature, and place is center stage. The sunlight, trees, and lakes, meld into position with the people, their lives, and the buildings of town.

Small Towns. The focus of the work is the closed society that small towns can become. Indeed, Peyton Place has become synonymous with small town gossip and hypocrisy. The underlying struggle of the plot is for the town to change so that its youth will stay. Those youth see the outside as freedom from the impending trap that the town can become for those who fail to immediately fit its rigid structures, and even for those who do fit. The sequel, Return to Peyton Place follows this theme to its fullest. Allison feels confined by the narrow-mindedness of those who dominate the town and condemn her friend Selena because of her low class position. The town is offers limited opportunities. New York is Allison's goal with its freedom and chances to become something.

Downtown. Just the downtown, by itself, is a postcard from the past. The stores are small, but filled with the basic goods people need. Prosperity is apparent in that her mother owns a small dress store, yet lives in a fine home with a cleaning woman to take care of keeping it that way. In that prosperity Constance, the mother, develops her web of lies to protect her flirtation with the outside and its wickedness. In the lie she maintains a solid position in town.

Poverty and Class. Selina Cross comes from the "wrong side of the tracks." A stereotypic description, but she literally does in this film. Following the opening credits Michael Rossi drives into town to take on the position of principal at the high school and to challenge to town to do better than it has at educating its children. He is stopped at the rail crossing in front of Selina's shack. He notices the squalor, and talks about it later. The Cross household faces its first crisi after he drives off across the tracks to the right side. The problems of the Cross household serve as an underlying background theme. Being from the wrong side of the tracks makes respectability and acceptance impossible. Industry. Harrington Mills dominates Peyton Place. It is the major employer, and both the overriding reason for people to be in Peyton Place and for those who want something better out of life to want to leave. To work at the mill is to be trapped. It is a textile mill, the basis of industrial development in New England. It is historic, but hardly a rewarding future.

Made in the 1950s as a "potboiler," Peyton Place is today one of those novels and films that seems a stereotype, but in reality is the source of the stereotype. The coming DVD should offer the full cinemascope image that movies sought in the 1950s to compete with television. The enhanced picture will only make the geographic qualities of the film loom larger on the mind. Peyton Place is a classic film in substance, and classic in its use of the environment.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: Peyton Place. Dakota Alliance XIV (1): February 2004: 7.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Monsoon Wedding [2001]

Monsoon Wedding [Mirabai Films 2001] is Mira Nair's wonderful film following the wedding of a middle class Punjabi family in New Delhi, India. While delightful, it offers a rarely seen look into postmodern Indian life. Rather than the stereotyped scenes of holy men and villages racked with the poor, it takes us into the lives of a richer, hidden India. We see the contest between postmodern values and tradition. What else but a wedding could put these two next to each other. Just like in America!
The list of what one can see is extensive. It starts with wealthy housing, but goes on. They use cell phones and are plagued with bad signals. One expects the Verizon fellow to ask "Can you here me?" A television program debates old versus new values and pornography. The kids act like US teenagers. One is accused by his parent of sitting in front of the television too much. A mother, living in a poorer section of town bemoans to her son how her stock picks have prospered. The men are in western clothes until the wedding. They drink scotch. They swear like crazy. The wedding kicks off with a traditional picture taken by paid photographers. We find out that the bride is "not a morning person." Like young adults in North Dakota, she wants to get out of this place, to America, of course. The bride shares a popsicle with a friend. The older men use a golf cart on the spacious course. They drive nice cars and one can spot Coca-Cola signs in the background.
Tradition is represented by the older characters. The structure of the wedding is traditional. There are lots of nose piercings. The women generally wear traditional or near-traditional clothes. A grandmother is looking for grandchildren before she dies. The father of the bride and the wedding planner argue over the color of the wedding tent. The planner wants to save money using white, but this is a funeral color in Asia. It must change. Color is also important for the bride as part of a Punjabi ceremony is for her hands to be painted with henna [it lasts about a month or so]. There is a lot of eating of marigolds.
Allyson Johnson [music editor] did a beautiful job of mixing traditional sounds with their postmodernized versions. The beat and sound are of a postmodern India. Of course, everybody dances. It is a wedding.
Physically the character hate the hot weather [hence monsoon], but the rain only seems to have a limited impact on them. The western fear of being wet-only disregarded in Singing in the Rain and once in the works of Tom Robbins-is not present. The rain is OK. This is a natural element of life. With all of this, what can be seen?
Culture inertia and cultural change are contrasted. The normal stereotype of Indian life is that of the village deeply buried in poverty. Monsoon Wedding illustrates that way of life only in the background. Rather it shows the life of India's growing middle class. This will update the viewer's mental images to the reality of a country that is known for poverty, yet has nuclear power, the bomb, and a large computer sector.
People are people. That people are in love and with the wrong person, a common theme on the soaps, transfers to India. People around the world swear; they seek improvement; they have internal fights within the family.
Monsoon Wedding is a great film for taking a look at postmodern India. India is a place different from what most people think. See it here.
It also is an excellent film to introduce young Americans to the films of Bollywood. While structured more like an American film in that it lacks the plot/music alteration of typical Bollywood films and is shorter in length, it brings postmodern life in India clearly to the screen. Once introduced to these films, the wide variety of Bollywood materials is an open door to seeing life in India.
Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: Monsoon Wedding. Dakota Alliance XII (4): September-October 2002: 7.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Matchmaker [1997]


