Sunday, November 13, 2016
‘VALLEY O’ VIOLENCE’ REVIEWED, PLUS INDIAN ART MARKETPLACE, ‘CALAMITY JANE’ MOVIE, AND MORE!
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE – A FILM REVIEW
After watching Ethan Hawke gamely slog through the bloated and rambling MAGNIFICENT 7 reboot, it’s a pleasure to see him given a real chance to act again, in the small but ambitious new Western, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE, now in theatres and available on Amazon, iTunes and Vudu. It’s written and directed by the aptly named Ti West, better known for horror films – V/H/S/, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL – than oaters, but he makes a strong impression in his first stab at the genre.
Hawke plays Paul, a troubled drifter headed to Mexico with his horse and dog, whose stop for provisions in a small town turns into a nightmare. Gilly (James Ransome), the town bully with delusions of grandeur, tries to draw Paul into a fight, which leads to a hateful act I’ll not reveal, and Paul’s subsequent quest for revenge. Here Paul comes into conflict with the town’s Marshal (John Travolta), who was urban the last time he was a cowboy. He's sympathetic to Paul, but he’s also Gilly’s father.
A couple of young ladies, sisters running the hotel, feature prominently: beautiful red-headed Ellen (Karen Gillan of DR. WHO and SELFIE) is Gilly’s girlfriend, who sees his shortcomings, but considers him the only man in town with a future. Her younger sister Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga) is less self-absorbed, and attracted to Paul as a man, and as a way to get out of the town.
Hawke with Taissa Farmiga
The action is exciting, the plotting sensible, the performances uniformly strong – West knows very well how to create characters and structure dramatic scenes, adding humor without getting cute. There’s a particularly nice extended conversation between Paul and Mary-Anne, where both excel – especially the quirkily frantic but endearing Farmiga.
It’s a good film, although not notably original. The bully son of the prominent townsman wasn’t exactly new in ’55 when Anthony Mann used it so well against Jimmy Stewart in THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, and it became an annoying familiar cliché on episodic TV. You can argue whether the opening, feature a fine turn by Burn Gorman as a man of the cloth, is an homage or a steal from the opening of THE SHOOTIST. But what is inarguable is that the scene takes twice as long here as it does in the Wayne film: virtually every sequence in this film is a bit too long, a few much too long. West is his own editor: he needs to turn the scissors over to someone a bit more ruthless.
Also, the town is too underpopulated. At one point, one of the sisters comments that she’s not a whore, and if that’s what you want, you can find it at the saloon. But we never see a whore, or saloon girl, or any female other than the sisters in the entire film. Similarly, Travolta’s Marshal worries about his position in the town if he should let anything bad happen to his son. But the town appears to consist of less people than you can count on your fingers. It would work if it were said humorously, or if he was a madman presiding over a ghost town, but clearly there just wasn’t the budget for extras.
The music score by West’s frequent collaborator Jeff Grace is at times Morricone-derivative but effective. The cinematography by Eric Robbins is handsome, and his exteriors evoke Andrew Wyeth paintings. Particularly striking are the costumes by Malgosia Turzanska, who did the same chores on the excellent HELL OR HIGH WATER. The Blumhouse Film is expected to go to disk on December 27th.
AUTRY’S INDIAN MARKETPLACE DRAWS HUGE CROWDS
This Saturday and Sunday tremendous crowds once again descended on The Autry for the annual American Indian Arts Marketplace, where two-hundred artists from over forty tribes presented their work under an immense tent. Painting, sculpture, jewelry, textiles – every medium and every form imaginable were included. Among my personal favorites were a marble bison carved by Robert Dale Tsosie, traditional Hopi carved figures by Bendrew Atokuku, and the first prize for sculpture, an irornwork by Jason Reed Brown.
