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565 Topics: Movies – ?Ben-Hur; Carlsbad Caverns National Park; duty versus responsibility; Creedence Clearwater Revival

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 565.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 565. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Go to ESLPod.com and take a look at our ESL Podcast Store and courses. You can also like us on Facebook. Go to facebook.com/eslpod.

On this Café, we’re going to talk about the 1959 movie, Ben-Hur, one of the most popular movies of the middle twentieth century. We’re also going to talk about a national park called Carlsbad Caverns. And as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

In 1959, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio, a company that makes movies, risked its reputation and spent most of the money it had on a movie called Ben-Hur. When I say it “risked (risked) its reputation,” I mean it put its reputation in danger. Your reputation is the way that other people think about you. You can have a “good reputation,” which means other people think you are a good person or are good at doing certain things. You could have a “bad reputation,” meaning people think you are not a nice person or that you don’t do good things.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, more popularly known simply by its initials MGM, risked its reputation as a film studio by spending all of its, or most of its, money on this movie called Ben-Hur. Oddly, this was not the first time someone had made a movie called Ben-Hur. An earlier silent film had been made in black and white in 1925. A “silent film,” you can probably guess, is a movie in which you don’t hear the actors speaking, but rather the words of the actors – what we would call the “dialogue” – is shown on the screen. Before the late 1920s, most movies were silent movies.

The 1925 and 1959 movies both were called Ben-Hur, and both were based on a book by that same name, written in 1880 by the American author Lew Wallace. When I say the movies were “based on the book,” I mean they used the stories and the ideas from that book to create their movies. Ben-Hur was one of the most popular novels of the late nineteenth century. So it’s not too surprising that the movie studios decided to make a film about it.

The story of Ben-Hur, if you don’t know it and haven’t seen the 1959 movie, is an interesting one. Ben-Hur is about a Jewish prince who lives in Israel about 10 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. We would refer to that simply as “10 B.C.,” or more commonly now in historical writings, “10 B.C.E.” At this time, you probably know, the Roman Empire controlled the city of Jerusalem. In the story, Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince. A “prince” is someone who is part of a royal family.

Normally, the royal family rules or is the leader of a certain area, but in this case the Roman Empire was the leader of this area, as it was in most areas around the Mediterranean during this period. So, Ben-Hur didn’t really have any power as a prince. Not surprisingly, the Jews who were living in this area at the time and the Romans who had taken over their land didn’t get along very well. The Jews wanted the Romans to leave Jerusalem and the surrounding area. The Romans, of course, insisted on staying.

Now, one of the more intelligent policies of the Roman government during this period was to take the children of the more powerful local families in an area and raise them in Rome with other Roman children. This was a way of getting the children to become loyal to Rome rather than to the families and political structures they were taken from.

As a young boy, Ben-Hur had grown up with Roman children and had become friends with many of them, but as these children grew up, not all of them remained loyal to Rome. Many of them wanted to return to their families, to their local lands, and fight on behalf of the people whom the Romans had conquered. This was the case with Ben-Hur.

His Roman friend Messala asked Ben-Hur to help him control the Jews in the area where Ben-Hur grew up, but Ben-Hur said no. After saying no – after refusing to help the Romans – the Romans falsely accuse him of trying to kill a powerful Roman man. When I say they “falsely accused” him, I mean they basically made up a story, invented a story, that Ben-Hur had killed this Roman man. They accused him, or said that he had committed this crime.

Even though Messala, his friend, knows that Ben-Hur is innocent – did not kill the man – Messala says that Ben-Hur is guilty, and he sends Ben-Hur’s family away from their home and makes Ben-Hur himself a slave. A “slave” (slave) is a person who is owned by another person. Ben-Hur then must fight to be free to find his family and hopefully to make them safe again.

Now, other important things happen during the life of Ben-Hur. Remember, I said that the story begins in around 10 B.C, before the birth of Jesus Christ, and so you can guess that there’s going to be a religious theme to this story as well, and indeed, there is. I can tell you that in the movie, Ben-Hur actually meets Jesus Christ and in a sense witnesses the beginning of Christianity. “To witness” (witness) means to watch something happen.

