Friday, October 07, 2016

Beginnings of the Western 2, Prog. 3: Indian Pictures

When the West Was Young (US 1913), D: W. J. Bauman, photo EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Please do click to enlarge the images.

Beginnings of the Western 2, Prog. 3: Indian Pictures
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Origini del Western 2
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau, 7 Oct 2016

The Arrow of Defiance (US 1912), D: James Young Deer, photo: La Cinémathèque française, Paris

THE ARROW OF DEFIANCE (Dark Buffalo ou la flèche du défi) (US 1912). D: James Young Deer. C: James Young Deer (Bisonte Scuro / Dark Buffalo), Charles K. French (Sergeant Stewart). PC: Pathé. Rel: 16.3.1912 (U.S.), 2.1913 (France); 35 mm, 244 m, 715 ft, 10' (20 fps); titles: ENG, FRA (restored 2016). Source: La Cinémathèque française, Paris.

Richard Abel: "The U.S. Army orders a small band of Indians to move their camp out of U. S. territory, an order that Sergeant Stewart explains to the Indian chief, Dark Buffalo. The chief rejects the order with an arrow of defiance, the signal of war. Dark Buffalo’s warriors attack and burn one of the white settlers’ farms, attack another white family, and pursue a small group of settlers heading for the army camp. Two men delay the Indians in a shoot-out, and the small group successfully enters the camp’s walled gate. The warriors attack the camp and clamber over the walls, but are forced to flee through the gate, leaving several dead behind. As the settlers and army soldiers celebrate, an Indian boy consoles a younger white girl. (Missing footage may explain that he was adopted by the girl’s white family, and both have escaped their burning farm.)"

"This film bears some similarities with the Bison-101 Indian pictures in often depicting the action in a relatively deep space and in handling the conflict between whites and Indians with some degree of ambivalence – a characteristic first noted by Claudine Kaufmann, in Cinémathèque 12 (1997)."

"One example is the conclusion of the Indian boy embracing the white girl in the foreground, while the white adults in the background seem to ignore them. Another, rather unexpected, is the shot that aligns movie spectators with a few Indian women in the foreground, as they watch the warriors’ burning a settler’s farm on a distant hill – a shot that echoes the opening shot of Stewart in the foreground looking down on the small Indian encampment in a distant valley."

"The New York Dramatic Mirror praised the film’s atmosphere and “well managed Indian attack and white defense” [intercutting exterior and interior shots of the army camp], but found it lacked a “well-connected story” to knit the detached scenes together into a harmonious whole. This restoration’s added intertitles seek to create such a “well-connected story.”
" – Richard Abel

AA: Little remains to be said after such an excellent program note. The element of complexity is interesting in this movie, an approach of epic tragedy. This is not a melodrama of good and evil. The children are watching us. Directed by the Nanticoke James Young Deer, believed to be the first Native American film director and producer in Hollywood. Visually distinguished by an interesting use of composition in depth. 20 fps may be too fast a speed for this movie. Visual quality: a duped look but watchable.

When the West Was Young (US 1913). D: W. J. Bauman. Screencap from EYE on YouTube.

WHEN THE WEST WAS YOUNG (De Dankbaarheid van den Indiaan) (US 1913). D: W. J. Bauman. SC: W. Hanson Durham. C: George C. Stanley (Falco Nero / Black Hawk), George Holt (the settler), Maxine Elliott (his young daughter). PC: Vitagraph. Rel: 29.9.1913. copy: incomplete, ending missing, 35 mm, 801 ft, 12' (18 fps), col. (tinted); titles: NLD. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).

Richard Abel: "Tom Bowles lives in a frontier cabin with his young daughter, when an Indian named Black Hawk comes to the door and rushes in, frightening the girl. Realizing he is faint with hunger, Bowles gives him food, and the grateful Indian leaves. Later he finds the tracks of a small band of Sioux warriors and returns to warn Bowles. But the frontiersman has to be shown the tracks, and is caught in an ambush and shot. Taken back to the cabin, the dying Bowles entrusts the girl to the Indian, who then has to pull her away from her father’s grave."

