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In May 1995, Shawn Nelson, a 35 year-old plumber from Clairemont, California, emerged from an eighteen foot mine shaft he had dug beneath his backyard in search for gold. An ex-soldier and methamphetamine abuser, he stole a tank from a nearby National Guard armory and went on a rampage through the residential streets of his neighborhood, crushing cars and lampposts until the cops took him down.
CUL DE SAC goes far beyond this apparently minor news story and provides extensive political, economic and social context that ties Nelson's life to the larger story of a working class community in decline.
Newsreels of a fat, happy San Diego in the 50s and 60s, the perfect representation of middle class aspirations for economic prosperity, are juxtaposed with contemporary images of shuttered defense plants, jobless blue-collar suburbanites, drug abusers, and police on patrol. Statements from police, historians and real estate agents sketch out the rise and fall of this military-fueled boomtown, and trace the area's social ills back to World War II, the Vietnam War and recent layoffs.
Thoughtful, unpredictable, and gripping... an engrossing true-life story. More important, it's a brilliant cultural and political essay, packed with insights into grass-roots attitudes about violence and war. --Christian Science Monitor
[A] terse, scrupulous film, the footage punctuates a bleak tale of a defense-industry town's boom and bust-once a Cold War capital of airplane and missile production, the San Diego suburb has decayed into a strip-mall wasteland... --The Village Voice
The film's Chamber of Commerce footage and implicit indictment of American industry's insensitivity to its labor force is reminiscent of Michael Moore's ROGER AND ME... [CUL DE SAC] provides an often surprising portrait of Nelson and his community, and its most compelling element is the physical presence, testimony, and reactions of Nelson's blue-collar neighbors and acquaintances...who attribute his death to the government's oppressive attitude towards working-class people and believe that his taking that tank was the act of 'someone finally standing up to the callousness and discompassion of the city. --Journal of American Culture