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Last Half

The Bright Lights of the Square State – a look at the history of film on the Colorado Set



The wide inviting plains and majestic mountain vistas that abound in the great state of Colorado, have drawn filmmakers like flies since basically the beginning of the art form. The ideal American frontier, embedded in the head of the rest of the world, has its roots planted firmly in the Centennial State’s soil. 

Film history for Colorado began in October of 1897, when scenes from the 3rd annual Festival of Mountain & Plain were shot. The gala event began in Denver in the year 1895 in an attempt to lift the city’s spirits following the Silver Panic, the worst economic depression to hit the United States at the time. William Byers, the founder of Colorado’s first newspaper, The Rocky Mountain News, helped to promote and direct the event. Residents from throughout the four corners flocked to the three-day celebration of the early pioneer days of the Southwest. The ornate festivities included an outdoor masquerade ball attended by over five thousand revelers, dancing under a canvas stretched across old Broadway, four separate grand parades and the swirling refrain of 600 instruments from 25 marching bands playing in unison. 

Several similar slices of pioneer life with exciting titles such as “Runaway Stagecoach” and “Arrival on Summit of Pike’s Peak,” were shot in the area and released over the next few early years of cinema. H.H. “Buck” Buckwalter, the first photographer of the Rocky Mountain News is credited as the forefather of film in the state. Buckwalter captured a generous collection of inhabitants, wildlife & late 19th to early 20th century culture with his camera. The Smithsonian Institute helped fund some of Buck’s photographic expositions. For years he served as the vice-president of the Colorado Camera Club along with William Henry Jackson, the first person to photograph Yellowstone National Park, as president. Glass negatives from his beginnings as a photojournalist have been preserved and are on display in the Denver Public Library. Buckwalter was the first to understand that displaying the area’s scenic surroundings is an ideal way to advertise the state. Buckwalter was an innovator and film apparatus inventor, who in 1910 started the Moving Picture Equipment Co. Many of his early inventions would be purchased and utilized by burgeoning film companies that would grow to become giants in their field. The then new Selig-Polyscope Company, the first permanent movie studio in Southern California, to capture the Southwest in all its primitive glory, hired Buckwalter.  Going to the extent of trying to pass Colorado off as a mild climate community, locals were filmed wearing summer attire in the streets in frigid January. Because of snow, of course, filming the fraudulent event was postponed. Buckwalter had gotten his start with future movie mogul William Selig when they met back in 1901, as the two men were filming promotional travel films for railroad companies, which would be the birth of video tourism in our country. Buckwalter and Selig would also collaborate on what would be the genesis of western films.

Another benchmark in local cinema history was the creation by former Selig director Otis Thayer, of the Colorado Motion Picture Company in 1913 which was supported by local businessmen who would appear as extras in the company’s films. The studio took a big hit in 1914, when lead actress Grace McHugh and a cameraman drowned in the Arkansas River while shooting the film “Across the Border”. Only one film is known to still exist from the company. Released in 1914 and filmed in Canon City, “Pirates of the Plains”, is a story about two brothers, one a beloved rodeo rider, the other a horse thief. As the film boom burst onto the scene, opulent movie theaters began to spring up next to equally grand Opera and performing arts houses. People started to refer to Curtis Street in Denver as “Theatre Row,” and “Denver’s Great White Way,” for it was said to be the brightest street in the world due to the number of neon clad edifices that illuminated the block. The Apollo Hall was the first theater to open in 1859, as Curtis Street would go on  to be lined with sixty-six theaters in all before the year 1920.