"As Black Hawk sets out toward an army fort with the girl, the Sioux warriors discover them and follow. His progress slowed by the girl and his own condition, the warriors catch up with them. An arrow hits him in the back and he falls, but has time to point the girl toward the fort in the distance. A cavalry unit finds her and (as the print breaks off) keeps the warriors from scalping Black Hawk and chases them off."

"Although an unusual subject from Vitagraph, this film tells a familiar story: a Native American is caught between cultures, threatened by another warring tribe and indebted to a white man, and he is forced to sacrifice himself for the future of the latter’s child. A Moving Picture World commentator praised the film for its simple, convincing story and its “artistic, pictorial quality,” which now seems less evident to our eyes than in earlier Indian pictures. That commentator also cast a critical eye on the film’s “realism” (typical of the time), expressing disappointment that, though starving, Black Hawk initially is so well nourished, yet he failed to note the detailed treatment of the cabin’s interior, where the girl efficiently handles cooking for her father.
" – Richard Abel

AA: Again, it's difficult to find words to add to Richard Abel's remarks. Perhaps it is a Vitagraph feature to have such a prominent presence of a child in a Western. The convincing performance of the little girl as the shocked and exhausted daughter is essential for the psychology of the tale. It is impossible fully to judge this film because of the incomplete status of the print. The print is otherwise ok, with blue tinting for night scenes.

The Lieutanant's Last Fight (US 1912), D+starring Francis Ford. Screencap from EYE on YouTube.

THE LIEUTENANT’S LAST FIGHT (US 1912). D: Francis Ford. Cinematography: Ray Smallwood. C: Francis Ford (Grande Orso / Great Bear), William Clifford (Captain Haines), J. Barney Sherry (Colonel Garvin), Ethel Grandin (Ethel Garvin), Anna Little, Lillian Christy, William Eagleshirt (Sioux Chief, Great Bear’s father). PC: Thomas H. Ince, New York Motion Picture Co. / BISON 101. Rel: 1.6.1912. 35 mm, 1700 ft, 27'17" (17 fps); Main title missing; titles: NLD. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).

Richard Abel: "A Sioux chief sends his young son, Great Bear, to a U.S. military school. Ten years later, graduating as a lieutenant, he reports for duty at Fort Reno under the command of Colonel Garvin."

"At a dinner, other officers and several young women receive him coolly, but Ethel, Garvin’s daughter, is welcoming. When the old chief visits the fort to admire his son, the officers and women watch the reunion, amused; Ethel, however, goes to meet Great Bear’s father with respect. Jealous of Ethel’s attention, Captain Haines confronts and insults the lieutenant. As the two rivals fight, Haines unholsters the other’s revolver and fires, drawing other officers to the scene."

"Haines accuses the lieutenant of trying to kill him, which results in his courtmartial, dismissal, and public disgrace — stripped of his epaulets. Packing his belongings in a trunk, Great Bear prepares to leave and silently thanks Ethel, who sadly bids him farewell."

"Returning to his tribe, Great Bear reveals what has happened; the enraged chief goes to the fort, denounces the officers, and threatens war. Garvin sends the fort’s young women on a stagecoach to another fort for their safety, but several warriors shoot a courier bearing an advance letter. The chief wants his son to join a war party, but Great Bear reads the letter and discovers that Ethel will be in danger. After the war party leaves, he stays behind, gets his uniform and revolver from the trunk, and rides off to try to save the white woman who trusted him. The Sioux warriors ambush the stagecoach in a gulch; Great Bear finds the fallen courier and takes his bugle; then he positions himself on a shrubby hill above the encircled whites and begins firing at the warriors."

"One soldier escapes the battle and, after a treacherous ride, reaches Fort Reno, where the cavalry is dispatched."

"Seeing the soldier’s escape, Great Bear waits to sound the bugle, and the warriors begin to withdraw as the cavalry approaches. But one retreating warrior sneaks up, shoots Great Bear in the back, and leaves him for dead."