It was because of this connection between the film and Christianity that many religious organizations were happy about the movie being made, including the Vatican – the head of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s another reason why the movie for many, many years, including when I was growing up, was always shown during the Easter season.

When I grew up in the ’70s, you could see Ben-Hur every single year right around Eastertime because the television channels would show the movie, and that’s why most Americans, at least of my generation, have seen the film – and also because it is one of the best films made during this period. It has been voted by different film organizations as being one of the best American films of the mid-twentieth century.

I won’t tell you how the story ends. If you want to read the book or see the movie, you’ll find out that for yourself. I should tell you that the movie is considered an “epic film,” which means it tells a very long story about important events. The movie is 212 minutes long, so if you are going to watch the movie, you’re going to have to spend most of your evening watching it because it’s a long movie compared to movies that you typically see today – more than three and a half hours long, in fact.

The story behind the making of the movie is almost as interesting as the movie itself. I said that MGM took a big risk in making this movie – that’s partly because they spent so much money on the movie in order to make it. Several very elaborate scenes were included in the movie. “Elaborate” (elaborate) means very complex, very complicated, with lots of different parts and details.

The movie had one of the largest budgets, or largest amounts of money spent on it, at the time – more than 15 million dollars, which would be equal to about 123 million dollars today, which is still a lot of money to make a movie. There were more than 100 people who worked on the costumes – the clothing that was worn. There were more than 200 artists and workmen that built the, what we would call, “sets” (sets) which are the backgrounds for the movie.

The script of the movie, the dialogue in the movie, was written by some of the best writers during this period, including Gore Vidal, the American novelist, and the British writer Christopher Fry. More than 200 camels were used in the movie and more than 2,500 horses. Some 10,000 people were part of the making of the movie. If you see the movie, you’ll realize why they needed 10,000 people.

Some of the more famous scenes or parts of the movie were made right down the street from me, not too far from where I live, at the MGM Studios in Culver City. Well they’re not called the MGM Studios anymore. They’re called the Sony Studios, but back then they were the MGM Studios.

It was, then, a very large risk for MGM to spend all of this money on one movie, hoping that it would be successful, but they didn’t have to worry because in fact the movie was extremely successful. It made more than any other movie in 1959. When it was originally released into the movie theaters, it grossed around 75 million dollars, which would be more than 600 million dollars in today’s money.

When I say it “grossed” (grossed), I mean that’s how much money it made before we take (or deduct, or subtract) the 15 million dollars it took to make the movie originally. So for example, if I make a chair and it costs me 50 dollars, and then I sell the chair for 100 dollars, I have grossed 100 dollars but my profit is only 50 dollars because I have to subtract the 50 dollars I spent to make the chair from the money someone gave me to buy the chair. We might also use the word “net” (net). “My net profit was 50 dollars.”

In any case, it was a lot of money, and the MGM studio heads – the leaders of the studio – were very happy with what happened when the movie was finally “released,” or shown to the public. It won almost every major Academy Award that year, including best picture, best director, best actor, and so on. In total, it won 11 Academy Awards.

The star of the movie was a young actor by the name of Charlton Heston. Heston, who was already a star at this time, wasn’t the first actor the studio head asked to play the part of Ben-Hur. Many famous actors said no when asked to play in the movie, including Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Rock Hudson, and Leslie Nielsen. Kirk Douglas, a young actor at this time, wanted to play the part of Ben-Hur, but the studio decided on Heston instead. Heston received 250,000 dollars to work a total of 30 weeks on the film. It wasn’t a lot of money compared to how much the movie made.

While some of the more difficult, technical scenes were made here in Los Angeles, as I mentioned, most of the movie was actually filmed in Italy in a large movie studio outside of Rome. Ben-Hur is certainly a classic American film, and if you haven’t seen it, I can highly recommend it to you.

We turn now to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in southeastern New Mexico. New Mexico is located between the states of Arizona and Texas, on the Mexican border in the southwestern U.S. A “cavern” (cavern) is a large cave or naturally formed room that’s underground – that is, below the earth.

The national park system in the United States is similar to systems in other countries – one that protects certain areas of land that are considered important or valuable. The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is meant to protect these historically important caves in New Mexico.

