"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

"Big truck just went by. ...

-- Now it's gone."   ~Morning traffic report on the "Res"

My previous post "Toughest Pawnee" ...  resulted in this email from an Air Force buddy in Montana ...
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Hi Paul,
    Good stuff on Wes Studi and the other Indian actors.  I grew up with Indians, adopted and raised two Indian kids, and still call them all Indians.  None of my Indian friends seem to mind; they haven’t yet insisted I refer to them as Native American.  I love Studi’s performances; you’re absolutely right—he owned Dances With Wolves for those few minutes..  Graham Greene and Adam Beach are other favorites.
    Adam Beach first came to my attention in Smoke Signals, an excellent film made on a reservation near Spokane and Couer d’ Alene.  If you’ve seen that film, you’ve witnessed scenes (drunken parties, domestic violence) right out of my life.
  
 * * *

    Anyway, nice catch.  These guys are all great actors.  I felt the entire cast of Smoke Signals deserved awards, particularly Gary Hall.  It sure portrayed the “Res” way of life accurately.
    Now to look up those PBS titles you gave.
Thanks,
***
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One of my greatest joys is when something I've written strikes a chord with someone, and I hope he forgives me for using part of his email in this post.

No, I had not seen Smoke Signals (1998), although I had heard about the title. I took so long to reply because I needed the time to hunt it up and watch it.

It's a keeper, and I loved it enough that I decided this would be my response.

"Big truck just went by. -- Now it's gone."
That local traffic report, on the "Res", would also be an accurate report on the part of rural Arkansas that I've experienced. (***'s comment in his email, "... you’ve witnessed scenes ... right out of my life." also apply to rural Arkansas.)

The movie is mostly about Victor Joseph (Adam Beach) ...
 Adam Beach as Victor Joseph - from aveleyman.com

... coming to terms with the recent death of his father Arnold (Gary Farmer) who had left the family ten years ago.

As I can find no mention of a Gary Hall involved with the movie, I suspect that *** was really thinking of Gary Farmer,...
Cody Lightning as young Victor Joseph and Gary Farmer as Arnold Joseph
(Screencap from DVD)

... who truly does rate at least a nomination.

There's an inside joke in the movie involving Farmer: In the movie, while riding on the bus on his way to where his father has died, Victor remembers a drunken party during his childhood, where his father is repeatedly asking him, "Who's your favorite Indian?", to which young Victor replies, "Nobody!"

Three years before "Smoke Signals", Farmer co-starred with Johnny Depp in one of the weirdest westerns I can recall, Dead Man (1995), in which a hapless soul, William Blake (Depp) is on the run for an accidental killing, is slowly dying from a bullet wound and encounters a very strange Indian (Farmer) who calls himself Nobody. 

Nobody tells a tale of being captured by whites ("Stupid White Man") as a kid, taken from one town to another ("Every time I was moved, I found people waiting for me that looked the same as the ones before. I wondered how they kept moving whole towns like that") until he was eventually taken across the ocean to London, where he was educated (somewhat) and introduced to the poems of William Blake, telling Depp's character, "Now I know that you truly are a dead man.".

He continues the tale of his escape, of returning across the ocean and working his way back to his village, where no one believed his story, laughing him out of the village, calling him a name that translates into, "Man who talks loud, saying nothing!". He concludes, "I prefer Nobody".

Instead of giving a summary of "Smoke Signals" that would spoil things for any of you who've yet to check it out, I'm gonna concentrate on trivia that relates it to "those PBS titles you gave" (referring to four Tony Hillerman Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn mysteries I mentioned in the "Toughest Pawnee" post.

"Smoke Signals" won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy (and was nominated for Grand Jury Prize); all in Dramatic category, for first-time Native American (Oh, alright, Indian) director Chris Eyre, at the Sundance Film Festival. That festival is an annual event by the Sundance Institute, an outfit devoted to helping and promoting independent film makers. It was founded (and is presided over) by actor Robert Redford.

Redford's production company was involved with all four of the Hillerman titles and I doubt that it's much of a leap to think he saw "Smoke Signals" and was impressed with Eyre; enough to maybe being the one who chose him to direct "Skinwalkers" and "A Thief of Time".

Adam Beach was pretty early in his career when he did "Smoke Signals", but this is some of his best work.  Not because he's stuck at some level, but because this role allows him more range than most roles he's gotten, from being an asshole (when he torpedoes a blonde on the bus who claims to have been an alternate on the Olympic Gymnastic Team) to releasing pent-up grief from the very bottom of his soul in another scene.  I expect that Eyre was the one to pick him for the role of Jim Chee in "Skinwalkers", already knowing what he could do.

Farmer is in three of the Chee/Leaphorn movies; as a Hopi policeman in "The Dark Wind", and as Leaphorn's superior Captain Largo in "Coyote Waits" and "A Thief of Time".

As *** notes above, almost all of the cast in "Smoke Signals" deserved awards.

Someone I was particularly impressed with I had never even heard of, much less seen before: Evan Adams (Thomas Builds-the-Fire)...
(Screencaps from DVD)

... an Indian nerd, always telling stories that no one (especially Victor) wants to hear.  I said above, "The movie is mostly about Victor Joseph", but in reality it's about Thomas telling the story of Victor Joseph.

As much as I like Adam Beach, right there is the true owner of this movie. :-)
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2 comments:

TAJW said...

Paul,
As another Montana resident, and a guy who is married to a wonderful Crow Indian lady, I agree wholeheartedly with the comments here. "Smoke Signals" and "The Pow Wow Trail" are absolute legends in the Indian communities (yes, I said Indian and not Native American ... most of the Crows prefer to referred to as Indians). The life on the 'Res' depicted in Smoke Signals was pretty darn close to reality, and was darn funny too. Most folks where we live have a great sense of humor and love to laugh at themselves, which really comes through in the movie.

A side note, Gary Farmer is a helluva musician, and tours with his blues/rock band. He was here in Billings not long ago, and my wife and I had our pictures taken with him. He's a neat guy.

Paul Gordon said...

Thanks, TAJW:

"The Pow Wow Trail" (actually, "The Pow Wow Highway", I think) is now on my to-do list, as I had such good luck with "Smoke Signals".

When I replied to a comment of yours on another post, I recall mentioning that, for a while, I wondered if you might be an Air Force buddy of mine in Kalispell (before verifying that I actually have two followers in Montana.

What's really fascinating to me is the name you have just chosen, which makes me wonder if it's the initials of you and your wife, or vice-versa (T*** and J*** W***).

You see; my friend's initials would be "JW". Curiouser and curiouser. :-)

If you enjoy movies as much as I, let me add a couple of titles to check out:

Lone Star (1996), with Chris Cooper, Kris Kristofferson and Matthew McConaughey. I have a lot to say about it in my post: "You gotta be careful where you go pokin' ..."

Well, of course, I'd recommend something about Texas. What'd you expect? :-)

Anything good set in Montana?

For my second title, there's a very laid-back modern-day western called "Rancho Deluxe" (1975), in which Jack McKee (Jeff Bridges) and Cecil Colson (Sam Waterston, who much later played District Attorney Jack McCoy on "Law and Order") are low-grade cattle rustlers, poaching an occasional steer from a wealthy rancher and selling the meat.

When that rancher has had more than enough, he hires legendary former-rustler-turned-stock-detective Henry Beige (Slim Pickens) to deal with it. This is Slim Picken's best role since "Dr. Strangelove" and is the main reason to give this one a look.

(I have got to get around to doing a post about Slim, one of these days. :-)
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