"Bison 101 Indian pictures were shot in the hills of “Inceville” north of Santa Monica and cast many Oglala Sioux from the Miller Brothers’ “101 Ranch” shows in secondary roles. These films tended to tell stories of the Plains Wars of the 1870s (prominently displayed in the colonel’s office is a portrait of President Grant). And their attitude toward these wars was ambiguous. The stories often made an “in-between” Native American the central figure, one of unfixed identity, who could neither assimilate into white society nor fully return to his/her native community. And sometimes that figure had to die as a sacrifice to the emerging, dominant white society — literalizing the icon of the “ vanishing Indian.” In a later film, The Invaders (1912), available on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s Treasures 2 DVD set, for instance, Sky Star (Anna Little) helps save a fort from a Sioux attack and is honored in death by the whites. Here, in The Lieutenant’s Last Fight’s final twilight tableau, Great Bear’stragic sacrifice goes “unwept, unhonored, unsung, ”his heroism unknown even to the young woman for whom he gave his life.
" – Richard Abel

AA: On this Dutch print Great Bear is called Buffalo Big. The Lieutenant's Last Fight along with The Struggle are the highlights among the 17 Westerns screened this year in Pordenone. There is a tragic grandeur in this tale of a Sioux warrior (played by Francis Ford himself) caught and lost between two worlds. The striking mise-en-scène, often composed in depth, is a showcase of the high cinematic level that Francis Ford reached in Thomas H. Ince productions and the great standard he set for his little brother John Ford. Even thematically, in the scenes where the soldiers turn their backs on Great Bear, I was reminded of Two Rode Together (the chilling reception of the Indian captives at the fort). A print in low contrast but fair and watchable. *

The Struggle (US 1913), D: Thomas H. Ince. Screencap from YouTube.

THE STRUGGLE (US 1913). D: Thomas H. Ince. C: Elmer L. Morrow (Bob Worth), E. H. Allen (sheriff), Edgar Keller, Richard Stanton, J. Barney Sherry. P: Thomas H. Ince, Broncho. Rel: 1. 1913. 35 mm, 1722 ft, 28' (16 fps); titles: ENG. Source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY. Preservation funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Scott Simmon: "“There are many thrills in this,” Moving Picture World reported in January 1913, reviewing The Struggle, Thomas Ince’s casually masterful two-reel Western in which the buckskinned lead is athletically heroic once per reel: saving the colonel’s daughter from a runaway stagecoach and then the sheriff (who has wrongly arrested him) from a larger Indian attack."

"By early 1913, Ince’s “101 Bison” label had just been lost to Universal, and this “Broncho” film, although shot in the same hills above Santa Monica, California, moves closer to “classic” Western revenge plotting, in this case for a murdered father. The film opens with a race-to-the-rescue and seldom lets up. (It pauses for a hilltop silhouette of the escaping murderer on horseback, an evocative image usually saved for heroes.)"

"The price paid for Ince’s move from tales of conflicts within tribes or against the cavalry is that the Indian “hostiles” now lack the slightest motivation or individuality. But the staging and cutting are very inventive."

"Moving Picture World singled out the “well pictured” cliff-face shootout but critiqued the impressive stagecoach rescue, shot w ith rapidly tracking cameras but also with on-set medium shots, which brought this criticism: “The run of the stagecoach is shown by theatrical devices which seem a little unnecessary in the open country.” What’s more surprising is how inventive the interior staging is, as in the tight close-up of the colonel and his daughter with the sheriff looming behind."

"There is, it’s true, some uncertainty in the staging – or perhaps just in the intertitling. The happy opening household appears to be a miner and his wife and their teenaged son, but the studio’s synopsis states that the woman is the miner’s “daughter, a girl of twenty.” The woman is never seen again, so that the impression that she must be the hero’s mother is reinforced by his later identification of the murderer: “ he killed my father and my mother died of a broken heart.”"

"The Struggle was also the title of four subsequent films in 1913 alone , including a “ Broncho Billy” Western and, in what may have been particularly galling to Ince, a Bison film from Universal.
" – Scott Simmon

AA: Bob as a boy witnesses a stranger about to rape his mother and his intervening prospector father being murdered by the villain. Five years later Bob is a government scout who recognizes the assassin, now a card sharp, by the scar on his cheek (wounded by Bob's struggling mother), but Bob is mistakenly wanted for killing another card player actually shot by the villain. Bob becomes a chased chaser in an epic story involving a stagecoach attacked by Indians and an escalating Indian war. Despite Bob's heroism he is only saved by chance as the villain makes a confession on his deathbed. A story of tragic complexity. Visual quality of the print: fair, quite watchable.

