Thursday, April 28, 2011
The second half of tonight's crappy movie double feature is The Hideous Sun Demon (1959). It's an interesting movie in its own way, sort of a film noir-ish journey through the seedy underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, with a protagonist who occasionally turns into a big scaly lizard monster.
He's minding his own business, you see, toiling away as an obscure atomic scientist, when an accident turns his life upside down. Which, his boss says, is the result of working with unusual isotopes while nursing a killer hangover. "Whiskey and soda mix, whiskey and science don't", he says. Our hero, you see, is a complete lush, and is about to become the ugliest mean drunk ever.
We don't actually witness the atomic accident in the movie. The filmmakers obviously didn't have the budget for that. Instead we get wooden actors on a cheap set discussing the horrible thing that just occurred to our hero offscreen. This happens more than once in the movie, and -- other than the sun demon suit itself -- there are no special effects in the film. On the bright side, a low budget also meant that they generally filmed on location rather than a sound stage or studio back lot, streets weren't closed off, etc., so you do get an interesting slice of the real 1959 LA with this movie.
Anyway, those unusual isotopes work their magic, and our hero soon discovers that exposure to the sun makes him temporarily "revert" to a reptilian form. The doctors say it's bound to get progressively worse over time until eventually he's all sun demon, all the time. 50s creature movies always had to toss in a sciency-sounding reason for whatever's going on, and this one is actually less stupid than most: We're briefed on the well-known (but long abandoned) theory that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny", and we're told that the isotopes have made the process reversible, so his cells periodically revert to their embryonic, reptilian stage. Complete fiction, obviously, but fiction cooked up by someone who paid attention in freshman biology. So there's that.
After he gets the bad news, our hero's life understandably goes off the rails -- even further than it already was. He quits his job, staggers around drunk in his isolated mansion (and how did he afford that swanky place, anyway?). He loses touch with coworkers, including a secretary who has a thing for him. She's nice and respectable and our hero never pays a moment's attention to her, even before he turns into a monster. He only goes out at night. He drives around in his flashy MGA sports car, and he hangs out in sketchy dive bars. He gets sorta-involved with Trudy, a Marilyn Monroe-sorta-lookalike nightclub singer who does the worst fake piano playing act you'll ever see in a movie. By "sorta-involved", I mean a not-at-all-ambiguous one night stand on the beach, which is something you usually don't encounter in 1959 movies. And the next morning he runs off and abandons her there because he's turning into a sun demon again. And later he shows up at the club wanting to see her. Naturally fisticuffs ensue with her mobster boyfriend and a few of his henchmen. Our hero ends up in pretty bad shape, and Trudy takes him in to nurse him back to health, or something. Mobster boyfriend shows up again & hauls him outside -- into the sun -- planning to finish the job. But round 2 is Sun Demon Smackdown time, and our hero makes short work of the mobster. Trudy sees him out the window, screams as he runs off (since she had no idea he was a hideous sun demon), and promptly vanishes from the film, never to be seen or heard from again.
A lengthy police chase ensues, into a strange landscape of pumps and tanks and oil derricks, and he offs a dog and squishes a couple of rats during the chase, because that's just how sun demons roll. Eventually he learns, as we do, that sun demons aren't bulletproof, and he plummets to his doom from atop a giant oil tank.
It turns out that the oil & gas scenes at the end of the movie were filmed in Signal Hill, California, which at the time was a major oil producing area near LA. Based on the photos I've seen, the landscape was even more surreal than what you see in the movie. The Wikipedia article has a panorama from 1923 that's just astonishing. There really, seriously, were tidy suburban houses and giant oil derricks all sandwiched together cheek by jowl. As the story goes, oil was discovered in Signal Hill right around the time the area was being subdivided and sold off for early suburban development. Many prospective homeowners decided there was more money in drilling for oil than in living here, and up went another derrick, even if there were suburban tract houses all around it. Imagine what it would have been like to grow up there.
