Thursday, April 26, 2007
USA Film Festival movie review: Ghost Town: 24 Hours in Terlingua
If this town actually had ghosts, they'd be offbeat ones.
Terlingua is the kind of town (in fact, it may be the ONLY town) where, if you were directing a film crew, you could arrange for and conduct on-camera interviews with all but one of the notable residents over the course of a single 24-hour period. (Wade Copeland - the single holdout in this instance - barricaded himself behind closed doors during the filming.) The other provision is that each of the interviews must end up being entertaining.
Here's the outcome: director Chris Elley's short film, Ghost Town: 24 Hours in Terlingua, which screened in tandem at the USA Fest with another (and much darker) tale about middle-of-nowhere desert misfits, Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa.
Terlingua, for the uninitiated, is a wide spot along Texas Farm Road 170 between the west entrance to Big Bend National Park and the town of Presidio. In other words, it's in the howling, godforsaken Chihuahuan desert wilderness. A century ago, hundreds of mercury miners lived and worked in this great limestone basin of an open-air solar-reflecting oven due to the rich deposits of cinnabar to be dug up roundabout; today the town retains a tenuous hold on life as a result of its tourist-appreciated proximity to the national park (as well as the new state park), in addition to the fact that it's become a relocation mecca for eccentric characters who, one has to believe, enjoy the experience of sweating.
A couple of Springs ago my wife and I spent the best part of a week at Ten Bits Ranch, a solar-powered faux-fronted guest lodge totally devoid of air conditioning located about 15 miles north of town (and therefore marginally closer to the Arctic Circle). It was here that we met up with Pablo Menudo, one of the "stars" of the film and a memorable-cum-accomplished songwriter/performer. Not unlike Clay Henry, the renowned ex-mayor of nearby Lajitas (who happens to be a goat), Pablo prefers to perform only in the presence of beer. Since beer was handy, Pablo proceeded to regale us with some of the same songs included in the movie.
The most notable of Pablo's character traits is his rock-steady deadpan delivery of material that is howlingly funny. You'd never want to play high-stakes poker with this guy. (At least, I wouldn't.) Penny-ante, though... bring it on.
Kerry Ohare retreated to Terlingua when her software engineering job with Enron went south; before that she played viola with the Houston Symphony. Not long after she arrived in Terlingua, Uh Clem (first name: "Uh"; last name: "Clem") told her he'd like to borrow her viola bow to play his musical saw. (She turned him down.) Mr. Clem operates a pirate radio station from the ruins of the old Perry Mansion, which he recently purchased for its fixer-upper value.
One guy you'll want to look up if you spend any time in town is Glenn Felts, who now runs the La Kiva restaurant, where you can double the value of your meal money by making mystery-mincemeat of a hand-thrown can of Spam with a (restaurateur-provided) 12 gauge shotgun. Glenn is a transplanted Dallasite who engineered microprocessors before moving to the desert.
If there were more than a dozen or so people in town, this film might very well have ended up being longer; as it stands, the runtime is only 20 minutes, and as often winds up being the case with entertaining short films, it leaves us longing for more - or maybe spurs us out to the garage to load up our camping gear for a 10-hour marathon drive to the Trans-Pecos.
SAME, ONLY DIFFERENT: "All of us are misfits in one way or another, but never in the same way." - Kerry Ohare.
SONG-SCRIBER?: "Some people write songs; I just write them down." - Pablo Menudo.
HOWLING AT THE MOON (WITHOUT BOTHERING ANYONE IN THE PROCESS): "This is the largest open-air asylum in the world." - Dr. Doug Blackmon, who lives in an abandoned school bus.
MOST CHALLENGING TERLINGUA ACTIVITY: Croquet on the rocks.