Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Artist - and Other Tributes to Silent Film

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo in "The Artist"

The movie "The Artist" finally opened in my hometown, and I was fortunate enough to see this movie over the weekend.  Yes, it is a silent movie (except for a couple of scenes where the sound is strategically placed), and yes, it is in black and white.  That should not deter you from seeing this film, rather, it should be all the more reason to go.  This movie is a refreshing love letter to a past era of movie-making.  Berenice Bejo is a scene-stealer as the spunky Peppy Miller, and Jean Dujardin turns in a great performance as George Valentin.  Like "Singin' in the Rain," this movie captures the transition of silent films to sound, and tells the story of silent-film star George Valentin who is left behind by the new technology.  As his star falls, Peppy's rises.  The two have a wonderful onscreen chemistry.

Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller

George Valentin falls deeper into despair and ruin, and in a funny scene, is confronted by a miniature version of himself, who counsels him to not continue his downward slide due to his own pride.  In typical old-movie fashion, all ends well, and this movie will leave you smiling.  The thing I loved while watching this movie was the incredible beauty of black and white film.  I had not watched a black and white movie in quite awhile, and to see one this well done on the big screen was a choice experience.  "The Artist" is nominated for Best Picture this year at the Academy Awards, as is another movie saluting the silent movie era, "Hugo."

Scene from "Hugo"

"Hugo" is based on the highly-touted book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" written and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner Brian Selznick.  The book features incredible illustrations, and it was interesting to see the scenes come alive on film.  In the story, young orphan Hugo Cabret is fascinated with repairing a mechanical man his father found.  Hugo lives in the train station, and steals parts he needs to fix the mechanical man from toy shop owner Georges (Ben Kingsley). Hugo is befriended by Isabelle, Georges' goddaughter, and together they uncover the secret of Papa Georges--he used to make elaborate silent movies. The sequence showing Georges and his wife making the silent movies is very entertaining. The dual stories of Hugo's quest to complete the mechanical man and Georges' silent movie past are woven together seamlessly by director Martin Scorsese.  Scorsese also beautifully recreates 1931 Paris in this stunning visual film.  "Hugo" is nominated for eleven Academy Awards including Best Picture this year. 

Movie Poster for Hugo Cabret

Both of these movies reminded me of "Singin in the Rain", the 1952 classic starring Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds.  This movie was also nominated for some Academy Awards, but failed to take home any of them.  I put this movie on the other night and promised my thirteen year old we could turn it off after the first 15 minutes if he didn't like it.  Seven minutes in, he told me he wanted to see the whole thing, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Gene Kelly  "Singin in the Rain"

Gene Kelly is amazing, Donald O'Connor gets a lot of laughs, and the scene with Lina Lamont (played by Jean Hagen) and her voice coach is still hilarious.  In fact, "The Artist" gives a nod to this scene as Missi Pyle's Constance tries to make the cut as a "talking" actress.

"Lina Lamont" in "Singin in the Rain"

Another movie not as well-known but worth your time is "Shadow Magic."  This movie played at the Sundance Film Festival several years ago, and also deals with changing technologies.  Young photographer Liu is intrigued with phonographs and sound, and when he learns of moving pictures from visiting Englishman Raymond Wallace, he is fascinated.  Liu helps Wallace introduce the Chinese to moving pictures, and finds himself caught between his own cultural traditions and the influences of western culture.  This movie is in English and Chinese with subtitles, but is family friendly and easy for children to follow.  Will Liu risk everything to bring motion pictures to turn-of-the-century China? And will he find love in the process?  "Shadow Magic" is another great film about the early era of movie-making.

Englishman Raymond Wallace in "Shadow Magic"

Any of these movies make for an entertaining weekend.  Both "Singin in the Rain" and "Shadow Magic" are available on DVD, while you can catch "Hugo" and "The Artist" in theaters.

