Amargosa (2001)

Genres - Culture & Society, Dance  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Interpersonal Relationships, Jazz & Modern Dance  |   Run Time - 93 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Todd Kristel

Marta Becket is such a fascinating person that it would be nearly impossible to create a boring documentary about her. So Todd Robinson deserves credit for almost accomplishing the impossible. His approach is far too heavy-handed and pious; this film could have been a lot more lighthearted and comic while still showing great respect for Becket. Indeed, Amargosa is a collection of poor filmmaking decisions ranging from the self-important voice-over narration to the totally inappropriate choice of an Aime Mann wannabe for the soundtrack. The narrative seems to lack a clear sense of direction as the film gets lost in digressions about topics such as the history of Death Valley Junction; also, the film dwells too much on Becket's childhood and failed marriage in an apparent attempt to pigeonhole her as an artist who has overcome personal pain through her art. Some of the interview segments last too long and sometimes the film seems to be beating the audience over the head with reminders that Becket is an amazing person. The end result seems like a short subject dragged out to feature length. Fortunately, Becket is a remarkable person so the film is still somewhat interesting despite its many flaws. The movie enables people who can't travel to Death Valley to see the Amargosa Opera House, including the elaborate mural that Becket painted (an impressive personal accomplishment even if it's not considered a great work of art) and excerpts from her dance performance, and to hear Becket describe her urge to create; that's sufficient to justify the existence of this film.