Buck Alamo had its North American premiere at Calgary International Film Festival and recently won the coveted Audience Award at the 2021 Austin Film Festival.
Our lives burn brightly from the day we are born, the fire of our existence, small and gentle at birth before growing. As we add more and more logs to the fire throughout our life, its heat increases year on year. But, as we reach the end of our time on Earth, the flames slowly fade, leaving nothing but embers in their wake. Our memories are made from the sparks this fire creates, some bright and bold, while others quickly lose their energy before floating away on the wind of time.
We are so busy adding new logs to the fire that we pay little attention to these memory sparks as they float and burn throughout our childhood, youth and early adulthood. But, the older we get, the fewer logs we have left, and the sparks become our warmth, even the small delicate ones. Some of these memory sparks are bright, bold and entertaining as they dance in the sky, but some are unwieldy, hot and scary. The bright dancing sparks remind us of the good times, while the volatile sparks hold much darker recollections as we shield ourselves from their heat. It is said that all these sparks surround you before you die. The good, bad, regret-filled and scary embers of life, filling the air before you take your final breath.
For Eli Cody (Sonny Carl Davis), his fire burned with ferocity under his adopted stage name of Buck Alamo. But, as his life nears its end, Eli has yet to face many of the sparks his bonfire created. However, no man can run forever, and as his body betrays him, his memories are all that is left, some haunting, some beautiful and some full of regret. And despite having spent his life charming his way out of tricky situations while running from the worst parts of himself, time is ticking as the final flames of his life are reduced to a mere glow.
Director Ben Epstein carefully ensures Eli’s journey never succumbs to simple narrative devices. For example, Buck Alamo could have quickly become a story of redemption, judgement or spirituality. Yet, while these themes run through its one hour, seventeen-minute runtime, no one element dominates the story. Instead, we are offered an emotional ballad as one man comes to terms with himself, his life and his choices. His final days on Earth, a kaleidoscope of memories; some good, some bad, but all irreversible as death comes knocking. And while Buck/Eli may have every intention of making amends with the daughters he let down through his drugs and alcohol abuse, more important is his ability to forgive himself and understand the reasons for his choices, both good and bad.
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By focusing solely on Eli, Epstein ultimately reflects a stark reality of life; we leave its comfort alone, and it’s alone that we have to accept the choices and decisions made along the way. Here, there are no simple answers and no spiritual saviours, just internal reconciliation and a need for one last song. But, for Buck, his final song is stifled by hands that no longer play his guitar and a voice that quickly fades. It is here where Epstein’s film finds its emotional centre, as Eli’s body crumbles before his mind is ready to let go.
Buck Alamo shines with a rare beauty. Here Sonny Carl Davis offers a stunning and intimate central performance. While the films cinematography couples black and white scenes with moments of vibrant colour as past memories collide with the present. However, it is within its lyrical narrative that Epstein’s film becomes dreamlike in its vision. Here, Buck Alamo reflects the journey we must all eventually take as we look back, forgive, and accept the outcome of the life we were gifted. Epstein never asks you to like Eli or the choices he made; he simply asks you to join him as he kicks through the dying embers of the once-mighty fire that was his life.