Anyway, the key thing to understand about the movie is that our hero was already a drunk and kind of an asshole before he ever turned into an atomic monster. And everything that happens to him -- at least up to the point where he does in the mobster with his bare hands -- could just as easily have happened to him if he was a plain old non-reptilian boozehound on a downward spiral. It's a safe bet that the whole "sun demon" thing is a metaphor, and not exactly a subtle one.
The 50s were big on this sort of thing, movies about male anxiety and the awful things that happen if you stray from the straight and narrow for any reason. The Incredible Shrinking Man is probably the best of the lot, and The Manster is pretty entertaining, and there are countless others. The Hideous Sun Demon is far from the best, or the most entertaining, but you could probably get a term paper out of it if you needed to. Or a drinking game. Or both, most likely.
Tonight's crappy movie is The Astro-Zombies, a 1968 creature flick with John Carradine as the Mad Scientist, Wendell Corey as a CIA investigator, and Tura Satana as, well, Satana. The plot seems simple enough: Mad scientist creates ridiculous-looking creature. Creature goes on a berzerk killing spree, as creatures often do. Unlike most creatures, this one uses a machete, thus providing a bit of very unconvincing late-60s gore. The creature is also solar powered via some sort of crystal thingy on its forehead. At one point it's getting dark and the creature's running low on juice, so it grabs a flashlight, holds it to its forehead, and makes a run for the secret lab.
Meanwhile, a team of boring good guys in suits and Ms. Satana's team of international baddies go looking for the creature. Wendell Corey's character heads up the good guys, and whenever he speaks you can tell he's extremely drunk. This would be hilarious, except that Corey died of cirrhosis of the liver shortly after this film was completed. Actually it's still hilarious, it's just that laughing about it isn't very nice. A further odd detail is that Corey, a conservative Republican, was also on the Santa Monica, California, city council at the time he starred in The Astro-Zombies. Ahh-nold, eat your heart out.
There are basically four independent sorta-storylines going on in the movie: The Feds, the international baddies, the MS & assistant, and the creature at large. You never see John Carradine outside the lab, and nobody meets up until the very end of the film, which must have really simplified shooting the thing. It also makes for a distinct lack of drama; you can fast forward through the Carradine bits without missing anything at all, as he spends the whole film mumbling technobabble at his assistant and doing precisely bupkus. The Fed bits aren't overly thrilling either, and you can fast forward through them without missing a lot of essential plot twists. In fact it's fair to say, generally, that the less of the movie you actually watch, the less confused you'll be. You may as well stick to the creature parts, because the creature is a hoot, and the parts with Tura Satana slinking around being cruel to various people, which you don't want to miss, because, duh. Oh, and be sure to watch the title sequence & credits, which involve wind-up toy robots for some reason.
Anyway, after various semi-thrilling adventures, various characters arrive at the secret Carradine lab, and both he and the international baddies get theirs, and justice prevails. Believe me, this is as comprehensible a plot summary as you're going to get anywhere on the Interwebs. A review at Bad Movie Report goes into way more detail, and confesses to being utterly mystified by the movie. And that's coming from someone who's seen way more crappy movies than I have. If the pros can't make head or tail of the thing, what hope do the rest of us have?
A low-quality video clip of Portland's Chiming Fountain, in lower Washington Park near Reservoir 3. I say "low quality" mostly because it's filmed sideways. My little digital camera at the time was happy to recognize that the camera was rotated for still photos, but not so much for videos. Camera makers, and YouTube for that matter, still tend to assume that all video is in landscape format, even though there's no longer any technical reason for that to be the case. YouTube supposedly has a function to rotate videos -- so instead of a rotated video I'd have a tiny right-side-up video with big black vertical bars on either side. In short, I blame society for this video's shortcomings.
Fortunately I had a few photos of the fountain lying around, and you don't have to wrench your neck or rotate your monitor or or anything to look at them, so I've included them too.
