September 11, 2006

Revisionist Westerns

The Decline of Westerns in the 80sDirector Sam Fuller's revisionist, low-budget B-film Run of the Arrow (1957), often noted as similar to Costner's Dances With Wolves (1990) many years later, starred Rod Steiger as a disheartened ex-Confederate soldier who journeyed west, endured a torturous 'run of the arrow' challenge, joined a Sioux Indian tribe, and fell in love with an Indian maiden named Yellow Moccasin (Sarita Montiel, with her voice dubbed by Angie Dickinson). John Ford's redemptive last western, Cheyenne Autumn (1964) with Richard Widmark and Carroll Baker, dealt with the destruction of the Native-Americans, by portraying the forced, late 1880s westward exodus of Cheyenne Indians from Oklahoma to their tribal lands in Wyoming.

Dustin Hoffman portrayed Jack Crabb--the sole, white, 121 year-old survivor of Custer's Last Stand and the Battle of Little Big Horn in Arthur Penn's Little Big Man (1970), a fable about the expansion of the Old West from an adaptation of Thomas Berger's novel. [According to Guinness World Records, the greatest age span portrayed by a movie actor, from 17 to 121, was by 33-year old Hoffman for this role.] Paralleling the Vietnam tragedy, the film demythologized the past and revealed the genocidal atrocities visited upon ethnic Indians by US forces.

20 comments:

Carole said...

Still a great movie with great heart. Dustin Hoffman and Dan George forge a cross-cultural mutual respect and affection I don't remember seeing previously in American Westerns. Yes, a bit cliched by today's standards. But the tale of resilience in the face of decimation is at once heartbreaking but inspiring.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Westerns declined because they had been mined out, done and overdone. That did not deter myself and my co-writer from structuring ANASAZI The Screenplay as a modern western powered by science fiction ideas: what if the Anasazi were destroyed by a powerful man in their own midst and what would happen if that man were unleashed today?
Westerns must return, but whether those writers will have learned anything new is another matter entirely.
That original COWBOY SMOKE post oddly is rambling and disjointed. First, it says westerns declined, then briefly resurged from mid-80s into the 90s, with two Best Picture westerns. It names DANCES WITH WOLVES, but then names no second one. THE UNFORGIVEN, anyone?
The balance of the article then goes Hollywood and tries to perpetuate the myth that movie directors do it ALL themselves, by listing films as belonging to the director. In a few cases, yes, the director also wrote or at least co-wrote the screenplay. But the rest of the article's attributions name movies with the directors' names preceding. I am a writer of screenplays and teleplays and honestly can state that, if there were no writers at all, there would be no product. And directors and producers and cinemaphotographers would be left with nothing to film other than endless beautiful sunsets...
As far as LITTLE BIG MAN goes, Chief Dan George received a Best Supporting Actor nomination from AMPAS, but Oscar voters asked the question: how hard is it for an Indian to play an Indian? So, the ballots mostly went to John Mills, who played a Welshman. But none of them asked the more obvious question: how hard was it for a Brit to play a Brit?
And now a scenario bit I told Rob yesterday. DANCES WITH WOLVES contains a powerful moment, when Dunbar is shown an artifact of the tribe's first contact with white men: a shiny Conquistadore helmet! Only, it...never...could...have...happened. Michael Blake's original story and screenplay took place in Texas among the Comanche. Thus, the Conquistadore moment was perfectly logical and very much in keeping with history. But Kevin Costner and his film company decided that the story should be set among the Sioux. Michael Blake made the changes, carefully leaving out the Conquistadore moment. But Costner wanted that scene anyway and reluctantly, Blake wrote it in. The moment is there and it really mesmerizes audiences. But only because they do not know that, when the Spanish explored the central and southwest portions of what is now the USA, THE SIOUX DID NOT EXIST!
The Plains belonged to the Kiowa and Arapaho and Cheyenne and Wichita, among others, who freely moved north and south in season, following the bison herds. When Europeans colonized the eastern coast, they pressured and even annhilated the Native tribes they encountered. Some fought to fall, others fought to flee. Natives from Pennsylvania and Virginia and North Carolina made their way westward, some finally lodging in the Black Hills, taking up Plains life to survive, and effectively transmogrifying into the Sioux. When Europeans and the new tribes blocked passage of the original Plains peoples, the Indian Wars began in earnest.
This should demonstrate that, sometimes, bad science not only is found in bad science fiction...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Anonymous said...

