I reviewed a few ghost movies yesterday but none of them were as haunted or haunting as is Bisbee '17, the latest documentary from Actress and Kate Plays Christine experimentalist documentarian Robert Greene. It calls to mind the sort of ghosts the Coens were going for in their sadness-soaked Ballad of Buster Scruggs - the ghosts of the American frontier, brothers who turned against brothers for a bit of fool's gold only to get a bullet for their betrayal, only to wander the dust-bowls of mid-nowhere for a century of technology that forgot them right quick.
Bisbee is a small border town in Arizona, and in the year 1917 the mining company that employed basically every adult male there decided to forcibly export half its citizens after they began clamoring for ye olden exorbitant worker's rights, stuff like Don't Kill Us, and Pay Us Fairly For Our Work - you know the story. Commie pinkos! Brother literally turned against brother, all in the name of capitalism, and history, written by the winners, quickly forgot.
One hundred years later the people feel like remembering. The movie doesn't make it quite clear, probably by design, whether it was the film-maker's inspiration or whether the townspeople were looking to dig up this past themselves, but Greene rabble-rouses a reenactment with his movie camera - he casts the descendants or their approximations in the roles of the two sides, and let's history flow up and out of them; it's a post-modern sort of spirit photography, as the ectoplasm of the past spews into visibility, possession like, a document of how we're all whether we realize it or not formed out of the molecules of the dead, a pile of repeats, damned to the same stories over and over and over again. Centuries melt off us - fine porcelain bones glimmer like cinema beneath.
It is fascinating illuminating strange stuff, to put it mildly, like watching a clicking-clacking parade of skeletons swamping 21st century streets, gingerly setting aside everybody's cell phones and demanding recompense for just a moment. America, land of forgetfulness, land of no memory, has enough bodies baked into it by now - the generations of forsaken, ill-treated, the huddled masses yearning to be remembered as American as well. They are bubbling up beneath our boots, sticky nicotine traces, congealed genocides stamped into Moon footprints forever more.