About 250 million years ago, when I was a boy, the Carlsbad Caverns were not located as they are now, in a desert. They were, in fact, part of what was then the ocean. Imagine, you could have an ocean front view in New Mexico. Well, more than just an ocean front view, you would be underneath the ocean if you lived in what is now New Mexico 250 million years ago. What happened was, of course, eventually the ocean moved. The water dried up and the land turned into what it is today, which is basically a desert – an area with little water or rainfall.

There is some water left in the ground. However, the water became very acidic. “Acidic” (acidic) means it contains a chemical substance that, in this case, dissolved the rock and metals that were in the ground. This acidic water slowly eroded the rock. “To erode” (erode) means to gradually wear away, or remove slowly over time. This erosion, caused by the acidic water, created what we now call the Carlsbad Caverns.

The caverns were not discovered, at least by the white settlers in that area, until the late nineteenth century, in the 1880s. The reason they were discovered is because people began mining the land for bat guano. “To mine” (mine) means to dig a hole in the ground, into the earth, in order to find something and remove something. Well, during this period, “guano” (guano) was considered very valuable. Guano is basically the solid waste, the poop, of animals such as birds and bats.

Why was guano so valuable? Well, because it was used to fertilize the land in order to grow crops, to grow plants that could be used for food. “To fertilize” means to put something in the ground that will help plants to grow, and bat poop – guano – was one of the things that was considered valuable and so people went looking for it. As they were looking for this bat guano, they discovered the Carlsbad Caverns, or what became known as the Carlsbad Caverns. Obviously there wasn’t a sign when they found them that said “Carlsbad Caverns.” That name came later.

Some people began giving tours of the caverns to people visiting this area, but it wasn’t until 1930 that the U.S. government made it a national park. What will you find if you visit the Carlsbad Caverns? Well, for one thing, you’ll find more than 30 miles of these caverns, or caves, that are more than a thousand feet (that would be 300 meters to the rest of you) deep. One of the caverns is 4,000 feet long, or more than 1,200 meters long and 190 meters wide. It is 78 meters high.

The caverns are filled with two beautiful kinds of rock formations. One of them is called “stalactite” (stalactite). “Stalactite” is created by water falling or dripping down. It’s large at the top and small or narrow at the bottom and it hangs from the ceiling. It starts above and comes down. The other kind of formation is called “stalagmite.” That’s created by water dripping, that is wider at the bottom and narrow at the top. It goes up from the floor to the roof of the cave.

If you visit the national park, you can actually take an elevator that will bring you down underground more than 50 meters, or 170 feet, to visit some of these amazing caves or caverns. You can also see more than a million Mexican free-tailed bats each summer which live in the caves, and I suppose if you want to take a little bat guano as a souvenir, you could do that as well.

Unfortunately, the caves are a little difficult to get to. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is about five hours by car from the capital of New Mexico: Albuquerque. So, it takes a little while to get there, but people who have gone there (and I am not one of them) say it is worth the trip.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Joy (Joy) in Thailand. Joy wants to know the difference between “duty” and “responsibility.” The word “duty” (duty) can mean a couple of different things. The most common definition is to refer to something that is part of your job, something that you are supposed to do. “I have different duties in my job.” I have to write reports, I have to talk to people, I have to make phone calls – all of these are part of the “duties” that I have to perform or do as part of my job.

“Duty” can also refer to something that you are required to do either by law or by some sort of moral or ethical code or set of rules. It is our duty to love our parents, according to many different religious traditions. “Duty” can also refer to someone who is part of or serving in the military services of a country. We refer to someone who is currently part of, say, the army or the navy, as being on “active duty.” Related to this definition of “duty,” there’s an expression – two expressions, actually – “on duty” and “off duty.”

If you are a soldier, someone in the military, or a police officer and you are working at the current time – right now – we would say you are “on duty.” When you stop working at the end of the day, you are “off duty.” You are no longer working. Other people in their jobs can be referred to as being “on duty” or “off duty,” but normally we use those expressions when referring to military personnel – people who work in, say, the army or the navy – or those who are part of the police forces in a given area.

A fourth meaning of “duty” is a tax that you have to pay when you bring certain things into a country. In some countries, for example, if you bring in alcohol or cigarettes, you have to pay a tax when you enter that country. We call that special tax that you pay a “duty.”

