An independent review of the arts
Monday, January 19, 2009

Looking Back on Gulch Creek Holdup


HIPSTER, FRET NOT. Gulch Creek Holdup is not a film you’re supposed to have seen. Gulch Creek Holdup is a four-minute home movie drama shot for fun in the mid-1950s. I saw it on Christmas Eve, 1981, during a gathering at my grandparents’ house when I was ten.

My grandfather wasn’t in the mood; a monumental campaign of begging and prodding had to be waged to convince him to dust off the projector and haul out the movie screen. He then grudgingly went about finding an appropriate dictionary-atlas combination, one just the right height for the projector to sit atop. Finally, he delicately removed the round reel of Super-8 film from its can and carefully fed it into the projector. Clearly, my grumpy grandfather was the only person in the room who possessed such extraordinary expertise.

Gulch Creek Holdup followed a simple, Old West storyline: a bandit, (played by my father, age 10) wearing a ten gallon hat and bandana, carries out a daring bank heist. The hapless bank teller (my father’s youngest sister) is a baby and too cute to be blamed for giving up the loot without a fight. The outlaw makes off with the goods, callously gunning down an innocent bystander (my grandmother) during his getaway. The venerable town sheriff (my uncle) and deputy (another aunt, this one out of diapers at least) quickly mobilize. They mount broomstick steeds and set off in pursuit. The murderous thief leads them on a furious chase across the back yard and into an adjacent field, where he is finally apprehended.

The final scene is Gulch Creek Holdup’s best. A large, upside-down playpen stands in as the jailhouse. The bandit is locked up, joining a previously captured convict played by none other than my grandfather. Dressed in a white t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses more the style of the 1950s than the 1850s, he strikes a gruff prison pose. His ill-tempered expression up on the screen is the same look he gave when asked to break out the equipment in the first place.

But after the movie ended, as I watched him lovingly rewind the film, I realized he had been acting in both settings.

Gulch Creek Holdup is my earliest significant art memory. It struck me that the very people sitting in the room, my supposedly grouchy grandpa included, had made this thing. For the first time, I thought about art as something that is created, and not simply consumed. It was a trigger moment; the desire to create was as much a physical sensation as a conscious thought. I began to conceive of art as something I wanted to make.

As far as gifts go, this one ranks among the best I’ve ever received.

Mark Paterson is the author of the short story collections A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine and Other People’s Showers. Though writing is his game, he knows his way around his Super-8 projector and is only too happy to haul it out upon request.


  • I loved this. You had me at “Hipster, fret not” — even though I am not a hipster (unless you count my actual hips). Charming.

    Comment by Elise Moser — December 29, 2008

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