PREVIEW - Winter 2012
By Lars Strandberg,
Lars Aberg and Ronnie Nilsson
Gibbs Smith, 266 page, $45
One of the most difficult challenges in life is to see ourselves as others see us. We all need mirrors that reflect reality, but if we hold them in our own hands, the image is too often distorted by our personal perspectives. We tend to be unwilling to look honestly at who we are, afraid we won’t like what we see.
Which is why those of us living in the American West—hell, everyone living in America—should give thanks to a trio of Swedes who bring us closer to ourselves with a collection of photos and essays that ring painfully, powerfully and yet lovingly true.
The essays of Lars Aberg, the photos of Lars Strandberg, and the design of Ronnie Nilsson are an absolute gift, if we are only willing to receive them.
“The prevailing myth of the American West is also one of its truths: by traveling in this direction you could leave your old life behind—slavery, religious intolerance, a dysfunctional family, destitution, a prison sentence—and acquire a new name, creating a platform for a new beginning.”
And: “The nation wants to be wall-to-wall carpet, but no one takes off his boots…Threadbare millions cast shadows into clean-cut swimming-pool communities…Few live where they were born—each year a fifth of the population finds a new address…Tom Joad’s ghost is roaming the infrastructure; the highway is alive tonight; as long as you move you are still in this world. If you stop, you’ll be framed.”
Toward the end of these essays, punctuated with photos of landscapes and people worn and weathered and made therefore more real and enduring, Alberg sadly observes, “When the entire West has been populated there can be no more innocence, if there ever was any. Sprawling across the inhabitable wilderness, the new towns without center, soul or content become fantasies of independence, devoid of history. Each year Americans buy enough plastic wrap to cover the state of Texas.”
And, he concludes with more hope, “Certain things are not visible because they don’t come around. But outside is a highway and out there is the West. Go figure it out.”
This is a great book, and a great holiday gift. Give it to someone who wants a clear reflection.
– David Bolling
The story of california state parks
Written and Directed by David Vassar for PBS
Backcountry Pictures, 105 minutes
Timing, as they say, is everything. Just as the state budget debacle threatened to shutter 70 of California’s cherished state parks, a beautifully filmed, comprehensively researched and lovingly edited two-part documentary on the history and future of those parks was released to the public and broadcast on PBS stations.
Starting with the birth of the state park system at Yosemite Valley in 1864—with Congressional approval for transferring the land to state ownership—the film traces the unfolding chapters of park creation and provides a stunning inventory of the natural riches preserved in the system.
The film was written, directed and co-produced by award-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker David Vassar, and co-produced by Sally Kaplan of Backcountry Pictures. The idea for the film preceded the park closure crisis, and was inspired by the unfolding battle between conservationists and developers over the proposed Orange County Toll Road that would have paved over a portion of San Onofre State Beach. Vasser and Kaplan felt compelled to tell the state parks story as a way to remind viewers of their value and to inspire more preservation and protection.
The first episode is focused on park history, with a scenic and cultural tour highlighting key people, locations and events. The second episode focuses on the range of daunting problems confronting state parks, including the ongoing threat of closures; habitat destruction; the conflict between recreation and protection of native species; brown fields reclamation to create new urban parks; further creation of historic sites commemorating people and events of California’s rich past.
The film makes a compelling case not only for protecting the peerless park system we’ve already created, but for getting out to see it. Watch this film and you’ll want to step outside and visit the wonders you’ve seen on the screen.
California Forever has already won critical acclaim, named “Best Educational Program” by the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Montana, and was recognized for “Excellence in Feature Documentary” by the Accolades Film and Video Awards.
– David Bolling
Celebrity Vineyards: From Napa To Tuscany in Search of Great Wine
By Nick Wise
Welcome Books, 288 pages, $35
The oldest joke in Wine Country goes like this: Question: How do you make a small fortune in the wine industry? Answer: Start with a large fortune.
It is not a joke that a growing number of celebrities pay much attention to, because owning a vineyard, a winery, or least a wine label, has become one of the symbols of 21st Century wealth.
Wikipedia has posted a list of 75 celebrities who own vineyards, wineries or both, and California Wine Country is populated with celebrity winemakers, including Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil, Francis Ford Coppola, Tom Smothers, Mario Andretti, Peggy Fleming, Jeff Gordon, the late Raymond Burr, Bruce Cohn, John and Nancy Lasseter, Carmen Policy, Tom Seaver, Dan Aykroyd, Alex Spanos, Dick Vermeil, Mick Fleetwood, Jonathan Cain (of Journey), Mike Ditka, Charles Woodson and Robert Kamen, among others.
Many members of that list are decidedly serious, which is to say they own their own vines and wineries, and they’ve hired gifted vineyard managers and winemakers to help them create really fine wines that they then sell to the public.
Notably among that group are Coppola, Kamen (see cover story), Cohn, Smothers and the Lasseters. Three of the names on that list are now profiled in a new book (due out in March) by wine consultant and author Nick Wise called, Celebrity Vineyards.
Wise, most noted as author of several books on popular music icons, traveled the world in what he has described as a “great adventure,” to interview the celebrities and taste their wines. He covers 16 people, ranging from Sonoma County’s Kamen, Cohn and Copppola, to Antonio Banderas in Spain, Dan Aykroyd in Canada, American porn star Savanna Samson in Tuscany and auto-racing icon Mario Andretti in the Napa Valley.
The book is gorgeously illustrated with photos culled from many sources (including a stunning nude of Samson reclining on a bed of red grapes), and the interviews are incisive and in-depth. Wise, who grew up in Europe with a wine-wise father, writes with easy authority and friendly familiarity.
Celebrity Vineyards is a worthy addition to the library of any wine aficionado, famous or obscure.
– David Bolling
The Fate of California is in your hands
Narrated by Ed Begley, Jr.
Media Creations, in association with Open Ocean Productions and Restore the Delta • 45 minutes
If you’re new to California, or simply lack an understanding of its hydrological contours, you may not be aware that there is an immense bathtub in the middle of the state with a drain hole through which the vast majority of its undeveloped fresh water flows.
The bathtub is called the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and the drain hole is the Carquinez Straits. All the water from the Sacramento, Feather, Yuba, American, Mokelumne, Stanislaus, Merced and Kings Rivers—to name just the most prominent drainages—gather in the Delta and drain out through the Carquinez Straits to San Pablo Bay and, eventually, to the sea.
It is the most important estuary on the West Coast of the Western hemisphere and it sustains the biological diversity upon which a complex web of life is built.
The health of the Delta impacts the health of every organism living in it and passing through it, prominently including salmon.
Now, as California continues to grapple with the endless dilemma of how to provide enough water for farming, families and fish, a new version of an old solution is taking shape with what some critics believe is biologically dangerous and irresponsible speed.
The perceived need is to transfer more water to the farms, families and industries of Central and Southern California, without doing damage to the fish that use the Delta as a giant nursery. Some would argue too much water is already exported, others insist more can be shipped if the flow can be routed past that delicate nursery without upsetting its hydrology.
Decades ago the solution was called the peripheral canal. Now it’s called a peripheral tunnel, it could cost $17 billion (at least) and, to hear some critics tell it, the biological life of the Delta will be sucked dry if it’s built.
That’s what this film is about, that’s the case it makes, sometimes a bit stridently, but with gorgeous footage of an ecosystem—and a crucial water resource—upon which California’s future literally depends.
It is a one-sided argument, to be sure, but an important perspective for anyone to consider who is invested in the survival of both fish and farms.
– David Bolling
From the 2012 Winter issue of SONOMA