The Matchmaker. Janeane Garofalo's [The Truth About Cats and Dogs, "Seinfeld"] is a geographic treat to watch. After a few minimalist scenes of Boston, you are off to the Galway Bay area of Ireland, including a trip to famous Aran Island. On this trip you combine the hypocrisy of American politics with the intimate lives and surroundings of a small Irish village and its people.

The basic storyline finds Marcy Tizard (Garofalo) as an aide to a Senator running for re-election, and not doing very well. Senator McGlory sends Garofalo on a mission to find his Irish relatives in a desperate attempt to make him seem more Kennedy-like, thus gathering in more votes in Massachusetts.

The geography now begins. Garofalo arrives to a rainy greeting, finding herself taken deeper and deeper into a more non-urban environment. The vehicles of small, the roads become narrow, and the traffic rare. Ballinagra, her destination, hugs the road and the hills.. It shows the age of Irish villages and the lack of modernity. It has wooden buildings that open on to a sidewalk. The hotel is family run and steeped in another age. It is not a Ramada or Holiday Inn. There is a clear sense of age and some disorder.

But something is strange about the village. It is filling with buses of men and buses of women. Garofalo has landed in the middle of a matchmaking festival. The search for McGlory's begins, complicated by the fact that Dermot (Milo O'Shea), a matchmaker, wants to couple her with someone.

In the coming scenes we get to see the interior of Irish pubs and lounges, stores, and houses (cottages). The cottages are of traditional Irish construction. Their interiors are simple, like the clothes of their owners. They are restful. The pubs are places of crowds, dancing, drinking, hope, and searching. Outside, the clouds never go away [reflecting the slight lift of North Atlantic Drift air]. The landscape is striking. The hills are prominent. The soil is rocky.

Of special note is a visit by ferry to the Aran Island (Inis Mor). The Aran Islands have a gloomy emptiness. The struggle of its settlers to turn barren limestone rock into a habitable place must have been monumental. It is like North Dakota late in the afternoon on a near winter fall afternoon, before the snow paints it white. The light casts shadows that make it seem empty. It seems haunting. Aran is a treeless, rocky place with fields built up by the work of its settlers. Indeed, the soil that is found in some places is totally imported. The fields have stone fences and look unproductive. It is a place of escape from British imperialism over the centuries, here an escape from even the village and its light press of people. The characters get the time to talk out in a place of oppressive emptiness. The edges of both round and connections begin.

An ultimate geographic question is being asked by the film in another context: is one escaping or finding "life" when one leaves the urban core to live in the rural area? Garofalo is beaten up by urbanity from the first time her face is on camera. She has that urban edge of skepticism and doubt. She is pushy. Yet she is drawn to the country. Sean Kelly (David O'Hara) , her love interest, is a reporter who has given up on city life to pursue writing in the village. Her edge shows when she meets him. She calls him "Paddy." Then she has to apologize saying she thought everyone was called "Paddy" in Ireland. Sean has left the urban world and the film proceeds to work on her interest in following along.

