This Dust of Words is a profound film about a tragic life. Elizabeth Wiltsee was an extraordinary girl who taught herself to read and write in many languages, including ancient Greek when she was less than ten. Liz had an IQ of 200 (which may not be the be all and end all but probably means she was pretty smart) and studied literature at Stanford in the late 1960s where she impressed her advisor with an insightful experimental dissertation on Samuel Beckett.
After university Liz pretty much dropped out of society, travelling in Europe and around the States, working in libraries and publishing companies for enough money to get by. She didn’t believe in academic careers or conventional jobs or lives — she preferred to read, study and write. Her problems with mental illness started some time in her youth (she didn’t like doctors but we find out exactly why) and when these worsened she eventually became a homeless person. Finally Liz walked into the California wilderness to die.
This Dust of Words is assembled from Liz’s letters, plays, essays and unpublished novel, from family films, photographs and from interviews. The film also includes the thoughts of the people of Watsonville, the farming town where Liz lived in a church doorway and was known around town as the harmless crazy lady who liked to spend all day in the library. Film-maker Bill Rose (who came across this story when looking for a baby-sitter on the Internet) approaches the material with a great deal of sensitivity and insight, providing just enough information to draw a real person but not so much as to bog us down in details. This is the story of a woman who wanted to be free but also of the common link between brilliance and mental instability and how difficult it is for such a person to be taken care of in our society.