Settings: Walkerville and Butte

Walkerville, Montana, on the left

One setting will be the diminished small town of Walkerville, perched high above the once-city of Butte.   As with Butte, within Walkerville are the remnants of once active mines, and the remnants of those who worked in the mines, and their families.  Only 380 people now work in the bit of revived open-pit mining now being done.  Walkerville is a place of falling down homes, low-prices, no zoning laws, minimal taxation.  It thus tends to attract people looking to live cheaply, hide-out (perhaps from “the law,” perhaps from the world.)  It is a strange place, in which few ask questions as to who you are or why you are here.  Mind your own business seems to be the silent code.

It is perhaps like many back-water rural areas of America, a place left behind, lost in the wake of modernity and the urbanization of our society.  Those here are in a sense stranded, either by economic and cultural forces, or by a kind of choice, a kind of opting out from the larger world.   However much damaged, it is a kind of place of refuge.  It is, I think the kind of place where the central character of this film would go.  In this case there will be a family connection, even if perhaps it is left unsaid in the film – his father would have been a miner, and lived in Butte.  He fled early in life, wanting another kind of life.  And has returned, for reasons unsaid and unexplained.

Butte, once a thriving wealthy city is now pocked with empty lots, the consequence of arson fires set in an attempt to collect insurance on real estate no longer worth owning.  In consequence it has a spare look, more minimalist than even the usual American city whose growth spanned 1880 – 1930 or so: utilitarian structures, prosaic in appearance, solid and simple.  Adornment is usually restricted to the front facade, if there is any at all.   In Butte these characteristic qualities of American architecture of the time are highlighted by the frequent absence of any competition: the building next door was burned down.  So the city takes on a kind sense of a large sculpture park, something done by a latter day Donald Judd or Carl Andre.   And as the architecture is stripped, so are the streets:  it seems quasi-empty, listless and, well, what it is, abandoned.  It livens up a touch when Montana Tech is running, and the students return.  But not by much.

Yesterday, visiting my friend Hal Waldrup (in Bell Diamond), I think I decided that rather than using Marshall’s house up in Walkerville as the home for Benning’s character, it would be more appropriate to put him in Hal’s place, down in the flats of Butte.  This is a ramshackle setting I think is likely more expressive of the character’s interior state, and will visually convey what might usually be said with words.   If I stick with this thought, Marshall’s place will become the home of Benning’s character’s first wife played by Kate Sannella.  Pieces of the jig-saw puzzle falling into place.

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