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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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Life imitates art?
22 June 2006 | by (Rochester, New York) – See all my reviews

I'd say that these events were a strong influence on Philip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly," except that the book came out in 1977 and Shawn Nelson's tank ride took place 18 years later. The echos of Dick's great book are everywhere, though--the decaying California suburb, pervasive meth use, obsessive, pointless projects, and increasing paranoia. Scott's collage of news reports (including a hilarious on-the-spot sequence where the Talent does little except talk to his cameraman), industrial promo films from the heyday of San Diego's aerospace industry, and revealing interviews with Nelson's friends and family conveys the story with telling economy while placing it into the contexts of the marketing and disposal of a neighborhood and work force, the dependence of a city on the military-industrial complex and the drugs that came with it--methamphetamine having been developed for bomber pilots--and the personal disintegration of a nice, talented, regular guy. Moving and illuminating.


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