Liu and Wallace in a scene from "Shadow Magic"

"The Artist" is definitely worth watching, and I am eager to see if either it or "Hugo" can take home some big awards this month.  If you haven't seen these movies, catch them now.  Both films are particularly effective on a big screen and are worth it to see in theaters.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Art of Optimism

Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon

"...I've found that there is always some beauty left--in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself, these can all help you.  Look at these things, then you find yourself again, and God, and then you regain your balance.  And whoever is happy will make others happy too.  He who has courage and faith will never perish in misery!"
--Anne Frank, from The Diary of Anne Frank

An elderly gentleman in our neighborhood recently passed away.  In his obituary, it indicated he had been a member of the Optimist Club.  I had never heard of this club, but found the idea intriguing.  So, I started thinking:  am I a glass half-full or a glass half-empty kind of person?  Would I be a candidate for membership in an Optimist Club?  In actuality, the real Optimist Club is a service oriented club where adults work to empower young people by mentoring them in service opportunities.  But what if it were a club where membership was based on attitudes?  Would you be able to gain membership? Something to think about.  And to entertain yourself while you are debating if you yourself are an optimist, here are a book and two movies you may want to try.

I took this book off my shelf and re-read it this week because of its title:  The Optimist's Daughter,   This novel by Eudora Welty won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1972.  It is the story of  Laurel, an adult woman living in Chicago, who travels to be with her aging father in New Orleans, where he has gone for medical treatment.  Laurel's mother passed away previously, and her father has married a much younger woman named Fay.  Laurel's father passes away, and Laurel travels back to her small Mississippi hometown with Fay.  Fay is a shrill character, and seems incapable of any depth of understanding.  Laurel, meanwhile, explores her childhood home, stumbling across many memories, and coming to some realizations about her parents, and herself.  Was Laurel's father really an optimist?  The story indicates he became one during her mother's illness.  Do we put on a false optimism when faced with difficulties?  As I re-read this novel, I concluded that it really isn't about optimism as much as it is about the difference between the past and our memories.  Welty concludes that the past is impervious--that it just exists and "can never be awakened."  Memory, however, "...is the somnambulist" and wanders into our lives "demanding its rightful tears."  Laurel's journey home is a journey into not only making peace with her past, but also taking possession of her memories.  This is a wonderful book and is a quick read.

Reading about the Optimists' Club also made me think of optimism in entertainment.  Pollyanna comes to mind as an optimistic character, as well as Little Orphan Annie singing "The sun will come out tomorrow."  What about more recent offerings?  Several years ago, Will Smith starred in "The Pursuit of Happyness."    This movie portrays a down-on-his-luck young father (real-life Chris Gardner) who, in the midst of extreme financial difficulty, loses his girlfriend and his home.  On the streets with a young son in tow, he works hard in a competitive internship to make a better life for himself and his son.  The odds are stacked against him, and this movie has some tense moments as Chris tries to keep his son safe on the streets of San Francisco.  The acting is solid and the movie is based on a true rags-to-riches story. Overall, it is a story of someone who succeeds out of sheer hard work and determination...and this message has resonance today.

I also enjoyed the 2011 movie, "Larry Crowne."  Tom Hanks plays Larry, who loses his job at a big box store.  Divorced, facing foreclosure, and unemployed, Larry seems to have as good a reason as anyone to be depressed.  The thing I found so admirable about the character is that he remains open to new things despite all of the bad things going on in his life.  He starts taking classes at a community college and is accepts a rather unlikely offer of friendship from a fellow student. He works hard in his classes and applies the things he is learning in his life. Larry takes a job at a diner.  He had been a cook in the Navy, and really didn't want to return to that line of work, but wasn't afraid to do what was necessary to stay afloat. There are so many times during this story where Larry could complain or get upset, and yet he stays positive and works his way through difficult circumstances.  Despite what could be depressing subject matter, this movie succeeds as a warm comedy, with a delightful group of supporting characters.

