Sioux Ghost Dance (1894)
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According to historians, on September 24, 1894, several members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show arrived to Edison's famous Black Maria studio in order to perform in front of the camera and be part of the motion pictures revolution. Among the films done that day by Dickson and cinematographer William Heise, were two short films about Native American dances, which are considered as the very first movies where Native Americans appeared. "Sioux Ghost Dance" and "Buffalo Dance" were those two films, and both showed a group of Native Americans performing a song. In "Sioux Ghost Dance", a group of Sioux people make the ritual dance inspired by prophet Jack Wilson's (known as Wovoka) religious teachings. Sadly, due to the limitations of Dickson's early camera-work the magnitude of the Ghost dance can not be fully appreciated.
While a product of the late 1800s, the Ghost Dance was based on the traditional circle dances that Native Americans had been performing for centuries, so "Sioux Ghost Dance" (and its companion piece, "Buffalo Dance") allowed to Kinetoscope's audiences a small look at real Native American traditions. Despite being a show were the actors reenacted scenes from the wild west, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" had many extremely accurate and realistic elements, and the Native dances were one of them, proudly portraying their traditions under the protection of Buffalo Bill Cody (who was very respectful of them). It's true that without the sound, the dance loses a lot of its impact, but this movie is still an early example of documentary film. 6/10
The Edison Company was always on the lookout for money-making and money-saving ideas, and many of their early features were financed by potential distributors, at little or no cost to Edison. According to film historian Charles Musser (in an interview accompanying Kino's DVD collection of Edison films), this particular movie was one such example, having been made as part of promoting the Wild West's upcoming tour of Europe.
The footage itself is not especially impressive, in large part because of damage done to the film over time. It does apparently use genuine members of the Sioux tribe, and in viewing it, it should also be remembered that the constraints of filming inside the Edison Company's 'Black Maria' studio almost certainly hindered the dancers' ability to do the dance on its usual scale. As a result, they seem to be unnaturally scrunched together for most of the running time.
In any case, the fascination with the 'wild west', its myths, and its figures seems to have been at least as strong in Europe as it was in the USA, and this brief movie is one illustration of that. It is also one of many illustrations of the competitive business practices of the earliest film-makers - there seems never to have been a time when movie-making was not a serious business to some.
the film itself is quite dark, you can barely see what's going on. ironically the ghost dance, as far as i understand, was a native American ritual/religion to separate the natives from the white man, his alcohol, weapons and _technology_.
'sioux ghost dance' was shot five years after, according to the story, wovoka's peyote induced vision where he saw the future evils of white man and the second coming of Christ, who (surprise surprise), came in wovoka's shape. as the word spread, the lakota came to meet him and learn the ghost dance. the most fanatic followers of the cult, big foot and his band, mostly women and children, got slaughtered by whites at wounded creek in 1890, only two weeks after the arrests where the lakota chief sitting bull was shot in the head by the lakota police during a gunfight between the police and the ghost dancers, an event precipitating the wounded creek massacre.
On the con side, however, the picture is pretty contrasty. It's hard to watch the dance and the Natives dark skin doesn't help. I'm not sure why the result was so contrasted but at least we can still see the dance. Nothing special by today's standards or ground-breaking at all but it remains a good record of a time long gone.
If you go through the early part of cinema, starting in 1888, you can tell that things were progressively getting much better to the point where motion pictures were starting to take form. Most of these early pictures that were put on display for crowds were very simple and showed certain things that they might have paid to see on a stage.
This one here features a group of Indians doing the title dance. This lasts just under thirty seconds so there's obviously not a plot to follow or anything too difficult. I found this footage to be highlight entertaining for a number of reasons. For starters, this appears to be a real tribe and not just actors, which is a major plus. The dance certainly isn't anything you'll be trying to do yourself but it's fun. The historic importance of these early pictures
The group is crowded on stage, with both children and adults doing the dance. There is no word as whether this is an authentic dance from actual Sioux culture or if it is an invention by Cody to fill seats at his shows. Not much is actually shown in the short clip, but it is the first known representation of Native-Americans, real or otherwise, in cinema, so it is noteworthy for that alone.
Appereantly the native American's in this movie were part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show but indeed they were real Sioux Indians. They are in full war paint and costume and show of one of their dances. We see how they start out, dance around a bit before the movie suddenly comes to an end.
It got not shot on location but in the Black Maria studio, with William Heise behind the camera, on September 24, 1894. The same day other similar type of movies got shot, featuring natives.
They were probably interesting in capturing the complicated movements of several people at the same time and distributed for the people to have a change to see actual Indians doing their stuff. It's quite good quality all and all of the movements seem smooth and natural. The movie got definitely shot in the right speed.
Only really relevant or interesting if you are into movie history or that of native American Indians.