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Issue 35.5

Murmurs: Video

Kekexili: Mountain Patrol
Lu Chuan, Director

In the early 1990s, the number of Tibetan antelope in China's western plateau region plummeted from an estimated 200,000 to the edge of extinction. Poachers – many of them herders whose pastures had turned to desert – slaughtered the animals by the hundreds for their fine “shahtoosh” wool used to make luxurious, albeit illegal scarves for the western market. In response, local Tibetans formed a volunteer patrol to try to stop the illegal trade.

Filmed on location in Kekexili, the largest animal reserve in China, the movie is based on the true story of the ragtag band’s struggle to stop the poaching, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Their efforts made them heroes to China’s fledgling environmental movement and eventually lead to the formation of the reserve.

Writer-director Lu Chan cast mostly local amateurs, giving the film at times the feel of a documentary. In this isolated life-and-death struggle, the characters’ challenges come as much from the harsh natural environment as from the patrol’s machine-gun toting adversaries. Chan spent a great deal of time with both the patrolmen and their quarry, an experience that led him to see the poachers more as ordinary farmers than the brutal robbers he had imagined. “Poverty turns them into slaughterers,” he says, “killing the antelopes for only one reason – their own survival.”
-Irene Svete

Who Is Bozo Texino?
Bill Daniel, director
Sunset Scavenger, 2005

Though most commonly associated with the Depression Era, hobos have continued to fascinate folks, from readers of historical and contemporary accounts of hobo travels (see recent publications of presses ranging from AK to Vintage) to a new generation of young punks attracted to the rail-riding lifestyle. Who is Bozo Texino? is the first documentation of hobo life to focus on the graffiti that has covered boxcars from Florida to Washington state.

The film is a fifty-five minute compilation of black and white footage shot by maker Bill Daniel over fifteen years. The film’s title refers to perhaps the most prominent of all the tags found on trains throughout the US: a cowboy-hatted, blank-staring head smoking a cigarette, with BOZO TEXINO marked below it. While the question of who is behind the face remains as the backdrop for the film, the majority of Who is Bozo Texino? focuses on other hobo taggers. The film features interviews with rail workers and hobos (including ‘legends’ such as Colossus of Roads, Herby, and The Rambler), footage of hobo hang-outs and camps, as well as often-beautiful scenic footage of the US shot from trains across the country. Daniel’s 16mm and Super 8 quick-cut photography and the original music and raspy hobo narration that guide the film, create a wonderfully gritty feel, not far removed from hobo culture itself.

Most of the insight that Who is Bozo Texino? provides relates specifically to rail graffiti, but the film also includes discussion of the overall attraction of the lifestyle as well as its differentiation from “bum” living (hobos work for the money that they need and, according to comments in the film, most don’t lie or cheat or even drink excessively). The folks featured in the documentary are real characters, with rich stories to tell and much insight into their lives to provide. The hobo wisdom Daniel includes is often fascinating. But, unfortunately, the film doesn’t offer too much in the way of personal histories of the hobos (other than when Daniel is able to catch up with ‘Bozo Texino’ and even then, the talk is mostly limited to his graffiti) or much about hobo history more generally. Additionally, many other issues are only briefly explored, if at all, which is unfortunate since the film’s topic and subjects are so compelling. The viewer does not, for instance, learn much about hobo survival (other than appreciating that it’s a tough life), the level of camaraderie that exists on and off the rails, how hobos deal with cops or rail workers, or why all hobos in the film are men and almost all are white.

That said, Who is Bozo Texino? is an engaging, well-done and downright fun film. While other texts may offer a more general picture of hobo culture, Who is Bozo Texino? is an important documentation of the older generation of hobo taggers.
-Ben Holtzman

Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin, Directors
Thinkfilm, 2005

One of the goals in making Murderball – a fierce documentary about a wheelchair version of rugby developed and played by quadriplegics – was to subvert “the bullshit condescending p.c. attitudes people have in this country about disabilities,” said filmmaker Henry Alex Rubin. He and co-director Dana Adam Shapiro succeeded.

There is nothing sentimental about this film, which carries the sport’s original moniker (it’s now “quad rugby,” one player notes, because you can’t get corporate sponsorship for a sport called murderball). The players are world-class athletes slamming into each other on a basketball court in wheelchairs modified like something out of Road Warrior (minus the spikes). They are also men whose lives and bodies have been drastically altered by car wrecks, rogue bacteria, fistfights or other misadventures. They’ve had to redefine who they are and what it means to have a full life -- and yes, that does include sex, though everyone is always afraid to ask.

The Canadians may have invented murderball, but the Americans dominated the game for a decade.

That all ended at the 2002 World Championship in Sweden when former U.S. player Joe Soares coached his Canadian team to an upset victory. The film interweaves the players’ personal stories with the bitter cross-border rivalry personified by Soares and Mark Zupan, the U.S. team’s charismatic tattooed spokesman, as it builds to the final confrontation at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.  By also following the rehabilitation of recently injured motocross rider Keith Cavill, the films shows the emotional and physical challenges the others faced earlier in their lives.

Rowdy, inspiring and at times poignant, Murderball is thoroughly honest and completely unforgettable.
-Irene Svete

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