So, back to the whole glass half-full/half-empty thing.  I don't necessarily think I am pessimistic.  I prefer to think of myself as a realist.  Sometimes it is easy to confuse the two.  I think, as a young Anne Frank advised, if we recognize beauty in life we can keep our balance.  Cultivating optimism is worthwhile, and I do admire those whose optimism seems genuine.  If you aren't feeling particularly optimistic right now, watch a movie about someone who is, and see if it is contagious.  What are the things you do to lift yourself when you are feeling low?  Good luck this week being more optimistic!  You can do it!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Is She a Leonardo?

Image of La Bella Principessa from National Geographic

I recently read an article in National Geographic Magazine (Feb. 2012) entitled "Lady With a Secret" about this beautiful chalk and ink on vellum drawing that might have been created by Leonardo da Vinci himself.  The piece surfaced in 1998 at a Christie's auction, and then ended up in a gallery.  It was purchased again nearly 10 years later by collector Peter Silverman, and the quest for authentication was on.  

How do you prove something is a Leonardo?  Fakes and "new" discoveries abound, so the art world is always skeptical of new claims.  It may never be "proven" that this is a work by Leonardo.  It is doubtful anyone will ever find detailed notes and sketches by Leonardo to accompany this work.  However,  like other things in science, if it cannot be disproved, it may be true.

A NOVA episode (aired January 25, 2012 on PBS) also explored the process of documenting this beautiful drawing.  Originally the drawing was thought to be a 19th century German work. But carbon dating shows the vellum is much older, and fits with Leonardo's life span.  Costuming experts, a trip to Poland to look at an old book, and high tech photography all play a role in making a case for "La Bella Principessa" being the work of Leonardo.  While the jury is still out, the article and program build a compelling argument for authenticity.  

Crowds visit Mona Lisa at the Louvre

Could Bianca Sforza (the believed subject of the drawing) someday draw the crowds of Mona Lisa? It is possible.  Her portrait could be worth $100 million.  While some skeptics believe the drawing does not look like a Leonardo, I could see similarities to his other portraits.  It is definitely a beautifully executed piece of art.  Leonardo's paintings of women are incredibly detailed and sensitively handled.

Mona Lisa at the Louvre

Today Mona Lisa hangs at the Louvre in Paris, glassed in and heavily protected, reflecting the paintings on the walls around her.  Nearby hangs another work by Leonardo...less noticed by the crowds, but I think it is even more beautiful.

Virgin of the Rocks, by Leonardo da Vinci - Louvre, Paris

Researchers are building a strong case for La Bella Principessa being a Leonardo drawing.  Although both  the magazine article and the NOVA episode on PBS show the skeptics' point of view, those who doubt it is authentic fail to make a strong case.  Time may build an acceptance that the work is by Leonardo.  Until then, it's up to you--if you get the chance, read the National Geographic article or watch Nova and decide for yourself.   Is she really a Leonardo?  I like to think she is.  But even if she isn't, this beautiful portrait is an amazing addition to Renaissance art.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Goblin Valley - Nature's Playground

Goblin Valley, Utah

After leaving Capitol Reef, we drove to Goblin Valley.  Situated between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands, Goblin Valley is north of Hanksville, Utah.  We turned north at Hanksville, and drove across flat land and fields toward the state park.  This valley of eroded sandstone formations is small and contained, meaning you can roam freely without being afraid of getting lost.

Sandstone formations in Goblin Valley

The variety of features stimulates the imagination.  We climbed over and under hoodoos, and looked for shapes that reminded us of something.  Even though we reached this valley late in the day, and were tired from hiking around Capitol Reef National Park earlier, my kids were still having fun after an hour of scrambling around hoodoos.

A pair of ducks.

I thought this formation looked like a pair of ducks.  I also found a penguin and a dog.  This is a wonderful place to play.  If your kids are wearing bright colors, it is easy to spot them against the sandstone landscape.  You can always scramble to higher ground if you lose sight of someone.


