Saturday, March 11, 2006

SXSW: Lost And Somewhat Forgotten

For once, my timing was perfect. I landed in Austin, got my baggage, snagged the rental car, fought through traffic, parked on a dirt lot (only $5!) got all my badges, checked in the press counter and plopped in my theatre seat for my first screening at "South by Southwest" - just six minutes before it began.

For me, it was the ideal film to kick off SXSW. Called "The Last Western," it's a documentary about Pioneertown, California, a town built by Hollywood as a set for movie Westerns and then abandoned. The film looks at the fringe-dwelling residents who now inhabit this middle-of-nowhere town. As described in an earlier post, I have an intense pull towards this area and have pondered moving to the nearby town of 29 Palms quite seriously.

So, it was strange to watch a film where I knew most of the characters, been to the places, knew the history and felt the atmosphere described. I'd also been exchanging emails with the director, Chris Deaux, about a man I'd met years earlier who should have been included in this.

It was summer 2001, the afternoon prior to my best friend's wedding. The bridal party was getting pedicures and manicures in Lakewood, California. We'd all finished and were heading to our cars in the parking lot. Someone asked to see Lisa's wedding dress and as she was pulling it out of the trunk, a slow car came around us. No one paid much attention but something made me strike up a conversation with the driver, an old man with a small dog. He wanted to pull over and show me something and it seemed rather urgent.

His name was Shorty Creswell and he introduced me to his small, faithful terrier, Sooner. He opened the trunk and brought out one scrapbook after another, all detailing his life in Pioneertown in the '50 and '60s. He played the scraggly-bearded town drunk, the misfit, the petty thief and spent much of his career being tossed out of saloons and killed in gunfights. He loved every minute of it and clearly, he found life rather dull since then.

He couldn't stop talking and told us (my pal, Diane, was now fascinated as well) about the old days. He and his partner-in-crime, Cactus Kate, went through one adventure after another. "But she died long ago," he said sadly.

Chris and I are trying to get in touch with Shorty so he can come see the film. If you get a chance, please check it out. It's a rare, forgotten slice of California history and it shouldn't have to live in someone's trunk.


Anonymous said...

I'm so excited-- you're there!!! Have great time! Lisa

Jeff Mather said...

Have you ever been to Slab City near Niland in the Imperial Valley? I happened to drive through a couple of years ago (after having my card pulled out of a sand dune by ATV folk...). It's an amazing "fringe" community -- what inspires people to drop out of mainstream society and live in Winnebagos in the middle of the desert? It's a harsh and perplexing world sometimes.

The New York Times has published a couple of articles on the town and its residents over the last few years. They're well worth reading.

ClizBiz said...

Slab City? Never heard of it but will check it out. Why people drop out of mainstream society is becoming less of a mystery to me, actually.

Thanks for the NYT tip, Jeff - I will definitely check out those articles.