The important thing about this video is the audio track, where you can sort of make out the chiming sounds that give the fountain its name. It's nice and pleasant and would be even nicer without all the traffic a few feet away. Traffic was obviously not in the original Victorian-era plan, and with it you don't notice the chiming until you're up close to the fountain, and even then you may not realize that it's the whole point behind the fountain. And if you don't realize it's supposed to drip gently and make pleasant metallic sounds, you might just think it's a plain old fountain with a faulty pump or something, which it's not.
The link I provided above mentions that the fountain was originally painted white, and had a figure of a boy on top with a staff that sprayed water. Elsewhere I've seen the figure described as a Cupid or a cherub of some sort. He vanished mysteriously some time after 1912. Possibly the good taste police came by and removed him, on the principle that everything is better without cherubs.
Posted by brx0 _ at 4:09 PM
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A few photos of Eugene's Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge and the Willamette River nearby. It's not a very interesting bridge; it's a grey concrete bridge from 1968 that carries Interstate 105 (and not Washington or Jefferson streets) over the Willamette. I only took photos of it because we happened to stay at a hotel nearby a few years ago, and the bridge was right out the window, so there was basically zero effort involved.
To give you some idea of just how uninteresting the bridge is, there's no Wikipedia article about it, and there isn't even a Structurae page for it, which tells you that even hardcore bridge nerds don't pay attention to it.
I forgot I'd taken any photos of the bridge until I bumped into them in a dark corner of iPhoto recently, and I realized these were the only photos I have of anything at all in Eugene, since I basically never go there or even give much thought to the place. Prior to these photos, I think the last time I'd been to Eugene was back in college in 1990, when a friend dragged me to a Grateful Dead show at Autzen Stadium. I'll just say it was anthropologically fascinating; musically less so.
I've always thought it was strange that Eugene ended up with a little Interstate highway of its very own, but apparently there were once proposals for an even more elaborate freeway system. The Roosevelt Freeway was cancelled around the same time as Portland's Mt. Hood Freeway, and repeated proposals for a so-called "West Eugene Parkway" have been thwarted by community opposition.
I don't claim to have any insight into Eugene beyond the common hippie stereotypes, and I don't like trading in stereotypes, so I don't know what (if anything) people think about the bridge, or the interstate in general. I'd tend to assume they aren't fans, or more precisely there are very vocal activists within the larger community who aren't fans. But I really have no idea.
The opposite side of the bridge is home to Washington/Jefferson Park, which sits on either side of, and partly underneath, the bridge. The city refers to it as "previously troubled", and notes that they're putting in a big skatepark under the bridge to help revitalize the place. I think they're hoping for something like Portland's Burnside Skatepark, which was built guerrilla style back in the 1980s.
So anyway, I've posted all the Eugene photos I own, and I've filled a non-geotagged hole in this humble blog's map of the world (or I will once I generate an updated version of the map, since that's still not automatic.) On my big TODO and Maybe-TODO list for this blog, there are currently no additional Eugene-area items, and I also don't know of any compelling non-blog reasons to make the two hour drive south. I'm not saying I won't think about Eugene again for another 20 years, but I can't rule it out either. So, um, enjoy.
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Today's adventure takes us back out to the Columbia Gorge, this time to little-known Sheridan State Park. Like a lot of obscure places I've covered lately, it's obscure because there's not a lot to it. It was a little forested wayside on the original Gorge Highway, and it became inaccessible for many years after the old highway was replaced by I-84. The section of old highway between Eagle Creek and Cascade Locks was restored for bikes and pedestrians a few years ago, so you can once again visit the park if you're interested.
I had actually heard of the place before; old guides to the gorge highway that I'd read mentioned the place as one of the many parks and waysides along the road, and it occurred to me that several places on these old lists had vanished from most modern maps. Which, if you've read this humble blog for any amount of time, you'll know is ample reason for me to go looking for these obscure spots, even if there isn't much to see or do once I get there.