A man named Arthur Chaffin explored Goblin Valley extensively, and photographed it, in the 1920s.  He nicknamed the area "Mushroom Valley," and you can definitely see why.

The guys sample a mushroom in Goblin Valley.

This particular mushroom-shaped rock formation gave us an "Alice in Wonderland" moment.  We had so much fun climbing around here.  There is a surprising variety in the rock formations.  Rock has eroded at different rates, sometimes leaving small, scattered hoodoos, and other times leaving tall formations that tower above you.

Wandering in Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley State Park is open year-round.  However, during the winter season (November through February), the Visitor's Center may be closed during lunch hours or on an occasional day when the park is short staffed.  We spent a couple hours here playing in the main valley of goblins before heading to Green River for dinner. Camping is available in the park, and there are hiking trails as well.  This place was definitely a family favorite, and I expect we will plan some return visits to this park!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Driving from Capitol Reef National Park to Goblin Valley - Scenery

Scenery outside of Capitol Reef National Park

After spending two days in a variety of Utah scenery from the aspen tree groves near Boulder, Utah, to the red rock of Kodachrome Basin and Capitol Reef, it shouldn't have been surprising to me to see yet another change in the Utah landscape.  This stark gray rock formation stood out like a sentinel near the roadway.  We passed a stretch that looked like an eerie lunar landscape.  The scenery continued to change as we drove to Hanksville, and turned north to Goblin Valley.

Rock formations in southern Utah

There is a joke in Utah that if you don't like the weather, you can wait a few minutes and it will change.  This is true only during rainstorms, which usually don't last long in this desert state.  However, the statement is pretty accurate when applied to scenery.  If you don't like the view, drive a little way and it will change!

Butte overlooking a field.

We didn't make any stops on this drive, so I got to practice my photography out the window skills again!  It is always gratifying when a photo turns out taken from the passenger side of a moving vehicle.

Nearing Goblin Valley

As we drove, the gray landscape gave way to fields and buttes, which in turn gave way to long flat stretches of sand and brush, interspersed with red rock formations as we neared Goblin Valley.  This section of Utah from Tropic to Goblin Valley is incredibly beautiful, and does not have the crowds that flock to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.  If you get the chance to take this drive, there is plenty to see and do along the way!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hiking Capitol Reef National Park - The Grand Wash

Beginning of the Grand Wash trail from Highway 24

It was a hot afternoon when we started on our hike of the Grand Wash.  There is very little shade on this hike until you get into the canyon, but because it is dangerous during rainstorms, we were grateful it was a clear day.  We started from the Highway 24 end of the trail, and chose to treat this hike as an out-and-back, rather than a through-hike.  A ranger told us we would reach  the "canyon" part of the trail more quickly from this end, so that is what we chose to do.  You can also begin your hike from the scenic drive near historic Fruita.

Rock cairns

Early in the hike we passed this great rock wall with holes and little caves scooped out of its sandy sides.  Several hikers had stacked rocks in these openings, and we stopped to enjoy the shade and add our own offerings to the wall.

Hole filled rock wall.

The Grand Wash is just that...a wash.  This hike is a flat walk on sand, gravel, and pebbles.  You can see raised sand bar areas deposited by flash floods that rip through the area during heavy rainstorms.  The lack of elevation gain makes this a relatively easy hike.  (There is a total 300 foot elevation change on this hike).

Scenery along the Grand Wash trail

Eventually the sunny trail curves between towering canyon walls, and we found shade and solitude.  The walls are massive and towered high above us.  Although we encountered a few other hikers, it was a very peaceful hike, and I enjoyed the stillness.

Dried mud curling on the trail.

In a couple of places we found curling sheets of dried mud.  When I picked them up, they were pretty stable.  I could break them into pieces.  I thought they would crumble in my hand, like sand, but they didn't.

