Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In George Lucas, Disney Finds Even More Magic

Disney's announcement today on it's acquisition of Lucasfilms (LucasArts, Industrial Light and Magic, Skywalker Sound, etc., etc.) should come as no surprise. Uncle Walt did a fine job of creating and sustaining an entertainment empire during his lifetime. His successors have done very well for the most part. The purchase of the Star Wars franchise and the production of future films should keep Disney in the money for a long time. In the same manner, George Lucas will now have about 40,000,000 shares of Disney and $2,000,000,000 to fund his future.

Lucas isn't the first magician to make waves in the Disney empire. There's a long list, but two of the most memorable are the sorcerer and his over-ambitious apprentice in Fantasia (1940), the company's third major animated feature. What better way to honor the merger of magic as practiced by Lucas and Disney
than through the film's depiction of  The Sorcerer's Apprentice. And it's Halloween!

Over 700 artists created the animation for this classic, a must-see for film buffs. It took years for this forward-thinking film to make a profit, but its frequent editing and re-release over the years fulfilled Walt Disney's intention that Fantasia should always be a work in progress. Another fine aspect of the film is its wonderful soundtrack featuring the Philadelphia Orchestra performing under the baton of arranger and conductor, Leopold Stokowski.

N.B. Some fans say that Lucas's tinkering with the re-release of his Star Wars films has characterized him more as an apprentice rather than a master. We note that he wrote and directed a masterpiece, American Graffiti,  when he was 29, and followed with his first Star Wars film three years later.

Photo: Nicolas Genin

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A New Novel From Tom Wolfe

Photo: New York Magazine                                                                                                                                         

It's been a long way from The Kandy-Colored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby to tackling the Great American Novel for Tom Wolfe. Granted, that journey hasn't been especially easy for the 81 year-old New Journalism icon, but he's always been quite happy interpreting the American experience from the outside. Wolfe's newest observations take on the immigration theme and the Cuban-Americans community dominating the scene in Miami. Back to Blood hit the market last week. There's been plenty of chatter about the book over the past six months, but this article reprinted from New York Magazine, is a pleasing blend of biography and book. Enjoy

H/T: Real Clear Politics

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Crystal Bridges: A Legacy For America

File:Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art--2012-04-12.jpg

A few years ago, Alice Walton, heir to a Walmart fortune estimated at more than $20 billion, decided to share her love of art with the public. The result of that decision, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, opened in Bentonville, Arkansas, late last year. The facility is a 200,000 s.f. complex of several galleries surrounding a lake at the bottom of a forested ravine. It is itself a work of art - designed by architect, Moshe Safdie, and engineer, Buro Happold - with a cost estimate exceeding  $50,000,000. There is no admission fee to view the permanent collection.

George Washington                                  Gilbert Stuart, 1797

Miss Walton and the Walton Family Foundation recently endowed the museum with an $800,000,000 gift to sustain operations, maintenance, and museum acquisitions in perpetuity. This circumstance makes Crystal Bridges an immediate  leader among American museums and positions it for a great future as a seed for art and community in the Southern Plains and Mississippi Valley.

What makes Crystal Bridges different is its mission:
Kindred Spirits                                            Asher Durand, 1849

to welcome all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of landscape. We explore the unfolding story of America by actively collecting, exhibiting, interpreting, and preserving outstanding works that illuminate our heritage and artistic possibilities.

Currently, the museum has 400 works on exhibit tracing the American experience from the heroic portraiture of the 18th century to today's constructions, assemblages, and kinetic art. Wandering the galleries of this

The Lantern Bearers                                 Maxfield Parrish, 1908

extraordinary building is a pleasing instructive journey and one most people would never expect in a smaller metropolitan area - it ranks 109th in the nation. The caveat here is the place's identity as the sixth fastest growing area in the country, thanks in part to being the home of Walmart, Tyson Foods, J.B Hunt Transportation Services and 2,000 offices of companies supporting these industries.

Sound Suit                      Nick Cave, 2010

It won't be long before Alice Walton's vision will be the heart of an art and education network "exploring the unfolding story of America" for a million residents and millions of visitors. We should thank Alice Walton and the Walton Family Foundation for their foresight, generosity, and desire to share their good fortune. Perhaps their example will both encourage others to make good use of the fertile, entrepreneurial environment this nation affords  its super achievers and find joy in sharing the fruits of their circumstance.

N.B. It will be interesting to see how the sons and daughters of Helen and Sam Walton use their wealth. The family and its foundation have a history of sharing their wealth quietly and somewhat modestly, given a combined worth exceeding $100,000,000,000. When Helen died in 2007 she gave her entire share - over $16 billion - to a variety of charities in a multi-year disbursement. Alice, as a 63 year-old, childless divorcee who loves art, horses, and the University of Arkansas, could be positioned to do some spectacular things in the near future. Time will tell.

