December 29, 2008

Redskins in Random Lunacy

I just watched an odd 2007 documentary called Random Lunacy. Here's a summary of it from Netflix:The Flying Neutrino family decided years ago to drop out of society and live without the burden of jobs, a home or commitments, making a living instead as traveling musicians and documenting their adventures in this amazing collection of home movies. Poppa Neutrino, his wife and an extended family including five children travel through Mexico, study jazz in New Orleans and build an improbably durable raft from scraps and garbage in New York.Comment:  This documentary has an unexpected Indian connection. Besides launching a Mexican circus and building a seaworthy raft, the other "great" achievement in Poppa Neutrino's life is inventing a football play. The idea is that a receiver chooses one of three patterns to run during the play based on a signal from the quarterback. Since no one knows where the receiver will run in advance--not even the receiver--it's difficult to defend in theory.

For some reason, Neutrino drives and walks through the Navajo reservation to Red Mesa, Arizona, to test his play. He says something about small, out-of-the-way schools being more willing to try new things. That may be true, but there's also a hint of exoticism here. Neutrino may have been thinking something like, "What do Indians know about playing football? They're so naive and unsophisticated that my new play may 'wow' them."

Fortunately for Neutrino, the Red Mesa coach is an innovator and gives the play a try. We see it succeed once or twice but don't get any sense that it's a game-changer. In a bonus film clip, Neutrino also teaches a team member how to kick field goals.

I believe I drove through Red Mesa on my 2007 trip to Colorado and back. As I noted in passing, the Red Mesa's team name is the Redskins. Their logo is a Plains Indian chief.

This is a case where Indians have reappropriated the word "redskin." If they want to use it in their isolated part of the world, wear it as a badge of honor, I won't complain. Presumably their community supports them and they aren't inflicting the name on people who would find it offensive. But if they asked me what I thought of the name and logo, I'd say they were stereotypical.

Weighing the documentary

A lot of questions go unanswered in Random Lunacy. The Neutrinos didn't have a job, but how many hours a day did they have to spend singing and dancing for food? What did they do if one of them had a medical problem? What happened to Poppa Neutrino's first three marriages, and why does he travel so often alone? Where were his fourth wife and children during his solo jaunts?

The filmmakers interview the children as adults. They're matter-of-fact about the strange lifestyle they experienced, but none of them has chosen to emulate it. They don't address what seems to me the most obvious questions: Were you happy growing up the way you did? Would you recommend it to others? Would you raise your own children that way?

Random Lunacy would've been an interesting 10- or 15-minute segment on a news magazine, but as an hour-plus feature film, it's long. It's good on the benefits of the homeless lifestyle but not on the drawbacks. Rob's rating: 6.0 of 10.

For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.

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