Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Beginnings of the Western, Programme 2

The Cheyenne's Bride (1911). Photo: EYE Filmmmuseum, Amsterdam

Curse of the Redman (1911). Photo: BFI National Archive, London

Her Indian Mother (1910). Photo: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano (and flute etc.): Stephen Horne, 7 Oct 2015

Beginnings of the Western, Programme 2
Film di indiani / Indian Pictures

HER INDIAN MOTHER (The White Man Takes a Red Wife) (Kalem – US 1910) D: Sidney Olcott?; C: George Melford (Stephen Moore), Jane Wolfe (his Indian wife), Alice Joyce (Luna Crescente/Rising Moon); rel: 16.12.1910; 35 mm, 995 ft, 15' (18 fps); titles: ENG; print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.

Richard Abel (GCM catalog and website): "Indian pictures seem to have been popular with American audiences in the early 1910s, and Kalem, along with several other companies, released them with some frequency. In contrast to Selig and Essanay, Kalem’s Indian pictures were shot in the East (in New Jersey or New York), partly in forest landscapes like those so characteristic of James Fenimore Cooper’s novels."

"Her Indian Mother is a story of Indian-white relations over two generations. In the opening, an Indian chief gives his daughter to a white trapper, Stephen Moore, in exchange for a pile of pelts and a bracelet for her. Several years later, Moore is called to take up a position with the Hudson Bay Fur Company in Montréal. "

"More years pass; his wife has returned to her Indian camp; and her daughter, Rising Moon, now sixteen, is given the bracelet as her mother’s legacy. On a business trip, Moore stops at a trading post, where he sees Rising Moon, recognizes the bracelet, and convinces her to return with him to be educated. After another four years, Rising Moon, provoked by seeing the bracelet again, steals away one night and returns to the Indian camp, where the brave she once left is now the new chief. Moore follows her but cannot persuade her, as before, to go off with him."

"Her Indian Mother is somewhat unusual in two ways. The story involves neither chases nor physical violence. It also centers on a daughter’s bond with her mother, highlighting the scenes in which she is torn between obeying the call of her mother or father and chooses the way of the Indian rather than that of the white man. This and other Indian pictures paralleled the contemporary efforts by white Americans to preserve the images, cultural artifacts, and rituals of a people they had pushed to the edge of extinction and, as Moving Picture World put it, to “exalt the Indian [and] depict the noble traits of his [or her] character.”" – Richard Abel

AA: A tragic account of the clash of cultures in one family over several generations. The bracelet is the key motif by which family members recognize each other and their parentage. Stiff and elementary but portrayed without exaggeration. A good print.

THE CHEYENNE’S BRIDE (Tigerhart en Zilverroos. Indiannen drama) (Pathé–American Kinema – US 1911) D+P: James Young Deer; C: Red Wing [Lillian St. Cyr] (Rosa d’Argento, figlia del capo Sioux/Silver Rose, daughter of the Sioux chief), James Young Deer (Cuore di Tigre, figlio del capo Cheyenne/Tiger Heart, son of the Cheyenne chief); 35 mm, 640 ft, 9' (19 fps); titles: DUT; print source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Scott Simmon (GCM catalog and website): "The Cheyenne’s Bride fit into a familiar cycle when released on 24 August 1911. “Another picture in which no white man appears,” Moving Picture World (2 September 1911) reported, with some weariness, about one more of the many westerns depicting secret loves between members of warring Plains Indian tribes. That comment was directed at Bison’s A Sioux Spy (in which the title character fall for the Cheyenne chief’s daughter), but could equally have applied to The Cheyenne’s Courtship, The Cheyenne’s Love for a Sioux, or Brave Swift Eagle’s Peril (a l l  1911) ."

"These films pitted pastoral romance against martial cruelty, a pattern pioneered by D. W. Griffith back in 1908 in woodsy East Coast locations. But The Cheyenne’s Bride, filmed in Southern California hills, jettisons pastoralism after its first two shots to become a harsher tale that finds the Sioux’s father killing the Cheyenne’s father, a revenge attack repulsed by the Sioux, and the father devising a savage test for his daughter and her two suitors. Moving Picture World (9 September 1911) praised this finale: “There is an exciting race in this picture which brought the audience in one theater out of their seats...”"

