This post is intended to honor one of the great geology films of all time. Really a classic. It is amazing how many people I know who at some time in their career have seen this film, but yet how little information exists about it. I actually think that Apparent Dip will become the most informative site relating to this film, at least that I can find. The movie is a BBC documentary from 1971 called “San Francisco, the city that waits to die.” I first saw this in college, it was brought out during the last lab of my intro course. I remember the impression I got at the time was kind of patronizing, “oh look how silly those old geologists were, how much smarter we are now.” Truth is, over the last 10 years or so I have watched this film dozens of times, and every time I do I get a greater appreciation for it.
The only part of the movie that I still think is a little absurd is the tone with which it is narrated (by Paul Vaughan). Basically, Americans are idiots, look how stupid they are, man, no one else in the world is as stupid as those bloody Americans. Although the tone is kind of annoying, what gets me about this film is that I can imagine, 30 years from now, watching something similar but this time dealing with global warming. Scientist after scientist is trotted out and basically says “we know it is dangerous, we know we put buildings where we shouldn’t, we know many of the buildings aren’t safe, but there isn’t much we can do about it.” Politics and real estate dollars rule. Some notables that make appearances include
Louis C. Pakiser, the first director of the U.S.G.S. earthquake center at Menlo Park and 1996 recipient of the Geological Society of America Distinguished Service Award
CalTech Geophysicist Clarence Allen
Geothechnical engineer, Cal Professor, and alleged outstanding soccer player Harry Seed. Here he is demonatrating liquefaction. If you look closely, you can see a small yellow house perched on a column of wet sand, that is then shook until the house sinks. Incidentaly, this house is roughly the same size as my last apartment in California.
David Evans, one of, if not the first person to demonstrate the relationship between pore fluid pressure and induced seismicity (see Evans, D.M. (1969), Fluid Pressure and Earthquakes, Eos, Transaction, Amer. Geophys. Union, 50, 5, p. 387-388.)
And who demonstrates the famous beer can experiment
and Darrell Wood (sp?), sitting in front of “one of the largest computers in the world,” at Stanford’s linear accelerator.
There are a few fantastic statements about earthquake prediction, guaranteed to bring some chuckles, including, “if the [next] San Francisco earthquake does not occur within the next 5 years it is my opinion that we will be able to predict it.” I remember actually being kind of struck by some of footage. I remember especially the discussion of the numerous buildings, including schools, hospitals, and police stations, that sit right above the Hayward fault. Like the home of the second best college football team in the bay area (below)
Or my favorite, an old school for the deaf in Berkeley, which is now the Clark Kerr campus (where at the time I first saw this film I had a friend living)
Perhaps the oddest thing though is the soundtrack for the movie. It is “California Earthquake” by Mama Cass. The full on song blares in the beginning and end of the movie, when the motorcycles are cruising all over the place, over the bay bridge, through the streets of the city, catching major air… I am not sure what the connection is between the motorcycles, Mama Cass, and earthquakes. During the more reflective parts of the film, we are treated with a tuned down instrumental version of the song. Truth is, without this soundtrack, I don’t think the movies would really have stuck in my head, it would have just been a normal old boring class film strip. Well, except for the predictions about predicting earthquakes and the narrators apparent excitement about the prospect of using nuclear weapons to trigger earthquakes. Fortunately none of the geologists interviewed supported the idea of intentionally triggering earthquakes with H-bombs.
This movie was released in 1971, filmed in 1970. This is really at the beginning of the acceptance of plate tectonics as a field. Tectonics is referred to at a few points in the film, mainly the ideas of plates, but it certainly doesn’t play a large role, and there are some definite factual errors. But really, for the state of the field, the information isn’t really that bad. I also am thankful that no one is asking me on tape to make predictions, because my track record….well, err..
Prof. Advisor “Hey Thermo, when is this alleged lab you’ve been building going to be up and running?”
PhD Candidate Thermochronic, “Well, assuming that turbo pump is ready for me to pick up Friday, I’ll be pumping out data by spring of 2002, easy.”
Is this movie standard fare at other schools? I see it in many library holdings, small liberal arts school had a copy, is it pervasive? Am I crazy to think with a better editor and less annoying soundtrack this movie might be excellent?