Getting his start galloping across the plains of Colorado in short silent films was the big screen’s first Western star; Tom Mix. Mix set the standard for every faux cowboy to follow. This frontier fascination would continue through the marriage of sound and film, and over those first few infant decades of the industry, helping to create the Western archetypes that are still prevalent to this day. John Ford, arguably the greatest director of the genre, often used Colorado’s craggy canyons as the backdrop to many of his epic masterpieces. Concepts and misconceptions of the Old West were and still are shaped by what Ford’s films reveal to viewers. The forever skies and lush scenery that framed such celluloid heroes as John Wayne, could have had a starring credit all their own. By the time of the mid century television boom, Colorado could already boast of being host to well over one hundred films and television programs, and could rightfully claim a place in the origins of American cinema. The honoring of the Old West would continue in the 1960’s, when towns like Silverton, Telluride & Durango would be employed to serve as settings for classic staples such as True Grit and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Roughly thirty westerns were locally filmed during the 1950’s and 60’s. In 1957, MGM studios would even build a replica old west town in Canon City, dubbed Buckskin Joe’s, later converted to a western themed amusement park, which would act as setting to a good number of movies, making Colorado a popular pick amongst some of the generation’s top directors.

A significant shift in cinema took place during the 1970’s. Dealing in the disillusionment of the post Vietnam and Nixon impeachment era, a fresh crop of filmmakers sprouted onto the scene bringing with them more gritty, realistic portrayals in their works. Satire was taken to another level, as evident in the Woody Allen film,  Sleeper, shot on location at the Sculptured Deaton House atop Genesee Mountain in Jefferson County. The ornate elevator inside the distinctive UFO like house was used as a device called the Orgasmatron. The 70’s also saw the birth of pivotal film festivals in Colorado. The Telluride Film Festival, which started in 1974 continues to be held annually over Labor Day weekend. The festival is notable as being the venue where standout films like Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, Ken Burns Civil War documentary, and Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain had their first American viewings. The Denver Film Fest founded in ‘78, followed by Mountainfilm in Telluride in ‘79, still celebrated over every Memorial Day weekend. Family fluff like Mork & Mindy set in Boulder, accompanied by the obligatory John Denver specials of the day, were also in the mix at the time, as television would focus its programming more on the area. 

In 1980, Stanley Kubrick kicked Colorado into the upper echelon of iconic filmdom, when he transformed Stephen King’s monumental horror novel The Shining, into his own immensely influential vision. King, who began working on the story while staying in room 217 of the stately Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, would use the resort and its haunted history as inspiration and setting for his book. Even to this day, The Stanley Hotel replays the uncensored version of The Shining in all its twisted glory, on a twenty-four hour rotation on channel 42 in the guest rooms. 

The 80’s would spawn a fresh decade of inspired filmmakers who would hatch a myriad of new film fests in the state. The longest running celebration of women’s films in the United States, the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, was established in Colorado Springs in 1987. The Colorado Production Guide would commence under the direction of The Colorado Film & Video Association, and currently continues to operate as the state’s oldest production directory containing contact information for hundreds in the film field. The area would also be home to a number of the summer and holiday blockbusters the era would drag in its wake. Over the top heroes like Indiana Jones, Action Jackson, and even everyone’s favorite, celluloid family the Griswold’s, would use the scenery of Colorado as a backdrop to their adventures. Hell, even Over The Top with master thespian Sylvester Stallone passed through the area to film. The remote control age of 80’s television would bring Dynasty, which was set in Denver and would become one of the most popular nighttime melodramas of all time. 

Colorado was still fertile filming ground towards the end of the 20th Century, with cartoons even getting in on the act as Trey Parker and Matt Stone would make the town of South Park a household name. The tragic events of yet another local small town would be unfortunately repeated ad nauseam across seemingly every cable news station across the land for the whole world to view. And as the rest of us tried to make sense of the senselessness that was Columbine, filmmaker Michael Moore came onto the scene and tried to put some perspective on the subject with his controversial documentary Bowling for Columbine. As the new millennium began and the digital age dawned, even the oxymoron of reality TV would cast its skewed spotlight on the state. Cinema would continue to be celebrated and grow locally as film festivals would again multiply. Including the foundations of the Boulder International Film Festival in 2004 by sisters Kathy and Robin Beeck, held each year over President’s Day weekend. The Castle Rock Film Fest began in ‘09. Horror fans would start their own celebration in 2010 with the formation of The Mile High Horror Film Festival.

