‘Crestone’ is the Cross-Section of Poetry and Rap and Isolation and Freedom
February 19, 2021
Filmmaker Marnie Hertzler’s documentary Crestone led her to follow some high school friends to the remote town of about 100 people. Her anti-consumerist high school cronies set out to live a utopian life to focus on music — mainly their SoundCloud rap, which has been met with varying degrees of success. Hertzler inserts herself into the documentary from the beginning with regular narration, her first statement somewhat of a thesis for the movie: “This movie is a love letter. This movie is about the end of the world.”
It feels fitting that the subjects of the film took up residence in Crestone, Colo. — Hertzler says it’s a place absolutely in the middle of nowhere that has welcomed many religions for many years. The young men were drawn to the place for the open laws about growing weed — their main source of income as they pursue their dreams. Hertzler admits their dystopian lifestyle was part of the narrative they simultaneously created together as Sloppy (a talented rapper in the group) had a family home nearby when more creature comforts were needed. But the invented narrative fits the setting. It’s undeniably a choice to live in relative isolation and eliminate the outside world to focus on high pursuits. In fact, as Hertzler says, “it’s admirable.”
Hertzler says the motives of the young men remain pure. They are still focused on making music, and for many of them simply the ability to keep making it is how they measure success (even if that means going with, or doing without). The filmmakers and their subjects did fully buy into their invented premise of the end of the world (not yet knowing humankind was on the precipice of a pandemic, and they themselves would face a brutal wildfire season in Colorado). This meant doing without; there are no women in the film outside of Hertzler herself and that was purposeful.
“I wanted them to be the last people alive on earth. I also think so much of creative culture is a lot about brotherhood and men living and working together, and I wanted to comment on that as well.”
There are moments of beauty, pain, boredom and just plain rambling here. They all question the process. They get sick of each other. They wonder if the existence outside the norm is sustainable. Hertzler states in her voiceover, “Performance and being became indistinguishable.” But the voiceover of Hertzler, her co-filmmaker and credited writer Corey Hughes, and the riffing of all the rappers is inarguably beautiful as they muse they are living “in the cut,” in a place where “you can see both ends of the rainbow.” It’s clear the experience had a profound effect on all of them — the exact meaning of the effect, one can be entirely sure.
There’s a young man named Cody who appears in the middle of the film almost out of nowhere with a hybrid bicycle-flimsy-motorbike contraption and a dream to ride it to a settlement in California. Cody’s wide-eyed naivete and determination are simultaneously humbling and maddening. The sheer impossibility of Cody making it on his little bike to California is both laughable but also the thing of fanciful dreams that makes one believe, hell, maybe this dreamer will make it. Maybe he’ll escape the fate of mundanity, or worse yet, death by fire due to lack of decisiveness.
Hertzler’s deft hand is not as indecisive as her cohorts of aspiring rappers. Her work feels almost as if it has a master plan, even if it lacks one. Perhaps that’s the assuredness of her writing that’s prevalent throughout, even though that was not the initial plan.
“It was definitely not a choice from the beginning to put myself in the film… but I realized halfway through the edit that it was lacking a personal vibe that I felt while shooting. It was lacking the friendship feel, and a part of that was me being there, so I recorded voiceover to try to share that experience with the audience as well,” she said.
Whatever the ultimate message, Hughes and Hertzler have a knack for the poetic. The riff, which they scripted as the men trudge across gorgeous and end times-level sand dunes with barely enough water, is enough to make anyone stop and think where is happiness and how are voids being filled to find it on the daily.
But perhaps it is Cody’s string ride, hoping to find California on his bike as he recites Robert Frost that cuts the deepest in the movie: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, and I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” One wonders if the wandering rappers feel the same way. When, where, and how they may emerge to live a life with any sort of promises they need to keep — and if it will be worth it to get there in the first place.
Crestone is now available on VOD.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/