If you go to an airport in the United States that has planes that fly to other countries, you will often see what’s called a “duty-free shop” or store. A “duty-free store” is a store that sells things like alcohol and cigarettes and expensive perfume and watches that normally you would have to pay a tax on in that city or state, but because you are leaving the country you don’t have to pay the tax, and therefore it is “duty-free.”

The word “responsibility” has similar meanings to the word “duty.” One meaning of “responsibility” (responsibility) is a job or task that is part of what you need to do in your work. You can have “responsibilities” in your job. You’re responsible for creating a report or you’re responsible for doing certain meetings or participating in certain meetings. These are your “responsibilities.” These are your “duties.”

“Responsibility” can also refer to a situation where you are a person who causes something to happen. “Who has the responsibility for this result?” “Who has the responsibility for making sure that we make a lot of money this year?” Well, the president of the company has that responsibility. “Responsibility,” similar to “duty,” can also refer to something you should do because it is morally right or legally required.

So, “responsibility” and “duty” are similar in most respects. Although “duty” does have those special means referring to being part of the military or paying a certain tax on items brought into a country.

Our next question comes from Eric (Eric) from Germany. Eric wants to know the meaning of the name of a famous U.S. rock band from the 1960s called “Creedence Clearwater Revival,” or more commonly known by its initials “CCR.” “Creedence” (creedence) is a word that only exists in the name of Creedence Clearwater Revival. It’s not a word that exists in English but it does have a relation to a word that does exist, and that is “credence” (credence).

“Credence,” spelled with three e’s rather than four, means a belief in something that is true. It comes from the Latin verb “credere” which means “to believe” or “to trust.” There’s another word in English, “creed” (creed), which refers to a statement of one’s beliefs. That word is used in the Christian churches to refer to a statement of belief. You may have heard of the “Apostle’s Creed” or the “Nicean Creed.”

One of the members of the band Creedence Clearwater Revival knew someone who had the name of “Credence” (Credence) and decided that was kind of a cool sounding word and they took it and changed the spelling slightly and made it into “Creedence” with two e’s in the first syllable. “Clearwater” was actually the name of a beer during this period of time. Once again, the band thought that it was kind of a cool combination “Creedence Clearwater” and so they decided to use those two words together.

The word “revival” (revival) refers to a period when something becomes popular again after a long period in which it was not popular. The musicians of the band chose “Revival” in part because they had been playing in this band for more than 10 years and they decided they needed a “revival.” They needed to renew or to once again have greater interest in their success as a band. The most important part of their name, in fact, was this last word “revival.” They were going to try to renew themselves to become popular, or to get back to the feeling they had when they first started as a band.

Finally, Filipe (Filipe), a Brazilian living in Canada, wants to know what the expression “What’s up?” means. “What’s up?” means “How are things going?” It’s a common, friendly, informal greeting in the United States. When you see someone that you haven’t seen for a while, you may say, “Hey, John, what’s up?” You’re asking how that person is, how they’re doing, but you may also be asking what they are doing or what they have been doing recently. “Hey, what’s up? I haven’t seen you in a while.”

Sometimes we can use “What’s up?” to ask what is going on right now, especially if there’s a problem or if someone is asking you for help to solve a problem. Someone may say to you, “Hey, I need your help with something.” You could say, “Sure, what’s up?” meaning “Tell me what the problem is” or “Tell me what the situation is that you need help with.”

When we use “What’s up?” as a greeting when you see someone, most people say, “Well, not much,” or “Nothing much.” If you have some important news, I suppose you could share it at that time. If someone says, “Hey, Jeff what’s up?” I could say, “Well, I just won a million dollars.” The other person might say, “Well, let’s go have a beer.” But normally we just say, “Oh, nothing,” or “Not much. I’m doing the same.” It’s normally polite at this point to ask the other person how are they doing, although you wouldn’t normally say, “What’s up?” Although you might say, “Well, what’s up with you?”

If you’re going to repeat the question “What’s up?” you have to add “with you.” So someone says to me, “Hey, Jeff, what’s up?” I say, “Oh, not much. What’s up with you?” or “Oh, not much. How are you doing?” Both of those would be acceptable, but you would have to add “with you.” It would be weird if a person asked you, “What’s up?” and you said, “Nothing, what’s up?” You would have to add the “with you” at the end, otherwise it sounds weird. I don’t know why. It just does.

