An old farm, forgotten, falling down, weather beaten, open to the elements, home only to pigeons, the wind and maybe unseen ghosts. It’s a sombre place, they always are, the property overgrown, the last occupants long moved away, passed on and but a memory. Without exception these two sentences pretty much summarize near every last abandoned farm we’ve ever documented. And we’ve seen our share. In that respect, this one is just like the rest.
But there something a bit more interesting than typical here. There’s a Hollywood connection. In recent memory the old place makes an appearance in the 2005 production Brokeback Mountain. It plays the “Twist Ranch”, the family farm connected to Jack Twist, one of the title role characters within the movie. As the story winds down, the old buildings chronicled here becomes the backdrop.
The story as it plays out at Twist Ranch…the date is the early 1980s…Ennis Del Mar, played by Heath Ledger, pays a visit the parents of his long time love Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has recently passed away. He’s hoping to collect his dear friends ashes and take them to Brokeback Mountain, the movie’s namesake locale, a place they spent a great deal of time together while working as cowboys.
Ennis is refused, however he’s allowed to visit Jack’s childhood room upstairs. There he lingers for a moment or two, in contemplation of their often difficult relationship, painful memories appearing to overwhelm at times. He soon leaves with one of Jack’s shirts in hand (and one of his own Jack kept) a final memento with which to remember their forbidden relationship.
The Twist Ranch scenes were shot in 2004. The 1920s era house was by then already empty and unlived in for a good many decades prior. For filming, the place was tidied up, painted, and made to appear livable and as though a working farm via the addition of many props and the like.
They did a good job making it appear right. It was very convincing.
Once production wrapped the place reverted back to its abandoned state. It’s deteriorated a great deal since then, the birds and weather making a mess of things, as they are both apt to do. Not a safe environment we were asked to get in and out quickly. We always honour the requests of the land owner.
The dwelling is a pretty typical old school farm house. Functional but simple, things like plumbing and electricity later additions. In fact it looks like outside privies were used right up to the end. A boiler in the basement (not visited – spiders!) provided steam heat, a fairly modern touch (relatively speaking).
A road leads right up to the house, but it’s so choked with Caraganas as to be impassable. We wonder how much stuff was lost in or hidden by the mess – those plants grow thick! The farmer gave us special permission to hoof it across his field to gain access, the only way in.
There’s a barn on the property, some outbuildings, sheds, that sort of stuff. All the trappings of a working farm, which it was recall, and not just a movie prop. Some of these structures have junk inside but most are pretty empty. Some seem solid enough but perhaps have settled and shifted a bit since Brokeback as filmed here, while others are getting to the point where they could collapse soon enough. Well back of the road, sounds from there are blocked, so the yard is eerily silent.
Occasional bits of metal are found scattered about. No cars or stuff like that, just old bits of farm tools and parts.
Twist Ranch is on private property, still that hasn’t stopped the the occasional visitor from dropping by, photographers of abandoned stuff or maybe fans of the movie looking to connect. There’s been a problem with theft and general vandalism.
The “then and nows” have been shot, the set-the-scene pics are in the can, then it hits us. Wait, we suddenly have nothing to do. We’re just standing there looking about near the edge of the property. The wind blows, the first sound we’ve heard in some time besides the soft click, click, click of the cameras. The grass flows in waves. Breath, think about the movie. That story, love, hate, controversy, the full range of emotions, the characters portrayed, the cast, one of them (Ledger) no longer with is. Take it in.
For Brokeback Fans, this is holy ground. And we’re there. In a very special place, the setting for a pivotal scene in a well respected movie. On this very spot! For us, on this warm summer afternoon in 2016, it was pure magic. Ten minutes, just standing there under a blue sky with white puffy clouds before snapping to and moving on. This sort of thing happens a lot with us.
Yes, 2016 in the previous paragraph. This series was shot last year…it’s a long story involving a corrupt SD card, our broke-ass society scrambling to find someone to help fix the problem, a long drawn out recovery – you get the picture. Anyway, we finally got it posted. Hope you enjoy it.
The images from the movie are copyright Focus Features, used with permission.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 2016.
Location: Rocky View County, AB.
Article references: Howard H, Michael Costigan.
The “Twist Ranch” is on private property. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.