Just last year in April of 2012, the Boulder History Museum held an exhibit entitled “Hollywood, Colorado”, which explored the more than one hundred year old history of cinema in the state. Highlighted by posters, footage and artifacts from locally made movies, the exhibit also featured films from new and upcoming homegrown artists. Also in 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper requested $3 million to be allocated towards state film incentives. While the revenue generated in the state from filmmaking is substantial, there are still others who believe the cost outweighs the benefit and would like to see the money earmarked for film go towards other useful outlets. While many surrounding states are looking to draw filmmakers to their area by offering sizable loan guarantees and by raising the percentage of cash rebates given for production, Colorado took steps to try and ensure the future of filming in the state, by doubling film rebates from 10% up to 20%. Just looking over the long and varied resume of films and television programs broadcast from Colorado, one can get a sense of the impact the state has had on the industry. And the impact the industry has had on bringing much needed revenue to the state.

I’ve no designs on turning Colorado into the next Tinseltown. In fact, I tend to feel in an admittedly odd elitist way, that when you slap the moniker of “The Hollywood of . . .” onto an idea, you’re stamping on a glaring disclaimer of defeat by basically acknowledging you’re still trying to be something else. Alternately, I feel it’s imperative to continue to concentrate on cultivating a positive, productive environment that encourages local filmmakers and students to think globally but shoot locally. And assure excited filmmakers of all ages that they have options and resources to fulfill their visions. By showcasing the natural beauty that encompasses the area, you let people know that there’s no need to create a CGI version of the Rocky Mountains, because the view of the real thing ain’t too shabby. It’s interesting to draw parallels between our film forefathers and modern day filmmakers. Since they’re the arbiters of a new age themselves, trying to deal with the ever-changing new fangled technology they’re confronted with every time there’s an upgrade which actually seems to take place so very often now.   And as hard as it seems to stay current in such mercurial times, it’s encouraging to see the amount of advancements being made at such an accelerated rate. And when living in such an age of such considerable change and progression, it’s very easy to lose site of the past.

While researching some classic films that were rumored to have been filmed locally, but alas were shot on back lots of Hollywood studios over 1,000 miles away, I was a bit disappointed because these movies would add some bright color to the lore of the state. Then I was struck by a quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a film with its story set in Picketwire Canyonlands of southeastern Colorado, during a time when the area was struggling with the idea of statehood. “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

by Bryan Morell

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Last Half

Rock Art of the Purgatoire Canyon





Despite the permanency the name implies, rock art has an unexpectedly ephemeral nature. It doesn’t announce itself but creeps up on you, appearing in places you’d least expect like the footprints of someone who’s passed before you. It is this very transitory nature of rock art that makes it both fascinating and extremely difficult to understand. Because of the large and unique collection of petroglyphs and rock structures in Southern Colorado, archaeologists in our area may one day be able to shed a little light on the meaning of rock art images all over the world.

The Picket Wire, or Purgatoire, Canyon area just south of Lamar has a large and well-preserved concentration of rock art that archaeologist Lawrence Loendorf of the University of New Mexico predicts will “be the key to understanding North American rock art.” The Purgatoire River running through the canyon is one of many tributaries that make up the Lower Arkansas River Valley, an area which extends through the southeastern corner of Colorado and into the Oklahoma Panhandle and Northwest Texas. This area has the highest concentration of rock art in North America and a cultural history going back tens of thousands of years.

Walking into the Purgatoire Canyon is like walking back in time. The canyon is huge—wide enough to be seen from space—and blanketed with long, savannah-like grasses, intersected by tall cottonwoods and tamarisk that line the river. On either side, the valley walls rise up and branch off into smaller canyons that remain largely unexplored. The canyon walls themselves are dotted with junipers and basalt boulders that run all the way down to the river bed like toys scattered in a child’s playroom. Considering that less than a century and a half ago the canyon had the humid, fertile environment of a rain forest, it’s not difficult to imagine the attraction of the oasis-like valley to settlers throughout history, from the Folsom Man to Spanish colonists.

And the rock art is everywhere: pieces chipped off from boulders litter the trail, and every rock seems to have some sort of petroglyph, although not in the most obvious places one would look.

