ASAIL Newsletter. N.S. Vol. 4, No. 1, Winter, 1980
issue the Newsletter of the Association for the Study
of American Indian Literatures takes on an added title, Studies
in American Indian Literatures. Like our format, our purpose
remains unchanged. As the many plurals in our masthead indicate,
we hope to serve all interested (in whatever fashions) in American
Indian Literatures of the past and of the present. We shall continue
to emphasize reviews (both of current literary works and of critical
scholarship) and bibliographical information. As this issue demonstrates,
however, we are expanding the range of our coverage as well as
its volume. Given this growth and the prospect of continued expansion,
it has seemed advisable to establish an editorial board, and
the distinguished scholars and writers who have consented to
serve are listed below (p.15).
I was delighted when Karl Kroeber asked me to consider guest editing an issue of the ASAIL Newsletter to deal with the subject of the American Indian in film and the relationship of film to literature. Although we who teach literature may pretend otherwise, many of our students are exposed to American Indian subjects and indeed to the "literature" in films before they read such books as Little Big Man, When the Legends Die, or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. When we teach the literature we must confront the visual images they have already received. Further, in teaching the literature of the American Indian we must contend with a number of stereotypes of "Indians" that our students have already picked up from Hollywood movies. It is appropriate then to approach the subject of the relationship between film and literature from several directions.
In the interview with N. Scott Momaday the subjects of literature into film and the Hollywood "Indian are briefly discussed. Although Momaday states he wishes "to be remembered as the man who wrote the novel," students often tend to equate the novel and the film in such a way as to assign authorship of both to the same person. In response to these problems, Terry Wilson summarizes some of the kinds of multi-disciplinary courses which can be taught in American Indian Studies or in an English department which includes the study of film. For further reference, Charles L. P. Silet has prepared a bibliography of materials dealing with the subject of the American Indian in film.
In the following interview N. Scott Momaday briefly discusses his reaction to and participation in the preparation of House Made of Dawn as a film. Because Momaday is the only Native American whose primary work has been presented in both the written and visual media, it is useful to examine the relationship between the two forms. There have been other novels made into film and the usual debate about "what has been changed" and the characters not appearing "real" are of course always there. Hollywood has not, however, dealt with the presentation of a major film from a novel by an American Indian with a decidedly Native American world view. Because Momaday's novel was filmed by a company made of Native Americans and because many American Indian actors participated in the project, the film becomes a unique presentation.
New Line Cinema
House Made of Dawn is available in both 16mm and 35mm with special rates for educational purposes.
Q. Can the visual media communicate the essence of your novel?
M. I would suspect so. I think that it is possible to make a film that does express the essential character of the novel. It is possible for a film to express the essential character of any novel. The problem is that you can take a novel such as House Made of Dawn and make eight or ten films of it, all valid. It is a matter of picking and choosing.
Q. What were your initial expectations for the film?
M. I had no expectations. Of course, I had hopes. I wanted very much for a good film to be made and I was happy with the film that was made. The external photography was good, the way the race and the man running worked as a thread throughout was well done. There were things that disappointed me. The acting was not particularly distinguished, but I'm not sure that distinguished acting was called for in the parts.
Q. Were you disturbed by the change in time period?
M. Not really. In order to reflect the time span and the convolutions of time in the film one would have had to make a very long and complicated film. Probably such a film would be tedious.
Q. In what areas did you make suggestions about the film?
M. I had something to do with determining where the filming should be done. I was familiar with the landscape of the novel and could be helpful in pointing out various locales. I found out that the writer of a work which is made into a film has very little to do with the filming. It is a mistake to think that the author continues his creative function and carries over his creative work into the film. It is a different thing altogether. I want to be remembered as the man who wrote the novel. I willingly admit that I had very little to do with the film. It is a new creation.
Q. The only negative comment I have heard about the film House Made of Dawn was about the peyote ceremony. Some felt many in a movie audience wouldn't understand the ceremony and it shouldn't be shown. Those same people were not upset about it in the novel. What can and cannot be communicated in terms of audience?