Is she escaping? Is he? Well, the answer is obviously no. The pathway is eased by the discovery of technology in the remote corner. It bothers her that she is remote from her world. She says, "It's so beautiful here. If it just had the New York Times, it would be perfect" and "I long to fax someone." Sean has a notebook computer and fax machine. [The notebook could even be a Mayville/Valley City State IBM Think Pad, it is not clear]. Another computer pops into view at a surprise spot. The vast beauty of the region and the attractiveness of rural living contrast with a lack of sophistication in most residents, who make the screen and the primitiveness of it all. Yet technology's presence signals that it is a part of the postmodern world. Early modern comfort with postmodern communications, the combination greases the path to rural happiness.

One problem with the film as a learning tool is its "R" rating. Profanity is constant. You do get the same word in two versions of English, yet it is massively used. On the other hand--and not going as far as to rate it acceptable--, the profanity comes from both the early modern and postmodern characters. It crosses the urban-rural continuum. The film has good entertainment values, but probably makes the "date movie" list. That Garofalo is the star sort of puts it in that category.

[Joffe, Mark (director). 1997. The Matchmaker. film. N.p.: Gramercy Pictures.]

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 1997. Media Beat: The Matchmaker. Dakota Alliance November-December 1997: 5-6.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lawrence of Arabia


David Lean's 1962 production of Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most geographic-oriented films ever made. The physical setting of northern Arabia to Syria is a constant through the film. The human condition of the area and the impact of outsiders on life is the essence of the film.lawrence1

The film deals with one of the two major causes of the current crisis between the peoples of the Middle East and Western society: the takeover of the Middle East by Britain during World War I. The other cause is the conflict between the values imposed by modernized society upon more traditional bundled societies. This problem is a result of the first. Hence in Lawrence of Arabia one views the development of the root cause of Islamic anger.

T. E. Lawrence is a British officer assigned as a liaison between the main British forces in Egypt and the Arabs of the area around Mecca and North headed by Prince Feisal. Those Arabs are fighting against the Turks who have controlled the region for centuries. The Turks joined the German side in World War I. They are an enemy of the British. The larger issue for the British is that the Turks appear defeatable. If the strained British Army could push the Turks back to Turkey, the potential oil deposits of eastern Arabia could become theirs.

While the British leadership thinks little of the Arabs as fighters, Lawrence rallys the Arabs in a grand guerilla battle against the retreating Turks. At the same time Lawrence adopts the dress and mental constructs of the Arabs he leads. In the end the Arabs, and Lawrence, expect a nation of their own in the area. The reality is that the British and French have agreed to divide the area. This is finalized in the Sykes-Picot Treaty. As the Arab force seizes Damascus, the goal, the betrayal scenes are icons setting the stage for the current problems.

The film was shot on location. The physical and human dimensions are fantastic. In the film the desert is second only to Peter O'Toole, playing Lawrence. Especially when seen on the big screen of a theater, the massive scope of the sands, and their emptiness, is what the word spectacular was created to describe. The scene where Lawrence and tribesmen cross the Nefud Desert into Aqaba gives the viewer the clearest sense of what the desert is like short of walking across itself yourself. The film sticks to the dry sections where plant life is not seen. It is painful to watch. The sense of burning heat is stifling. The harsh life and death reality of desert travel is chilling. This is followed by a lesser trip west to the Suez Canal.

The human side, beyond the political and social issues of the conflict, is perhaps best seen when his hosts challenge Lawrence's acceptance of the desert. It is pointed out that Lawrence loves the desert and its brutalness. The Arab actually prefers the oasis where his feet can cool in the rare desert waters.

Problems? The film presents some problems for less informed viewers. First among them is the image gained from the harsh tribal Arabs of the early 1900s. Many flocking to Lawrence's side are poor desert dwellers hardened by their lives in one of the World’s most brutal environments. Some might confuse the images in the film with those of current peoples in the Middle East. Of great significance would be the image of hostility shown as the group approaches Damascus, and the lack of cooperation in Damascus. Neither yields a positive sense of these people. Second, is the fact that the film develops a positive sympathy toward the Arabs. After September 11 this should be a major teaching goal for many, but the difficulty should be obvious. One must accept and view the film with the fact that here is the cause of why they are angry with us. The British took their country. Later, the creation of Israel would result because Britain would be in a position to establish it. The British possessed the land. The United States and France would agree. The betrayal continues, only the United States joins the British team.

