paradise falls, new mexico
16mm, b&w, dual projection, optical sound, 5 minutes, 2004
A lone man packing a gun; themes of vengeance; justice; masculinity; the culminating formulaic shoot out. These are the ingredients for the ultimate Western. With outlaws, lawmen, breath-taking settings and an alluring simplicity, the Western presumes to represent the past, however mythical or imagined.
Contrasting ghost towns from the true west with popular images from Hollywood westerns, paradise falls, new mexico constructs an imaginary past. Hand processing and emulsion lifts serve to strip away the myths behind the western footage, challenging the history they misleadingly represent.
ghosttowns (documented spring 2001):
tumco, ca – 1880 to 1909
vulture, az- 1880 to 1897
fort bowie, az – 1862 to 1894
ruby, az – 1912 to 1941
aruvica, az – 1812 to present
riely, nm – 1880 to 1931
The desert wind from America’s Southwestern ghost towns blows through the film’s emulsion, stripping away the myth behind the imagery of shoot-outs, outlaws and the lone gunmen from Hollywood Westerns. [Images Festival 2004]
A split-screen projection in black and white. On the right a series of high contrast desert landscapes, made in America. On the left the more familiar form of these landscapes appear in the American Western. A medley of scenes appear showing a night time settlement. A woman framed in a doorway looking out into the vast abyss of space around her, three men on horseback riding into town, a man handing a rifle to his neighbour on a horse, a train arriving, a man riding through town slowly on a horse, a sheriff walking main street with a rifle, an exchange of male looks (in the Western these looks are already a form of violence), a gunfight, a man slumping dead, horse and rider making their way into the sunset. The cowboy is nomadic, predatory, deadly, never at home. The land, at least as it appears on the right hand screen, “in the present,” is “empty,” vacant, cleared out, only the myths remain.
The figure that appears on neither screen are the First Nations people, hunted down and killed as if they were not human. This genocide is turned, via the myth of the wild west, into a capitalist lullaby, more promised lands for the white Christians to occupy, though their imperial expansions would not end with Native genocide. Some of these same troops would be used to fight the Spanish-American war, as the US set up concentration camps in the Philippines and “liberated” Cuba for its new right wing dictator (friendly to America, of course). One empire taking the place of another. [Mike Hoolboom, 2007]