M. I would disagree to the extent that the viewing public is more intelligent than Hollywood has ever given it credit for being. Much more important is whether or not it is done imaginatively because the peyote ceremony itself is highly imaginative and very dramatic. It is an artistic consideration more than anything else. There is, however, an area of experience that isn't available to literature. There are ineffable qualities of Indian religious experience; there are sacred areas that are sacred because they are private, and those are unavailable to us. There are always questions of that kind whether you are making films or writing books.
Q. Do you see a future for American Indian filmmakers or companies or is it too difficult to compete with Hollywood studios?
Q. Do you believe that if more American Indian people get involved in filmmaking the traditional Hollywood Indian image will change?
M. I think that is inevitable. I think it's already changed to a remarkable extent and it will continue to change.
Q. Have recent images of Indians on the screen (A Man Called Horse, Little Big Man, Soldier Blue) been any improvement over the past?
M. Those you mentioned are probably less an improvement than some others--such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The part that Will Sampson played was a good remove from the traditional stereotyped image. The days of the befeathered Indian chasing John Wayne across the screen are gone, and it's good that they are.
Q. Did it bother you that in the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest it was not clear that the story had been narrated by Chief Bromden?
M. No, it didn't bother me because I thought the film worked. It wasn't the question of giving adequate representation to the Indian voice, it worked the way they did it. Sampson's part was substantial and real.
Q. There really haven't been many major Indian films in the past few years. Do you feel there is now a reluctance and perhaps a fear about how to portray Indians?
M. I don't think there is an organizational prejudice by people in Hollywood against Indian films. Their judgment is shakey here and there, but given the right material they'd make the most of it.
Q. Do you see any potential for Winter in the Blood or Ceremony?
M. I think there's potential. I don't know if Jim Welch or Leslie Silko have prospects; I think the subject matter is very rich. I think wonderful films can and ought to be made which focus upon the Indian world and Indian experiences. I'm not terribly knowledgeable about filmmaking, but it is a medium which interests me and I think it has great potential. I think we ought to make some good films about Indians. We shouldn't worry about the representation of the cultural realities; that should be secondary to the idea of making an exciting, creative and inspirational film.
TEACHING ABOUT INDIANS AND MOVIES
1978 spring quarter of classes at the University of California
in Berkeley, I offered a new course, "The Native American
and the Cinema." If that title fails to conjure a specific
academic happening, then it was a success. I had purposefully
left myself room to experiment with the structure and content
of the class. What follows is a brief description of the course,
presented not in the spirit of "how-to-do-it", rather
as how one instructor did it.
From this self-realization the questions that the class was to ponder for the next several weeks were quickly formulated. If large numbers of the American public could be posited as having received their basic information, or misinformation, about Indians from the cinema, then should it not be incumbent upon the class to learn how accurately Native Americans had been portrayed on the screen? If the search uncovered historical inaccuracies, then the questions of responsibility and motive within the movie industry would have to be contemplated. And what of the actual effects visited on the American public stemming from the Hollywood image of the Indian? After some subtle (?) guidance from the instructor the ancillary interrogatory to the last-mentioned question was raided, "What effect did the movie image of the Indian have on the Native Americans themselves?" What of the attitudes of Indians working in the film industry? All of these historical and social scientific matters could not be analyzed in a vacuum. Questions of artistic license and dramatic necessity would have to be considered. After all, movies are audio-visual renderings of literature and many believe them to have a separate aesthetic all their own. Unsurprisingly, the course proceeded on a decidedly multi-disciplinary note, reflecting the eclectic nature of the subject.
