SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The American pioneer spirit still rides through the lost western lands in Emily Kaye Allen’s spectacular documentary Cisco Kid. Eileen, a gay woman from Chicago, is the sole resident of Cisco, Utah, which is the ghost town that Susan Sarandon visits in Thelma & Louise. Eileen moved there because of the opportunity to own a house, even if it needs work. A lot of work. Her house and the town are dilapidated and disappearing into the desert.

Working out of an Airstream trailer, Eileen clears rubbish and repairs broken walls and roofs during long hard days, sometimes working at night to avoid the heat. Nights are cold and hard weather can sometimes almost blow the trailer door in. Most times, their only company is a dog at their side and a gun on their hip. Eileen says living in a ghost town means having lived with the past. The remains of the memories of other lives constantly surround you. You are not starting anything new. You are continuing something that began long ago. In order to take a hot bath, they have a horizontal oil drum outside with the top cut off and filled with water. Eileen has to start a fire under the drum to get the water hot. As they soak in the tub, smoking a cigarette, the vastness of the desert surrounding them invites pondering…

I surely hope Allen took still photos as well as her film footage because Cisco Kid‘s breathtaking imagery would make a killer coffee table book. The richness of the visuals is high art worthy, with a variety that runs between scenic vistas and gritty desolation. I could get lost in the forest of fantastic lamps found in abandoned houses here. There is a lit-up Roller Skating sign in the bedroom that I could stare at for hours. During the fixing of a roof at night sequence, there is this dark silhouette of a cabin where suddenly a doorway of light appears like magic, and it is incredible. It is one of many eye-watering sequences of beauty on parade here.

“…a gay woman from Chicago, is the sole resident of Cisco, Utah…”

There is so much majesty in the film’s optic landscape that will resonate inside your system. Her portraits of Eileen are incredible as well. The impact of Eileen with a shaved head and rocking sunglasses with a big jug of sweet tea on her porch is immense. At times I could swear I was seeing a queer Hunter S Thompson strutting around, cigarette in teeth, brandishing a pistol. Eileen’s derangement is much different than Thompson’s, as he was more about self-consumption while Eileen is trying to rebuild destruction with her bare hands.

Eileen’s efforts seem completely quixotic when we meet them. They seem way in over their head. However, these assumptions change as the film progresses, as there are some surprising developments that occur. The hypnotizing imagery of the ghost town will haunt you in the most delightful way. Cisco Kid has some of the most breathtaking shots I have ever seen in a documentary. This film is the reason God put eyes in your head. Allen’s craftsmanship in editing her amazing footage together is beyond superb.

Eileen’s insights and revelations whirl together like a herd of dust devils. Allen has built a cinematic cathedral devoted to the call of the west. Eileen is the embodiment of the great inspiration drawn from the frontier. It welled up in me the same emotions I get from John Ford’s westerns and Exene Cervenka albums. If you want to know what cowboys of the future will look like, watch Cisco Kid. You think the dream has ended, but it has just begun. If you have ever felt hopeless, this film will give you a horizon again. Wonders can be made from the wreckage.

Cisco Kid screened at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival.

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