Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Vamos al la Chngada

By Jessica English

MAY 11, 1998: 

Barry Gifford and David Perry's Bordertown

In bordertowns, "Quiero cerveza," "No quiero chicle" and "¿Dónde está el baño?" are the only phrases Americanos need to survive. What attracts gringos to the towns along borders, afterall, are the elements of basic survival. In that same vein, writer Barry Gifford and photographer David Perry set out on a road trip along the U.S.-Mexico border, documenting the lifestyle in these otherworldly towns with nonfiction, fiction, black-and-white photography and drawings. The result is Bordertown--much less a social analysis of life in these shantytowns than it is a multimedia essay, a bound collection of art strung together by a broad thematic thread. Still, the seedy characters in these apocalyptic towns on both sides of the border seem the kind of people only Gifford could create in one of his novels. Like his characters Perdita Durango, Lula and Sailor, Big Bettie and Cutie, these are people living in the periphery, consumed by darkness, drugs, sex and violence, but still marked by a kind of irrevocable innocence.

These are the kind of characters that attracted David Lynch to Gifford's work. (Lynch adapted Gifford's Wild at Heart and Hotel Room and co-wrote the screenplay to Lost Highway with Gifford.) Collaborating with David Perry now, Gifford's work resembles something much more Lynchian: filled with confusing, scattered fragments and factoids; sudden pivots from nonfiction to fiction; visual snippets of tabloid ads and Gifford's handwritten notes; fuzzy photographs and still lifes of steer skulls and cowboy hats; mugshots and articles captioned in Spanish that don't parallel Gifford's writing. Because of this stylized and sensationalized presentation, Bordertown is more akin to watching a Mexican "El Mundo Real" on MTV.

The presentation of text and pictures, like flashing images across a TV screen, blurs what is fiction and what is reality, which is clearly the function of Bordertown. Within the first few pages, it becomes apparent that there is a strict formula to the organization of the book that works to achieve this dreamlike quality, a kind of controlled chaos in the design of black and white eclipsed by silver ink doodlings. Between these cluttered pages are several short fiction pieces by Gifford, a welcome breath of wide-open white space among the anarchy of images. These are stories inspired by what he's seen, like a missing-child poster, that, at the very least, give us a glimpse into Gifford's creative process and provide the meatiest element of the book.

The authors seem most concerned with the whores than anything else, devoting several pages to these women's pictures and writing about how some fondled Gifford's groin and offered to fuck him for free. But this is the only instance when Gifford and Perry seem to be on the same page, so to speak, when the photographs actually complement the text. "The girls are easy to talk to, most--even the older women--still somehow sweet and innocent. Fucking and sucking is their business, that's all, nothing emotional in that," Gifford writes about their Friday night visit to Nuevo Laredo's Boystown, a mercado of sex. Opposite Gifford's text is a photograph of four beautiful Mexican women who seduce Perry's lens. The one in the middle, barely a woman, sits on the bartop with her shirt pulled to her waist; her face is innocent; it is the face of one of the Aztec princesses Gifford so often writes about. All too often, Perry's photographs, though stunning, seem random, added for shock value: hanging cattle carcasses, rows of crucifixes and retablos of Jesus.

The road trip culminates in Gifford's final poem "Bordertown," which stands alone on three pages, in greasy black typewriter text. "Here's where the road ends,/in the ground or at water's edge--" he writes. "Boca Chica, the girl's/mouth ..." With this well crafted ending, Gifford and Perry succeed with a haunting collaboration of words and images that leaves you feeling filthy but curious, like good porn. With a photographer whose pictures are so striking that words only muddy them and a writer whose images and characters are so fleshy, pictures only discredit them, Bordertown is like a visually stunning vacation memory scrapbook. (Chronicle, cloth, $29.95)

Weekly Wire Suggested Links

Page Back Last Issue Current Issue Next Issue Page Forward

Books: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Cover . News . Film . Music . Arts . Books . Comics

Weekly Wire    © 1995-99 DesertNet, LLC . Weekly Alibi . Info Booth . Powered by Dispatch