"The Cheyenne’s Bride is a rare surviving film from the first Native American director, James Young Deer, who founded Pathé’s Los Angeles studio in late 1910 and produced some 150 other films there through mid-1913. Thank s to Angela Aleiss’s research, we now know that Young Deer was born James Young Johnson, with Delaware, Lenape, and Nanticoke ancestry rather than the usually reported Winnebago, which was the ancestry of his wife, known as Red Wing. Both had small parts in Griffith’s all-Indian drama The Mended Lute (1909), and they take the leads in The Cheyenne’s Bride: Red Wing as the Sioux maiden who is strapped to a wild horse in punishment for her forbidden love, and Young Deer as the Cheyenne whose horsemanship saves her and thus wins her in marriage." – Scott Simmon

AA:  A primitive, stark drama about the clash between the Cheyenne and the Sioux made by the first Native American director James Young Deer. The daughter is tied on a wild horse's back. "He who saves my daughter gets her as his wife". All in long shot only, not very moving. The performances are restrained.

CURSE OF THE REDMAN (Selig Polyscope Co. – US 1911) D+SC: Hobart Bosworth; P: William N. Selig; C: Hobart Bosworth (Terapai, a Maricopa Apache), Anna Dodge, Nicholas Cogley, Betty Harte?, Eugenie Besserer, Bessie Eyton; 35 mm, 817 ft, 14' (16 fps); titles: ENG; print source: BFI National Archive, London.

Scott Simmon (GCM catalog and website): "This fascinating contemporary Western – starring, written, and directed by Hobart Bosworth – was widely condemned upon its release. An Apache named Terapai “graduates with honor and receives the badge for supremacy at football” at the Sherman Indian Institute. (Inspiration evidently came from Native American athlete Jim Thorpe [NB 13 Dec 2020: see remark by Angela Aleiss below], then gaining national football fame at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.) Back on the reservation in white-man’s clothes, Terapai’s “tribe ostracizes him.” A passing prospector offers him a bottle, and “three years later” we find him a “besotted drunkard.” After killing a brutal bartender, he’s tracked by a posse into the desert."

"Following such films as Lubin’s Red Eagle’s Love Affair (1910), with its college-educated Indian who finally “denounces the white man’s ways,” the plot of Curse of the Redman was unsurprising. Moving Picture World (18 February 1911) noted: “this is not the first time that this phase of the return of an Indian to his own after attending school has been emphasized.” This tale of Native Americans lost to both cultures after government school education continued in such (surviving) films as Last of the Line (1914), Strongheart (1914), Braveheart (1925), and Redskin (1929)."

"Nickelodeon’s reviewer (11 February 1911), although praising the “visual presentment” and Bosworth’s performance, took strong issue with the conclusion (missing in this sole surviving print, which breaks off with the chase still in progress): “The Indian hero comes to a very bad end and the moral tag is appended by two of the sheriff’s posse who hold up a scholarship prize and a bottle of rum and wag their heads knowingly as if to say – These did it. Now, everyone is willing to admit that rum is a curse to red man or white ... But to include education along with it is quite a different matter ... We are more inclined to believe that education is the red man’s salvation, and shall hold to that belief until Selig can present more convincing evidence than is contained in this film.”"

"Native American tribal leaders also protested. As reported by the Washington Post (16 February 1911), with the front-page headline “Indians in ‘Uprising’: Moving Pictures, Not White Man, Now Their Foe,” a delegation of Shoshone, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe met with President Taft and lobbied Congress for legislation to prohibit the distorted representations exemplified by this film. Their spokesman (the editor of the Indian Observer) described his encounter with Curse of the Redman: “At first I was somewhat at a loss to know which was the ‘curse,’ but took it to be the bottle of whiskey ... These characters were all acted by white actors painted up a little to look like Indians. Is this a true representation of Indian life? No!”" – Scott Simmon

AA: An early dramatization of the Jim Thorpe story [NB 13 Dec 2020: see remark by Angela Aleiss below]. "His tribe ostracizes him" when he comes back dressed in white man's clothes. He is lonely, gets a drink from a tramp, 3 years later, "a besotted drunkard at Yuma". As it is all in long shot, one cannot always make sense of facial expressions. From a heavily used and duped source, the image is at times unclear.

THE BLACKFOOT HALFBREED (Kalem – US 1911) D: ?; SC: ?; C: George Melford (Col. Baker), Mrs. West (Goffersocks, Maude’s Blackfoot mother), Alice Joyce (Maude Baker), Carlyle Blackwell (Capt. Tingley), Frank Lanning (capo tribù Piedi Neri/Blackfoot chief), Jane Wolfe (Cerbiatta/Fawn); 35 mm, 737 ft, 11' (18 fps); titles: ENG; print source: BFI National Archive, London.

Charlie Keil (GCM catalog and website): "The Blackfoot Halfbreed belongs to a subset of Indian pictures that explored the social problems caused by miscegenation. Its leading character, a so-called “half-breed,” much like the mulatto, signaled a difficulty for white society, not only because she bridged the two worlds of civilization and savagery that the western worked so hard to delineate as binaries, but also because her existence proved that the marks of mixed parentage could easily be disguised, suggesting that “otherness” was not so definitive in distinguishing the white man and red man.Narratives alternately see the half-breed as a tragic marginalized figure, unable to fit into either white or Indian culture, or a prize to be claimed by the side whose values the half-breed inevitably embraces, if left to his or her own inclinations."

"Kalem’s film opts for the second scenario. Maude, the mixed-race protagonist, signals her allegiance to white society by expressing her disdain for Indian culture, both actively (opposing a planned wedding to her tribe’s chief ) and passively (retaining her westernized garb even when in the Indian camp). Her Indian family’s refusal to accept Maude’s decision emerges as the root problem, resulting in her forced confinement and prompting a military rescue. Tellingly, the white regiment’s reclamation of Maude comes with the endorsement of at least one member of the tribe, as her friend, Fawn, aids in the rescue effort. Implicitly, at the very least, The Blackfoot Halfbreed suggests that if Indian values can be extinguished through education and acculturation, they should be abandoned permanently to allow for full assimilation."

"Ultimately, the film’s narrative logic must eliminate the uncertainties produced by Maude’s mixed parentage. Opting for the white military regiment over the Indian community, Maude (unlike Rising Moon in Her Indian Mother) is also rejecting her matrilineal link to her Native American heritage. Preferring an officer as a fiancé over the Blackfoot chief symbolically sanctifies what the narrative prescribes: a strict division of the two races enforced by white military might. By its conclusion, The Blackfoot Halfbreed has effectively nullified any vestiges of Indian identity suggested by its title." – Charlie Keil

AA: Like Her Indian Mother, a drama of uneasy relationships in a family with a white father and an Indian mother ("finding Indian life unbearable"). Father asks daughter to return to the mother's wigwam anyway to prevent hostilities. It's no use. Maude is tied on the stake, and there is a battle between the Indians and the cavalry. "Maude renounces her tribe". The performances are restrained. The narration is fluid and succinct. The visual quality is often good, but in the finale there is footage missing.

THE VANISHING RACE (The Vanishing Tribe) (American Film Manufacturing Company – US 1912) D: Allan Dwan; SC: ?; C: ?; 35 mm, 895 ft, 13' (18 fps); titles: ENG; print source: BFI National Archive, London.

Charlie Keil (GCM catalog and website): "The Vanishing Race is also known as The Vanishing Tribe. If the latter title more accurately communicates the film’s narrative situation, the bleaker intimations of the release title lend it added resonance. While the story focuses on a small tribe of four Indians, the death of two of the four stands as a commentary on the fate of Native Americans more generally. The somber mood of the film and the restrictedness of its spatial schema reinforce the fatalistic perspective foretold by the title."

"The Vanishing Race puts forward a tacit argument for keeping the races separate, in part to protect Indians from the pernicious influence of white society’s impulses. The white settler entices the Hopi daughter, only to abandon her later, incurring the wrath of her brother. (Interestingly, it is the act of abandonment that seems to incite the brother to revenge, not the initial act of seduction.) What follows, with the inevitability of tragedy, is a series of deaths: the settler is killed by the brother, who dies soon thereafter; the siblings’ father goes to investigate, which leads to a struggle resulting in his death. By the film’s end, only the two native women remain, symbolizing the end of the tribe, because, as an ad for the film made clear, “the line of the Hopi warriors [has been ended] forevermore.” Exterior shots of the tribe, first moving into the area and then moving out, bracket the film: the differences between the opening and concluding shots measure the devastation the tribe has suffered and point to the prognostication of the title."

"In his invaluable book The Invention of the Western Film, Scott Simmon has chronicled how the Indian picture experienced waning popularity with the advent of the feature, showing signs of decline as early as 1913. In such a context, The Vanishing Race can be read retrospectively as an epitaph for a brief moment in the western’s history when the Native American occupied the role of protagonist. At the very least, The Vanishing Race provides the Indian film with a dignified send-off to “the land where the White Spoiler does not go.”" – Charlie Keil

AA:  From Allan Dwan's earliest period as a director, 1911-1913, when he made 250 films in two years (2-3 films a week). Primitive, with no lighting on faces (expressions remaining obscure), performances restrained, long shot, deep focus, ignoring conventional beauty standards, grimly schematic. There is a blunt edge in this film in which the remains of the Hopi tribe never lose their pride although they are crudely exploited by the Whites. In the shock ending the last Indian men are killed in front of the daughter's eyes.

THE POST TELEGRAPHER (Twee Helden) (New York Motion Picture Company–Bison-101 – US 1912) D: Thomas H. Ince? Francis Ford?; C: Francis Ford (Bob Evans, the post telegrapher), Anna Little (Edith Black, the Colonel’s daughter), Lillian Christy (Ruth, the settler’s daughter), William Myers (another telegrapher); rel: 1.5.1912; 35 mm, 474 ft, 23' (18 fps); titles: DUT; print source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Scott Simmon (GCM catalog and website): "Seen in the context of this program, it’s evident what a step forward were the Thomas Ince westerns released from January 1912 onward. After taking over the New York Motion Picture Company’s West Coast productions, Ince hired performers from the Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show and leased 28 square miles of canyons and rolling grasslands above Santa Monica for locations. Included in the arrangement were fifty Oglala Sioux from South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation."

"The Post Telegrapher was Ince’s sixth large-scale western; all were two-reelers, with plots that had settled into a formula. As Moving Picture World (27 April 1912) summarized, while praising the series, “We know in advance that the Indians are going to have a war dance and attack the settlers, that some hero or heroine will go through all sorts of perils to reach the military post, and that the troops will arrive in the nick of time.”"

"Francis Ford’s title role underlines how fully this film is a prototype for his brother John Ford’s westerns. As in The Searchers, we open with a settler’s family, among whom only one daughter will survive the Indian attack. Of Ford’s cavalry films, this is closest to Fort Apache, with romances and a Custer-like massacre near an isolated fort in the 1870s (President Grant’s portrait overlooks the Colonel’s office)."

"The tribes are clever, although one misses the individualized Native American characters found elsewhere in Ince westerns. The final intertitle praises only the heroic telegrapher, ignoring the Colonel’s undaunted daughter, who disguises herself in cavalryman’s uniform to twice save the telegrapher. The Dutch title of this print – Twee Helden, or TWO heroes – makes up for this slight, and Moving Picture World singled out the actress: “Anna Little, a corking rider, full of vim in action ... It is a pleasure to see a heroine who can do something more than smile, roll her eyes, and embrace.” Such a character might have benefited John Ford’s cavalry films." – Scott Simmon

AA: An exciting epic western with a thrilling race to the rescue. The Indians are more clever than the whites. Bob (Francis Ford) saves the post with his telegraph heroism (climbing to the telegraph pole). Edith (Anna Little) saves Bob dressed as a man. There is a furious force in the final siege sequence. Usually in long shots with excellent establishing shots and grandiose distant views. There is high artistry in the composition. From a battered and duped source. A memorable Fordian experience. *

AA: The six films are generally in early cinema mode: the action is announced in advance in intertitles. Usually in long shots and long takes.


Anonymous said...

The inspiration for "Curse of the Redman" (1911) came not from Jim Thorpe but from the story of Willie Boy, who was the subject of the later 1969 film "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here." Thorpe did not win his two gold medals at the International Olympics in Sweden until 1912, a year after the 1911 short film. See Los Angeles Times, Feb 17, 1911 p. 30. --A. Aleiss

Antti Alanen said...

Dear Angela Aleiss, it is an honour to be noticed by the author of Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies, a book that I hold in very high esteem. Based on your comment, I inserted a reservation in square brackets into the text. The blog entry is a copy of the catalogue notes of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (in quotation marks and italics) added with some remarks of mine (without italics). The program note on Curse of the Redman is by Scott Simmon, as credited.

Anonymous said...

Thanks I discuss "Curse of the Redman" in my book on p. 10 and endnotes. I wish someone would fix the unreliable IMDb entry for the film. It has Tom Santschi as the Indian, and that's incorrect. I recall that Scott has done some wonderful work on Westerns and Native themes as well. --A. Aleiss

Antti Alanen said...

Dear Angela Aleiss, à propos, this morning I happened to read David Treuer's essay on "Lakota America : A New History of Indigenous Power" by Pekka Hämäläinen, a fellow Finn whom I don't have the honour to know. The history of Finns and Native Americans goes back to 1638 in Delaware when Finns got to meet Delawares, Susquehannocks, Algonquins and Iroquois!