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Last Western, The
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by Scott Weinberg

"The Town That Time Forgot"
4 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Pioneertown, California, is a dusty and forgotten piece of Hollywood lore ... but it's not dead just yet.

Built in 1946 as a place for the "b-westerns" to use as a living backdrop, Pioneertown enjoyed a brief boom in the late 1940s and early '50s, when it was inhabited by filmmakers like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, but by 1956 the Mojave location was a certifiable ghost town, populated only by drifters, outcasts, and throwbacks. The Last Western is the story of a town that Hollywood built, deserted, and forgot.

Nowadays Pioneertown is populated by a colorful cast of misfits, from the old lady who fondly remembers the town's heyday to the rustic drinkers who just wound up there by chance. Once a haven for bikers, outlaws, and addicts, Pioneertown has settled into old age with only a small assortment of oddballs. Chris Deaux's The Last Western explores the sort of people who choose to live in a dilapidated old frontier town, and it does so with an appreciable sense of style, mood, and grace.

When we're not getting a rather fascinating history lesson on who built Pioneertown and how it became so forgotten so quickly, Deaux's camera visits with select members of the current population, most of whom are elderly, aimless, or just plain strange. But, like any worthwhile documentary, The Last Western is not interested in painting these cast-offs as garish caricatures. Like the town, the citizens might be out-of-touch and more than a little weatherbeaten, but there's still a strong sign of life on display.

Although we're introduced to a solid handful of Pioneertown's current citizens, the star of the show has to be the hard-drinkin' & blues-singin' rascal known as Buzz Gamble. I'm not saying the guy's a role model, but he sure does make for an entertaining interview subject.

One minor complaint is that Deaux never really delves into the logistical issues of modern-day Pioneertown. If it's not "technically" recognized by the government as an actual town, and it's right out on the edge of the Mojave desert, how do the townsfolk handle electricity, water, mail delivery, taxes, etc? Does the local bar bring in enough "outside" patronage to turn a profit? How far away is the closest hospital or police station? At 68 minutes, The Last Western is a smoothly paced and compelling affair, but I wouldn't have minded an extra five minutes...

Quiet, well-shot, and enjoyably melancholy, The Last Western is a simple little story about a brief chapter in the history of the American Western, told with an appreciable sense of affection, style, and respect. You don't have to be a Western enthusiast to enjoy the show, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.

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originally posted: 03/07/06 19:37:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/04/06 Joe Rush outstanding! 5 stars
2/15/06 Janice Fabulous....a true historical Gem 5 stars
2/15/06 James great film! 5 stars
2/15/06 Tyler Wyngarden Simply put Deaux has built a visual masterpiece! 5 stars
2/15/06 Eileen Great film, beautiful cinematograpy, great story! 5 stars
2/15/06 Myrna Deaux sophisticated, subtle 5 stars
2/14/06 Dave Oberdoester Awesome - saw this at IFP NYC 5 stars
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Directed by
  Chris Deaux

Written by

  Buzz Gamble
  Mary Gaffney
  Harriet Allen
  Carole Kester
  Ernie Kester
  Constance Walsh

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