Lawrence of Arabia is a classic film filled with significant geographic, political, and social content. If you have not seen it, rent it soon. If you have seen it, watch it again.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: Lawrence of Arabia. Dakota Alliance XI (5): December 2001-January 2002: 7.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The King and I


Rogers and Hammerstein were masters at taking stories and turning them into musical memories. The King and I was their saga exploring Anna Leonowens's 19th century adventures in educating the King of Siam on the ways of the modern world.

It is a geographic gem on two levels. First it deals with historic Siam, now Thailand. The musical makes Siam a mystical place. Second, it deals with issues important to understanding the role of colonialism in world society..

Its plot In short: Anna is employed as a teacher at the court of the King of Siam in the 1860s. She has been brought in from England to modernize the educational processes at the palace so that the British can be impressed that the Siamese are not barbarians. She and the King spar over the issues involved, including the rebellion of two lovers at court. The musical is filled with engaging and memorable songs like: "Hello Young Lovers", "Shall We Dance", and "Getting to Know You".

For the younger viewer, the simple geographic lessons are those of a different culture and a warm physical environment. Siam [Thailand] is a warm place. Just the dress of the King speaks to this. The dress of the remaining non-western cast and the social rules and customs explored in the musical will strike the younger viewer. That the British are a threat to a character they should generally come to like--the King--, should create a moment of wonderment for these viewers because the British are viewed as so friendly.

At a deeper level, The King and I is a lesson in colonial relationships. Siam curiously was one of the few non-European places to avoid direct colonial control. While seizure was avoided, domination by the colonial powers was not. The show is testimony to the pressures placed upon the King by the British.

Through the story we can see how the powerful industrial countries imposed values and cultural change while supposedly just pursuing economic and political goals. This is a lesson our own society, and our students, are presented with every day in terms of American life. The King felt compelled to change. His self-concept was damaged and the door to change opened. The young prince was more influenced by the West than the King. He embraced the concepts because his teacher favored them. Anna educates him to change, while it kills the King. The young prince has less personal investment in his sense of kingship then his father does.

American myths are imposed upon Siam. Helping Lincoln is a positive idea for the King. He can send an elephant to help Lincoln fight the Civil War. He can assist the outsiders. Only the audience and Anna appreciate the foolish look of his gift. The use of Uncle Tom's Cabin as a vehicle to change Siam and its palace culture illustrates the power of media. It is used to illuminate the internal tensions of Siam. The young lovers are not in tune with the traditional ways and power relationships. Love demands change so that true love can triumph. Love can be seen as a theatrical ploy or cover for a larger statement on the desire for freedom in Third World peoples. Love comes first in a movie, but then I what respect and the right to vote.

Turning to the physical geography, the musical has its weaknesses. The focus is upon indoor settings. For an vivid outdoor setting, Jodee Foster's Anna and the King presents a slight revision of the story, but moves beyond the stage to the river and rainforest. The views are spectacular, particularly near the end of the film. No songs, but more scenery.

The musical and the newer film have both been banned in Thailand. The Thai government has been concerned about the historical inaccuracies of the film. These seem to center around the non-existence of the love affair between Anna and the King, and the general image of their beloved King in those stories. In the end, Anna is a true figure, and the modernization of Thailand began during this time.

The King and I is a wonderful tale. It has songs that have thrilled millions. Underneath, there is a dark side that is clear in the film if you are looking for it.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2001. Geography in Media: The King and I. Dakota Alliance XI (4): September-October 2001: 7.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Endless Summer


Endless Summer sounds like a student's dream, but it is a classic film from 1966 that follows the trek of two surfers trying to surf around the world in an attempt to have an endless summer. Bruce Brown produced not just a classic film of early surfing, but a historical statement of the geography of surfing. He also produced a wonderful look at the beauty of surfing. For all of us children of the sixties raised on images of surfing, this film is a record of that dream. endless_summer_poster_large

The film reflects the geography of surfing in two main ways. (1) The nature of the surf at particular places around the world results from the physical geography of coastal structure and weather. Surfable surf is not universal. The nature of the coast determines whether waves will break in surfable ways. There is also a seasonal component to that surf. While the film attempts to create an endless summer, surf is often better in the winter in some places. (2) Local culture is important. Surfing is widespread, but not all cultures engage in it. Especially back in time, local culture had impact upon any activity in spite of its global nature. Surfing was historic in some places, while only a few odd souls engaged in it in other places. Then, there are variances in local customs such as clothing and gender involvement.

