Universal Studios

A fun time.

Universal Studios, near unlovely Anaheim, Los Angeles, combines two kinds of entertainment. There are rides and there is the back lot tour.

I took my son there for the rides and myself for the tour. Having tried a couple of the rides and finding I had left my organs plastered to the tunnel of one, courtesy of 4G forces, I passed on the remainder, letting Winston have at it.

We had booked the guided tour and our guide – incongruously yet accurately named ‘Happy’ – proved to be a fount of information and a real movie enthusiast. In his spare time he acts in repertory theater so showmanship is very much in his makeup. While the guided tour is not cheap it comes with three benefits – valet parking, no lines and a fine catered lunch. You can live without the latter but the first two are lifesavers, quite literally. With seemingly some 20 million people visiting daily valet parking is a non-trivial benefit and as for no lines …. well, it comes down to what your time is worth, I suppose.

In touring the back lot during the afternoon you begin to realize just how large the lot is. Over 50 acres with some six dozen lots, this is a real working movie studio and while one or two lots were out of bounds – movies were being made – the whole thing was an absolute blast. During the tour you are treated to (subjected to?) some special effects, but there are no G forces in sight. This is a good thing after a decent lunch.

In the event, for he is as big a movie buff as his dad, Winnie enjoyed the afternoon tour immensely and by the time it ended, well past 6pm, we were on our last legs. It’s a very full day.

Town Hall, familiar to ‘Back to the Future’ fans. It’s used so often that Universal has to change the façade to disguise it.

The Bates Motel, beloved of Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ fans. Built undersize to emphasize the claustrophobic aspect. Some fool actually made a remake of the movie, which has to be the dumbest idea yet in Hollywood history.

While we waited for our tour bus, a group of thirty Chinese disembarked, spotted this mural, and proceeded to dutifully pose identically, one by one, as each of the twenty-nine others snapped his picture. A nation of true individualists, those orientals.

Downtown Latin America. Nearly all the buildings are comprised solely of false fronts.

‘The War of the Worlds’ set. Even Steven Spielberg makes the occasional clunker, for the movie is awful, but the set was tremendous. Having paid $60,000 for this first generation Boeing 747, he proceeded to incur another $175,000 to transport it to the lot then have it cut up and generally destroyed. It’s in the movie all of 60 seconds ….

On the ‘WoTW’ set. Our guide told us to look out for the ashtrays in the arm rests of the seats, identifying this as a very early jumbo jet.

The prop warehouse and area were terrific. Here’s Winnie getting ready to do some ‘Supersize Me’ shopping.

The prop building has tens of thousands of props, including hundreds of furniture sets from all eras, statuary, gadgets, you name it. All pieces are bar coded for ease of retrieval. This is a 1930’s era switchboard which Universal had to build as no originals remained. First seen in the Paul Newman/Robert Redford vehicle ‘The Sting’ it has been used in many movies since, and is so popular that Universal often rents it to other studios.

All snaps by Winston on his Panny LX100 except for the penultimate one which dad took.

Harry Gruyaert

Surreal master.

Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert has been with Magnum forever and worked there during HC-B’s time. I rather fancy that had HC-B ever understood color, this is the sort of work the French master would have been producing during his greatest period, the surreal one pre WWII.

Click the image for the New York Times article.

Blow Up

Polish poster genius.

Other than a history of dying heroically on horseback in the face of better equipped enemies, there really is not much to be said about Polish culture. Neither the greatness of Russia or the brute efficiency of Germany, which Poland has the misfortune to call its neighbors, distinguishes the nation’s meagre accomplishments. OK, Chopin excepted, but you might argue he really was French.

Indeed it is with some gratitude that I look at my parents’ history, first with their Polish lands occupied by the brute Germans whose first act was to shoot our two Great Danes. That was probably logical given that the Danes have as much love for the Hun as do the Poles. The dachshunds survived, needless to add. The Wehrmacht was replaced in 1945 by Ivan, and these serial invaders saw to it that commonsense finally prevailed as my folks hightailed it in 1947 via Sweden and Ireland to London, where I grew up. Sadly they did not think of crossing the Atlantic which would have given me the opportunity of graduating at the top of my Harvard class rather than from University College, London, which is OK I suppose, but my son will make up for that.

However, now and then something special comes from the land of potato vodka and herrings in cream and in this case it is an absolutely stunningly original poster for Michelangelo Antonioni’s mythical movie Blow Up. That’s Powiększenie to you. Blow Up is a good test of any photographers level of interest in his craft. The next time you encounter a snapper ask what he thinks of the movie. If met with a blank stare walk away for you are speaking to yet another mindless equipment fetishist, from whom you will learn nothing.

In this poster, Waldemar Świerzy (OK, so his mother slept around a bit cross-culturally speaking; I mean, the Germans always had schnapps and chocolate, no?) has avoided the common western depiction of the priapic David Hemmings straddling a supplicant and writhing Veruschka, going instead for a neo-Seurat pointillism which at first glance is meaningless. Leave it on your computer screen and step back a dozen feet …. stunning. It captures the very mystery which the movie is all about. Did you see the body or did you not?

For the finest writing on this greatest of movies, click here.

The Monterey Historics – 2015

Exotics galore.

As is usual, the second Thursday of August finds me taking the 2 hour jaunt south to the Laguna Seca race track to enjoy the 500 or so exotic race cars in the paddock with none of the crazy crowds encountered during the weekend. Admission was up to $25 this year but at 5 cents per car viewed that remains a bargain as does the free parking and the absence of crowds.

There were old friends and some new entrants, all with the common belief that these old cars are meant to be driven hard, not parked and polished in some nouveau riche‘s Silicon Valley garage bought with the proceeds of the latest tedious social app.

My interest is mostly in the pre-electronic period racers as they come from a purely mechanical era – no wind tunnels, no electronics, no anti-lock brakes, skinny tires and great skill required to drive. That’s what racing should be about.

Redefining patina. An old 911.

Pininfarina’s Ferrari 288 – a styling peak.

Demure split window ‘Vette.

Pre-war Maserati. Italian, so why not make it beautiful?

1934 Alfa with famous provenance. The team was managed by Enzo Ferrari back then.
The owner/driver is John Shirley, former president of Microsoft.

Here’s the story of that famous Alfa. It made a wonderful noise, starting right up.

1937 Delahaye 145 – French engineering at its best.

Vive La France!

The Delahaye was perfect in every way and, mercifully, was also driven in anger.

Cobra. Driver wanted.

A trio of 356s – Porsche was well represented, as always.

American butt. Muscle cars get the drivers they deserve.

Big business. Pit boss instructs mechanics in this turnkey ‘rent-a-car-and-crew’ operation.

1950s factory transporter – a simpler world.


Uh huh!

More patina. 1935 Bugatti, well worn, $1mm.

Mustangs were featured this year – last moment adjustments here.

Well used Gullwing.

The Porsche factory brought one of its three 919 Le Mans winners – why do the Germans
make such ugly cars? Check those comical headlights.

The original 917 behind the 919. The body must have been designed by an Italian.
Le Mans winner in 1970.

The last Ferrari to win at Le Mans – 1965. One just sold this weekend for $17.6mm.

Another French confection – the Talbot Lago of the 1930s.

Mmmm. Ending on a high note. The GTO.

All snapped on two Panny GX7 bodies with Oly 17mm and 45mm lenses.