Tom Hall’s film-opera channels a Lakota leader’s visions—with war paint, Indian boogie and a bartender in a loincloth
By Otis R. Taylor Jr.
“Plowboys and Indians” is live art, a confluence of music, dance, film, painting and food. A story—an unsettling history—will be told.
The production—if by opera Hall means stop-motion filmmaking meets back-porch picking and chanting meets interpretive painting meets “Top Chef” cooking—is as much about a Native American medicine man’s visions as it is about Hall’s creative process: manic, inspiring and, at times, hard to believe or comprehend.
Thomas, who is the opera’s narrator, prepares for the scene, one that ends with him planting his walking stick as he raises his tortured head to the sun.
He’s barefoot. And wearing a loincloth.
How the heck did he get here?
Thomas, a bartender at Hunter-Gatherer, saw Hall reading a book, “Black Elk Speaks,” the history of a medicine man, at the bar.
“Next thing is I’m wearing red paint and wearing a loincloth and riding a horse bareback,” he says.
“It’s as close to Indian music as we can make it,” Hall says.
Each song begins with the thump, thump, thump of a lone drum. The song lyrics are taken verbatim from chants and passages in “Black Elk Speaks.”
“Part of what is important in that we’re not Indians is for us to not try too hard to be Indians,” Hall says.
“I’m not an Indian, but I’m also not going to wait around for somebody else to do it because it needs to be done.”
Add to that the drumming and chanting and this "opera" sounds like pure stereotyping.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.
Below: "Tom Hall laughs with friend Henry Thomas while preparing to film a scene on his property for his upcoming rock opera." (Gerry Melendez)