Sunday, May 27, 2007

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Wow! Totally wow! I just watched the HBO movie "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" about the travesty leading up to and beyond the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota, and based on the 1970 novel by Dee Brown of the same title. Never had heard of the novel before, but I found the movie incredibly compelling.

Adam Beach, of "Squanto: A Warrior's Tale," "Windtalkers" and "Joe Dirt," portrayed Charles Eastman, né Ohiyesa of the Lakota Sioux. He was sent by his father, a Christian covert, to a white man's school away from his people, and because of his obvious talent for learning was given a scholarship and sent on to medical school. His surname comes from his maternal grandfather who was a white man. He was sponsored in some way by Senator Henry Dawes, played by Aidan Quinn, as his pet project to prove to the rest of the legislature that the money he was requisitioning for the reservations wasn't "in vain." (Dawes is largely portrayed as the proverbial example that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions... If you give what's coming out of his mouth the benefit of the doubt, that he isn't lying through his teeth. At worst, he was an early land developer, who knew just how much the Black Hills were worth and would do anything he had to do, including sell people into certain poverty and destitution, for monetary gain... If there is a Hell, which I don't really believe there is, I'm sure he must be roasting nicely for his part in screwing an entire people out of their birthright). After graduating, Charles returned to the Sioux, by that time forced onto the reservations, where he did what he could to save people from influenza, whooping cough and measles, which were devastating the population.

Anna Paquin, whom I adore, portrays Elaine Goodale Eastman. Elaine met and fell in love with Charles while he was in the east, working with Senator Henry Dawes, and she was working with the "Friends of the Indians" group to bring "civilization" to the Sioux. She was appointed to oversee the reservation schools in South Dakota, and like her husband was a witness to the atrocities perpetrated there. Anna is lovely in the roll and her dresses are lovely too...

Warning: Beginning rant...

And I just have to rant here because this is the most ridiculous review of anything I've read since the local movie reviewer guy said that the children's movie "Babe" (geared toward small children) made him, a middle-aged cynic, "want to eat more bacon."

Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times seems disgusted that HBO even made this movie... She says disgustedly in her article, "'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee' is going to be an allegory for Iraq!" Never mind that the book its based on is almost 40 years old! Idiot! And never mind if it might seem like an allegory because the United States' government keeps making the same kinds of mistakes over and over again and the citizens of this country are surprised every damn time! And then do nothing to prevent the atrocious behavior from repeating again! Idiota extrema = Virginia Heffernan (and the American people as a whole. Taken altogether, I really have very little respect for us; we've done absolutely nothing to earn it if we can never seem to learn anything from our mistakes).

If her take on how it relates to present day isn't enough to let you know that she doesn't know what she's talking about, this sentence will: "From the opening scenes, for example, all television watchers will know that Grant is bad — with reservations on his mind — because he wields a brandy snifter in daylight and smokes a cigar, just as they will know that Aidan Quinn is good because he’s, well, Aidan Quinn, with that broad face and those Santa eyes." Uh.... That's one of the only scenes that Grant appears in... because the movie is set over a number of years, and by the time Wounded Knee happened *five* presidents had been elected (which, for once, a historical movie actually notes and reflects the passage of time, rather than condensing it for the sake of whatever it is that movie-makers are constantly condensing time lines for)... and Grant had drunk himself to death five years before Wounded Knee occurred (something that the movie doesn't mention because it wasn't important to what the movie is about)! And, furthermore, Aidan Quinn's Senator Henry Dawes is, if anything, the villain of "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" because if it weren't for his high-handed tactics and self-serving attitude above all else, the massacre might never have occurred...

And she dares to say that HBO is being anachronistic by "using... modern words like atrocity and celebrity" in the dialogue "though the time is the 1870s"? (never mind that the Wounded Knee massacre happened, as I've said, in *1890*, which last time I checked was not the same as 1870. Obviously, Virginia doesn't know how to track post-Civil War 19th century time by how big the ladies' bustles are... It's a skill, what can I say?) Since "atrocity" and "celebrity" *both* come from Latin synonyms meaning *exactly* the same thing, I'm thinking they might not be as modern as she thinks they are...

And to give herself street cred, Virginia pulls this little factoid out of her ass: "The white men in the film also wear what must be wedding bands on their left hands; this is a convention of the Second World War," which she follows up with a pithy "But this is trivia." Uh... Are you kidding me, Virginia? Are you writing for the high school newspaper of which you've recently been appointed editor-in-chief after living in the computer lab for four years, so you want to throw around little things like that to prove to the rest of the kids that you've done something constructive with your time under a rock? ... 'Cause I wasn't looking at their hands, I was busy watching a miscarriage of human dignity...

I don't think Virginia's read a paragraph of research on this subject of American history, the book on which the film is based, or even the work that went into the film, so I don't see where she with her cynical, I-must-hate-this-because-I'm-a-hard-assed-NY Times-critic-and-this-is-what-I-do attitude has room to talk, let alone throw around big words like "anachronistic" because of possible wedding rings, when she's got so many other obvious and glaring historical facts completely *wrong* in her review... things I was able to double-check with basic first-result Google searches... So much for her analysis of "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" and I think the New York Times needs a new Television critic! Either that or Virginia should stop having her sixth grader write her reviews for her... And she may want to turn on her grammar check next time, or at least have someone review what she writes before it's published because the last sentence of her review ("Did it take good television to point up what’s wrong with American movies?") should read, "Did it take good television to point out what’s wrong with American movies?" Ouch! Burn!

End rant...

Could "Bury My Heart..." have been better? Yes... because after what must have been the eighth time someone quoted a Sioux proverb in Lakota and then verbally translated it into English I was getting kinda tired of hearing them. But that, honestly, was my only issue with it. Overall, I thought it was an excellent rendition of one of the most shameful courses of events set in motion by the United States' government in the history of our country. It told the story from new angles from which it hasn't been told before on film. And I thought it was a thousand times more effective than TNT and Steven Spielberg's "Into The West" of last year, which had dead-end story lines, and stories that the movie-makers obviously printed more celluloid about, but dropped on the editing room floor before we got to see it, leaving the whole project woefully wanting, and depressing not only for its subject matter, but also for the lack of follow-through on the promise of what the miniseries could have been.

But, there is good news now! It looks like history is a popular subject on the "pay channels." First, HBO had "Rome" and then "Elizabeth I" (not going to start on anachronisms in either). Now, Showtime is doing "The Tudors," and HBO "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee." Next year, HBO has announced that they will do a miniseries called "John Adams." Laura Linney will portray Abagail Adams, and Paul Giamatti the title character. David Morse, Rufus Sewell and Tom Wilkinson will portray George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin respectively. I don't recognize any of the other names involved with the project, except that Tom Hanks is producing. The costumer hasn't done anything 18th century before... The closest she's gotten is "Original Sin," which is late 19th century and "Kate & Leopold," which was whatever it was. None of her assistants or other costuming crew have worked on anything 18th century either. Even so, I very much look forward to it. Filming, which began in February, is being done in Colonial Williamsburg, Goochland, VA, London, Paris, Richmond, VA, and at other unspecified locations in Virginia.

2 comments:

ilana said...

I actually have that book somewhere on Mom's bookshelf. I'd heard rumors about it being made into a movie, and even though I haven't seen it, it sounds like a huge disappointment. Thank you for forcing me to go find the book and actually reading it!

Rachael said...

You're welcome! ;D I haven't read the book either, but as made-for-tv movies go, I thought "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" is more watchable than most.