Hawaii. The film keeps harking back to Hawaii, the hearth of surfing. The warm waters of Hawaii promote surfing to the point of crowding and accidents. Its beaches vary in their surfable nature. Waikiki Beach seems very popular with surfers possessing a variety of skills. The Pipeline has significant surf, but is shallow and the underwater surface consists of sharp coral. The film even points out that only a few ride the Pipeline. "Some are sportsmen, some are nuts." Then there is Waimea Bay. At certain points the surf is massive. Some may recall the film Ride the Wild Surf which followed the contest that develops to be the last one to ride the surf here. Of course, Jan and Dean sang the theme song to that great film noting the waves were some 30 feet high. The surfers look like they are surfing down the slope of a multistory building. Only the best surf here when the surf is up.

California. The traditional place for surfing in the 60s was Malibu in California. The beach films were focused here, as well as other beaches. What Americans see as surf and surf culture is Californian in nature. Sub-Saharan Africa. African beaches had no reputation at the time of the film, yet very desirable surf conditions were found. In Dakar, Senegal; Accra, Ghana; and Lagos, Nigeria; the surf was wonderful. The film does take an out-of-date view of African culture and peoples. There are no local surfers except one group that seems to know how to surf with their boat.

South Africa. Surfing is just arriving in South Africa in 1966. The spread of culture had a slower pace then. At Cape Town, Durban, and Cape St. Francis, the film appreciates the surfable beaches. The surrounding environment gets a good viewing, including Table Top Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, and animal life [giraffes, sharks, monkeys, and zebras]. That the American landscape looks similar does not escape note.

Australia. They surf both western [Perth] and eastern [Melbourne, Sydney] beaches. Surfing culture is better developed than in South Africa, and women fully participate. The only problem is that the surf seems poor. They explore the principle that the surf was always better yesterday. Winter, it seems, is prime surf time.

New Zealand. The short, simple scenes of the landscape set off New Zealand eminently well. They combine mountains with a quick stop at the areas of "bubbly mud," --or mud pots in Yellowstone terms. Surfing is underdeveloped. The varying nature of the surf is emphasized as they find a place were a ride can go on much of the day.

Tahiti. The barrier reef restricts surf potential here. They are told that the place has nothing for them, but they find it any way. Unusual is that one beach has two-way surf. The surf rolls in, but then the beach creates a wave back into the ocean.

They end up in Hawaii, again. It was heavy on their minds throughout the film. Then the sun goes down on the endless summer.

I watched it on AMC [American Movie Classics]. They followed it with a clip of the Beach Boys live singing "Dance, Dance, Dance." A perfect choice.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: Endless Summer. Dakota Alliance XII(3): Summer 2002: 7.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013



An epic film, steeped in controversy and scorned by some, Cleopatra nonetheless represents Hollywood's classic view of the world. The film is the story of Cleopatra VII's reign as Pharaoh between 51 and 30 BC, and of her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. She was the last pharaoh, and her life and loves can be considered valiant attempts to maintain Egypt in the face of growing Roman power.

While the film begins with Caesar's attempts to control the empire in Europe, it soon leads him to Egypt and the arms of Cleopatra. Love follows as Cleopatra hopes that her bearing of Caesar's child will contribute to the maintaining of Egyptian power. With Caesar's death at the hands of Brutus and others, this collapses. Beguiled by her in Rome, Antony eventually sails to her side in Egypt, a move that leads to their deaths.

The geography shown in the film is stunning. Spectacle is an undercurrent in films of Cleopatra's genre. There are several aspects to the geography in the film.

Rome and Alexandria. The film divides between two main sites. Starting in Rome, and some surrounding countryside in Europe, it comes later to focus on Alexandria, Egypt. The film shows a duality to both places in that the focus on the environs of the powerful is countered with some limited sojourns into the areas of average folk. The film draws little distinction between the environments of Rome and Egypt. Cultural differences seem significant, but physical differences are minimal.

Desert. The warmth and dryness of the desert is present from near the start to the end. While not the most clearly shown environment in the film, the desert is present in the important battle scenes. The sparseness is clear.