To be fair, it's not like it's a bad thing that the park looks exactly like the forest around it. I'd sort of hoped for more, at least some more remnants of the old road, but no such luck. Still, although it's at most a footnote here, a lot of states would be really excited to have a place like this in their inventory. So there's that.
It seems to have always been a footnote, in fact; I've tried searching the Oregonian Historical Archive for info about the place, and have found next to nothing. The June 28, 1953 Oregonian published a catalog of roadside picnic areas describes it briefly:
Sheridan wayside,, 12 acres, 44 miles east of Portland on U.S. 30, Columbia River highway. Wayside picnic area with view of Columbia River gorge east toward Bridge of Gods and west toward Bonneville dam. Picnic facilities.
And that's it. If the place has appeared in the paper at any other time since the 1850s, the historical archive's imperfect OCR has failed to notice it.
I should point out that the park no longer has views (due to trees growing, presumably), or picnic facilities.
The park's directly across the river from Sheridan Point, a bend in the river named for Phil Sheridan. He's best known as a Civil War general, but before that he was stationed at Ft. Vancouver and fought Indians. The point, and (I think) thus the park, are named in honor of his role in avenging the Cascades Massacre, which occurred nearby. Hmm.
It's not clear exactly where the park's boundaries are; I'd originally set out to locate it by tromping toward the GPS coordinates given in the Wikipedia article. That turns out to be in the middle of a talus slope some ways uphill and away from the road. It occurred to me while I was off looking for that spot that it would make for a really fascinating lawsuit if I managed to break an ankle or something. Meanwhile, the location of the sign shown here is indicated by the green arrow on the map above. Maybe both locations are in the park, or neither are.
For what it's worth, Hood River County's GIS system lists the park as tax lot 02N07E1400301, measuring 9.8 acres. Nearby are two ODOT-owned parcels that may or may not also count as part of the thing: 02N07E1400300 (19.41 acres) and 02N07E1400100 (9.4 acres).
Your best bet, probably, is to just walk the trail until you get to Cascade Locks, or at least to the tunnel under I-84, and know that at some point you had been in the park, and enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling. (Warm fuzzy feeling optional.)
Posted by brx0 _ at 2:19 PM
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A couple of old photos of Abert Rim in SE Oregon, a bit north of Lakeview. These are old mini-roadtrip photos from 2007, and I didn't post them at the time because they're really not that great, and I only have two photos total, taken from a moving vehicle since I was on my way to Fort Rock that day and didn't have time to stop.
It doesn't appear there's really much more you can do here without a serious 4wd vehicle and then some serious backpacking gear (neither of which I happen to own), as Abert Rim is a BLM Wilderness Study Area.
For those unfamiliar with the term, "study" in this context means an administrative (rather than legislative) moratorium on development. It basically means the place is being held in reserve in case Congress ever decides to designate it as a full-blown wilderness area someday. So it's been awaiting a favorable political climate since July 1992, in fact, and it's pretty much a given the current chock-full-o-wingnuts Congress isn't going to take up the cause. The possibility of development here isn't an idle notion, either; there have been several proposals to build some sort of "pumped storage" hydroelectric project at adjacent Abert Lake, and the most recent proposal was only abandoned in 2009.
I'm not an anti-development zealot or anything, but it's easy to imagine how things could go very wrong here. It's easy to imagine rows of ugly million-dollar McMansions with million-dollar views lining the top of Abert Rim, the requisite golf course next to the lake, the whole thing fenced off and guarded by Taser-happy security guards to keep the locals and other riffraff out. And, naturally, a backroom deal so that residents don't pay property taxes or otherwise contribute to the local economy in any way. It's not hard to imagine; look what happened to Bend, after all.
In any case, the main reason I'm posting these photos now is because it's late April in Portland, and this endless, grey, chilly spring is dragging on and on, and I'd really rather post something with a bit of blue sky in it. I distinctly recall that it was a warm day when I took these photos. In fact the car windows were up because the AC was on. I vaguely recall what that was like...