Trail curving between the rock walls.

Can you spot the hikers in the above picture?  It gives you an idea of the scale of these rock formations.  I found this short video clip shot from the same part of the trail that gives you a little taste of this hike.

Take plenty of water on this hike.  We were grateful to find shade once we hit the canyon.  We continued hiking until we found a relatively narrow place along the trail.  This part of the hike is not like a slot canyon, but we had fun seeing if the four of us could span the canyon walls if we stood fingertip to fingertip.  We could, and a nice hiker took this photo for us.

Spanning the canyon walls.

Amazing colors in the canyon walls.

The colored streaks on some of the rock walls made beautiful designs.  Runoff and different minerals contribute to the colorful stripes.  We greatly enjoyed this hike.  If you treat it as an out-and-back, you can make this hike as long or as short as you wish.  It is suitable for many ages and abilities of hikers.

Exploring a cave.

The trail has many inviting slots and openings to explore.  Between building rock cairns, picking up dried slabs of mud, and climbing on the rocks, this was a very entertaining hike.  The trail is just over 6 miles round trip and is rated as easy.  As we had already done several things in the park that day and still wanted to make it to Goblin Valley, we limited our time on the Grand Wash trail, but still feel like we had a wonderful taste of what this trail has to offer.

The Grand Wash trail - Capitol Reef National Park

If you have time for only one hike in Capitol Reef, I think it is a toss-up as to which of the hikes we did was more enjoyable. Hickman Bridge and Grand Wash are both great, easy trails and each has their own unique features.  We would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite.  I enjoyed being up high looking at an arch, and also being at the bottom of a canyon.  We did not hike the "narrows" section of the Grand Wash trail.  Perhaps on another visit! 

Here is what we fit in during our one day at Capitol Reef National Park:
The Visitor's Center, Panorama Point, hike to Hickman Bridge, hiking part of the Grand Wash trail, visiting historic Fruita, a picnic, and viewing petroglyphs.  I hope you enjoyed sharing my visit to Capitol Reef!

If you missed any earlier posts, you may view them here:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Petroglyphs at Capitol Reef National Park

Figures carved at Capitol Reef National Park

Conveniently for park visitors, several wonderful Fremont petroglyphs are easily accessible from Highway 24.  As you follow the main road through the park, you will see the parking area for the petroglyphs.  Wooden platforms and shady boardwalks allow you to see and appreciate these interesting carvings in the rock walls.

Towering rock walls at Capitol Reef

At first, as you stand on the viewing platform beneath the enormity of the towering walls, it is hard to spot the carvings.  But in a few minutes, your eyes become accustomed to picking out the subtle shapes, and you can find figures, animal forms, and more on the lower portion of the rock face.

Big horn sheep petroglyph at Capitol Reef

This particular section of Fremont rock art is almost exclusively petroglyphs (carvings in the rock), as opposed to pictographs (paintings on the rock).   Depictions include animals, figures, and designs.  No one is sure of the meaning of the petroglyphs.  

Animal figures carved in the rock

The Fremont people were contemporary with the Anasazi/Puebloans.  They built pit houses rather than cliff dwellings, however.  The Fremont lived in the area from about 700 to 1300 AD.  No one is sure why these ancient cultures vacated the premises they had inhabited for so long.

More animal carvings.

Even if you are just passing through Capitol Reef National Park, stop for a few minutes and take a look at these petroglyphs.  Unlike other rock art panels found in the western United States, these petroglyphs are easily accessible by car.

More of our Capitol Reef adventures:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Capitol Reef National Park - The Gifford House in historic Fruita

The Gifford house now functions as a gift shop/museum.

As you drive into the Fruita historic district at Capitol Reef National Park, make time to stop at the Gifford house.  The original home was built by Calvin Pendleton in 1908.  The Jorgen Jorgenson family then lived there from 1916 until 1928, when Mr. Jorgenson sold the home to his son-in-law, Dewey Gifford.

