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Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story (2002)

In May 1995, Shawn Nelson, a 35 year-old plumber from Clairemont, California, emerged from an eighteen foot mine shaft he had dug beneath his backyard in search for gold. An ex-soldier and ... See full summary »




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In May 1995, Shawn Nelson, a 35 year-old plumber from Clairemont, California, emerged from an eighteen foot mine shaft he had dug beneath his backyard in search for gold. An ex-soldier and methamphetamine abuser, he stole a tank from a nearby National Guard armory and went on a rampage through the residential streets of his neighborhood, crushing cars and lampposts until the cops took him down. CUL DE SAC goes far beyond this apparently minor news story and provides extensive political, economic and social context that ties Nelson's life to the larger story of a working class community in decline. Newsreels of a fat, happy San Diego in the 50s and 60s, the perfect representation of middle class aspirations for economic prosperity, are juxtaposed with contemporary images of shuttered defense plants, jobless blue-collar suburbanites, drug abusers, and police on patrol. Statements from police, historians and real estate agents sketch out the rise and fall of this military-fueled boomtown... Written by Anonymous

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23 April 2005 (USA)  »

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insight into America's most dangerous police chase
12 November 2003 | by (Albuquerque, USA) – See all my reviews

This is an amazing documentary, perhaps the best I've ever seen. In 2002, during the war in Afghanistan, the Albuquerque nonprofit Basement Films brought Garrett Scott to show and answer questions about his new documentary about the big picture surrounding the now famous footage of an army of police cruisers taking down a tank on the freeway outside Clairemont, California.

Scott is originally from the same neighborhood as the tank driver, Shawn Nelson, and he builds a comprehensive picture of the decades long relationship between the defense industry and northern California. You go in wondering how this tank chase could happen, and you walk out wondering why it didn't happen sooner.

Nelson was a Gulf War veteran, and Scott explains how most of Nelson's friends and neighbors are children of WWII and Korean War vets. He maps a journey starting with the boom in northern California during the 1950's when those veterans were considered heroes by all, employed in lucrative if blue collar jobs in the defense industry, to today after the jobs steadily evaporated and addiction to a drug called methedrine (a.k.a. crystal meth, originally created by the Air Force to aid pilots) spread from veterans to their children and from the northern Pacific through California across the United States.

Scott interviews Nelson's friends and family, many of whom fell victim to the same substance abuses Nelson did, neighborhood cops who have been dealing with the drugs and crime now their whole careers, he culls footage from local news broadcasts about the incident, and brings in archival footage of the defense industry and the area's better days.

The minuscule romp across a Fox TV special contains a dramatic but slow chase that ends with the tank driver being killed off camera. Scott's film humanizes both Nelson and his friends and neighbors and the people who spend their lives dealing with the area's enormous underlying problems that boiled over in such a unique way, and he makes it clear the pot is still boiling. Obviously, if this is ever available for home viewing, I'm buying a copy instantly to show all my friends, and I recommend you do the same.

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