The Flaming Arrow (US 1913), D: Lincoln J. Carter, photo BFI National Archive, London.

THE FLAMING ARROW (US 1913). D+SC: Lincoln J. Carter. asst D: Jack O’Brien. C: ?. PC: 101 Bison Films / Universal. Rel: 3.1913. 35 mm, 1800 ft, 27' (18 fps); titles: ENG. Source: BFI National Archive, London.

Scott Simmon: "The Flaming Arrow must be unique among surviving early Westerns for both beginning and ending with happy interracial love. We open with a white miner’s smiling Indian wife arranging a tablecloth in their log cabin. Out front after dinner, the miner shares a smoke with his friend Black Eagle as the couple’s mixed-race son plays nearby. This idyll ends after the miner is shot defending Black Eagle’s tribe from Apaches a nd the distraught wife kills herself on his grave. Their orphaned son, White Eagle, is adopted into the friend’s tribe. Ten years later the son returns from government Indian school in a suit, with briefcase, before happily re-dressing in native gear. In the film’s surprising closing shot, the now-heroic White Eagle and the daughter of the cavalry colonel walk arm in arm toward a tight close-up. It is implied that their marriage will follow."

"Moving Picture World couldn’t help but notice the racial revisionism, with “ the old perplexed question of blood not being raised” between the lovers. By early 1913 Indian subjects remained popular, but story innovations were evidently needed. The usual plot conventions were on display, for instance, two months earlier in Ince’s The Burning Brand, when a cavalry lieutenant, learning his mother was an Indian, must abandon the colonel’s daughter and die in an attempt to win her back through a tribal attack. The racial alliances in The Flaming Arrow remain unconventional throughout, even if the friendship of Black Eagle with the colonel look traitorous when, in the final battle, he has no qualms about shooting down his tribe from the safety of the fort. By then, however, we have a new racial villain, a Mexican who teams up with the daughter’s jealous white suitor to ply the Indians with liquor and stir them to war."

"The scenario is based on Lincoln J. Carter’s play The Flaming Arrow, which debuted on Broadway in December 1900. But if Carter’s blood-and-thunder melodramas were old-hat in New York, they had long national tours, which Carter (born on the day of President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, hence his first name) was still managing into the 1910s. Advertising claims that the film was “written and staged under the personal direction of its author, Lincoln J. Carter” are confirmed by Variety (14 February 1913)."

"This was Carter’s first try at film directing, and he was assisted by Jack O’Brien, experienced as a cameraman on “Broncho Billy” Westerns and as a director of the authentically rough “Circle Ranch” films."

"Unlike competing films from Ince, and earlier Universal Indian pictures such as A Redman’s Love (October 1912) or The Rights of a Savage (December 1912), it’s evident that this 101 Bison film, like the original Broadway play, made no attempt to cast Native Americans in Indian roles."

"Trade reviews were mixed. The New York Dramatic Mirror called The Flaming Arrow “trite,” while Motion Picture News thought it “very splendidly staged.” Moving Picture World, with an eye to Carter’s plays, said, “As might have been expected, it is melodramatic in the extreme.... Incident crowds upon incident, till in one or two places the plot becomes somewhat obscure.” True, viewers today need the synopsis even to sort out the opening relationships, but thanks to its racial iconoclasm, the film is never less than surprising.
" – Scott Simmon

AA: Scott Simmon says it all in his program note. The most interesting feature of The Flaming Arrow is the matter-of-fact acknowledgement of love relationships between whites and Native Americans. The hero of the movie is White Eagle who, having survived epic ordeals, saves the colonel's daughter who has a riding accident and escorts her safely home. Loyalties get complicated as the Indians go on warpath against the cavalry. A lively mise-en-scène. Visual quality of the print: duped but watchable.

AA: Thomas H. Ince engaged an actual Oglala Sioux tribe (of 200) in Inceville, but often Native Americans were not cast to play Indian roles. Of this I have a theory which I have not seen discussed anywhere.

Might Native Americans often have preferred to have others play them? Might they have endorsed the phenomenon of "fake Indians" to represent them in the public sphere?

There was at times for Native Americans a taboo aspect in the very concept of the image, photographic or cinematographic.

The one who took a photograph was able to take away the soul of the photographed.

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