Inside the Gifford farmhouse

The interior of the building now serves as a museum with furnished rooms on display.  A central display case also contains photos and histories of the early residents.

Bedroom in the home.

The homestead site today consists of the Gifford home, and some outbuildings. Nearby are fields with horses, fruit orchards, and a picnic area.  This is a pleasant area in the park, and seemed very peaceful after sharing the petroglyph view area with a large crowd of tourists from several tour buses. 

Food from the Gifford store.

After exploring the interior of the home, we purchased food to supplement our picnic lunch, and to take home and savor later.  We chose apple butter, two flavors of salsa, both savory and sweet scones, fruit syrup, and a berry pie.  The shop area is small, but it is fun to browse the shelves of treats.

Picnic site in Fruita

We were eager to try our treats, so we headed across the street and backtracked a bit to the picnic area we had passed on our way to the store.  There is ample parking at the site, and tables on the lawn under mature trees.  It is a beautiful picnic spot.  We even had lunch time entertainment when some wild turkeys decided to wander through.

Wild turkeys in Fruita

We visited Fruita as apple season was winding down.  There are cherry, peach, and apple trees in the park.  Orchards are being replanted so that eventually, trees will be grouped together in orchards by type.  Right now, regulations allow you to pick the amount of fruit you can eat at no charge.  If you wish to take more (i.e., some to take home with you), you will need to pay.  During the season, you may pick larger quantities of fruit, weigh your box or bag of produce, and pay for it at the pay stations.  Stepladders are in the orchard for your convenience.  I am glad the orchards have been preserved and are part of the park experience!

Orchard in Fruita

A few years ago, my husband did a painting entitled "Crimson Harvest" that is set in the apple orchards of Fruita.  It was really fun to visit the area he had painted, and to see these wonderful locations.

"Crimson Harvest" - acrylic painting by Greg Newbold

If you visit Capitol Reef, I recommend taking some time to get a feel for historic Fruita.  To get to the Gifford house, turn south off of highway 24 to the Visitor's Center.  Continue on this road (the Scenic Drive), until you get to the Gifford house.  It is on the west side of the road.  There are a few picnic tables near the parking area if you wish to eat a treat on site.  We went back to the picnic area on the east side of the road.  We did not continue down the Scenic Drive, but returned to highway 24 and drove on through the park.  You can access the Grand Wash trail from the Scenic Drive side, or from Highway 24.  After talking to a ranger at the Visitor's Center, we opted to hike part of the Grand Wash trail from the Highway 24 end.

More of our visit to Capitol Reef:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Historic Fruita Schoolhouse - Capitol Reef National Park

Historic Schoolhouse in Fruita, Utah

The historic district of Fruita, Utah, is now located in the heart of Capitol Reef National Park.  The area was settled by a small number of families who farmed and grew fruit trees.  This one-roomed schoolhouse was built in 1900.  It was upgraded in the 1930s to have a better roof and plastered walls.  The original school was built to accommodate children from the few families who lived in Fruita.  14 year old Nettie Behunin was the teacher, and became the first salaried teacher there years later at the age of 22.  Her father donated the land for the school.

Another side of the schoolhouse

As you travel through Capitol Reef National Park on Highway 24, you will see the turnout for this schoolhouse.  Parking is limited in the dirt lot, but it is worth it to stop and peek in the schoolroom windows.

Interior of the one-room schoolhouse

The park service has taken care to fill the interior of this small school with desks, slates, ink wells, and a stove for heat.  It exudes turn of the century charm.  I enjoyed taking a few minutes to imagine the children who lived in this little valley and attended this school.  The school remained in use until 1942.

Carvings on a rock near the school.

The National Park Service has written a nice history of this school house.  This was a worthwhile stop on our drive through Capitol Reef.

See more of our Capitol Reef adventures here: