• Claire Summa

Debriefing the Philipsburg Pilgrimage

Hi, everyone! Team Demo Hugo is home from Montana. At our weekly art direction meeting we debriefed the trip. Cali had kept all of us updated through the Team Demo Hugo Facebook, twitter, and blog, but here are some key moments from coming together as a group:

What surprised you the most during the trip?

Ryan, our cinematographer: How fricking friendly the people are [in Missoula]. I was just completely blown away that random people would start talking to you, and they were so genuine and so real.

Any funny moments you want to share?

In The White Front, a bar in Philipsburg, the female bartender’s hair was not red but it did, according to Ryan, “light the wall.” Which presumably is why he faux-proposed to her while the group enjoyed 'The Milltown Union Bar' style ambiance.

Lisa implied during this discussion that it wasn't just her hair that lit the wall.

Ryan confirmed.

Did your trip to Philipsburg make you think differently about the poem at all?

Lisa: I don’t know about the poem but I think [being there] added a lot of context emotionally.

Cali: What I found interesting is while there’s a lot of talk about Hugo being a writer of the West, he didn’t have an Old West feel in his poem. But you step into the town and there’s that strip of paved ground and then just dirt, and it looked like the standoff scene in a Western. That he was able to do something that’s so incredible but doesn’t fall into that genre, like it was right there for him but he didn’t take it, that to me is really interesting.

Ryan: Hugo’s poems don’t have those cowboys we would see with fancy mustaches and that were totally decked out like something out of a John Wayne western.

Cali: It’s just people.

Ryan: It’s just people.

Cali and Ryan’s exchange at the end of the group discussion speaks to a key theme that ran through our interviews in Montana: the transition of the West. The traditional West many imagine (including myself) is what Ryan referred to as the picture of a “John Wayne western.” All I know of the American West is what I’ve seen in books and movies, and Back to the Future probably is not the best source for historical accuracy. That’s all because I just haven’t put that much thought into the reality of the West’s story. I have taken the Hollywoodized version of the West as the best account of that time period because to me that part of history is nothing more than fiction. The urban-centered society of today is so different now that it is difficult to empathize with stories from what seems an alien world. But the remnants of the West are still with us. There are whole cities and towns and worlds and people quite literally saddled between holding onto the story of the West and moving with the modern world as it fumbles through growth.

A key part of Team Demo Hugo’s mission is to the explore the power of place. Especially places undergoing significant remodeling. I hope we can connect the clues to reveal the next chapter of the American West’s epic, so the future Richard Hugos of the world have a place to start.