Ghosts of West: End of Bonanza Trail

DATELINE: Dead Memories of the Old West

ghost towns See no ghosts?

An utterly intriguing documentary on ghosts out west turns out to be utterly poetic and features no stories about ghosts. Be forewarned, and be prepared for a beautifully made film about the mystique of the Old West.

The dead memories are, in fact, the ghosts alluded to by director E.S. Knightchilde. Can that be a real name? Written and produced, the mysterious KNightchilde is nearly as ghostly as the missing ghosts.

If you also have an idea that this film will be about the lost Cartwrights, Ben and Hoss and Little Joe, it’s about another bonanza, though it is not far from Virginia City in Nevada to Colorado and Montana.

The film avoids color completely, blending its old photos and newer landscapes into one timeless black and white and silver image. When you add the poetic words of Theodore Roosevelt as part of the narrative, you have an idea that this is not going to be your traditional western tale.

Photos are rare and unusual, nicely packaged around the mining towns that quickly were abandoned. These are the ghost towns of the film: most of the little villages boomed for five or ten years and were deserted overnight. They were never intended to be long-term municipal places.

The single men who caroused, worked, and died there, hoped to strike it rich and escape that world. It was a place where, we are told, lynchings were commonplace, murders were standard, and all these dead people surely left ghostly haunting. We do not hear about that. It is the towns that grip the director who finds them shredded by tourists and scavengers. They are flattened for their mountain views and condo life of rich homesteaders of the 21st century.

The little towns that are dead with their dilapidated buildings grow scarce and have been saved by a few civic minded souls who have turned them into historical, living museums that you may wander around.

Only two interviews of older experts are shown, and they are the only bits of film in color, as to be expected with a film rich in poetry and aesthetics.

If you don’t mind beauty instead of fright, this documentary is worth staying around to watch.