Outside of the tent, in addition to art and craft demonstrations and fry bread, there were kiosks with informative representatives for different concerns. Kenneth Van Wey of the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board (I.A.C.B.) was eager to discuss the problem of fraudulent ‘Indian art’, and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act passed in 1990, which forbids passing off as ‘Indian Made’ any art from a different source. The problem is widespread. Pendleton Woolen Mills recently reached a settlement for misleading labeling of blankets as “Indian Product.” Part of the settlement includes Pendleton donating over forty-thousand dollars to the Red Cloud Indian School’s Heritage Center in South Dakota. Also, coordinated searches and seizures were made in New Mexico, California, and the Philippines, leading to the arrest of three New Mexicans for trying to sell Filipino jewelry as Indian-made. Learn more at www.doi.gov/iacb
Kenneth Van Wey
At the next tent, Jim Davis of TLC, the nonprofit The Language Conservancy, reminded me that starting in 1879, it was official U.S. policy to try to erase Native American language, a policy that lasted in some cases into the 1990s. As a result, 90% of Native American speakers are over 65; the languages are disappearing. TLC’s mission is to save the many Native American languages by teaching them to the children of the various tribes at their reservation schools, as well as beyond the reservation. To this end, they’ve produced dictionaries and teaching programs in Crow, Lakota, Dakota, Hidatsa, and other languages. They’ve dubbed Berenstein Bears videos into Cherokee! They’re active in the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Minnesota and elsewhere. You can learn more at their website, http://www.languageconservancy.org/
The next booth belonged to our local independent station, KCET, who are marking Native American Heritage Month with a new short documentary series, TENDING THE WILD, which they are producing in collaboration with The Autry. It’s available both digitally and on TV, and can be seen at The Autry as part of the California Continued exhibit. Subjects include GATHERING MEDICINE, CULTURAL BURNING to prevent wildfires, and KEEPING THE RIVER, about the importance of salmon for Indians of the Klamath River. Other related documentaries include HEALING THE WARRIOR’S HEART which examines the important role of military service in Native life, and tradition and ceremonies’ roles in reintegrating soldiers into civilian life. You can learn more, and watch several of the shows, here: https://www.kcet.org/category/native-american-heritage-month
You never know who you’ll run in to at these events, and I was delighted to meet Saginaw Grant, who plays Chief Big Bear in the recent LONE RANGER movie, and Screaming Eagle in THE RIDICULOUS 6. And he has seven more projects in pre- or post-production. As I was leaving, who was coming in but LONGMIRE star Zahn McClarnon, who was also in last year’s BONE TOMAHAWK, and has a lead role in the upcoming AMC Western series THE SON, starring with Pierce Brosnan.
Zahn and me
A WORD ON WESTERNS TUESDAY AT THE AUTRY!
This Tuesday, November 15th, producer and Western historian Rob Word hosts his next A Word on Westerns event at the Wells Fargo Theater. This time the topic is MAKING WESTERNS – STORIES BEHIND THE SCENES. Rob will be looking at what skills and qualities makes for a convincing Western actor – the ability to ride and shoot and wear a ten-gallon hat without looking like a half-pint? Those sharing their opinions and experiences will be Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., whose Westerns include THE SKIN GAME, BLACK BART, BONANZA, and ROOTS; actress Rosemary Forsyth, whose starred in SHENANDOAH, TEXAS ACROSS THE RIVER, and the series KUNG FU; and Norman Powell, who produced LAZARUS MAN and GUNSMOKE movies, and was production manager on WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, THE BIG VALLEY, and Sam Peckinpah’s THE WESTERNER. Doors open at 10:30! And head across the way for lunch and more conversation after!
OKLAHOMA! SATURDAY NOV. 19TH AT THE AUTRY!
As part of their continuing ‘What is a Western?’ series, the Autry presents OKLAHOMA!, the 1956 film version of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein Musical that revolutionized the Musical form in the way it told its story directly through song. Starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger and Gloria Grahame, it’s directed by that master of the Western, Fred Zinnemann, whose HIGH NOON will be shown in December. OKLAHOMA! will be introduced by Josh Garrett-Davis, Gamble Assistant Curator of Western History, Popular Culture and Firearms. The 35mm print will be screened at 1:30 pm in the Wells Fargo Theater.
‘CALAMITY JANE’ ANIMATED FEATURE IN THE WORKS
Calamity Jane thinking of Lucky Luke
French animators Henri Megalon and Remi Chaye, whose current animated feature, LONG WAY NORTH concerns a Russian aristocratic girl searching for her grandfather, will next tackle the extremely American story, CALAMITY JANE: A CHILDHOOD OF MARTHA JANE CANNARY, according to Deadline: Hollywood. The film will focus on Jane as a little girl who was orphaned at ten. As Chaye explained to DEADLINE:HOLLYWOOD’s Anita Busch, lone women and girls in the western frontier had few options for employment beyond laundry and prostitution, and some brave souls decided to try and pass as men.
Calamity Jane thinking of Wild Bill, at his grave.
While the feminist angle is certainly a hook, Calamity Jane is not a major pop-culture figure in the U.S., despite the Doris Day musical, and the popular character in DEADWOOD, played by Robin Weigert. But she’s a much bigger character in Europe, because of the long-time popularity of the Franco-Belgian comic strip LUCKY LUKE, which has been running since 1946, in which she was a major character. Says Chaye, “We knew her as kids. She is part of the childhood of every French person.”
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
Soon I’ll be writing about my visit to the set of ABILENE, a new Western about Wild Bill Hickok, starring WESTWORLD’s Luke Hemsworth and Kris Kristoffereson, and my days at the American Film Market, tracking down new Westerns. I just found out that the RED NATION FILM FESTIVAL is going on right now in Pasadena, and will continue through November 21st. You can find out more at their official website: http://www.rednationff.com/
LATE BREAKING NEWS – Just learned that lovely Lupita Tovar, one of the very last stars of early talkies, has died at 106. Among her several Westerns she co-starred with Gene Autry in SOUTH OF THE BORDER, and was the female lead in Universal’s Spanish-language version of DRACULA.
Lupita and Gene
All Original Content Copyright November 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved