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Scrapple: the Movie

Review by Ken Wright

Ski towns – February 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

Scrapple: the Movie
Try your local video shop
or on the Internet at
(note that is adult entertainment).

IN THE SCRAPPLE MOVIE, the glory days of ski culture live. I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of the Golden Era of Small Rocky Mountain Ski Towns. I moved to Winter Park in the early 1980s, and knew immediately that I’d passed through some looking glass (located around Berthoud Pass) into a way different culture than the urban one I’d been scuffling and grumbling through. (Winter Park was a late-bloomer. Not until the 1990s did it get Vail-ndalized.)

This was a major revelation for me. I went from making lots of money in Boston to buying 12-packs of Schaeffer with pocket change, driving a permanently hot-wired ’72 Chevy Nova with studded tires (year round, of course), living in a ramshackle and converted 60-year-old post office with three housemates, and again working the jobs that had gotten me through school (years earlier) — bus driving, hanging dry-wall, and prep cooking.

And I was the happiest I’d ever been in my life.

What made this struggling worthwhile was ski-town culture: the landscape, the living-to-ski philosophy, the extended tribe of like-minded social drop-outs (the finest, happiest, and least successful, by my old city standards, people I’d ever met), and the run-down little town that nobody with money cared about and that made this quality of life affordable.

Lordy, how times have changed, eh? That ski-town culture is mostly gone. The wild towns and little ski areas that supported the tribe have been domesticated and tilled into expensive and expansive tourist farms.

But I can still tell you a little bit about what that culture tasted like: Scrapple.

Not “scrapple” the cornmeal and pork-scraps blend, but Scrapple the movie. As Errol McNamara, the obligatory ski-town Aussie and philosophizing bartender, says of how he arrived in Scrapple’s 1970s Rocky Mountain ski town: “Life is just way too short to end up at 60 with a gold watch and a pension. Headed out looking for Nirvana. This might not be it, but the back yard’s not too bad.”

SCRAPPLE TAKES US BACK to that Golden Era — before ski areas became destination megaresorts, before the ski towns got polished and promoted into theme-park downtowns, before the big airports and four-lane roads made getting to these mountain towns not so scary and hard. (One of my favorite lines was used to promote a proposed tunnel under Berthoud Pass, linking Winter Park and Denver: “It’ll be just like driving in Kansas!”). As to those days before the corporate-rulers made ski-area employees take drug tests, I, personally, am not sure I trust the mental stability of a ski bum living in the mountains and spending his days helping tourists onto chairlifts who doesn’t smoke pot. But, hey, I’m a ’70s kinda guy.

And this is a ’70s kinda movie. It’s those free-thinking, fun-hog days, when a joint still got you unwound and social after your mindless job — rather than fired from it — that is Scrapple’s setting. The movie opens with Al Dean (writer and producer Geoffry Hanson, in a big, beautiful ’70s afro) promising to get his Vietnam-vet brother (Dan Earnshaw) out of the VA hospital. To do this, he aspires to buy a $50,000 house (really!) with a porch so his brother can at least sit in the mountains in his wheelchair, in the fictitious mountain town of Ajax. (Ajax is the thinly veiled Telluride, where the movie was filmed. How thinly? One revealing bit of dialogue: “Hey, did you hear Dred Fred’s running for mayor?”). How is Al going to afford the $7,500 down payment? Selling “lids of grass” — and with one big score of “Nepalese Temple balls,” hash-like pot-globs hand-made by monks who chew marijuana shake while meditating then collect the resin.

Scrapple unfolds through the course of one ski-town summer as Al awaits the delivery of the Temple Balls, and while some other entertaining and classic ski-town plot twists unfold. In a greased-pig contest, Errol (Bunzy Bunworth) wins Scrapple the pig, which he and his shack-mates decide to fatten through the summer for an end-of-summer pig roast. Bandanna-headed, motorcycle-riding, stud Tom (Buck Simmonds) — be aware he is also called “EZ” and “Sully” in the movie, which gets confusing — wrestles with both the death of his girlfriend and his new-found attraction to her best friend, Beth (Ryan Massey). Also highlighted are the dealings of the sleazy developer (is that redundant?) as he (L. Kent Brown) wheedles a new airport to transform Ajax into a major resort.

I think it was Woody Allen who once said, the scariest words in the English language are “it’s terminal.” In Western ski towns, it’s Kurt’s line: “We have all the necessary ingredients to make Ajax the destination resort in North America.”

Through it all, Scrapple the porker lumbers along in and out of the plots, on his way toward enlightenment and transformation into “the Dharma Pig.” It all makes for a fun, funny, and festive ’70s kinda ride. It also makes Scrapple the Big Wednesday, the surfer culture epic of ski-bum life, a fictionalized but accurate film-record of a uniquely American lifestyle built around accumulating joy rather than money.

IN THE PROCESS, we get an appreciative retrospective of those zany 1970s as Al Dean rides around on his stingray bike — the ancestral mountain bike — complete with stick shift, through a mountain town full of Colorful striped sweaters and function-is-beauty dress. We also see Hoola Hoops, glacier glasses, women with names like “Sunshine,” people playing with those funny hand-held electronic football games, and drunks wearing those goofy beer-can-and-yarn hats. In one scene, Tom’s even reading the classic and now-defunct Mountain Gazette magazine (sigh). There’s also a scene involving the mandatory ski-town house painting job, although I don’t think the movie-makers ever really did this work; in the film they’re painting a barn from the bottom up.

Scrapple also delivers an outstanding soundtrack that drives many of the scenes, featuring hippie-happy greats old and new, from J.J. Cale to Jonathan Edwards’ classic “Shanty,” to some great new stuff from Taj Mahal, Widespread Panic, and Sam Bush.

It all makes for a great success of an independent film. The greatest success, though, from the point of view of someone who has witnessed several ski towns sink into the sewer hole of “resort” success, is that it gives us mountain-folks a needed reminder of why we live here, what it’s really all about, and what the real value of small towns and our tribal sub-culture is. And still can be.

“You coming back?” Errol asks the departing Tom the morning after the climactic pig roast.

Tom laughs. “Ajax isn’t going anywhere, man.”

If only that were so.

–Ken Wright