If you have a question or comment, whether it’s weird or not, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

to risk – to put someone or something in danger; to place oneself in a situation with the possibility of something bad occurring

* Let’s not risk our savings on the stock market. Let’s keep it safe in the bank.

reputation – the way that other people think about someone or something; others’ opinions about a person or thing, such as a performer or a product

* Salvatore had a reputation for being honest and kind, which made him a successful banker in a small community.

to be based on – for something to be created using ideas that already exists

* The novel was based on the life of the author’s wife, who had traveled the world when she was a child.

slave – a person who is owned by another person and has no freedom

* Many slaves worked on large plantations in the American south growing tobacco and cotton.

elaborate – very complex, with many parts and/or details

* George came up with an elaborate lie about why he was late for work, but the truth was he simply overslept.

to gross – to earn, without subtracting expenses, such as the money spent to earn it and the taxes that need to be paid

* The most successful actor in Hollywood grossed over $100 million in a single year by starring in three successful films.

to witness – to watch something happen; to observe a crime or accident occur

* Simone witnessed the car accident and was able to tell the police how it happened.

cavern – a large cave; a naturally-formed underground room

* The cavern is located deep in the ground and is difficult to reach.

acidic – containing a chemical substance that dissolves other substances, such as rock and metals

* Lemons are very acidic, so lemon juice can be used to make household cleaners.

to erode – to be gradually worn away, usually by natural substances such as water or wind

* The house on the cliff is in danger of falling into the ocean because the rock beneath it has eroded.

stalactite – a structure created by dripping water that is larger at the top and narrow at the bottom and hangs from the ceiling of a cave

* The stalactite that hung down from the ceiling of the cave was as wide as a car tire on the top and as narrow as the tip of a pen at the bottom.

stalagmite – a structure created by dripping water that is wider at the bottom and narrow at the top and rises up from the floor of a cave

* The glass ring holder looked like a stalagmite, with a narrow top and a wide base where the ring rests.

duty – something that is done as part of a job; something that one must do because it is morally right or because the law requires it

* It’s the duty of the night security guard to make sure that all doors and windows are locked.

responsibility – a duty or task that one is required or expected to do; having the job of dealing with and taking care of something or someone

* Whose responsibility is it to inform the missing committee members of our decisions?

revival – when something becomes popular again after a long period of time; the growth of something or an increase in the activity of something after a long period of no activity

* In recent years, there’s been a revival of interest in skateboarding as a hobby.

What’s up? – a question used as a friendly greeting; a question to ask “What is happening?” or “What’s wrong?”

* A: What’s up?

B: Nothing much. How are you doing?

What Insiders Know

In “Hollywood” (the American film industry), “whitewashing” refers to the practice of “casting” (selecting actors to play particular roles) white actors in nonwhite roles. This most often happens with white actors “portraying” (showing; acting out) African American or Asian or Asian American characters.

For example, white actor Al Jolson “wore blackface” (used makeup to appear to be black) in the 1927 movie The Jazz Singer. Another white actor, Warner Oland “wore yellowface” (used makeup to appear to be Asian) and played a Chinese detective in the 1931 movie Charlie Chan Carries On and many later films with the same detective. Some people argue that these roles could—and should—have been played by actors who belong to the “corresponding” (matching with the character being portrayed) racial group.

Why does this happen? Wouldn’t it be better to cast actors who match the “racial characteristics” (the skin color and facial features) of the individual whom they are portraying? Some experts believe that whitewashing continues for two reasons. First, they “point to” (emphasize; point out) racism in the industry, where white directors “tend to” (often do) cast white actors who they can “identify with” (understand well). Second, there seems to be a common belief that white actors are able to “draw” (attract; bring in) larger audiences, which results in more ticket sales and greater “profitability” (how much money is made).

In recent years, the Academy Awards (an awards ceremony for the American film industry) have been heavily criticized for the “lack” (absence; not having something) of “diversity” (representation of many different groups, especially racial groups) and its support of films that use whitewashing. But the practice “nevertheless” (in spite of this) continues.