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Photograph by Eric A. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Santa Clara Valley ... Please

By Eric A. Carlson

"In the bakelite house of the future, the dishes may not break, but the heart can."

--J.B. Priestly

THE HON. DAVID BELDON, in his introduction to the 1901 Souvenir of the Carnival of Roses--The Santa Clara Valley, described the valley as seen from Lick Observatory. "At your feet, dotted with villages, and rimmed in with a cordon of protecting hills, sleeps the valley in all its loveliness, and beside it the Bay of San Francisco, flecked with the sails of commerce." And some stars and gas lamps, and the ineffectual gleam of the San Jose Electric Light Tower--an irregular source of illumination at best.

Silicon Valley is a loose conglomerate of computer kingdoms located in Santa Clara Valley. The kings and queens of these corporate enclaves emerge from time to time, gaunt from battling other billionaires and risking life and limb on roiling seas upon luxury yachts. In a recent Mercury News interview Oracle kingpin Larry Ellison spoke of his harrowing adventures and mused that last year he was richer than Bill Gates--but for only one brief shining moment. Single moms and wife-left men searching for affordable studio apartments need look no further for examples of perseverance in the harshest of environments.

Some boon friends and I were riding the VTA light rail for the first time and learning the rules of the road. For one thing, the light rail doesn't stop at every stop, as we assumed--you need to pull the cord. As we bounced into "the city" (small caps for stumpy San Jose), I suggested to my friends that the word "silicon" be expunged, and Jeanne riposted, "He's getting his bowels in an uproar again." What an interesting phrase. I reflected on it until we arrived at the Tech Museum of Innovation, where we would experience the horror of IMAX.

The Tech Museum stands across from the soon-to-be-razed (for an underground parking lot) Plaza de Cesar E. Chavez. A bravura design in mango, azure and lapis lazuli, conceived by architect Ricardo Legorreta. The interior is laden with lugubrious science displays, gee-gaws and the Hackworth IMAX dome theater. We paid nine bucks a head to watch a 45-minute film--Mysteries of Egypt--which was preceded by a five-minute promo called Spirit of Silicon Valley. The promo featured deliriously happy Silicon Valley workers smiling so ferociously it appeared their faces would break apart, and fields and hills dotted with trees and flowers. I kept waiting for a scene of traffic snarling to a standstill on Hwy 101 or a tableau showing a young couple trying to buy a house somewhere on those golden hills.

Mysteries of Egypt gives the impression of having been filmed by a camera glued to the nose of a fast-charging helicopter. While there is no denying the force, scope and sensation of the IMAX experience, the overall effect is overwhelming--more like a roller coaster ride than a narrative. I preferred it when the camera slowed down and focused on the pyramids from the ground up. In such a shot the power of IMAX is impressive, effectively rendering the enormous scale of the monuments.

I would love to see the Hackworth dome IMAX used for astronomy projects. It seems a natural for space documentaries. And it occurs to me that an IMAX treatment of a bowling tournament would be satisfying. Explosions of strikes and plucked spares emitting from 44 speakers at 14,000 watts would be the stuff that dreams are made of. And the close-ups of anguished bowlers coming to terms with untoppled pins could be presented in the scale such an enterprise deserves.

Final Note: Photo was taken at the Tech on opening day (Oct. 31, 1998). A small, blue, remotely controlled robot was pestering a man smoking a cigar. "Is that a Cuban?" the robot asked.

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From the June 21-27, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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