Powwow Highway

The unusual thing about this pleasant (if at times formulaic) shaggy-dog road movie set in Montana, South Dakota, New Mexico, and environs is that it’s all about contemporary Cheyenne Indians. The story of a huge traditionalist Cheyenne named Philbert (Gary Farmer) and his beat-up wreck of a car (purchased with pot), which he regards as his “pony,” the movie follows the wayward adventures that ensue when Philbert’s political friend Buddy (A Martinez) gets him to drive the two of them from Montana’s Lame Deer reservation to Santa Fe, to get Buddy’s sister Bonnie (Joanelle Romero) out of jail. Directed by Jonathan Wacks from a script by Janet Heaney and Jean Stawarz based on David Seals’s book, there’s more pleasure to be found here in character and incident than in plot per se, but in addition to offering an interesting cross section of Cheyenne life and attitudes, there’s a fair amount of fun to be had along the way–including attractive scenery and some good laughs. With Amanda Wyss. (Fine Arts)

Published on 28 Apr 1989 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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84 Charlie Mopic

The title refers to a cameraman (Byron Thames) who accompanies a six-man reconnaissance unit in the central highlands of Vietnam in 1969 (”Mopic” is an abbreviation for “motion picture”). A tour de force, this first feature by Patrick Duncan shows us only what the cameraman records–an intensely physical rendering of the unit’s experiences on a mission, with the sound often carrying as much impact as the images. By “dedramatizing” the material and at the same time contriving to hold an audience’s interest, Duncan takes a courageous dive straight into the contradictions of what makes an honest yet compelling film about combat in Vietnam; what we see and hear certainly registers as real, although the verisimilitude seems at times to get in the way of story telling (we don’t always make out everything that the characters are saying). Effectively shot in super-16-millimeter (by Alan Caso) and persuasively acted (by Jonathan Emerson, Nicholas Cascone, Jason Tomlins, Christopher Burgard, Glenn Morshower, and Richard Brooks), this uncompromising bug’s-eye view of its subject may not be for everyone, and it’s far from an unqualified success, but it certainly commands respect and attention. (Oakbrook, Old Orchard, Webster Place)

Published on 28 Apr 1989 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Zou Zou / Princess Tam Tam

Two fascinating relics of the French cinema in the mid-30s, both semimusicals starring the great black dancer Josephine Baker in all her glory, and both very interesting for the racial attitudes they reveal. In each feature Baker is paired with a white male star–Jean Gabin as a brother-by-adoption and sailor-turned-electrician in Marc Allegret’s Zou Zou (1934), and Albert Prejean as an aristocratic novelist in Edmond Greville’s Princess Tam Tam (1935)–who is set up as a potential lover, but who eventually passes her up for a white woman. (Even with these supposed safeguards, these movies were deemed virtually unexportable to the U.S. at the time, when big-budget movies starring blacks were unheard of; Princess Tam Tam, the more racist of the two, had a brief American run during the 40s, but only in a highly censored version.) In Zou Zou, which has the somewhat more plausible plot of the two (and was one of the biggest French box-office hits of its year), Baker and Gabin grow up together in the circus and wind up working at the same Paris music hall; in Princess Tam Tam she’s a Tunisian native–almost a Rousseau-like noble savage–discovered by Prejean, a Parisian abroad who uses her as the raw material for his novel, in which he imagines her taking Paris by storm (as Baker herself did in the 20s) and making his wife jealous. Both movies were scripted by Baker’s real-life manager and lover Pepito Abatino and are contrived to show off Baker as the ultimate in exotic chic; and both feature delirious climactic production numbers inspired by Busby Berkeley that shouldn’t be missed. (Music Box, Sunday through Thursday, April 23 through 27)

Published on 21 Apr 1989 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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