Friday, February 28, 2014

Remembering Oscar’s Songs

Fist Best Song winner

Well, the big 86th Annual Academy Awards are set for this Sunday, a holy day for movie lovers and the perfect opportunity for the cynics and terminally ironic to ridicule the spectacle that they can hardly tear their eyes away from.  The usual hoopla is in full bloom from TV specials to slick magazine spreads and endless promotions on the plethora of entertainment news shows.
Most of the attention, of course, focuses on the expanded nine film Best Picture field that contains the docu-comedy American Hustle (virtually no chance since comedies are not considered prestige and win less often westerns);  the really serious, important film of the year 12 Years a Slave which has prestige written all over it;  a damn fine adventure yarn with political overtones, Captain Phillips (too much a popcorn favorite);   The Wolf of Wall Street this year’s Scorsese snub;  Philomena an extremely earnest film with a distinguished British  star (a category Academy voters find hard to resist; Gravity, a dazzling technical achievement staring a Hollywood darling smashing typecasting (no space operas however sophisticated need apply); Dallas Buyer’s Club, a quirky flick that flew under the radar until cashing in for an armload of Golden Globes; the even quirkier Nebraska with this year’s Indie buzz; Her quirky and indie cubed AND a comedy (see snowball’s chance in hell.)
Yes, it is an interesting race.  And look, I just got caught up in the popular game of handicapping the race.  So you know I’m hooked.  Of course there are lots of other races.  And I am curious how Tom Hanks, Hollywood favorite good guy with to outstanding performances under his belt, escaped a Best Actor not, even though Captain Phillips made it into the best picture sweepstakes.
But I don’t want to talk about any of that this time.  After all Best Picture awards are notorious for missing the real best picture and pinning the rose on camp spectacle like The Greatest Show on Earth.  Don’t get me started.
I want to talk about the Best Song category, which has a much better, at least until recent years, track record.
The Academy Award for Best Song was first awarded in 1934, seven years after the Hollywood festival of self-congratulations first began.  Reading over a list of the winners for the first several decades is a tour of some of the enduring classics of popular music.  Almost every one became a standard, one of those songs that are always fresh and open to new performers and interpretations.    Even in years when another song may have been, in retrospect, more deserving it was only because of the depth and strength of cinematic tunes.

Since 1989 the award, for better or worse has been dominated by animated films, which were often virtually the only musicals being made.  Some of those songs were fine, others as interchangeable as black socks.  Some years the Academy, whose musical tastes were suspected of being “square” would suddenly embrace something daring, again with mixed results.  Some of these songs were also so deeply tied to the content of the movie that they could have no independent life, no real chance to become a standard.  Who is going to be covering It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp in 20 years?

A few years ago Randy Newman, the always-the-bridesmaid, almost-never-the-bride of the Oscars walked away with the statuette for We Belong Together from Toy Story 3.  The twenty time nominee had previously brought home only one award.  It sounded exactly like a Randy Newman song—almost any Randy Newman song.  But the competition was even less memorable.  The audience at home was more apt to be humming the bump music for the commercials than any of the nominees.

Too bad.  Here is hoping the movie songs can regain their former glory.  This year there are two animated entries—this year’s hipster hope Happy from Despicable Me by Pharrell Williams, the dude in the big hat who got the Golden globe and the Disney anthem du jour Let It Go.  Then there is the wistful, whispered The Moon Song from Her and Ordinary Love from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the “dysfunctional love song” by Bono and the boys from U2.  If Academy voters run true to form, the Disney ditty gets it.  If they are stretching their hip muscles, then Williams takes it home.  Forget The Moon Song—most voters did not stay awake through it.  But I am betting that the cultural steamroller that is Bono and the reflected glory of Nelson Mandela takes it home.  
The question is will you be singing any of these songs in the shower twenty years from now?

Here are all of the previous award winners.
1934 - The Continental -THE GAY DIVORCEE - Herb Magidson, Con Conrad
1935 - Lullaby of Broadway - GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 - Harry Warren, Al Dubin
1936 - The Way You Look Tonight - SWING TIME - Dorothy Fields, Jerome Kern
1937 - Sweet Leilani -WAIKIKI WEDDING - Harry Owens
1938 - Thanks for the Memory - THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 - Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin
1939 - Over the Rainbow -THE WIZARD OF OZ - E. Y. Harburg, Harold Arlen
1940 - When You Wish upon a Star - PINOCCHIO - Ned Washington, Leigh Harline
1941 - The Last Time I Saw Paris - LADY BE GOOD - Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern
1942 - White Christmas - HOLIDAY INN - Irving Berlin
1943 - You'll Never Know - HELLO, FRISCO, HELLO - Harry Warren, Mack Gordon
1944 - Swinging on a Star - GOING MY WAY - Johnny Burke, James Van Heusen
1945 - It Might As Well Be Spring - STATE FAIR - Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II
1946 - On The Atchison, Topeka & The Santa Fe - THE HARVEY GIRLS - Harry Warren, Johnny Mercer
1947 - Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah - SONG OF THE SOUTH - Ray Gilbert, Allie Wrubel
1948 - Buttons and Bows - THE PALEFACE - Ray Evans, Jay Livingston
1949 - Baby, It's Cold Outside - NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER - Frank Loesser
1950 - Mona Lisa - CAPTAIN CAREY, U.S.A. - Ray Evans, Jay Livingston
1951 - In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening - HERE COMES THE GROOM - Johnny Mercer, Hoagy Carmichael
1952 - High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin’) - HIGH NOON - Ned Washington, Dimitri Tiomkin
1953 - Secret Love - CALAMITY JANE - Paul Francis Webster, Sammy Fain
1954 - Three Coins in the Fountain - THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN - Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn
1955 - Love is a Many-Splendored Thing - LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING - Paul Francis Webster, Sammy Fain
1956 - Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera) - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH - Jay Livingston, Ray Evans
1957 - All The Way - THE JOKER IS WILD - Sammy Cahn, James Van Heusen
1958 – Gigi - GIGI - Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner
1959 - High Hopes - A HOLE IN THE HEAD - Sammy Cahn, James Van Heusen
1960 - Never On Sunday - NEVER ON SUNDAY - Manos Hadjidakis
1961 - Moon River - BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S - Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini
1962 - Days of Wine and Roses - DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES - Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini
1963 - Call Me IrresponsiblePAPA’S DELICATE CONDITION - Sammy Cahn, James Van Heusen
1964 - Chim Chim Cher-ee - MARY POPPINS - Robert B. Sherman, Richard M. Sherman
1965 - The Shadow of Your Smile - THE SANDPIPER - Johnny Mandel, Paul Francis Webster
1966 - Born Free - BORN FREE - Don Black, John Barry
1967 - Talk to the Animals - DOCTOR DOLITTLE - Leslie Bricusse
1968 - The Windmills Of Your Mind - THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR - Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Michel Legrand
1969 - Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head - BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID - Burt Bacharach, Hal David
1970 - For All We Know - LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS - Robb Royer [aka: Robb Wilson], Fred Karlin, James Griffin [aka Arthur James]
