Prelude to Work
Some time ago, while still living in Korea, having retired from my comfortable position as “Distinguished Professor” at Yonsei University, I began to form some vague thoughts to make a narrative film, something vaguely along the lines of m previous The Bed You Sleep In, made in 1992. To say something “serious” and “heavy.” And, as seems my habit, about America. I pondered it a bit, contacted actor friends, and thought of a few places with which I was familiar, and which I felt might be an appropriate setting for the content with which I hope to deal. One of those places was Neah Bay, Washington, far out on the north western tip of the Olympic Peninsula, the most western point of United State’s mainland. It is on an Indian Reservation, and there were aspects of the place which attracted me. The other place was Anaconda, Montana, a now nearly deserted copper smelting town. Again, there were aspects which appealed to me, and fit the bill of my thoughts.
I visited both places, as well as Newport, Oregon, to decide where to shoot. Neah Bay was appropriately down, as I knew, but I think I decided that in August, when I could shoot, it might be a bit too beautiful, and then I really felt if I were to make a film there, it would have to be with the locals – mostly Indians of the Makah tribe. And that wasn’t the film I was intending to make.
I went to Newport, where I have done two films, and another in very nearby Toledo. I considered it as I really wanted Kate Sannella to be in the film, and she’d indicated that she might not be able to travel, and I was willing to move the film there on her behalf – that’s how much I wanted her. As it happened she said she could travel, and would be game to go to Anaconda. So I moved along to Montana.
My interest in Anaconda was that it is a defunct industrial town, and outside it had a vast tract of the debris of copper smelting – huge hills of strange looking tailings, full of chemical traces. The town itself, laid out on flat land, in a usual American grid, was of less interest, though the little houses of the workers have their qualities. However, on arriving I found that the mine tailings had largely been grassed over in a Super-fund clean up. So the primary visual quality I’d wanted was mostly no longer there. I headed to Butte, where my friend Marshall Gaddis moved a few years back, and checked in with him in Walkerville, an old miners community overlooking Butte. Seeing his place – the former State Liquor Store up there, and the apartments above where my cast could stay, I thought about the daily commute to Anaconda, and one thing adding to another, I decided to shoot the film in Walkerville. It has the same history that I was looking for – a town abandoned once its economic utility had been exhausted, like Detroit – but it also has a particular visual quality that for the film I thought would work well. And then, being practical, as it turned out Marshall’s place, aside from being suitable for putting my actors up, turned out to also have qualities that made it a nice set. What could be more convenient? As an inveterate no-budget filmmaker certain things make very clear sense. So Walkerville and Butte it will be.
Walkerville is now a place of derelict houses, many abandoned, and those who live here no longer work in the mines, as those closed long ago (there is one recently reopened as the price of gold and silver seems to have made it worth the while to extract the left-overs of earlier mining – about 380 people in and around Butte now work again in mining.) As a working-class place it has its share of bikers, but only one bar left, Pissers Palace. Junked cars and broken windows are common-place. It’s a place, like Butte, left to fend for itself, with its original purpose taken away. An early taste of a form of corporate “out-sourcing.” While the money was here – and Butte was once one of the wealthiest cities in the American west – there was no thought or attempt to make a sustainable economic infrastructure for the community for the future. Once the copper was gone, Walkerville and Butte were consigned to the trash heap of history.
In this blog, I’ll be including videos as I now have a Vimeo Channel and will add one specifically with items regarding Coming to Terms. At present I’m posting various items, old and new, which you might find of interest. Later on I’ll have a channel on the long essay film I’ve begun, Plain Songs: Essaying America.