Wednesday Double Feature
My original intent for this week’s selection was westerns from the Native perspective. But in the long run it ended up being films about white men gone native.
My first film, A Man Called Horse, tells the story of John Morgan, a disenfranchised British nobleman played by Richard Harris, who while traveling through the frontier is captured by Sioux raiders and made a slave called Horse. To survive he tries to learn their culture eventually becoming a warrior and finally chief.
I’m not sure what I felt about this one. It’s almost as if they wanted to make the film as much of a cultural documentary about Lakota culture with the actual story being an afterthought, and while the anthropological stuff was certainly interesting, it frequently drifted into noble savage territory and more than a little patronizing. Also for all the talk of Morgan becoming Sioux, to the point of participating in the sun dance he still seems detached from them and in a bilingual film where more Lakota is spoken than English you would think he would have at least picked up a little bit of the language.
My second film, Little Big Man, does a better job of making everybody equally human, perhaps by representing all languages present as English. I didn’t know what to expect from Little Big Man going in. At the time all I knew about it, besides it starred Dustin Hoffman, was that every book I had ever read abo0ut film make up mentioned it as one of the best example of convincing geriatric makeup, and Hoffman’s character was the only white survivor of Little Bighorn. Because of the latter, I expected the film to be much darker.
Instead what I got was a wonderful satirical picaresque deconstruction of the standard western fare, after his family is killed by Pawnee raiders Jack Crabbe is raised by Cheyenne. As his life goes on he is thrown back and fourth from Indian and White culture culminating with Little Big Horn.
All in all this film ends up feeling like an 18th century Candide with Crabbe stumbling through history running into the same bunch of con artists, hypocrites and reprobates over and over again through his life. (Special notice goes to Richard Mulligan as a wonderfully deranged General Custer.)