Sources: Wikipedia, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art,

Friday, October 19, 2012

Route 66: Thoughts Of Natty Bumppo On The Mother Road

Photo: Guy Randall
At this very moment we're sitting on an original portion of U.S. Route 66 in rural Kansas. The road curves south where the Brush Creek Bridge spans a narrow, quiet section of the Spring River. The bridge, a Marsh arch "rainbow," is the last of its kind on the historic Chicago to L.A. route. As a designated U.S. highway for over sixty years, millions of travelers used this road for passage to a better life in the promised land of California. In its first three decades the highway funneled many members of the Greatest Generation west where they became the backbone and muscle to fight and win World War II, then help lift a nation into a world power. Who could imagine this short stretch of road where rabbits now outnumber cars could be so significant?  Single links do build great chains.  Today Route 66 may soon become a national scenic trail - or something similar - and far more than the confederation of well-meaning state and local interest groups that keep the memory and experience  alive today.  Here in the very southeast corner of Kansas visitors can find a tiny portion - a tad more than twelve miles - of the original 2451 miles. It may be a short distance and a relatively brief experience, but it is the real thing, an honest and genuinely deep experience for cultural history types.

A century and a half ago, the novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, buried Natty Bumppo, his hero of the Leatherstocking saga, under a copse of noble oaks on the Nebraska prairie. It was the end of the frontier for Cooper as well. Fifty years later at the end of the nineteenth century, Frederick Jackson Turner wrote that the geographic frontier in America had swept across the continent to an end on the Pacific coast. That closure also called into question Turner's hypothesis of the frontier as a shaper of a distinctive American character. What experiences would define the American people and their great experiment without the old frontier? Today, this concept of environmental determinism has been appropriately marginalized, but in its day, it was a respected and powerful concept. Much of the revision began in the development of new a new frontier; that is, the psychology of mind, emotion, and behavior.  Perhaps this piece of the Mother Road is a fine and fitting nexus of the physical and behavioral frontiers in a culture that has long defined itself by mobility.

As Americans we have lived like no other nation, a New World republic, and quite the experiment in equality and human rights.  Not perfect, but ever more perfectible among nation states as the national experience unfolded.  As such, in the spirit of Cooper's deerslayer, pathfinder, and pioneer, we may find ourselves on highways searching for betterment and perhaps our very survival.  In our minds, there is no limit to our frontiers at least until we approach the world of teleology where reality and reason give way to landscapes stranger than our logic and imagination should permit us to understand.

Here on the American prairie we're watching Route 66 disappear to a dot in a classic linear perspective. It's a scene straight out of elementary school art class.  Our thoughts turn to those who first conceived the idea of this highway, to those who built it, to those who sought and used it.  What would Natty Bumppo think of this? This isn't Nebraska, but for all we know, he could be resting over there in those trees on that rise off to the southwest. He's been  here all this time watching the parade of the curious, the ambitious, the desperate.  It's just that things are slower now along the Mother Road, a treasured trace across the heartland and a powerful force that continues to shape who we are as a people.  And now the road also captivates travelers from around the world.

As travelers without a serious destination, we take each turn and rise in Route 66 as it rolls over the prairie, always looking forward to whatever this fascinating resource has to offer. We will pass this way again.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An October Reprise

OTR wrote this post for the blog in October 2008. It is a story that never ages.

Hulling black walnuts in 1972. 

Every October 15, my mind floods with wonderful memories. From birth through my 27th year, the date marked an important event in my life. The story descends out of my dad's membership in the Uniform Rank of the Knights of Pythias. The URKP was an elite military-style company within a fraternal organization born out of the search for national reconciliation following the Civil War. Every good military organization needed a campground, with lodging, mess hall, recreation pavilion, and parade. The URKP had theirs in the small village of Burlington, West Virginia. It also served as a regional park, complete with playground, and was often rented for the day for family reunions, company picnics, church functions, and other large gatherings. October 15, my mind floods with wonderful memories. From birth through my 27th year, the date marked an important event in my life. The story descends out of my dad's membership in the Uniform Rank of the Knights of Pythias. The URKP was an elite military-style company within a fraternal organization born out of the search for national reconciliation following the Civil War. Every good military organization needed a campground, with lodging, mess hall, recreation pavilion, and parade. The URKP had theirs in the small village of Burlington, West Virginia. It also served as a regional park, complete with playground, and was often rented by the day for family reunions, company picnics, church functions, and other large gatherings.

