Our Review of the Film ‘Far Marfa’

22 Mar

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By JOHN DeMERS

Ever since the early 1950s, Hollywood has been a’comin’ to Marfa. George Stevens filmed Giant in and around town, while the “around” definitely loomed large more recently to the directors of There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men. Over the years, the artsy West Texas enclave has grown accustomed to the movies. Heck, in No Country, the president of Marfa National Bank was the first guy Javier Bardem got to kill.

Technology has come a long way since Giant. There are still folks around Marfa – like Mateo Quintana of Quintana’s Barber Shop – who remember going each evening to watch the “dailies” (which had been sent to LA for processing and back again), as well as to grab a glimpse of stars Elizabeth  Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. The latest in this long line of “Marfa films” – a brand-new, quirky and entertaining comedy-drama titled Far Marfa – is coming to a computer near you. Or more accurately, it’s already there: for sale as a download at www.farmarfa.com.

As directed by Cory van Dyke, born in Galveston and raised in Conroe, Far Marfa is a strange and fascinating little film, more thought-provoking at times than satisfying. The production values – if you have qualms about indulging in an “independent film” that features amateurs alongside professional actors – are very high. And speaking of high: yes, there are smuggled drugs involved in the plot, and the vast skies of Far West Texas have never looked better, not even in real life. What weaknesses the film has come from the too-thoughtful, too-hipster-self-absorbed story about lost souls trying to find themselves in the middle of a mystery-crime yarn, not from the overall direction, cinematography or editing.

Van Dyke, who now lives in Marfa and wrote the Far Marfa screenplay after penning something called Surfer, Dude, seems a bit of a multi-tasker immersed in a labor of love. On the movie website imdb.com, he has credits as a director, a screenwriter and a cinematographer – real separate credits, not just some do-it-yourself film-school kind of thing. Having worked earlier with producer Ray Stark at Columbia Pictures and even with iconic B-movie king Roger Corman, Van Dyke seems to know his way around the process. And for all the click-here-to-download technology, he acquits himself thoroughly as a film professional.

The plot has appropriateness to the real Marfa today, on several levels. For one thing, it’s about a man with musical aspirations who’s trying to find himself long after people were traditionally supposed to find themselves and start doing something about it. Think: late 20s, but more likely early 30s. For another thing, it involves Marfa’s chief fetish, art: a lost painting by a now-dead legend that’s given to our hero Carter Frazier, only hours before the giver is either murdered or takes his own life. Then the painting turns up missing, and then the Presidio County gendarmes come for a little chat with Carter.

The main cast of Far Marfa takes its roles seriously. Johnny Sneed, a veteran of such TV shows as Parks and Recreation, The Mentalist and NCIS, makes us believe in Carter – even though we already knew the guy exists all over Marfa, Austin and similar places. He brings an openness and generosity to the role that’s refreshing, keeping the character’s over-the-top angsting about his dead-end life from ever rolling  into ridiculous. The same type of kudos go to Jolyn Janis as Carter’s near-miss love interest named Quarry – something you seek and work to dig for, get it? – though she also simply looks great walking along dirt roads and railroad tracks in jeans mini-skirts and cowboy boots. Other imported actors, like Jesse Bernstein and Julie Mintz, handle their roles with style, even though the film is really and mostly one extended panic attack on the part of Carter.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the film, for those who know and love the real Marfa, is the number of locals who do just fine in significant speaking parts – not just Hollywood’s usual walk-on extras. Sure, Ty Mitchell (owner of Lost Horse Saloon) makes such a great-looking long-tall cowboy he’s played one in many movies, including the most recent rendition of True Grit. More eye-catching are the performances delivered, around the edges of the stars, by real folks like David Beebe, the Houston-born musician who opened Padres and now serves on the Marfa City Council; Adam Bork, the former Austin musician who operates Marfa’s legendary Food Shark food truck with his wife Krista; Boyd Elder, the artist based in nearby Valentine who in the ‘70s designed album covers for the The Eagles and other bands; and Steve Holzer, the Marfa-based artist who also helped craft the lovely Los Portales addition to the Gage Hotel in Marathon.

Sadly, the entire rest of the region’s desolation and beauty emerges in Far Marfa as a kind of Marfa suburb, instead of Marfa being one of several towns built along the rail lines in the late 1800s that cling to life in a much larger desert wilderness. It’s a fascinating corner of the world, this Far West Texas on the edge of the moonscapes of Big Bend National Park. If you love nothing else about Far Marfa – and there’s plenty else to love – you might get the message to go for a visit. And even while you’re out there, you might find yourself remembering the skies from the movie. Which might be one way, in the spirit of Carter Frazier, to find yourself.

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