Author Archives: Michael Kleen

Quest for Fire

Quest for Fire (1981), or La guerre du feu, is a French film depicting primitive man’s struggle to attain fire in Middle Paleolithic Europe. This movie fascinated me as a kid, but I haven’t seen it for nearly two decades. I recently decided to watch it again, to see if adulthood would ruin the magic. After 35 years, it still holds up as a cinematic achievement. Written by Gérard Brach, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, and based on a Belgian novel of the same name by J.H. Rosny, it stars Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nicholas Kadi, and Rae Dawn Chong. This was Ron Perlman’s first film. Jean-Jacques Annaud also directed The Name of the Rose (1986), Seven Years in Tibet (1997), and Enemy at the Gates (2001).

Quest for Fire follows four Paleolithic humans as they search for a source of fire, the only thing that provides warmth, light, and security in a hostile world. As the film opens, the Wagabu, a savage tribe of ape-like Neanderthals, attacks a tribe of Homo sapiens, the Ulam, as they lounge in their cave. After a fierce battle, the Ulam scatter and find themselves in a marsh, where their pilot light (for lack of a better term) is extinguished. The tribal elder sends three men, Naoh (Everett McGill), Amoukar (Ron Perlman), and Gaw (Nicholas Kadi), to find a new source of fire, since they cannot create it themselves.

Along the way, Naoh, Amoukar, and Gaw rescue Ika (Rae Dawn Chong) from a tribe of red-haired cannibals, the Kzamm. Ika belongs to the Ivaka, an advanced tribe of Homo sapiens. The Ivaka have mastered building shelter, using gourds as cups and bowls, atlatl, and most importantly, the ability to make fire with a hand drill. Together, the four return fire to the Ulam, but not before defeating a rival faction using their newly acquired, advanced weaponry.

After all these years, Quest for Fire holds up so well partially because there were no special effects. Most scenes were shot in a single take, and the dialog consists of grunts, gestures, and a primitive language created by novelist Anthony Burgess. All the animals are played by actual animals, even the mammoths.  The mammoths, I admit, look goofy, but I was surprised to learn the filmmakers used circus elephants to portray them. Like The Revenant (2015), Quest for Fire features a bear attack, but unlike The Revenant, the bear in Quest for Fire is 100 percent real, not CGI. There’s something unnerving about watching actual lions prowl beneath a flimsy tree, waiting for the three helpless cavemen to fall, as opposed to the fake, CGI monstrosities.

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New on my Bookshelf 

I picked up these books on my latest road trip. They look interesting! Don’t expect reviews anytime soon though, I have a long backlog!

Plymouth Rock

It’s bigger than I was led to believe, but smaller than I expected.

Richards DAR House Museum

Built in 1860 in ornate Italianate style for steamboat captain Charles G. Richards and his wife, Caroline Elizabeth Steele, the Richards DAR House is located in the De Tonti Square Historic District at 256 N. Joachim Street in Mobile, Alabama. Over the years, this picturesque brick home has gained a reputation for being haunted. With its historic roots, this comes as no surprise. Even the sidewalk in front of the home is historic–it was made from discarded ballast stones brought over from Europe on wooden cargo ships. The ships would fill their hulls with the stones on their way to Mobile Bay, then discard them on shore when they picked up their cargo for the return voyage.

The Richards DAR House is a beautiful antebellum home, complete with a marble and granite veranda surrounded by a cast iron railing featuring ornate figures representing the four seasons. The Ideal Cement Company purchased the house in 1946, ending nearly a century of ownership by the Richards family. ICC converted the home into an office, but took pains to preserve the original architecture and woodwork as much as possible. The City of Mobile took ownership in 1973.

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Seeing Mount Rushmore for the first time was almost a spiritual experience. In spring 2014, a friend and I traveled to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, stopping at Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Devils Tower, and elsewhere. While the Badlands and Devils Tower were visually magnificent, Mount Rushmore really left an impression on me. Two-dimensional media just can’t convey its size and grandeur. Photographs don’t do it justice.

Mount Rushmore, in the South Dakota Black Hills, is known as a batholith–a formation of igneous rock formed from cooled magma. The rock is smooth, fine-grained granite, resistant to erosion. Between 1927 and 1941, Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers sculpted the 60 foot carvings. Gutzon died in March 1941, and his son Lincoln took over construction. It finished prematurely in late October 1941 due to lack of funding.

The sculptures were originally supposed to extend further down, uncovering the presidents’ chests and shoulders. I think the faces peering from the mountainside look better, and apparently the National Park Service agrees. With over two million visitors annually, they could probably get the funds to finish the sculptures if they wanted. It costs $10 to park, but that fee goes toward maintaining the parking garage.

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On the Blair Witch Trail

The documentary didn’t end well for its creators. I’m hoping to avoid a similar fate…