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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Beauty of the Indian Myth, 2 May 2006

Costner's Dances With Wolves is an aesthetically beautiful film that displays Hollywood's ability to represent changes in social perspective and the Indian myth. America's turn towards the sympathetic Western, initiated around the 1950's in such films as Delmer Daves's Broken Arrow (1950), helped alter the mainstream image of the American Indian and further develop the "noble savage" myth. It should be noted that Dances With Wolves is not an attempt to portray the history of the Sioux and their interactions with white men as an absolute truth, rather it is a symbolic work that explores the inner desire to find the American self as it relates to the Indian. Multiple myths intertwine through the narrative to weave a cinematic masterpiece that captures its audience's minds and astonishes them with its lush visuals. Hailed as a terrific film by those who see it, it is also a thought provoking film by those who study it.

The protagonist of the film, John Dunbar (Costner), is the vehicle for many statements about the search for a distinct American identity. The quest to find oneself in the wilderness and shed the stain of European ancestry is pivotal in the film. John Dunbar "goes Indian" and finds the Sioux way of life a truer model for a human being, devoid of the hypocrisies and evils of industrial WASP society. White to Red is developed throughout the film, and Costner delivers the transformation piecemeal, discarding Dunbar's uniform, language, loyalties, and eventually his name.

The film stands apart from much of the early Western genre in that the Indian is the benevolent good guy, and the white man is the enemy. Many polar relationships are at odds (and also viewed as American): industry and nature, nomad and settlement, innocence and decadence, Red and White. The film uses clever strategies to validate the Americanness of contradictory poles of each relationship dealing with Indian and Western myths. For example the contradiction between savage and noble Indian is treated by including both kinds of Indian myth-types. The Pawnee are shown as bloodthirsty warmongers, while the Lakota are seen as peace loving defenders of their hunting lands. This representation also affords the film the capacity to show American Indians as both good and bad guys. So the violence in the film elicits an identification with the good guys, which should startle the viewer from typical notions of the Indian myth. Can all Indians be bad? All they all good? Are only some tribal nations good? And if so, who determines which one are? Be sure to question any and all generalizations that you may recall about the American Indian when watching this film. Its vivid cinematography and musical score help create an epic story feel, as does its length of 3+ hours. Its length isn't cumbersome and allows a lot of material and character development due to its relaxed but captivating pace. I recommend Dances With Wolves not only on its technical and visual achievements, but especially with its treatment of the contradictions inherent in modern American perceptions about the history of its original inhabitants.

Bad Girls (1994)
18 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
Cast off the shackles that bind women of the West, 24 April 2006

Jonathan Kaplan's Bad Girls leaves an interesting taste in my mouth. It is an energetic and fun film, offset by its ridiculous characters and plot. The believability factor in this flick is low, which encourages its audience to view it as a swirling maelstrom of metaphor and symbol. Woman, as defined by the early 90's, can overcome any impediment and still be beautiful, no need to become manly (and lose her femininity) to assert herself. The Western genre serves as a perfect tableau for this discourse because it is one traditionally dominated by men. Likewise, the men in Bad Girls each represent an institution of American culture that is dominated by men and their mentality, conveniently dispatched by the bad girls.

Four whores raise hell by killing a Colonel and running out of town, complete with unnecessary slow motion of Drew Barrymore shouting "heeyah!" and the humiliation of every man who crosses their path. The military, traditional justice, and Christianity are trampled upon, left wondering how these motivated and hard working women could escape their clutches. The film from here takes some twists and turns, and several complete circles. In short, the whores chase a dream of establishing a home for themselves around a mill that Mary Stuart Masterson's late husbands owned, countering the murderous advances of men with their own sexual flaunting. Gunfights, smarmy dialogue, pseudo-lesbianic encounters, and female flesh fill the film to to a near bursting capacity, much like Barrymore's bosom.

It is not what I would call a smart film, however it does present itself as an interesting fable about the empowerment of women by women who remain women. I would liken Bad Girls to that of the Freudian dreams of those who struggle against "the man." I feel that it deserves to be seen at least once.

12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Try it, you just might like it, 24 April 2006

Chingachgook, a Mohawk-born Delaware warrior, strives to rescue his wife Wahtawah from the clutches of an enemy camp of Huron. Joined by his trusted huntsman Deerslayer, the two confront racist pioneers and brutal British soldiers in their quest. Deerslayer catches the desire of Judith and thus the jealousy of her suitor, Harry. The action of the story functions like a seesaw, characters continuously traveling back and forth between a house on the lake and the Huron camp until the violent climax.

Richard Groschopp's last theatrically released film, Chingachgook, offers a fresh and entertaining look into a genre not familiar in the United States, an Indian adventure film with German actors and direction. Constructed in a manner very different to American films, it asserts a distinct foreign identity through an American locale. Its slow editing style allows the actors to perform in a large frame, emphasizing their movements like dance. Dance is an element of the film that is explored by the director. What appear as silly dances routines placed sporadically throughout the film are referential to the beautiful and precise choreography of fascist-era military parades and functions. This connection reveals Groschopp's ties to the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, working early in his career as a cinematographer for the Olympia films of 1936. Due to Soviet occupation of East Germany at the time of the film's production, there are communist references apparent within the film as well. The Delaware and Huron communities are each portrayed as large, cohesive, units, shown in wide angle shots to reveal the magnitude of bodies, much like Vertov's and Eisenstein's work. A British attack on an Indian camp recalls images of the Odessa Steps scene from Battleship Potemkin(1925), an obvious reference to Soviet influence on the culture of East Germany.

Aesthetic beauty is important in the film. All of the well intending characters are physically attractive and are framed to reveal their sculpted and/ or shapely bodies. The personalities of the characters fall short of believable, however their interactions with one another are humorous due to their flatness. For example, Judith is attracted to Deerslayer's boyish good looks, and to show her attraction she trips in front of him and falls conveniently into his arms. The painfully stereotypical relationship these two characters have make the film worth watching in its own right, but the film has other merits. It is kinky melodrama with uber-German looking Indians fighting German speaking redcoats. The effect this film had on me (as a upstate New Yorker who grew up where the film takes place) was one that I encourage others to experience.