1959 or thereabouts
"Camp" at Burlington was paradise for a young boy. A creek bordering the camp offered hours of fun. You could explore the woods and fields forever. The frequent social events made the playground a great place to meet new friends. But "camping" at Burlington was, by no means, a wilderness experience. We were lucky to use a cottage that had every comfort of home. And there was a drive-in theater next door where I enjoyed the snack bar as much as the movies. Across the road was a small airfield with several Taylorcrafts and Piper Cubs, and a hangar that gave birth to many "homebuilts" over the years. I can say with confidence that Burlington was never boring.

Through the summer of 1974, I spent many weeks at "camp" every year, including several weekends of "cold camping" in the off-season. Opening the cottage and grounds for the summer, though exciting, was not especially memorable. Freezing temperatures lingered into May, so the campground usually opened on Memorial Day weekend. On the other hand, winterizing the place was like saying "Goodbye" to an old friend. Thoughts of family, friends, the big fish, fireworks, that scary movie, the old biplane, all those memories accumulated over the past six months filled your mind. Amid the blazing gold sycamores, brilliant fire oaks and maples, the smell of wood smoke, and a harvest of black walnuts, we went through the years-old closing procedure until the last item - pouring anti-freeze into sink traps - was checked.
At that point, it was time to load the car, proceed with all those repetitive tasks one does "just to be sure," then close and lock the big red door until Spring.

As American society changed, the URKP fell out of fashion. Lodge members grew old and passed away. In 1974, the lodge itself and all its assets dissolved. I haven't locked that big red door for 34 years now, but I still have the key and a remarkably detailed mental picture of the cottage and landscape that I loved.

In many ways, Burlington is with me every day, for my experiences there helped shape my values and define my career, hobbies, and general interests. The impact has been so profound that I have asked my children to do their best to provide the same opportunity for their own families.

In weaving all of the memories about this weekend, I ask you, my readers, to do the same: Find a nearby paradise and escape to it often while your children are young. There will be no sorrow there.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Walmart As Capitalism 101

Sam Walton's 5&10. The next step was Discount City and the world.
Three quarters of a million people now live in the three counties from Fayetteville north to the state line in the northwest corner of Arkansas. This is Walmart country. It is the holy land of free enterprise where Sam Walton opened his first Walmart Discount City in 1962. Over those few decades as Walmart grew into the "world's third largest public corporation," the company transformed the plateau prairie into a prosperous landscape. The change came quickly once the company that visited its suppliers said, "No more!"  From that day forward those salesmen who wanted their products on Walmart shelves had to visit Bentonville for an audience with the buyers.  It is no wonder today that almost 100 business aircraft fly out of the area's two general aviation airports, Rogers Muni-Carter Field and Bentonville Muni-Thaden Field.  It is no wonder that more than thirty airlines identify with the 260 scheduled weekday arrivals and departures out of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.

As one would expect, the Walmart holy land is a classic example of the money generation model in action. The retail reach of thousands of stores and services far exceeds the area's three-county grasp. Granted, it isn't like shopping at Waterside in Naples, but it's damn close if you don't need the palms and bromeliads. There's no beach either, but an abundance of nearby lakes provides plenty of broad and deep water in addition to 3,000 miles of shoreline.This is but one element of the quiet and relaxation to be found after a thirty minute drive east or west of US71 and the money model madness.

It is a nice compromise watching day by day as fall colors invade a large grove of trees across the fence.  For OTR it's new trees and new birds, but the old barn, with its missing boards and battered tin roof, recalls the long history here.  It is a diverse history as well, quite fitting of a place where the Ozark and Boston Mountains spill into the prairie grasslands of the Great Plains and the llano winds of Texas whisper from a mere few hours away.

OTR supposes that for  many this will always be flyover country. After all, hardly a minute passes in the day when you can't see eight or ten contrails from the commercial jets flying between Denver, St. Louis, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, L.A., and beyond.  Still, the Cessnas, Dessaults, Bombardiers, Beechcrafts, and occasional Gulfstreams on approach and departure here tell another story. It may not be for everyone. but here in the Arkansas holy land, life is very, very good.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ignorance As Commie Chic

A demonstrator waves a flag with an image of Che Guevara in the rain during a march in Bogota
ReutersPhoto by Jose Miguel Gomez
Sometime during this week in 1967, one of the Western Hemisphere's - if not the world's - most infamous Communist butchers met  his fate by firing squad in Bolivia. In death, the image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara has become a world-wide symbol for revolution. It is an appalling and ubiquitous reality. In a brief post at Townhall, Humberto Fontova tells readers all they need to know about the horror behind the smiling face.