Film Review: Tales from Dell City, Texas

Affecting portrait of a small, rather desolate Texas town, and the people who form its still staunchly beating heart.

Tiny Town, America is celebrated in Josh Carter’s Tales from Dell City, Texas. This, however, is no quaint destination village for tourists. Located on an isolated West Texas highway, Dell City has a population of 569, which is ironically dropping, not increasing.

Carter focuses on the staunch souls who have decided to stay and continue to eke out a living in this rather sad little burg. He let his subjects make their own little films about what the town means to them, and they have come up with affecting little windows on their lives, enlivened by rueful humor. They include two women—one of them an amazing 90 years old—who run the local bars, doling out vitally important beer to regular customers. The death of one of their patrons signals a funeral which is as elaborate as anything gets in this place, as these folk take death pretty seriously. One of the barkeeps is heard to dolefully remark that just about every one of her patrons who’s died owed her money (“That’s why I don’t feel bad about not buying any flowers”).

Sheepherding comprises the major industry here, and we see those bleating beasts kicking up the dust as their owner observes, “The only thing dumber than a sheep is a sheepherder.” Donny the hairdresser runs the only salon in a 100-mile radius, a cigarette dangling from his mouth as he gives a woman a pristine, circa-1965 beehive and commiserates about her need for a new battery for her truck. Two Hispanic couples are quite touching in their professed undying love for one another, as well as their love of their town.

While one can rather understand the desire of many of these subjects’ children to up and leave this sleepy hamlet, the amazing vistas of sky and hills which surround it bring a lot of peace and joy to those who’ve remained. Carter has managed to deliver a portrait of a place which, in its small, dusty way, has an authentic resonance akin to Thornton Wilder’s immortal Our Town.