Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hollywood Graffiti

So, Oliver Stone has a new movie, "Savages," about a drug war. The last time I wrote a story with the name Oliver Stone in it, his film crew had just painted the desert, literally.

In April 1990 the Academy Award-winning director was filming the life of 1960s rock nasty-boy Jim Morrison of The Doors at Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve in California's Mojave Desert.

For a scene in which a drugged-up Morrison played by Val Kilmer walks around the cave, mesmerized by the drawings because he believes he is spiritually connected to a medicine man, a crew member painted 100 phony Indian pictographs on the walls of a pristine and historially and geologically significant cave.

Mitchell Caverns, used for half a millennium by the desert Chemehuevi Indians for religious purposes, were forged millions of years ago. It was a state-protected site, with stalactites, stalagmites, limestone columns and some simple, authentic pictographs. "This whole cave site was part of the initiation process for the shamans," a Sierra Club official said at the time. "This is like taking a can of spray paint into a cathedral."

The filming was approved by the state film commission and parks service. But, the problem was, movie artists broke the rules by using water in the red, yellow, white and black poster paint instead of dry, powdered pigments that could have been more easily removed. A ranger described the fake pictographs as "kindergarten art," which included a Zuni sun shield, a three-foot-tall dancing pottery figure, a stick-like figure with a penis and Indians with spiked hair. (Photo credit, Nick Souza.)

"Someone broke the rules," said a spokesman for the film company at the time. "It was a terrible mistake." He noted the company was insured for the clean-up.

The worst was yet to come.

Sadly, Mitchell Caverns Natural Preserve has since been closed by the state because of budget woes. Vandals have ruined the 80-year-old visitors center, smashing display cases, and even ripping the wiring out of the walls.

Looking back now, the Hollywood graffiti left by Stone's crew proved to be simply the writing on the wall.

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