Small Texas town's desolation draws blockbuster movies

Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Chip Love, a cattle rancher and bank president, showed an area used for the film "No Country for Old Men" on Wednesday near Marfa, Texas. Love played the role of "Man in Ford," as credited in the movie. (Eric Gay ~ Associated Press)

MARFA, Texas -- A thousand feet above a wind-swept, drought-browned valley, a man steps out of a late-'70s Ford Granada on a deserted two-lane road. He is confronted by a second man, who raises a pneumatic bolt gun to his forehead and deals a fatal blow.

Chip Love -- or "Man in Ford," as Oscar-nominated "No Country For Old Men" would come to credit him -- collapses to his knees on the blacktop, where Texas Ranch Road 2810 cuts through the crest of a hill covered in volcanic rock and tall, thick-trunked yuccas.

He gets up. He's shot again. And again. And again. Eight times altogether he rises and falls.

Getting it right pretty much takes all day.

"It's not as easy as it looks," Love, 50, a local rancher and bank manager, laughs about his role as an early victim of psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem.

On another day, just a few miles to the west of Love's "death," a crew of oilfield workers bounds down the stairs of a dusty depot, emptying a train pulled by an early 20th century steam locomotive. But this is a scene that will play out in "There Will Be Blood," another film up for multiple Academy Awards.

This is no mere coincidence.

When Hollywood needs Western desolation, it comes to Marfa.

More than 50 years ago, famed filmmaker George Stevens also settled on this area for his epic Texas oil tale "Giant," which starred Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. (Stevens won a best director Oscar for "Giant" in 1957, the only win of that film's 10 nominations).

The stark, gorgeous landscape outside the town shows up in all three films, and it isn't just the wide open desert horizon that directors take advantage of.

Marfa, population 2,100, was founded as a railroad stop in 1883 and is believed to have been named by a rail executive's wife after a character in Dostoyevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov," which she was reading at the time.

Now, the town with no movie theater is a big part of 16 nominations at this year's Academy Awards on Sunday -- eight each for "No Country" and "Blood," including best picture, best director and, somewhat to Marfa's credit, cinematography.

"This is a really little hidden secret," said Ree Willaford, who, with her artist-husband, Jason, bought an old Marfa building three years ago and renovated it to become their home, studio and gallery they call Galleri Urbane.

"It is kind of the last frontier," Jason Willaford said.

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