Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Screening Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of No Festival Required’s “Summer of Suburbia Films” series, is Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story.

Garrett Scott’s 2002 documentary, which runs less than an hour, chronicles the sad end of Shawn Nelson, an Army veteran who, one evening in May 1995, stole an M60 tank from a National Guard Armory near his home in Claremont, California and took it on a joyride through the neighborhood, trashing dozens of vehicles but, miraculously, injuring no one except Nelson himself, who was shot to death by the police.

A broke, unemployed meth user on the verge of losing his house, Nelson had dug a 15-foot hole in his back yard earlier that same year, in the delusion that he could mine for gold there. Scott’s film consists of news footage of the tank rampage and its aftermath, intercut with talking-heads footage of Nelson’s friends and family, who seem like they’ve stepped out of a Sam Shepherd play. In the manner of a non-facetious Michael Moore, Scott also presents a sketch of the social and economic history of Claremont and other San Diego-area communities, former defense-industry boomtowns declining to meth-infested near-slums since the Cold War, in an attempt to link Nelson’s weird tragedy directly to the Military-Industrial complex.

I think it’s possible to share the political sentiments implied in this approach (as I do) and still find this an overreach. But Cul-de-Sac is nonetheless an absorbing and painful story, well told.

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