I would not call "Dances with Wolves" and "The Unforgiven" any sort of resurgence in Westerns. Ever since the "The Western" went into quick decline at the end of the 1960s, we've always had Western TV shows and Western movies. However, they are relatively few and far between. If you look at the years "Dances with Wolves" and "The Unforgiven" came out, and the years immediately afterwards, you will find examples of Westerns, but very few.

Why did they decline? Yes, they had been "they had been mined out, done and overdone". However, that does not stop anyone from breathing new life into it with different takes ("Dr Quinn", "Dances with Wolves", or "Deadwood"). Cop shows have been mined out, done, and overdone as well, but they still soldier on. I wonder what other reasons there are for the decline of "The Western".

About the Sioux: They DID exist. I've ready many books about them and have talked to a few. They originated (as far as we know) in eastern Minnesota, not Pennsylvania and Carolina. Some of their traditions have them possibly coming from the northeast earlier, which would have had them migrating from Canada is distant pre-Columbian times. They were a woodland people, closely related to the Winnebago. Due to the changes with the white man coming (including the horse), the western group of Sioux (the Lakota) moved and expanded much further west into what is now known as the states North Dakota and South Dakota, and beyond.

There are still many of the Dakota division of the Sioux still living in Eastern Minnesota (the three main divisions of the Sioux being the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota).

As for the helmet, I found no problem in this movie. As I knew that the Spanish did not themselves molest the Sioux, I took it that the helmet was found/taken by another tribe, and somehow was later traded or otherwise made it north to the Sioux.

Do you have any documentation that the Sioux came from anywhere other than Eastern Minnesota?

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Yes, in various articles and books in filed-away research in a storage facility for other stories and articles of my own. But the best documentation exists in a US Claims Commission case where the Kiowa tribe disputed the 'ownership' of the Black Hills by two or more Siouxian groups. The litigation went on for years, with the Kiowa tribe eventually losing their case. The animosity and enmity of that time exists even now and Siouxian people tread lightly when they come to or even pass through Oklahoma.
The court's main decision was that matters should be left as they had become, and therefore was not decided on the merits of either side's arguments, despite the Kiowa proofs that one Siouxian tribe derived from the Waccamaw tribe in both North and South Carolina.
However, aside from that, one recent and eminently available text is JEFFERSON AND THE INDIANS: The Tragic Fate Of The First Americans, in which you will find that Jefferson personally aided the driving out of Siouxian people from Virginia.
But, if you continue to believe the Sioux with whom you spoke, the Hopi have claims they descend directly from the great lost people, the Anasazi. They also have shares of the Lost Gypsy Mine to sell, so don't miss out on that bargain, either.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
POSTSCRIPTUM: I made no argument about 'resurgence' of westerns, as I did not write the original item under discussion. Therefore, I do not have to look at DR. QUINN or DANCES WITH WOLVES or DEADWOOD as proofs of anything.
Yes, cop shows also have been mined out, done and overdone, but still are with us. That is because cops still are with us, but the time of the western is over and done. Except on TV...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
POSTSCRIPTUM 2: In an earlier posting, 'anonymous' made a squawk about if my stipulation 'opinions never are facts, and facts never are opinions,' then does opinion based on 'facts' remain opinion? Yes, it does, as proven in the arguments for "intelligent design." That 'it says so in the Bible' IS factual, but then the original Bible statements both are opinions and poetry intermixed. Opinions based on such 'facts' thus remain as spurious as does the original.
Stated otherwise, fact never is an interpretation, and interpretation never is a fact.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Anonymous said...

