By Linda Barnard
If the sight of Boris Karloff playing Tinseltown's version of the "noble savage" in body makeup and a lousy wig doesn't draw laughs, how about Burt Reynolds or William Shatner pulling the same shtick?
Hollywood taught generations of moviegoers to root for cowboys and revile Indians, and they bought the mythology with their tickets. Even Diamond, a Cree, said he wanted to be the cowboy. After all, they were cooler.
The documentary uses dozens of clips from the silent era onwards--natives always portrayed as ruthless killers in feathered headdresses and war paint--to provide a lengthy celluloid history. Watch for an amusing scene where native actors in A Distant Trumpet (1964) speak their minds--as recently added translation shows--rather than sticking to the white-man-good script.
Two stars (out of four)
By Katherine Monk
Diamond doesn’t really take any formal risks with his material, and straps everything into the expected format—which comes close to betraying the film’s internal premise of difference from the very start.
It’s not an insurmountable problem, but it doesn’t serve the larger purpose of the film itself which is to emancipate the aboriginal image from the shackles of stereotype and expectation.
A redeeming essay with plenty of material worth ruminating, Reel Injun makes the points it needed to and articulates an often silenced perspective—much like its thematic and structural cousin, The Celluloid Closet, which looked at the representations of gay people.
This was a movie that needed to be made. Credit to Diamond for putting it together with as much clarity, archival footage and expert information as he does, but there’s a palpable lack of revelation in this frequently funny, but finally downbeat exploration of culture.
Diamond can’t be faulted for stumbling into the same old artifice dressed up as truth, but by the same token, the lack of a fresh kill in the conventions department drains the film of urgency—and sanguine satisfaction.
Rating: Three stars out of five
Cree director Neil Diamond's real look at reel Indians
Comment: Hmm. These articles combine enticing reviews with mediocre ratings. That suggests the material transcends the filmmakers' limitations. The whole is less than the sum of the parts.
A few points on Reel Injun's claims:
For more on the subject, see Reel Injun Interview and Reel Injun Trailer.
Below: "Director Neil Diamond set out find why the Indians he saw in the movies were so different from himself and those he grew up with on James Bay." (René Johnston/Toronto Star)