Tombstone Rashomon

I’ve been waiting for the DVD release of Tombstone Rashomon ever since I first heard about the movie, which was during its production. The movie stars my friend Eric Schumacher as Doc Holliday. It’s directed by Alex Cox, who directed Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, and tells the story of the infamous gunfight outside Tombstone’s OK Corral from the perspective of several of the participants in a style similar to Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon.

The gunfight at OK Corral is a tale worthy of a Rashomon-like treatment. It’s a difficult historical moment to understand because the people involved were tangled in so many ways. It wasn’t as simple as the Clantons vs. the Earps as many filmed versions would have you believe. Both sides had dealings that seem both shady and noble, and self-interests muddied up the lines of who was on what side at various points leading up to the affair. I researched the Earps and the Clantons quite a bit for my novels Lightning Wolves and Owl Riders. When I wrote Lightning Wolves and decided the Clantons needed to be part of it, I knew I was writing a period of history before the arrival of the Earps and Doc Holliday. So, my research focused on the family and their allies in the days before Tombstone’s founding. The events set up in that novel prevented Tombstone’s founding, which meant the two factions never came together and the gunfight never happened, but that didn’t prevent Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday from seeing business opportunities in Arizona Territory in Owl Riders. Eric’s research into Doc’s character for Tombstone Rashomon helped inform my portrayal of Doc.

The movie imagines that time travelers arrive in Tombstone the day after the gunfight. They interview Doc Holliday and his girlfriend, Kate Elder, along with Wyatt Earp, Sheriff John Behan, Ike Clanton, and a saloon owner named Hafford. I especially enjoyed Christine Doidge’s performance as Kate. In real life Kate was a Hungarian immigrant and Doidge played up that aspect. In Hungarian, there are not separate words for “he” and “she” and Kate gets flustered and often just uses “she” for both. Kate also seems to relish how this bothers people and refers to Doc as her “wife” even though there are separate words for husband and wife in Hungarian.

Eric played Doc Holliday as an educated man who will do anything he can to succeed in life and make a buck. As in real life, Doc was wracked with tuberculosis and Eric gives a moment that made me more sympathetic to his plight than Val Kilmer’s understated take in the movie Tombstone. The suggestion is made that Doc became a drinking man to dull the pain of the terminal disease. Of course, the movie is all about unreliable narrators.

At times, the film becomes almost impressionistic, mixing modern elements into the historical. There’s always a danger of this confusing an audience, but it can also be interesting to let it be a way of seeing older events through the lens of more familiar, contemporary icons. The film also literally takes you back in time by starting at modern Boot Hill just outside Tombstone, Arizona with tourists taking selfies in front of the Clantons’ tombstones and then dissolving back into the past.

In addition to Eric, I was excited to see Rogelio Camarillo in the film as Billy Claiborne. He was the sound man when we filmed the book trailer for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I was also delighted to see Bradford Trojan as Tom McLaury. I had a bit part in the movie Revenge of Zoe, which starred Bradford and Eric Schumacher. I’m still looking forward to that movie’s DVD release!

If you’re fascinated by the history surrounding the gunfight at OK Corral or would just like to see a non-traditional take on a western film, I recommend ordering a copy of the Tombstone Rashomon DVD. While you’re waiting for it to arrive, check out the links to my books below. On the page for The Astronomer’s Crypt, you’ll find the trailer that Eric and Rogelio helped me make.

8 comments on “Tombstone Rashomon

  1. sftrails says:

    I don’t fully understand the fascination with Tombstone, the Earps and all. But I admit people never seem to get enough about it. My masters thesis was on John Clum, a lesser known player in this roadshow. I also don’t know why everyone referred to Kate Elder as Big-nosed Kate. I’ve seen pictures of her.

    • I agree that the OK Corral gunfight is often given more importance than it deserves. However, in this case, I think the choice was a good one because it’s a story a lot of people *think* they know. While you could do a Rashomon treatment with a lesser known event, or a completely fictional one as was done with Rashomon itself, I don’t think it would involve the audience as much. In Tombstone Rashomon, the audience is invited and encouraged to bring their perspectives and preconceptions to the film so they can be challenged.

      Yes, it does seem Kate Elder (or Fisher or Horony, depending on the source and the particular alias she used at the time) didn’t have much of a big nose. I’ve never heard a good explanation of how she got the nickname. Then again, maybe it’s an ironic nickname like “Curly” Neal, the bald basketball player from the Harlem Globetrotters.

  2. Pagadan says:

    For more background on that complicated history, check out True West Magazine; they have articles on the history, the characters, and lots of little know facts–even articles on the various movies.

  3. Thank you for the detailed movie overview. A fan of other renditions-this one sounds interesting. Will check it out.

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