The Twenty-One Lives of Billy the Kid
Shot in the abandoned buildings of Gary, Indiana and the cornfields of Western Illinois, THE TWENTY-ONE LIVES OF BILLY THE KID presents a fractured historical narrative without any real protagonist, one in which the titular character goes mostly unseen: Billy the Kid as the always-off-screen assailant, as a ghost’s laugh, as a shadow on the road. A single actor (Dave Grant as the Cowboy) plays the roles of Billy’s twenty-one victims and is covered in blood by the film’s end; with each murder comes a resurrection, and with each resurrection another bloody murder. The ghost towns of today are substituted for the frontier towns of the Old West, and the Cowboy is shepherded through this desolate landscape by the Nurse and the Soldier (Sharon Ambielli and Erik Fabian), the forgotten souls of a violent and divisive war. Based almost entirely on historical accounts leading up to and surrounding the events of the 1877 Lincoln County War in New Mexico, THE TWENTY-ONE LIVES OF BILLY THE KID employs a series of re-enactments that produce History as its main character in an effort to unravel it. Shot dead by Pat Garrett at the age of 21, Billy the Kid was rumored to have murdered 21 men in his short lifetime. Contemporary historians place the number of Billy's actual victims at four (two of whom were drunks in a saloon), but in the 124 years since his murder, Billy the Kid has been cast as everything from rustler to demon to lover to vampire-killer; the lack of biographical information about his life has made Billy into a cipher for any given historical or cultural moment. In THE TWENTY-ONE LIVES OF BILLY THE KID, it is the fact of death that matters most: equal parts truth and mythology, this film is ultimately an interrogation into violence and the minor characters of history; it takes a long look at the lives of the relative unknown to see if they can hold the weight of the makeshift legend that they died serving.