John Ur is back this week with the latest edition of his new column about films that capture the 50 states.
New Mexico is like a dream to me. Adobe houses with curved corners seem to climb out of the mud like giant ant hills. The Native Americans and Latin American immigrants who populate much of the state seem an extension of the earth and trees. Dry, red rocks that litter the landscape in the northwest, abandoned ruins of ancient American pueblos in Bandelier National Monument that are just an hour from Santa Fe, and the blanket of gypsum at White Sands National Monument all help to create the psychedelic landscape you'll find throughout the state. It’s no wonder Roswell is famous for UFO sightings. The residents were probably just dizzy from all the gorgeous abnormalities of the far-reaching horizons.
New Mexico has a surprisingly long history of filmmaking. Many famous old Westerns have been shot in the state (Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Man from Laramie among others). If you’re a Western type of moviegoer, and looking for a modern take on the genre, 3:10 to Yuma would be my recommendation. The original 3:10 to Yuma starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin was shot on movie sets in Burbank, California, and locations in Arizona. But the 2007 remake, with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, was filmed in and around Santa Fe, Abiquiu, and Galisteo, New Mexico. Many of the film’s sets were built and designed to match the period (Civil War era) so the New Mexico that you see will be partially created. But you might get a feel of the wide open space with unforgiving, thirsty terrain in every direction. (Side note: A portion of the movie’s set built on Cerro Pelon Ranch in Galisteo has been saved. Cerro Pelon is the largest Western set in the United States and includes some of the original Silverado buildings.)
A film I can recommend more ardently is one recommended to me by a friend as I was driving from Santa Fe towards El Paso. The Milagro Beanfield War is an oft-forgotten film directed by Robert Redford. It was shot in northern New Mexico in a town called Truchas, which is about halfway between Taos and Santa Fe. Watching the movie reminded me of the small town of Arroyo Seco, just north of Taos. The outskirts of the town are marked by scattered houses situated along a thin road that rambles through hills and mountains. The “downtown” area is no more than three blocks long. Arroyo Seco is a welcome escape from the tourists and shopping life of Taos (where stars like Julia Roberts are residents). You’ll see much of the same in The Milagro Beanfield War: sparse vegetation, rocky fields, and adobe houses scattered among Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which stretch down from Colorado and include Wheeler Peak, the highest mountain in New Mexico. The benefit of watching the movie is that you may also come to realize the importance of water for the people and communities of the western states.
Also Recommended: No Country for Old Men, 21 Grams, The Tao of Steve. For a list of movies filmed in New Mexico, see the New Mexico Film Office site.
Previously on Cinematic Road Trip: West Texas.
Photo: John Ur