Native American Actors in New Mexico

This is an interesting article in the Santa Fe Native American Culture Examiner, which includes a discussion of Native American actors in Longmire, as well as in some forthcoming and currently filming movies and series:

Big budget Hollywood films have come to New Mexico and cast native talent. Adam Beach portrayed Nate Colorado in ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ and David Midthunder portrayed an Apache Indian. ‘The Book of Eli’ with Denzel Washington had again David as an Alcatraz soldier. ‘The Lone Ranger’ is still filming in the state and Saginaw Grant has been cast as Chief Big Bear.

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Longmire (the latest)

News flash: disaster has hit the set of the new A&E series Longmire. Someone has broken into the set and stolen all the tripods. At least, that’s what it looked like from the most recent episode, “The Cancer,” as the series went full-shaky-cam style—extreme  wide angle lenses, whip pans from one character to the other so fast that you wonder if the camera operator got a whiplash from the move, inexplicable zooms in and out, and an image that danced up and down all over the place.  Much of the episode did take place outside in the woods, so maybe that’s why much of it looked like The Blair Witch Project. It still puzzles me why a series with professional camera operators would want to create an episode that looks like it was put together with found footage filmed by amateurs.

Even aside from the camerawork, this was the weakest episode of the series, with a mystery that was not that involving and a twist that wasn’t particularly surprising. There was a nice scene with Lou Diamond Phillips whose Henry Standing Bear recognizes one of the bodies that Walt has fished out of the river (which Walt is carrying in the back of his vehicle, on the way back from the crime scene). This is a patient scene, and, for once in this episode, the director lets the actor act, and lets the acting carry the scene without adding frantic editing or shaking cameras. The scene plays out with remarkable patience, as Henry moves from recognition of the body to slowly building emotion.

We also have a return of one of the other continuing Cheyenne characters, tribal police officer Mathias, who doesn’t like Walt, and Walt returns the favor (suspecting him of being complicit with the marijuana growing). At this point, Mathias is a one-note character, no disrespect to Zahn McClarnon, the actor who plays him, but who hasn’t been given much to work with. He doesn’t like Walt, and whenever Walt is around, he’s angry and pissed off. And that’s it so far. Maybe this character will have more to do (and the actor given a better range of emotions to play) as the series progresses.

I’m not abandoning Longmire yet, but more episodes like “The Cancer” may push me in that direction.

On the plus side, I’m now starting the fourth Longmire novel, and those remain good compelling reads.  I’m still hoping that more of the humor from the novels makes its way into the television series.

Follow the WLA on Twitter

As you may have noticed by the new box just to the left, the Western Literature Association is continuing to expand into a variety of social media, including Twitter. Yes, the WLA has a twitter feed at Western American Lit, so you can now follow us on twitter.

And, if you haven’t done so already, you can “like” the WLA on Facebook!

Continuing with Longmire

Although A&E’s Longmire, thus far, hasn’t broken much new ground in the contemporary western genre, individual episodes continue to be engaging and entertaining. This past week, Walt was called upon to investigate a barn burning. In addition to dead and wounded horses, he discovers a badly burned human body—assumed to be the body of owner of the horses and the ranch. Things aren’t quite what they seem, of course, and continuing on with a discussion of the episode will require a few spoilers, so read no further if you haven’t seen the episode.

Vic Moretti also has an opportunity to say the F-word, a word that she employs frequently and with great creativity in the Craig Johnson novel series that Longmire is based on.  Although, in this case, she quite literally says the F-word, as in, “What the F?” rather than “What the fuck?” as would have been her choice of words in one of the novels. I really wish A&E could find a way to make her language more lively. “What the F?” just doesn’t do it. Good cursing is an art form, and Vic is an artful and accomplished practitioner of the form in the novel, and I really miss that element of her character in the series.

Two things about this most recent episode, “A Damn Shame,” that I liked were ways that it went against some of the expectations of a television series. The dead ranch owner is not really dead, but hiding out from the mob, and his fake death is both an insurance scam and an attempt to throw a hired killer off the scent. When the hired killer breaks into his house and takes his wife and child hostage, Walt, in trying to get inside the house, finds the owner hiding in the basement. He handcuffs him in place and starts making his way into the house. As things turn out, the killer figures it out that the man is in the basement and starts shooting into the floor. Unable to escape the bullets because he is handcuffed in place, the man is killed. Granted, Walt saves the rest of the family, but, in this case, the western hero fails to save someone—and, in part, is responsible for the man’s death (having handcuffed him to a pipe in the first place). I like this darker element of the episode. Everything doesn’t turn out exactly perfect in the end.

On a similar note, one of the horses survives the fire, although it is badly burned. Walt insists on trying to save it, even offering to pay the vet bills. In the end, the show resists the pat TV ending of the miraculous recovery, and we are told that the horse will succumb to its injuries. Of course, this also enables Longmire to illustrate one of the genre western’s longstanding requirements–that the hero show more emotion over the death of a horse than anything related to his human relationships. Walt Longmire in the novel series is a more emotionally expressive character (he frequently hugs and even kisses his friends and neighbors) than he is the TV series thus far, and I hope that particular departure from western cliché (the silent stoic emotionless hero) works its way into the TV series as it develops.

The Killing: Finale

At long last, The Killing has come to a conclusion, and the murderer of Rosie Larsen was finally revealed. Spoiler Alert!

Or, I guess that should be murderers. It didn’t quite take a village to kill Rosie, but we discover that more than just Richmond campaign consultant Jamie Wright was involved. The final twist, and one that I am still having trouble being convinced by, is the revelation of the complicity of Mitch Larsen’s sister Terry. After Jamie caught Rosie observing a meeting between himself, Chief Jackson, and Ames, Jamie knocked her down, accidentally killing her (or so he thought). Ultimately, she tries to escape, he catches her, beats her, and puts her back in the trunk of the campaign car. Ames, who is having an affair with Terry, gets a call (and here the coincidental connections become a bit too much) from Jamie while in Terry’s car. The two of them go lakeside where Jamie and Ames argue about what do with the girl in the trunk. Fearful that leaving the girl alive will put a stop to her relationship with Ames, Terry is the one that puts the car in gear and lets it drive into the lake. As she tearfully tells Mitch after her confession, “I didn’t know it was Rosie,” and, setting aside for the moment the wrongness of causing the girl’s death whoever she might be, how could she know it was Rosie? How likely would it be that aunt and niece in this city of 600,000 would converge at this inopportune moment? There was too much coincidence and accident here. It was already an unfortunate coincidence that Rosie just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time (and that that was the cause of her murder), but that her aunt would also end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and as a result end up as Rosie’s murderer?

As much as I enjoyed season one of The Killing, and at least the first part of season two, I found the last 5 or 6 episodes disappointing, for multiple reasons. Leaving behind the template of the Danish original to go off in a different plot direction (and a completely different killer) was perhaps not the best idea—or at least the reinvention of the story did not match the original version in either emotional impact or clever plotting.

Two other elements of the finale bothered me as well—the complete and unexpected turnabout of Richmond, who, after insisting on doing the right thing regarding Rosie’s murder throughout his campaign, no matter the cost to his political fortunes, suddenly gets in bed (metaphorically) with the political insiders he’s been fighting against, and sees to it that both Jackson and Ames are freed from charges for their complicity (obstruction of justice) in Rosie’s murder. This made little sense in terms of the character established for Richmond for the past 23 episodes. I’ve been seeing this happen a lot in television lately. For the sake of a surprising plot twist, prior character development is abandoned.