Color. So many of the often seen images of Egypt and Rome lack color. The historic record indicates that they lived in worlds of color, but age has robbed that color from view in favor of bare rock. The King Tut exhibit that toured the United States 25 years ago brought that color, particularly the gold, home to the Americans who had an opportunity to see it; but the usual views of the pyramids and the Roman ruins show bareness. If color exists it is in the form of chipped paint that is often compromised by darkness. Time has taken the color away, but film restores it to view. Cleopatra brushes that color back on the rock. The clothes sparkle. The curtains are resplendent.

Water. The Nile flows through numerous scenes. The classic shapes of the ships, the docks, and just the bright blue of the waters capture the camera's attention.

Interaction/Integration. The geographic activities of interaction bringing integration are illustrated in the film. The interaction of Rome and Egypt brought their integration as trade and political units. As the film takes place this is not new. Egyptian grain has long held a position in the Roman world.

I saw Cleopatra when it was new in 1963-64. I liked it. I am surprised by the fact that many thought it less than a great epic film. I was beginning my high school years. I was awe struck by the splendor, by the magnificence of it all. The press had built it up some so maybe I was ready for it, but it was special in any case. I think has a role to play in showing me the power of the media. After 50 years I still find the power of blue eye shadow on a woman irresistible, the same for single shoulder tops. Cleopatra had to be the source of these long held facets of my mind. Ah, the power of media.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: Cleopatra. Dakota Alliance XII(1): February 2002: 7.

Thursday, January 17, 2013



Cabaret is a cross-section of the poorer and seedier side of pre-Hitler Berlin. The cabaret was the Jay Leno monologue of its time. Leno has been identified as a major news source for many Americans. Patrons of cabaretcabarets were treated to a voyeuristic look at their society, just like Leno provides. The patrons of this cabaret get a look at the decadence and decay of a world that has lost its sense of morality and footings in the solid cement of historic culture. Its resemblance to current entertainment is scary. It is not just a slice of another culture, it is a full helping of a culture being harangued and battered by itself.

Cabaret, the film version, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1972. It stars Michael York, Liza Minelli, and Joel Gray. The plot is fairly simple. It is the very early 1930s. Michael York's character has come to Berlin to study. On the side, he teaches English. His customers mostly are Jewish persons getting ready for some place else. Liza Minelli, as Sally Bowles, is a singer at the Cabaret. Finding each other at a rooming house occupied by people on the sidelines of society, they engage in a strange and convoluted romance. The real focus of the show is the cabaret acts, where even the "orchestra is beautiful."

The physical environment of Berlin is shown through its weather, buildings, and scenery. Cabaret presents a variety of details concerning the cultural-historical environment, too. Physically, we see parks, apartments, houses, trains, and clubs. Culturally we see the attitudes of the elite, sexual mores, tension over the growing NAZI presence, Jewish-related issues, violence against Jews and others, and clothes.

The decadence of German society is illustrated via sexuality, hinted nudity, homosexuality, transvestitism, greed, intolerance, and lack of seriousness over its own plight. Cabaret takes the world around it and makes a joke of it. For example, the song "Money Makes the World Go Round" makes its point, as does Joel Gray singing about why people do not like his gorilla girlfriend. He ends with the line "She doesn't look Jewish at all."

The geographic environment shown in the film helps drive these messages home. NAZI Party people are scattered here and there. The homes of the rich and the crowded spaces of the poor make vivid the social tension. The gates, manicured lawns, green of the parks, furniture, subdued lighting, and so forth show the world of the rich as distant from that of the poor. The poor live in crowded apartments where the lights are dim and the company is uncultured.

That it is a color presentation lends even greater reality to the period since it is likely many students see Hitler in black and white. Now I personally find black and white increases the horror of film. For example, Jimmy Stewart's twisted face in It's a Wonderful Life as he faces the reality of Pottersville is not the same in color. A Christmas Carol, with Alistair Sims, is very different when you watch the colorized version. It loses its sense of human crisis. Of course, Steven Speilberg filmed Schindler's List in black and white. Postmodern youth may not perceive things this way. Black and white means "old." It is out.

