Weird America

The Declaration – scene – April 19, 2007

By John Ruscher

Road Does Not End, a documentary by local filmmaker Meghan Eckman, is a rotating portrait of some of the most eccentric and interesting corners of America. As Eckman herself mentioned when screening the film as part of The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative’s Spring Film Series, one will not necessarily like all of the different people in the film, but each of them offer a unique glimpse into an array of strange art, music, and culture that exists across our continent. The documentary follows Eckman’s all-female performance art band Animental as they tour the US in a minivan, an ideal context for exploring many different people, places, sights and sounds.

As most of the subjects are bands or musicians, the film provides its own soundtrack, which ranges from bedroom acoustic strumming to gigantic avalanches of sound. In Minneapolis, the band hangs out with Jason Wade, a bespectacled, shirtless filmmaker, and then sees Faggot, his metal band, perform in a church. In Seattle, sequin-shirted Alexis Gideon sings and plays a xylophone along with distorted electronic beats. The members of Moth!Fight! croon and crow as they play saws, guitars and tambourines during a show in Houston.

Eric Steward of Portland’s Smegma, probably the longest-running noise band ever, offers the greatest insight into the weirdness that Road Does Not End documents. “We heard old jazz or old blues,” says Steward, “There was something in that that we really appreciated. We could never play that music exactly, but there was the spirit of great American music before it was co-opted or turned into something nice and pretty.” The art and culture in Road Does Not End is rarely beautiful in a traditional sense, but this fact merely reveals that the true, gritty spirit of America is not one of convention or tradition. While our society has created its own customs and institutions over the past 231 years, the real America exists in those who are not afraid to obliterate boundaries and venture into uncharted territory.

America’s weirdness is not limited to dark basements and warehouses. In Amarillo, Texas, Eckman meets up with a gang of kids who work for Stanley Marsh 3 (he thinks Roman numerals are pretentious), an eccentric millionaire who funds unusual art projects, including the Cadillac Ranch, a sculpture of half-buried, graffiti-covered Cadillacs along Interstate 40. Heading up Marsh’s group of youngsters is LBK, a bleach-blond, twenty two year-old artist in patchwork clothes. LBK provides a tour of Amarillo, from Marsh’s famous mock road signs (one of which is the title of Eckman’s film) to the millionaire’s art-filled office/playhouse on the top floor of Amarillo’s tallest building.

Road Does Not End is a picaresque memoir in the vein of On The Road or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Across the country people are doing outlandish and interesting things, and Eckman’s camera peers momentarily into their lives and creations. Constant movement keeps the film from dragging, and, no matter how one feels about the often outrageous subjects, Road Does Not End provides a vivid, engaging sketch of true American uniqueness.

Road Does Not End will be available soon at Plan 9 Music. If you would like more information, e-mail John at jrr8h@virginia.edu and he will help you out.

John Ruscher is a fourth-year English major who continues to confuse LBK with LBJ.

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