1971 - Theme from Shaft - SHAFT - Isaac Hayes
1972 - The Morning After - THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE - Joel Hirschhorn, Al Kasha
1973 - The Way We Were - THE WAY WE WERE - Alan Bergman, Marvin Hamlisch, Marilyn Bergman
1974 - We May Never Love Like This Again - THE TOWERING INFERNO - Joel Hirschhorn, Al Kasha
1975 – I’m Easy - NASHVILLE - Keith Carradine
1976 - Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) - A STAR IS BORN- Barbra Streisand, Paul Williams
1977 - You Light Up My Life - YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE - Joseph Brooks
1978 - Last Dance - THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY - Paul Jabara
1979 - It Goes Like It Goes - NORMA RAE - Norman Gimbel, David Shire
1980 – Fame - FAME - Michael Gore, Dean Pitchford
1981 - Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do) - ARTHUR - Peter Allen, Burt Bacharach, Christopher Cross, Carole Bayer Sager
1982 - Up Where We Belong - AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN - Will Jennings, Jack Nitzsche, Buffy Sainte-Marie
1983 - Flashdance-What A Feeling - FLASHDANCE - Irene Cara, Keith Forsey, Giorgio Moroder
1984 - I Just Called to Say I Love You - THE WOMAN IN RED - Stevie Wonder
1985 - Say You, Say Me - WHITE NIGHTS - Lionel Richie
1986 - Take My Breath Away - TOP GUN - Giorgio Moroder, Tom Whitlock
1987 - (I've Had) The Time of My Life - DIRTY DANCING - John DeNicola, Donald Markowitz, Franke Previte
1988 - Let the River Run - WORKING GIRL - Carly Simon
1989 - Under the Sea - THE LITTLE MERMAID - Howard Ashman, Alan Menken
1990 - Sooner Or Later (I Always Get My Man) - DICK TRACY - Stephen Sondheim
1991 - Beauty and the Beast - BEAUTY AND THE BEAST - Howard Ashman, Alan Menken
1992 - A Whole New World - ALADDIN - Alan Menken, Tim Rice
1993 - Streets of Philadelphia - PHILADELPHIA - Bruce Springsteen
1994 - Can You Feel The Love Tonight - THE LION KING - Elton John, Tim Rice
1995 - Colors of the Wind - POCAHONTAS - Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz
1996 - You Must Love Me - EVITA - Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice
1997 - My Heart Will Go On - TITANIC - James Horner, Will Jennings
1998 - When You Believe - THE PRINCE OF EGYPT - Stephen Schwartz
1999 - You'll Be In My Heart - TARZAN - Phil Collins
2000 - Things Have Changed - WONDER BOYS - Bob Dylan
2001 - If I Don't Have You - MONSTERS INC - Randy Newman
2002 - Lose Yourself - 8 MILE - Eminem, Jeff Bass, Luis Resto
2003 - Into the West - LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING - Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, Annie Lennox
2004 - Al Otro Lado Del Río - THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES - Jorge Drexler
2005 - It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp - HUSTLE AND FLOW - Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman, Paul Beauregard
2006 - I Need to Wake Up - AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH - Melissa Etheridge
2007 - Falling Slowly - ONCE - Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
2008 - Jai HoSLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE - Ar Rachman, Gulzar
2009 - The Weary Kind- CRAZY HEART - Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett
2010 - We Belong Together-TOY STORY 4-Music and lyrics: Randy Newman
2011- Man or Muppet- THE MUPPETS Music and lyrics: Bret McKenzie
2012- Skyfall- SKYFALL-Music and lyrics by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Grand Canyon Get Protection, Needs It

Despite being one hell of a big hole in the ground, except for the native tribes that lived in or near it, the Grand Canyon remained mostly a cipher and mystery until well into the 19th Century and was mostly cursed as a damn nuisance and an impediment to trade and commerce.  Yet by the turn of the 20th Century it was threatened by timber, mining, and development interests, and even threatened by its emerging popularity as tourist attraction.
On February 26, 1919 President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that finally created and protected Grand Canyon National Park.  It was the culmination of a long struggle to preserve the sprawling gorges of the Colorado River in Arizona. 
The canyon had long been home and sanctuary to several tribes and bands of Native Americans.  As early as 1450 Hopi guides led Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, one of Conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s officers, and a small band to the South Rim of the canyon but refused to show them a way to the bottom or a ford of the river. 
Regarding the canyon as an impenetrable barrier, Europeans did not return until Spanish missionary priests and a handful of soldiers explored along the North Rim in 1776 seeking a route from Santa Fe to California.  They did find a ford, but not a reliable trade route and attempts to convert local tribes were unsuccessful. 
American trappers may have visited the canyon in 1826 and Mormon missionaries scouted the area from 1850 on orders from Brigham Young and finally identified two sites that could accommodate ferry crossings in 1858. Two expeditions reached parts of the canyon in 1857—a survey crew from Ft. Defiance seeking a route to California along the Thirty-eighth parallel and a river expedition under Lt. Joseph Ives that traveled upstream in a small paddlewheel steam boat from the Gulf of California and entered the canyon floor on foot. 
In his 1861 report to congress Ives reported that the canyon (meaning this portion of it) may have been visited by “one or two trappers.” He discounted the value of what he called “altogether valueless” and predicted that his would be “the last party of whites to visit this profitless locality”  This mercenary assessment of the economic value of the howling wilderness was common among Americans of the time who were sentimental to a fault about everything but the fastest route to big bucks.
At least one member or Ives’s expedition, however, felt differently, geologist John Strong Newberry.  He transmitted his enthusiasm for the Canyon and it scientific interest to another geologist, as well as a suggestion that the gorge could be explored by small boats.
The Civil War disrupted further exploration until Major John Wesley Powell, the man Newberry had confided in, led his famous transit of the canyon by boat in 1869.  It was the first purely scientific expedition to Canyon as was funded—not all that well—by the Smithsonian Institution. The party failed to include either an artist or photographer. The one-armed Civil War veteran’s nine man party traveled from Green River Station in Wyoming in four wooden boats.  A boat containing much of the food and almost all of the scientific instruments was destroyed early on in some rapids.  Later, not realizing that they had already passed the worst of the rapids, three of the party mutinied and abandoned the group.  They climbed the canyon wall to the rim hoping to walk back, but were promptly killed by an unhappy band of Paiutes.  Powell and the remaining men made it through the canyon.
Powell’s report was a rip-roaring adventure story that captured the attention of the public and loosened the Smithsonian’s purse strings.
Powell mounted a much larger and better planned expedition that stretched from 1871-73 to completely map the canyon and its rims, and make detailed scientific observations.  This time he had boats specifically designed for the brutal rapids and established a series of supply depots along the route by having provisions brought down from the rim.  He also included an artists and nearly a ton of photography equipment.  Despite losing his first two photographers—the first to a personality clash and the second to illness, previously untrained expedition member John K. Hillers took many stunning pictures with the clumsy apparatus.  17 year old artist Frederick Dellenbaugh made hundreds of sketches which were later rendered as engravings and widely published.  After the completion of the transit by boat in 1872, Thomas Moran, a distinguished landscape artist, joined the party for work along the rims.  His stunning oil painting later toured the country and one was bought to hang in the lobby of the United States Senate. Powell’s reports and the art work sparked interest in the wonder of nature. 
By the end of the century tourists were regularly visiting the canyon.  In 1903 one of those tourists was President Theodore Roosevelt who was both awe struck and determined to preserve the canyon from encroaching commercial exploitation.  He established the Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906 which reduced grazing.  But in keeping with conservation practices of the time most of the eagles, wolves, coyotes, and cougars within its boundary were eradicated followed by a predictable explosion of population of jackrabbits, conies, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and reptiles which nearly denuded the canyon floor and rims of vegetation.
In 1908 Roosevelt threw his lasso wider and incorporated adjacent National Forest land with the Preserve to create the new Grand Canyon National Monument.  But efforts to create an even larger National Park were stymied by years by powerful mining and timber interests. 
Adjacent National Monuments were added to the Park over the years and today it encompasses over 12 million acres and is visited by nearly 4½ million visitors. 
The park is threatened by increasing air pollution on one hand and a drastically reduced flow of water due to up-stream dams.
And, as always, developers and other exploiters clamor for the opportunity to encroach on the Canyon, often with the support of the Arizona state government which often seems dedicated to cutting its nose off to spite its face.