Like nearly every English student in America, Pima Community College student Marcos Vidal listened intently to the short story “Where are you going? Where have you been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. Although he found the story interesting, It wasn’t until his instructor added that the ‘true crime’ events that inspired this story all took place in Tucson, that Vidal set out to discover the details of the crime for himself, poring over every word in the original police reports, and exploring the actual crime scenes. The results of first time director Vidal’s investigation culminate tonight with the premiere of his feature length film “Smitty” screening at 9 pm this Friday, March 23 2012 at the Grand Cinemas Crossroads 6 4811 E Grant Road Suite 150, Tucson, AZ 85712. “Smitty” tells the story of serial killer Charles Schmid, the infamous “pied piper of Tucson” who murdered three teenage girls between 1964 and 1965, and buried them in the desert outside of Tucson. While the Internet is saturated with extra-credit video adaptations of Oates’ short story, Tucson native Vidal offers a very personal and simple recollection of the events that took place in his hometown. Culling the dialog directly from witness statements and police reports, Vidals’ film avoids poetic, metaphoric comparison and evaluation as to why this horrible crime took place, and simply depicts the details of the crime.
Cruising Speedway in his killer red and white Chevy, 23-year-old Smitty (Nathan O. Miller) is on the prowl for teenagers to party with. Sporting a fake mole, pancake make-up and cowboy boots stuffed with newspapers and empty cans to make himself taller, Smitty enlists the help of his dimwitted girlfriend Mary (Hayley McCracken) to lure his first victim, Alleen (Brianna Jobe) out into the desert, where he bashes her head in with a rock. Upon seeing Smitty covered in blood, his teenaged pals spring into action, immediately helping him conceal the crime. As Smittys’ sickening circle of psychotic sycophants begins to swell, he gets the homicidal urge once more, this time murdering his 16-year-old sweetheart Gretchen (Rebekah Barrett) and her 13-year-old sister Wendy (Jenelle Lee Vela). “Smitty” is a straight up, bare bones, zip-zero-nada budget indie that looks every bit like a weekend one-off. Production is rough, and I mean rough. We’re talking sand-paper on a prickly pear rough. But “Smitty” provides something so rarely seen in local indie that it commanded my attention. Vidal’s desire to simply tell the true story from a strictly historical aspect is refreshing and inspiring.
If the actors seem eerily at ease carousing in Smittys house, it’s because these scenes were filmed in the actual Schmid home. Every effort is made at historical accuracy, from tracking down a bevy of 1960’s vintage cars to the decorations on the walls. Whenever possible, only buildings that were standing when the crimes took place are included in the background. Given the sensational nature of the events being depicted, the film wisely skips the sex and gore for the most part, and focuses on the thundering boredom of the Tucson teens, and their seemingly Dionysian worship of the overtly creepy Schmid. Whenever the meager production allowed, dark and dreamy excursions into the desert are presented well and passionately. The grains of sand slowly pouring through blood-soaked fingers while stars and saguaros fill a deep blue background powerfully reveal the eye of a filmmaker. Director Vidal wants so much to take you there, to that time and place, and yet is severely restricted from doing so simply by the economic confines of his production. The actors in Smitty (many making their screen debut) seem to bring their own personal connection to their role, with a desire and energy not just for performance, but for justice in the presentation of their teenaged counterparts. Nathan O. Miller is excellent in his emotional portrayal of the slickly psychotic Schmid. The mega props for this film have to go to Ms. Rebekah Barrett for her performance as the tragically naïve, yet sinisterly seductive Gretchen.
After Schmid was sentenced to death for his crimes in 1966 (he was killed by other inmates in 1975), psychologists, social analysts and teen angst-ologists descended upon Tucson to help explain how this tragedy was allowed to happen. The theories ranged from the eye-rollingly absurd (The youths obsession with the automobile. Seriously), to the ludicrously sensational (L.A. Times headline 1966: “Tucson murder trial exposes teen jungle”). After passing their judgment on the youth of Tucson (and America as well), the experts have departed. The infamous crime has now taken it’s place in the annals of bizarre Arizona history. A rich history with stories that Arizona filmmakers need to tell.
Final Take – Terrific Tucson teen turmoil.
- 'Smitty' (2012)
The crimes of serial killer Charles Schmid "The Pied Piper of Tucson" are brought to life.