If you thought about how a film documenting the life of author Max Evans might feel, you'd drift to relentless wind, a little danger, baritones and two black eyes that might make you reconsider watching. That's pretty much what Lorene Mills, David Leach and Paul Barnes managed in their onscreen look at how a kid from Ropes (yes, Ropes), Texas, became one of New Mexico's most celebrated writers and mythical characters.
No amount of time would be enough, but in 79 minutes, the filmmakers manage to make a case for most, if not all, of Evans' many lives: calf roper, miner, childhood criminal, gold smuggler, barroom brawler, tortured typewriter maniac and mentor. Peter Coyote narrates, so the film feels familiar and warm, but the edges aren't quite round. For New Mexicans, it'll look familiar, too—especially the half-focused detail shots capturing rural Taos wind or the long panos of Northern New Mexico's mountains.
At bottom, Evans is a mystic, and that's what the film manages to draw out best. Sam Elliott reads perfectly chosen selections from some of Evans' best-known works—The Hi Lo Country, The Rounders and others—imbuing the film with Evans' spare, clear voice. But there's an animated sequence from Bluefeather Fellini, Evans' magnum opus, in which the main character slips peyote to his captors to escape a jam that marks the high point. And why not? Evans, now 92, reveals his own peyote-infused journey that inspired the scene.
The filmmakers picked just the right cast of characters for interviews, including Ollie Reed, a longtime New Mexico journalist who, unsurprisingly, has shared some misadventures with Evans. One knock: Evans has lived such a vast collection of discrete lives that melting it all together with no snags in the seams would be impossible. There are some bumps in transitions, but in the main, this is a delightful viewing experience for fans of great lives and literature born from New Mexico.
+ Captures Evans' complication beautifully; voices are perfect (Sam Elliott and Peter Coyote)
– Feels a little rushed in spots; couple rough transitions
Ol' Max Evans: The First Thousand Years
Directed by Mills, Barnes and Leach
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 79 min.