Something that becomes immediately apparent when searching for rock art is how much seeing it depends on luck and subjectivity, even when the area is rich in petroglyphs. As Loendorf put it in his study of the Purgatoire Canyon, A Manual for Rock Art Documentation,

“ … in practice it can be very difficult to decide if marks on a rock are the result of a tree limb blowing against the surface or the product of a human artist. It can be equally difficult to decide if a series of marks is purposeful, not fortuitous.” He also points out that finding rock art can depend largely on such changeable conditions as lighting and recent rains.

Loendorf has been studying the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, or PCMS, since 1989 and is the world’s foremost expert on petroglyphs in Southern Colorado. The PCMS itself is not part of the Purgatoire Canyon, but borders the northeast side of it.

According to Loendorf there are three major types of rock art in the area: biographic, which are incised scenes of warfare similar to ledger drawings and buffalo skin paintings; visionary and shamanistic images like handprints, which are the most common images in the PCMS; and what Loendorf refers to as “doodles,” or very abstract shapes such as squiggly lines and spirals.

These types of petroglyphs are not unique to Colorado. Handprint petroglyphs can be found all over the world; and when seen in conjunction with human figures they are believed to be a sign that the art is shamanistic in purpose, as if the print is capturing the artist’s soul. Spirals or concentric circles are also a worldwide phenomenon. In the Southwest they are often associated with shields, but are sometimes also connected to astronomy.

That being said, there are certain types of rock art that can only be found in the Purgatoire Canyon and PCMS site. These petroglyphs are anthropomorphs or quadruped figures who face the viewer and have knobby knees and digitate hands. They were created by the mysterious Apishapa (also spelled Apishipa) Culture, a group unique to Southern Colorado who inhabited the Lower Arkansas River Valley between 2,000 and 500 years ago. They’re mostly known for building rock structures like the “Stonehenge” type ruins found in the Apishapa State Wildlife Area, about 20 miles east of Walsenburg. But there are also examples of their rock structures in the PCMS and Purgatoire Canyon.

Unlike other inhabitants of North America during this time period (between about 1050 and 1450 AD), who were developing a more sedentary lifestyle, the Apishapas remained semi-nomadic even though they were building permanent stone structures. These structures were probably used for visionary and shamanistic purposes, not as homes or shelters, and some sites have material dating from the Paleoindian and Archaic periods, suggesting the sites themselves might have been in use up to 10,000 years ago, around the time when the “Folsom Man” lived in nearby Folsom, New Mexico. No matter how long the stone structures were in use, though, one can infer from the continuity of the Purgatoire Style of rock art and archaeological evidence that there was a continuous culture existing in Southern Colorado up until about 500 years ago, when a sudden break in the style of rock art coincided with the disappearance of the Apishapas and the arrival of Plains tribes like the Apache.

No one knows what caused this break in cultures, but Loendorf speculates it was a combination of drought and the arrival of Europeans, which brought the availability of new tools such as horses and the uprising of a warrior culture. Unlike the Apishapas, the Apache (one of the first recognizable tribes to inhabit the area) liked to decorate their sacred caves with the images of their deities, as well as use caves in conjunction with cattail pollen to induce visions, which so far has not been found in the rock shelters of the PCMS. They also favored biographic images in their rock art, which is very rare in the Purgatoire Canyon. Instead, rock shelter-rich areas such as the one around the Dolores Mission and Cemetery have petroglyphs pecked or painted onto boulders outside of the rock shelters, never inside. According to Loendorf, the boulders were crude stone altars used by Apishapa shamans who drew figures “on the ground near them” to represent tribal deities.

No discussion of rock art in Southern Colorado would be complete without mentioning the work of the late William McGlone and Phil Leonard. Although not professional archaeologists, anthropologists, or art historians, they have probably done more research into the petroglyphs and stone structures of Southeastern Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle than anyone else in modern times. While their exploration and records are valuable, their contribution to the study of these petroglyphs is somewhat marred by their belief that the petroglyphs created by the Apishapa are actually Ogam, a form of writing developed by Irish monks sometime in the fourth century AD. They claim that reading Ogam inscriptions have led them to discover several archaeoastronomical sites, including Crack Cave in Picture Canyon and the Sun Temple, also in Southeastern Colorado. They also believe that some petroglyphs are a form of Northern Arabic writing.

