October 13, 2012
Solider Blue (1970), another one of those films I heard about when young, but never saw. It made quite a stir with its depictions of savage violence against the Indians, one of the first ‘revisionist’ westerns, in the line of Little Big Man, Dances with Wolves, etc. The film has been ruthlessly criticized in these two blogs: Celluloid Wall; and Nothing is Written. The second writer went so far as to call it a “tacky piece of filth.”
It’s really not a very good film, it’s true. Candice Bergen somehow manages to keep her golden hair and white skin despite two years captivity with the Cheyenne, and the middle part is taken up with a silly romantic ‘comedy’ between the escaped soldier and her. All told from the vantage point of the white man, yes. Still, calling it “filth” seems extreme. The writer says the violence at the end, depicting the Sand Creek Massacre is cartoonish and nearly’ laughable.’ Reading historical accounts of the events should dispel that notion. One reviewer says the gore is ‘nearly exploitative.’ Nearly? It is, or it isn’t. Perhaps he meant that it made him uncomfortable, partly because he realized its representation was justified.
The film was a flop. The resemblance of the final, climactic atrocities to the recently reported Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam probably didn’t help, but again, it’s mostly of historical interest than an engaging piece of cinema.
August 14, 2011
How Tasty was My Little Frenchman (1971) is classed in many reviews as a black comedy, but except for the first few scenes, that is totally off the mark. It takes place on the coast of Brazil when the French and the Portuguese were fighting for dominance of that part of the New World. The Frenchman, fed up with life as a member of the French force, rebels and is put in chains. The narration tells us he was given a hearing and allowed to speak in his defense while we see him summarily pushed off a cliff to drown. That was black comedy.
He survives, and is taken prisoner by the Portuguese. Shortly after that, they are attacked by Indians allied with the French, and he is taken prisoner. The Indians assume he is Portuguese, and the chief makes him his personal slave to be kept in the community for eight months, then eaten. An amoral French trader who periodically visits the tribe meets the slave and tells the Indians that he is indeed Portuguese – he has his own uses for the man. He gives him an axe and a lot of hints on how to make himself useful in gathering material to trade – maybe he will escape, maybe the Indians will change their minds, maybe not…
The film is shot in a verite style, and the native dialog is in a local dialect. Everyone is naked (recall the naked-nude distinction), i.e, unclothed, as people actually lived then. (Many reviewers refer to this as National Geographic realism, which says a lot about a lot of cultural attitudes and histories.) Given the date of production, there must be a political subtext here (Brazil was under a military dictatorship) in addition to the unsettling questions it provokes about the nature of The Encounter between the civilizations of the New and Old Worlds. It would make a good double-feature with Black Robe.
March 23, 2010
I saw this wonderful ceremonial horse mask today in an interesting exhibit, A Song for the Horse Nation. It’s shown in the Smithsonian’s NYC branch of the Museum of the American Indian which is housed in the fabulously ornate former custom house at the tip of lower Manhattan.