The chronological framework utilized to explore the questions raised above betray the instructor's academic training as an historian. Lectures on Indian history, culture, and value systems were followed by discussions on the social and psychological impact of movies on the American consciousness, literary and historical stereotypes translated to the cinematic medium, the role of Indians in movie-making, and the changing attitudes in Hollywood toward the depiction of Native Americans. To illustrate these and a variety of other topics (as well as preventing a mass exodus of yawning students) representative films from the silent era to the present decade were shown. Guest speakers included Indian actors, actresses, and a Native American film maker.
this academic razzle-dazzle, the most exciting portions of the
course came from the students. Callously ignoring the traditional
chorus of groans which greeted the initial announcement, I insisted
upon a term research paper or presentation as part of the course
requirement. The results were worth gloating over. A large number
of students chose to conduct investigations of the Indian image
and stereotype in movies and the literature from which the latter
were made. Others directed their researches into the methodology
of adapting novels for the screen; some wrote scripts from Indian
novels which have as yet not been used by Hollywood. Five groups
of students actually made short documentary films concerning
various aspects of present Indian life. Several projects involved
taking surveys of public opinion. Probably the outstanding effort
of this kind was that of two young women who surveyed the movie-made
attitudes of thirty children in a local nursery school.
The power of the motion picture and later television to shape our perceptions of reality has increased in strength during the course of the century. Examining the cinematic images we have been subjected to and have submitted to can provide us with a valuable and insightful view of how the American peoples have come to view their world. This is no less true for the portrayal of the Native Americans in this culture. Films have proved an impressive tool for the transmission of cultural values and have had a particularly virulent effect on the perpetuation of minority stereotypes. The list of articles below will go a long way toward suggesting the origins and reasons for some of the distortions perpetrated on the Native Americans. I have restricted somewhat this listing to include only the more recent of such pieces in an effort to provide an intensive coverage of the subject within a rather restricted space.
Some of the following annotated listing of articles and books on the image of the Native American in the films was taken from a much larger checklist originally published in The Journal of Popular Film (see Gretchen Bataille and Charles L. P. Silet, "A Checklist of Published Materials on Popular Images of the Indian in the American Film," 5 (1976), 171-82). I would like to thank Michael Marsden, editor of that journal, for his permission to republish the material here. Additional materials will soon be published in that journal. A comprehensive listing of such articles and books will also appear in The Pretend Indians: Images of the Native Americans in the Movies by Gretchen Bataille and Charles L. P. Silet to be published early in 1980 by the Iowa State University Press. I would refer the reader who wishes more information on this subject to consult that forthcoming volume.
Bataille, Gretchen M. and Charles L. P. Silet. "Checklist of published Materials on Popular Images of the Indian in the American Film," The Journal of Popular Film, 5 (1976), 171-182.
Beale, Lewis. "The American Way West," Films and Filming, 18 (April 1972), 24-30.
Blakey, Carla M. "The American Indian in Films, Part II," Film News, 27 (October 1970), 6-11.
Brauer, Ralph and Donna Brauer. The Horse, The Gun, and The Piece of Property: Changing Images of the TV Western, Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1975.
Buckley, Peter. Review of Soldier Blue, Films and Filming, 17 (June 1971), 65-66.
Calder, Jenni. There Must Be a Lone Ranger, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1974.
Cawelti, John G. "Reflections on the New Western Films: The Jewish Cowboy, the Black Avenger, and the Return of the Vanishing American," The University of Chicago Magazine, 65 (January-February 1973), 25-32.
Churchill, Ward, Norbert Hill and Mary Ann Hill. "Media Stereotyping and Native Response: An Historical Overview," The Indian Historian, 11 (December 1978), 45-56, 63.
Combs, Richard, "Ulzana's Raid," Sight and Sound, 42 (Spring 1973), 115-116.
Erens, Patricia. "Images of Minority and Foreign Groups in American Films: 1958-73," Jump-Cut, 7 (May-July, 1975).
Ewers, John C. "The Static Images" in Look to the Mountaintop, edited by Robert Iocopi. San Jose: Gousha Publications 1972, 107-109.
Farber, Stephen. "Short Notices: A Man Called Horse and Flap,: Film Quarterly, 24 (Fall 1970), 60-61.
French, Philip. "The Indian in the Western Movie," Art in America, 60 (July-August 1972), 32-39.
French, Philip. "Little Big Man," Sight and Sound, 40 (Spring 1971), 102-103.
Friar, Ralph E. and Natasha A. Friar. The Only Good Indian. . .The Hollywood Gospel. New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1972.
Georgakas, Dan. "They Have Not Spoken: American Indians in Film," Film Quarterly, 25 (Spring 1972), 26-32.
Gillett, John. "Cheyenne Autumn," Sight and Sound, 34 (Winter 1964-1965), 36-37.
Handzo, Stephen. "Film: Soldier Blue," Village Voice, 15 (September 10, 1970), 61.
Hunt, Dennis. [Tell Them Willie Boy is Here], Film Quarterly, 23 (Spring 1970), 60-61.
Kael, Pauline. "Americana," New Yorker, 45 (December 27, 1969), 47-50.
Kael, Pauline. "The Current Cinema," The New Yorker, 52 (June 23, 1976), 62.
Kael, Pauline. "The Current Cinema," New Yorker, 46 (December 26, 1970), 50-52.
Kaufmann, Donald L. "The Indian as Media hand-Me-Down," The Colorado Quarterly, 23 (Spring 1974), 489-504.
Kaufmann, Stanley. "Broken Treaty at Battle Mountain," New Republic, 172 (February 1, 1975), 20.
Keneas, Alex. "Indian Pudding," Newsweek, 75 (May 25, 1970), 102, 104.
Keshena, Rita. "The Role of American Indians in Motion Pictures," Indian Culture and Research, 1 (1974), 25-58.
Lacey, Richard. "Alternatives to Cinema Rouge," Media and Methods 7 (April 1971) 70-71.
Larkins, Robert. "Hollywood and the Indian," Focus on Film, No. 2 (March-April 1970), 44-53.
Marsden, Michael T. And Jack Nachbar. "The Buried Hatchet: Indian Culture in Film as Victim of the Popular Tradition" in Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 7. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution, 1977.
Milne, Tom. "Buffalo Bill and The Indians," Sight and Sound, 45 (Autumn 1976), 254.
Morgenstern, Joseph. "Requiem for a Red Man." Newsweek, 74 (December 3, 1969), 121.
Nachbar, Jack. Focus on the Western. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974.
Nelson, Ralph. "Massacre at Sand Creek," Films and Filming, 16 (March 1970), 26-27.
O'Connor, John E. "A Reaffirmation of American Ideals: Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)," in American History/American Film: Interpreting the Hollywood Image. New York: Frederick Unger, 1979.
Pechter, William S. "Altman, Chabrol, and Ray," Commentary, (October 1976), 75-77.
Pechter, William S. "Equal Time," Commentary 51 (April 1971), 80-81.
Rice, Susan. ". . . And Afterwards, Take Him To a Movie." Media and Methods, 7 (April 1971), 43-44, 71-72.
Schickel, Richard. "Why Indians Can't Be Villains Anymore," New York Times (February 9, 1975), Section 2, pp.1 and 15.
Silet, Charles L. P. and Gretchen M. Bataille. "The Indian in the Film: A Critical Survey," Quarterly Review of Film Studies, 2 (February 1977), 56-74.
Spears, Jack. "The Indian on the Screen," Films in Review, 10 (January 1959), 18-35.
Simon J. Ortiz. A Good Journey. Berkeley: Turtle Island for Netzahaulcoytl Historical Soc. 1977 -- Buena Vista Way, CA 94708. Illus Aaron Yava. pp. 165. PB $6.95
Most readers of this Newsletter are probably already familiar with Simon Ortiz's poems. Going For the Rain was published by Harper and Row, and his poems keep turning up in good places. But this does not make it any easier to review them. Rumors and instant admiration are a great disadvantage in such a small new group as the people "studying (not just "reading" or "hearing") American Indian literature. The year after some books are published they are already the subject of MLA seminars -- as if they were Moby-Dick . Other authors, like Hyemeyohsts Storm, get attacked by a few authorities for misrepresenting tribal ceremonies and cosmology, and their names become almost unmentionable. The smaller and newer the herd, possibly the more easily panicked. So I would like to speak, even if briefly, with all the balance and candor that I can. For much as I like Ortiz's poems, their weaknesses seem to need mention too.
The strengths are a kind of old-fashioned sweetness and decency and goodness expressed sometimes in a fresh, boyish voice, sometimes in energetic outrage. At other moments, even in the same poem, he can be wonderfully witty, simple, and sly -- following both his dog Rex and his traditional teachers coyote and crow. At still other moments, he shows a sense of history which is unique in modern writers, a clear consequence of his Indian-ness. He is trying to locate himself in ancient America, and locate his history in himself, his children, and his people in a way that is very exciting and as exemplary as it is rare.
Here, for instance, is Ortiz thinking to himself as he gives directions to some girls going to Monument Valley.
I can see it, the red and brown monoliths
And here he is camping with his son in "Grand Canyon Christmas Eve 1969":
My son cries,
His right and his need for these reflections seem to come
from his being a modern Indian. His ancestors act consciously
knowing about Siberia and land bridges, he still assumes a racial
unconscious. He wants to feel his way into pre-history -- and
be familiar with it as "just a couple million years ago."
"Are you my friend?" asked
Or the story old "goats" tell of a time when coyote
"brought/ a wheelbarrow that was missing only one wheel/
to his auntie he liked and he had a story/ for why the wheel
learn how to make good bread, being
careful and patient
Just as bad, or worse, there are sometimes long stretches
of very flat language, where the whole effort to write in an
available, common idiom becomes self-defeating. The last poem
in the book, "I Tell You Now," is addressed to an Isleta
woman he saw walking in front of a store in Albuquerque, the
point being that he wishes not to be special but to address and
listen to courageous ordinary Indians. But I doubt if it succeeds.
Simon Ortiz. Going for the Rain. New York. Harper and
Row. 1976. Pp. 112. HB $6.95. PB 2.95.
And later on, they came to light
A note of doubt, important to the whole book, is lightly sounded here. Coyote is telling the story, and he is "b.s.-ing probably." Are we sentimental fools to believe old stories? Finally, Ortiz decides he does believe, and the whole "Preparation" sequence sets forth things he must have faith in if he is to survive a journey away from his own center. The poems speak of reverence for life, as he remembers his father rescuing "tiny alive mice" from a furrow, of sense of self, as he instructs his own children, pointing out their
place on the earth
of faith in the good persistence of living things, as he awakens
to find a pup he thought might die "yapping like the original
life/ a whole mystery crying/ for sustenance."
it is a fragment
The final poems are affirmations born of hard experience as well as faith. They are about a return to Acoma, to the center of himself, but there is no smug finality about them. When Ortiz says in the last line of the book "it doesn't end," he means not only all life, but his own growing, his ongoing journey after rain. Going for the Rain has the enduring strength and relevance of the old stories; this fine book is the old story of emergence, never finished, always happening.
* * * * *
Arthur R. Wright. First Medicine Man: The Tale of Yobaghu-Talyonunh.
O. W. Frost, Anchorage Alaska, 1977. Illus. Bill Engles. pp.
56, with afterword by Joan E. Weis. $10.00 HB
Studies in American Indian Literatures, the Newsletter of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures, is issued four times a year. Annual subscription $2.00 until Jan. 31 for four issues, thereafter $2.00 for remaining issues of that calendar year with back numbers for the year $1.00 each. For prices of vols I-III consult 3:4 or write The Editor, 602 Philosophy Hall, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027, to whom contributions, subscriptions, and inquiries should be addressed. Advisory editorial board: Paula Gunn Allen, Gretchen Bataille, Joseph Bruchac, Vine Deloria, Jr., Larry Evers, Dell Hymes, Maurice Kenny, Robert Sayre. Bibliographer, A. LaVonne Ruoff. Editor, Karl Kroeber. © 1980 SAIL
Gretchen Bataille: Bibliography
on Native American Women
Basic Bibliography for
ASAIL Newsletter, Volume
3, No. 4, Special Hanta Yo Issue
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