The idea that petroglyphs are “saying something” is hardly surprising; as Loendorf puts it, “Art is not unlike language; when one element is placed on the wall, it plays a role in the next element.” However, aside from the presence of these supposed Ogam writings, there is no evidence of Western occupation in the Americas prior to the Vikings around 1000 AD, and then only in Newfoundland. Without proof of a Western presence, the theories of McGlone, Leonard, and others like them can only be interpreted as racist. By taking Native American inscriptions and monuments and labeling them as Ogam, Mithras, Anubis, Northern Semitic, Egyptian hieroglyphic, Apollo, and so on, they are essentially taking the history of Native Americans, erasing it, and replacing it with Western history!

Their claims would be too ridiculous to even warrant discussion if they weren’t regarded with so much credulity and if this practice wasn’t so wide spread in regards to Native American rock art. In 1994, for example, the discovery of Chauvet Cave, an Upper Paleolithic site in France with “wondrous” multicolored paintings, was featured in every major American newspaper. That same year, the Kaibab Paiute finished a study of cave paintings in the Grand Canyon which depicted the Ghost Dance and other images every bit as impressive as those in Chauvet Cave. Instead of mainstream media press coverage, however, they were featured in Weekly World News under the headline, “4,000-year-old UFO Found in Grand Canyon!” Even if these sensational claims are the only way to generate interest in rock art in North America, any attempt to remove American Indians from Native American rock art should be met with outrage.

Petroglyphs hardly need UFOs and secret histories to be interesting. Rock art is mysterious, and beautiful, and exciting, and for scholars trying to study it, occasionally frustrating. But possibly that is what it’s meant to be. One doesn’t have to understand or give a single meaning to everything one sees in order to appreciate it. Petroglyphs are artworks that are living and magical in a way that paintings in environmentally-controlled museums can’t match. While it is doubtful the petroglyphs and rock structures in Southeastern Colorado will ever be more comprehensively studied unless attitudes toward rock art change, the fact remains that the Purgatoire Canyon and the Lower Arkansas River Valley as a whole contains a wealth of history just waiting to be explored and admired.

by Tasha Brandstatter


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Last Half

Ice Blocking



With the stress of several fires, all dry desert heat, and rainless days, I know I’m looking for unique ways to stay cool and calm.

Since it’s not ideal to travel three hours to the sand dunes so you can spend a day scooting down sandy hills on plastic sleds like you’re Matthew McConaughey in Sahara, I have a different method for you all. Instead, you can get a little wet, and certainly wild, with a slide down and cool down toward the end of a hot day. With what you ask? What else could you possible do to cool down besides sprinklers in your back yard, waterpark, or swimming pool? Ice Blocking of course, don’t worry I’ll tell you what the heck it is. Here’s what you do. First, this simple fun can be easily devised using two items:

-One 10 pound block of ice (can be found at King Soopers)

-And One kitchen towel to keep your tush somewhat dry (don’t be afraid to accessorize)

Second, find yourself a steep and grassy knoll (dirt does not work and you will hurt yourself), University Park in Pueblo is always a good choice, but any steep hill will do. Next, place your towel over your block of ice, situate yourself as comfortably on your ice as you can, have your friends give you a little push and… Geronimo! You’ll slide down that hill faster than a fireman down a pole.

Continue to maximize your ice blocking experience in three ways. First, go on a hot day so your ice melts making you slide faster. Second, wait for the grass to get greener. As the ice melts, your block sleds down the green grass better. And third, find out if your desired hill space has a sprinkler system. If it does, find out when they kick on and go ice blocking then. Slickery is always better, in this case. Combine those three things and you’ll see what I mean. And why not dress down? You don’t get wet from ice blocking unless you go through the sprinklers. So get in those board shorts and bikinis and slip and slide over the hill and down a slippery slope of water.

It’s too much of a scorching inferno during the day, so try going ice blocking at night when the sun disappears and the evening feels a lot cooler. With this inexpensive outlet in the sizzling summertime, who needs Waterworld anyway? Actually, that does sound nice right now… but anyway. Give this poor man’s slip and slide a chance and it could create a summer memory between you and some great friends.

