Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Blood for Oil

In which we celebrate one of the greatest Westerns ever filmed

Seeing as the name of this website is "Travels West" it's a pretty safe bet that its author, me, has an interest in things Western — places, history, folklore and so on.

The saga of the American West is an epic tale of competing interests in which there was very little black and white. Most Western movies show tales of romantic cowboys, Indians, gamblers and the cavalry — rancher vs. farmer, cowboy vs. Indian, gunslinger vs. sheriff.

But what brought real, large scale development to the West was mining and the promise of wealth pulled straight out of the dry desert earth. Gold, silver, copper, tungsten, borax and the like drew hopeful prospectors by the tens of thousands and still continue to be staples of the Western economic landscape. But West's most valuable earth-bound commodity was not mineral but organic.


At the beginning of the 20th century, ships made the shift from coal to oil, the internal combustion engine began to catch on and individual homes began to be heated by fuel oil. Oil quickly became wealth itself. Today, all the world runs upon it. Control the flow of oil and you control the world.

Until fairly recently, mining has been largely ignored by Hollywood, and what it has produced has tended to focus on the ancillary stories around gold ("Deadwood") and silver ("Tombstone"). Oil has seldom been a part of the landscape of the Hollywood Western.

That changed December 26th with the release of "There Will Be Blood." This is not only the best Western I have ever seen, it is the best film I have ever seen. Period. It is the story of the American West encapsulated in two-and-a-half hours of drama so intense I was unable to tear my eyes away from the screen for even a moment.

Loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel, "Oil!", "The Will Be Blood" takes place in California, on the western slopes of the San Joaquin Valley. (I believe it's supposed to be the area around Kettleman Hills, where the National Oil and Gas Reserve fields are today. You can drive through them along State Highway 33, which runs parallel to the I-5.)

How, in such wide open spaces and with so with much wealth can men become so trapped? See the film for yourself, on the big screen, and find out.


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