Archives / 1989 Sundance Film Festival

Motel

Director: Christian Blackwood

Institute History

  • 1989 Sundance Film Festival

Description

Curious and glib, Christian Blackwood has strayed from the mainstream of American life and politics to document subjects in art and culture ignored by most Americans—and most American filmmakers. Here he deals with motels, wayside havens this side of nowhere designed for the denizen traveler. Where so much of American culture (actually typified by look-alike hotel rooms across the country) has become homogenized, Blackwood actually finds bastions of originality: three individually run motels well off the beaten paths of the American Southwest.

The first motel, the Silver Saddle in Santa Fe, is a kind of Rube Goldberg affair, chiefly characterized by the amount of work it takes to keep it going—washing, cleaning, and mowing—none of it producing noticeable improvement. Sisyphus would be running it, no doubt, if he were cursed to be an innkeeper. The second motel, the Blue Mist in Florence, Arizona, sits in the shadow of a federal prison. Here Blackwood focuses on three women visiting their incarcerated lovers. They are a strange trio, one—blonde—possessing a keen sense of self-irony, but all ultimately at ease with their unusual relationships.

The third motel is a capper. The Amargosa, in the ghost town of Death Valley Junction on the California/Nevada border, serves as both the home and stage for Marta Becket, an eccentric, aging ballerina. After years on the road, Ms. Becket—for some odd reason—decided to settle here, and is still presenting unintentionally surreal shows for a handful of regulars. A deceptive an slight film on the surface, Motel reveals the intriguing asymmetry in our ordinary world. Blackwood is a fine and precise filmmaker, equal to this and any other unique task.

— Tony Safford

Screening Details

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