For a quick bit of fun on a budget, this is a great activity to let you get down while things continue to heat up.

by Kelly Branyik

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Last Half

Art Coup in Cañon



Through the lightly Juniper specked cliffs cupping the slight winding roads, you can take a slow drive past the quiet residences of small towns that don’t make it on the map.

Through the lightly Juniper specked cliffs cupping the slight winding roads, you can take a slow drive past the quiet residences of small towns that don’t make it on the map. Drive a little further, you might find yourself cruising upstream to the rushing Arkansas River. You may even see a lonely rafter eager for some white water or an angler hungry for brown trout. Art is neither a rare spectacle. You can walk down main street and spot several art studios full of a life’s work, or you can see an artist diligently completing his oil painting halfway outside of his studio door. For some, not much is really happening in Canon City for the art community but recently the Fremont Center for the Arts scored a major coup by showing an internationally-known artist’s creations.

Thomas ‘The Painter of Light’ Kinkade’s, artwork made its appearance at the Fremont Center for the Arts in Canon City. Thomas Kinkade is the American artist known for his realistic and impressionistic paintings using three elements of light: water, sunlight, and artificial light. His purpose in painting was to simply paint with his heart. Although he never searched for fame in his work, he is the most sold artist in the country and became so reputable that his art is easily spotted in St. Jude Hospitals, The White House and even the Vatican. 

Garden of Prayer by Thomas Kinkade | Courtesy Fremont Center for the Arts

Garden of Prayer by Thomas Kinkade | Courtesy Fremont Center for the Arts

The FCA is a non-profit organization home to the local artists of Fremont County but also host to collections and exhibits of art ranging from Day of the Dead exhibits to the Splendor of Glass exhibits to Artist of the Tattooist. The FCA’s establishment is known to the art community, but to outsiders it merely appears to be an extension of the public library across the street. To discover that Kinkade is in Canon City is a stunning piece of news, so with all this excitement, many are left wondering, how does artwork of this caliber make its way to a small town?

Art centers are struggling and it doesn’t matter that Canon City has the oldest Arts Community Council west of the Mississippi. The FCA’s Visual Committee has been working for two years to bring Kinkade’s original artwork to Canon. It all started in March 2011 when Linda Bella brainstormed ways to get more big name artists associated with the FCA. With the help of Linda Carlson, Bella settled on attempting to contact Thomas Kinkade. The Lindas searched diligently for his contact information, eventually finding it on Google.

Once they made contact with Kinkade, they proposed he show his art in Canon City. Kinkade’s response was a hearty chuckle and a “we only do shows in big cities.” Carlson’s logic was that big name art shows are less popular in big cities because the competition is too fierce, but in a smaller city, there will be a larger turnout of appreciative fans. Kinkade found reason in the proposition and March 2013 became the date for display. But the process took an abrupt halt when Thomas Kinkade passed away unexpectedly in April 2012, inevitably cutting off any correspondence with any and every person associated with Kinkade. “We almost didn’t get it,” said Carlson. For months, the Lindas had nearly given up on getting Kinkade to Canon until October when contact was resumed and the plans to showcase Kinkade continued. 

The FCA paid $300 for shipping each original painting from California to Denver. The display consisted of both original paintings and giclee of prints like The Wailing Wall, Disney’s 50th Anniversary sketch, his Fenway Park painting, Walk of Faith, and many others. 

I asked Carlson what the FCA hoped to gain out of bringing a world famous artist to Canon City. They hoped to increase interest, awareness, and support for the FCA, regardless of an artist’s prestigious reputation. During the one month display, the FCA sold $3,700 worth of prints, while the Denver Kinkade dealers anticipated only $200 profit. Between the splendidly detailed paintings and Patrick Kinkade’s heartfelt presentation of the hysterical and historical timeline of Thomas, the Kinkade display at the FCA turned out to be a great success for Canon City. So, who’s next for the FCA? The Visual Committee set July 2014 as the tentative date to showcase a Norman Rockwell display for two months.

by Kelly Branyik

 Cover photo The Fremont Center for the Arts   

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