You wouldn’t normally choose to live in a town like Death Valley Junction, (pop. 10). Once a thriving mining town known as “Amargosa,” so named for its bitter waters, this isolated outpost in the middle of Death Valley generally only attracts visitors by accident. Such was the case when, in the 1960’s, ballet dancer Marta Becket and her husband Tom broke down there. Before their car could be fixed, Marta had discovered and fallen in love with a dilapidated theater. They dropped anchor in the nearly deserted town and Marta embarked on her life’s mission to restore the old theater and perform there, in the middle of the most hostile desert in America. After director Todd Robinson’s sister stumbled onto Ms. Becket while passing through Death Valley Junction, Robinson turned her unusual and inspirational story into this equally inspiring tale of persistence, individuality, and following one’s dreams.
Now seventy six years-old and still dancing, Marta recounts the trying path that led her to Death Valley Junction; her unsupportive, yet opportunistic parents, her mundane New York dancing career, the six years of trials and tribulations she endured while painting a medieval-themed audience mural on the walls that was often her only “crowd.” Bouncing around from subject to subject — now it introduces us to Tom Willgert, a good-natured local ham who’s become Marta’s companion, co-star and comic relief, now it’s demonstrating how the town is haunted, now it’s showcasing Marta’s involvement in a wild burro rescue program — “Amargosa” sometimes feels as solid as a mirage which might shimmer in the sprawling wastelands on the outskirts of town. Still, that’s okay. Because although Robinson ostensibly hangs his sweet and gentle film around an upcoming reunion Marta’s holding with her former dancers at the opera house, which will include a nerve-wracking performance in front of her long-since retired peers, “Amargosa” is as much about what Marta represents as it is about her personally. By following her dream, no matter how foolhardy it might have seemed, Marta Becket has demonstrated an unwavering devotion to the arts, creativity and the muse within. By capturing her story on film, Todd Robinson has provided us with a source of inspiration that will linger long after Marta has performed her last pirouette on the stage she so lovingly created in the desert.