I don't have any doubt that the Sioux were relative newcomers to the Black Hills in the historic area. However, their roots in Minnesota are long and deep. You might want to check into the record of Chief Wabasha I, who fought in the side of the British in 1812. This was during Jefferson's time. Wabasha was a Dakota leader whose family, like the rest of his people, had lived in that same area of Eastern Minnesota for generations prior to Jefferson's birth. Their relatives and intermarriages, of which I have seen records of many had to do with Ojibwe and Ho Chunk (Winnebago), not Waccamaw.

I always wondered who the westward expanding Lakota displaced at the Black Hills and other areas. Thanks for revealing this, even if we disagree on the origins of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota. I'll check more.

Anonymous said...

Check out:

http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/siouan/hunkpapahist.htm

for information about the Teton Sioux being found on the banks of the upper Mississippi in 1680.

and also:

http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/siouan/waccamawhist.htm

which refers to the Waccamaw the remnant was finally being incorporated with the Catawba.

I can probably locate maps that show you the parts in Minnesota that the different Western Sioux / Lakota originated from.

Anonymous said...

POSTSCRIPTUM: I did not argue against a point by Writerfell about a resurgence of Westerns. I knew he was mentioning something someone else said.

POSTSCRIPTUM SQUAWK:

...but some interpretations are non-factual, while others are factual.

Anonymous said...

Did more research. The Sioux were first "discovered" in upper Midwest in the century PRIOR to Jefferson's birth (1743), and the French were calling them Sioux during the 1600's. This, being prior to Jefferson and even prior to the Sioux coming to the Black Hills, directly contradicts the assertion that "Natives [forced by Thomas Jefferson] from Pennsylvania and Virginia and North Carolina made their way westward, some finally lodging in the Black Hills, taking up Plains life to survive, and effectively transmogrifying into the Sioux."

Perhaps there were some Siouan people Jefferson much later drove out of the Virginia area and into the upper Midwest, but these people were likely so few in number that they were not noticed in the Sioux Nation already long entrenched there.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
It is amazing the lengths some in anonymity will go to prove their points are apples and oranges. The Plains tribes who folllowed the Bison have nothing in their histories about contact with tribes who blocked their passages north and south. They were, however, preyed upon by Pawnee and Blackfoot and Shoshones who waited for the Bison People like Great White sharks wait for the annual migration of elephant seals. It was accepted as a price of passing through their areas. It only is when tribes 'magically' appeared after the coming of Europeans that they found their crossings denied and resisted.
I recall attending Clarion College in the late 60s when a heavily-Germanic accented anthropology professor sought me out because he had heard I was Native American. "Vot tripe are you?" he inquired, and I replied Kiowa, whereupon he looked me up and down and from behind and said, "Vell, you cout be!"
Und zo, giffen my tripe's history, I imachine it cout be dot the Sioux vere late-cumers on der Plains.
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Anonymous said...

I know next to nothing about the Kiowa, but am starting to learn now. My previous research and newer research affirms the woodland Minnesota origins of the Sioux. My newer research (because I had not checked it before) affirms also what you say about the earlier tribes (Kiowa) on the Plains, and that the Sioux were, as you say, latecomers to the Black Hills.

Pointing out the pre-Jeffersonion well documented Minnesota/etc location of the Sioux should not be taken as being like the less documented Hopi-Anasazi connection or magic gypsy mines. Just trying to clear up the implication you gave that the Sioux "DID NOT EXIST" (your words) when they are documented as having been alive and well in the Mille Lacs area in the 17th century and for quite some time before. Some of the Sioux did move onto the Plains, but they were Sioux before this. Moving there did not "transmogrify" them into becoming the Sioux.

I'm not sure why you mentioned "Plains tribes who folllowed the Bison have nothing in their histories about contact with tribes who blocked their passages north and south". This would not pertain to the Sioux of the 17th century and before: they were at the edges of the plains or deep in the woodlands, and would not block passage anyway.