In the end it is a sexually-charged streak through German life at a crucial point in history. On a deeper level, it is us. The geographic content is the setting for a message of gloom. For students wondering how history repeats itself, how Hitler's time period applies to us; Cabaret is filled with suggestive thoughts. Look past the sexual tones to the subcontext of societal stink. Students who see fascism only as Hitler need realize he was a front for the rich. Cabaret tries to make this point. Even Liza Minelli's green fingernail polish and hair style, and the wild eye makeup of the Cabaret girl's, suggest today's gothic look. The place varies, the social issues remain the same.

Geography as the setting for history, Cabaret has it.  One also notes the similarities of the Caberet to postmodern America.  Decency taking a nose dive as society slips into a fascist mode.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2001. Geography in Media: Cabaret. Dakota Alliance XI(1): January-February 2001: 7.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Mutiny on The Bounty


It was early in the 1960s when I received my first subscription to the National Geographic. Mutiny on the Bounty was being remade and the Geographic was covering the journey of the ship produced for the film to Tahiti. The ship and the island appeared spectacular. The island was lush and the ship spoke to a story that made an impression.

That story was of the mutiny led by Fletcher Christian against Captain William Bligh aboard the HMS Bounty. Pushed to obtain breadfruit plants from Tahiti for transplantation in the West Indies, where they would serve as a food supply for slave labor, Bligh encounters a delay due to his error in attempting to get to Tahiti via Cape Horn. He blames Christian and the crew rather than the inadequacy of the sailing technology. This results in further delay as they reach Tahiti during the dormant season for breadfruit. He has to wait months to merely dig up the plants. As the tension builds, in Bligh and the crew, the return trip results in the famous mutiny.

Hollywood has found the tale worth three major films, but I have found postmodern students getting a little distant from the story. There is a lot to learn and see in each of the films.

The more accessible films are 1962's Mutiny on the Bounty and 1984's Bounty. The former casts Trevor Howard as Bligh and Marlon Brando as Christian. The latter casts Anthony Hopkins as Bligh and Mel Gibson as Christian. Both are excellent films. Both present the story in the changing terms of their production periods. The 1962 film is much more sympathetic to Bligh, but does allow its dandy Christian to develop into an honorable man. The 1984 version gives Bligh no measure while allowing Gibson to be the well-liked character he often plays in films.

From the geographic standpoint, both offer impressive views of the nature of the oceans, and the marvels of Tahiti and Pitcairn Island.

Oceans. In the 1789 the world map is mostly filled in, but the details are missing. As students think about ocean travel during the age of exploration, I am unconvinced that the time involved sinks in. I am not sure that the level of danger does either. The travel is slow, no jets. The travel conditions are poor, no pools and hot tubs. These men are undertaking a risky trip that will last for years under conditions where the boss has no human relations and safety rules to follow.

Islands. The displayed environments of Tahiti and Pitcairn are rich in detail. The famous openness of the people of Tahiti is made clear from the first. The society is organized. It has its sense of power and pride. All those playing Bligh respect the ability of the Tahitians to destroy them. They also show a massive sense of private disrespect for the "savages." The legendary sexual freedom of the Tahitians is clearly used as the sailors go wild. One gets a good view of culture, including clothing. The films do vary. The 1962 version uses carefully developed camera angles to cover the women, the 1984 version is more honest.

Pitcairn Island is shown in a very straightforward manner in both films. It is a very small [2 square miles] island. Its rugged coast and surface is an essential element of plot development. Of course, its geographic feature of greatest interest in education is that Christian is able to use it as a safe haven because its location has been mischarted on every British map. While latitude figures were long establishable, it was only after Cook's sailing in 1776 that longitude even began to have a level of accuracy. Mislocated, the mutineers could take a chance that no one would find it soon. It was too remote.

This is a story that offers great potential for discussions of leadership. Like Twelve O'Clock High, it offers leadership styles in very clear contrast. Is Bligh correct in his approach to controlling men?

The islands have very important positions in the mental life of many Americans. That push to escape the postmodern world's drive to work and consume is countered by the appeal of the simple lifestyle, one in touch with the environment. While environmental units usually stress fixing up what we have, the remote place of peace has more appeal for some people. Was, or is, that place really one of peace and communion with nature

Of course, the sad end of the Bounty, rebuilt for the 1962 film, came in 2012 when it sunk in the Atlantic while caught up in Hurricane Sandy.

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2001. Geography in Media: Mutiny on the Bounty. Dakota Alliance XI(2): Summer 2001: 7.