Finally, we see Rosie’s Super 8 film that she completed on the night of her murder. For inexplicable reasons, Wright had hidden it away (where it was easily found by the police), and Lund sees that it gets processed. After watching the film, she (presumably) has it transferred to video and delivers it to the Larsens. The scene of the family watching Rosie’s film, which includes shots of Rosie on a boat holding up handwritten placards explaining “What I Know” intercut with shots of family members, butterflies, etc., makes for a nice emotional catharsis for the Larsen part of the plot line, but, while watching it, all I could keep thinking was, how did raw film footage taken from a single reel of film suddenly get edited into a montage? There was no logic to explain how this film came into being. To produce the film edited in-camera, Rosie would have had to make 7 or 8 boat trips (or more), stopping the camera each time she revealed a placard, returning home to shoot another snippet, going back to the boat, etc.

We do have two nice Holder and Lund scenes. In the first, Sarah is sitting in their office in the dark after the death of Wright, unhappy that the details of the case haven’t been completely uncovered, when Holder comes in, turns on the light, sees her there, immediately turns the light back off, and takes a seat in his desk chair, joining in her in-the-dark dissatisfaction.

The second nice Holder and Lund scene is near the end. The two of them are sitting in Holder’s car. Lund asks for a cigarette, but Holder is out. It’s a nice Holder and Lund moment, emblematic of what the series did well (casting these two actors to play those characters and letting their unique chemistry develop to the point that their best moments are when they aren’t saying anything or seemingly saying little of importance).  They get a radio call that a body has been found. Sarah gets out of the car, and lets Holder go to work, having decided finally that enough is enough. Rather than riding off into the sunset as do most western heroes at the end of the film, Lund walks alone down a nearly empty city street. . . . and off into the drizzle. An appropriate ending for this rainy series.

CFP: Panel at 2012 WLA

The ¿American? West: Transnational, Translinguistic, and Transcultural Connections in the West

The American West has only been American since the mid-nineteenth century. Much of the West was not a part of the United States until well into the twentieth century (Alaska and Hawaii were not states until 1959)/ Before that, it was Spanish, Mexican, French, Russian, Polynesian,Chinese and, first and foremost, Native American. The annexation of various territories, while increasing pressure (often through the pathway to statehood) to conform to the larger United States culture, also increased the number of new immigrants who were arriving, from Ireland, Greece, Poland, Wales, Germany, and China (among other places) to build railroads and work mines. The Western culture is, and always has been, cultures. In keeping with the theme of this year’s conference, “Western Crossroads: Literature, Social Justice, Environment”, we invite abstracts of 250 words for this panel that explore the transnational, translinguistic, or transcultural connections in the American West and the Western genre. Possible subtopics include, but are not limited to:
Uses of languages other than English in Westerns
Transcultural themes, such as masculine honor and how they cross genres
Native American representation of the American West
Immigration issues and conflicts in the West
Explorations of difference in the American Literary West
Classical mythology and myths of frontier masculinity/feminity

Please send abstracts of 250 words to maria.oconnell@ttu.edu by June 20, 2012. Thank you.

 

Western Writers Series Digital Editions User Study

Greetings, WLA folks,

A librarian colleague and I are beginning a research project (The Western Writers Series Digital Editions User Study) aimed at assessing the relative use and value of online/digital scholarship compared to print editions of scholarship, and we are using as a case study the Boise State University Western Writers Series–which I know many of you are familiar with. (http://westernwriters.boisestate.edu/)  As part of our research, we plan to interview/gather information from people who have used the Western Writers Series (in classrooms, for research, teaching, scholarship, or in any other context) in the past. We’re seeking details about how, why, and in what context the WWS has been used.

Our request: If you have used any volume of the WWS in the past and would be willing to answer some questions about how you’ve used it, please contact me (off the listserv) and let me know. After we’ve gauged initial interest, we’ll get in touch with those who volunteer with further details. Of course, all volunteers and information will remain anonymous/confidential unless prior approval is given.

We look forward to hearing from you! Please feel free to circulate this request widely.

All best,
Tom Hillard, Boise State University
thomashillard@boisestate.edu

and

Rick Stoddart, Oregon State University
Richard.Stoddart@oregonstate.edu