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The Bus Stopped Here

Along for the ride on the Silver City Express.

"Dickie Pilager cares about Colorado...;" The political ads were all over CNN last Friday morning, as Pete Coors commercials alternated with the latest swift-boat torpedoes. So when the start of Richard Pilager's stump speech for governor sounded at 7:24 a.m., it seemed to fit right in. But Pilager -- who looked a lot like Chris Cooper acting like George W. Bush -- was out to fill not ballot boxes, but movie-theater seats. He was campaigning for Silver City, the political mystery made in Colorado last fall that would have its Denver premiere just twelve hours later, then open nationwide on September 17.

Life was beginning to imitate the art that was imitating it.

7 a.m. Wednesday, September 8, Denver

The cabbie loves John Sayles. Everything the filmmaker has done, from Sunshine State to Lone Star to Matewan to Return of the Secaucus Seven. He loves the horror flicks that Sayles starting writing for B-movie maven Roger Corman after he arrived in Hollywood. He really loves Alligator, the 1980 movie whose Sayles-penned script twists the urban legend of a kid's pet flushed down the toilet into a monster that terrorizes Chicago. Sayles has written Hollywood movies, too; he was one of the many casualties of The Alamo and is now at work on Jurassic Park 4, although he promises "there's no truth to the rumor that Benji is eaten." Those gigs help pay the bills, and independent filmmakers who want to stay independent -- who want to make $6 million movies that might be politically unpopular with the big-money people -- have plenty of bills.

This cabbie knows all about the high price of independence. After thirty years in the computer business, he's driving a taxi. But he likes the freedom, likes the people. He'll talk to them about anything. Especially the movies of John Sayles.

7 p.m. Wednesday, Santa Fe

Inside the Lensic Performing Arts Center, Sayles is signing copies of his book, Silver City and Other Screenplays. Outside the restored movie palace, people are holding up fingers. Need one ticket. Need two. It looks like the scene outside Invesco Field at Mile High -- if rabid Broncos fans wore black and lots of silver jewelry. Santa Fe is the first city to host a showing of Silver City, which otherwise has been screened just for critics. Although Sayles's latest was filmed one state to the north, New Mexico loves movies -- and has an active, well-funded state film commission to prove it. The evening is a benefit for the New Mexico Women's Foundation, which supports the GirlsFilmSchool, and it's completely sold out. David Byrne, who played this town the night before (and Denver before that), has scored a ticket; others are not so lucky.

The signing done, every ticket gone, Boulder's David Barsamian, host/producer of Alternative Radio, appears on the stage to introduce Dan Perkins, who, as Tom Tomorrow, produces "This Modern World," a cartoon that runs in Westword and dozens of other papers across the country. Perkins, who's been sitting by Sayles and signing copies of his own The Great Big Book of Tomorrow, now offers a slide show of his cartoons, including one mocking such esoteric voting techniques as "origami" ballots. That brings down the house.

The progressive revival continues as Sayles introduces Steve Earle, a new member of the filmmaker's bandwagon, whose song "Amerika v. 6.0" plays at the end of Silver City. Earle wrote the song for another movie, until that filmmaker -- or the people funding that filmmaker -- decided it was too edgy. But it was just right for Sayles and Maggie Renzi, his partner/producer. Earle starts out with a song from his new album, The Revolution Starts Now, that you'll never hear on the radio -- not that many mainstream stations play him in the first place. "Fuck the FCC," he sings. "Fuck the FBI. Fuck the CIA. I'm living in the mother-fucking USA." In the back of the house, the soundman is rocking out. "I do believe we're living in a time when it's important to say 'fuck' as loudly and often as possible," Earle tells the crowd.

And then out walks Kris Kristofferson, who plays the conniving kingmaker in Silver City. Whenever he has a part for a "son of a bitch," Sayles says, Kristofferson is his first choice. Kristofferson and Earle join up for "This Land Is Your Land," which Woody Guthrie wrote because he didn't think "God Bless America" was inclusive enough, according to Earle. Both George W. and John Kerry have tried to include this song in their campaigns, but it's never before sounded so right. Earle encourages everyone to sing the more inflammatory verses.

"Our goal is to reach out to more audiences than the normal art-house circuit," Renzi says. "But this is our audience, and we need to reach out to them, too." She talks about how in May 2003, she and Sayles realized that they had to do something that might make a difference in this election, and came up with Silver City, a movie that never mentions a political party but makes its allegiances very clear. So are the loyalties of the cast: In addition to Kristofferson, along for the ride are Daryl Hannah, who plays Dickie Pilager's slutty yet savvy sister; Michael Murphy, who plays their father, a Colorado senator; Mary Kay Place, Sal Lopez and Luis Saguar.

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