Perhaps you did not realize the existence of the woodland Sioux who pre-dated the Plains Sioux ("Dances with Wolves") and who still survive in places such as the Prairie Island Reservation. Und zo it goes...

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Mmm, mmm. Those apples and oranges do look fresh! Give me a dozen of each!
Obviously, since it was the Sioux and the Conquistadore that were being discussed, then the context is that the Sioux were nowhere in any area (especially the Black Hills) where they could have encountered, or been encountered by, the Spaniards.
Farewell and adieu to you fine Spanish ladies, Farewell and adieu all you ladies of Spain, For we've received orders to sail for Olde England, And perhaps never more shalI we see you again...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Anonymous said...

Hope you learned more about the Sioux. I did learn more about the Kiowa.

Rob said...

I think you're arguing at cross-purposes here.

I took Russ's comment to mean the Sioux didn't exist as a tribe in that place at that time. Obviously they came from somewhere. They didn't just pop out of the ground. (Or did they...?)

I think the Sioux's immediate prior location before moving onto the Plains was Minnesota. As Wikipedia put it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sioux

"The Santee people migrated north and westward from the south and east into Ohio then to Minnesota."

I'm not sure the archaeological record for the Sioux in Virginia is great. However, the distribution of Siouan languages provides some evidence:

http://www.native-languages.org/famsio.htm

These languages were spoken as far east as the Catawba in South Carolina.

Finally, if the Sioux migrated in the 1600s, they wouldn't have been present when the conquistadors explored the southern Plains in the 1500s. But yes, some tribes could've carried a helmet north over a century or more.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Russ saying "to mean the Sioux didn't exist as a tribe in that place at that time." I disagree when he explicitly went beyond this to say that the Sioux did not exist prior to moving to the Plains post-Jefferson (read his "transmogrify" line). Even though it is a side issue, it is a significantly inaccurate thing to say about an entire Native nation, and somewhat demeaning to imply that Jefferson created them when in fact the records show them existing long before ol' Tom was born.

(I'm also full aware that many Sioux do not like being called Sioux, since the word means "enemy" and is created by another nation. It's just quicker for me to type it than to type Dakota/Nakota/Lakota all the time).

Regardless, the discussion of the claim by the Kiowa and others to the Black Hills has been enlightening.

Anonymous said...

Also, Rob, if you have more information about the Santee location prior to Minnesota (other than the sentence in Wikipedia), let us know. I've been looking for such information for quite some time.

Rob said...

I presume there's little archaeological evidence because the prehistoric Sioux existed in small numbers and had few traits that distinguishing them from their neighbors. Therefore, the dissemination of language groups is one of our primary ways of tracing such groups. For instance:

http://www.nvtc.gov/lotw/months/october/Siouan.html

"Linguists think that the Siouan people migrated over a thousand years ago from North Carolina and Virginia to Ohio."

http://dictionary.laborlawtalk.com/Siouan

"While social migrations have yet to be definitively worked out, linguistic and historical sitings indicate a southern origin of Siouan people, with migrations over a thousand years ago from North Carolina and VIrginia to Ohio, then both down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and up to the Missouri, and across Ohio to Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, home of the Dakota."

If you insist on something other than linguistic analyses, here's a whole paragraph:

http://www.bartleby.com/65/si/Sioux.html

"The Sioux were first noted historically in the Jesuit Relation of 1640, when they were living in what is now Minnesota. Their traditions indicate that they had moved there some time before from the northeast."

Not a Sioux said...

So, the Sioux likely DID come from the Virginia/NC area as Writerfella claimed...just a lot earlier. The question (at least for me anyway) is how early. The ones found in the 1640s in Minnesota had their deep-rooted tradition of originating at Knife Lake (Mille Lacs), so I am guessing that the move was pre-Columbian.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Or even Pre-Cincinnatian?
Like the Hopi proclaiming they are Anasazi, the Sioux in North and South Dakota proclaim that they have lived in the Black Hills for thousands of years and that it has been their land since time immemorial, or maybe even since Immemorial Day. The grain of salt necessary to accept that claim would service thirty cows...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'