Thursday, March 29, 2012


Medicine River presented many similarities to the book Green Grass Running Water, but unlike the book it identified with a larger audience. I think that the movie was more universal because it was easier to follow and it made the characters easier to relate to. The idea of a trickster was in both stories through coyote in the book and Harlen in the movie.  I found the importance of their deception in the plot very interesting because of the fact that western culture generally looks down on deception and lying.  In these films the trickster characters almost seem to be more important than anyone else because they are the ones who set all of the big events into motion.  The similarity between the female characters who want children but not husbands was also interesting. I think that this is a commentary not only on women being equals but on woman being sick of the problems the men they are surrounded with cause in their life. In Medicine River this it seemed to me that this conflict was resolved more clearly because she seemed to have a steady committed man in her life.  Both Medicine River and Green Grass Running Water contained interesting commentary on Native culture and ideals.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Medicine River: Questions for Thought/Discussion

Medicine River:

This made-for-television film was adapted from a novel of the same title written by Thomas King (the author of Green Grass, Running Water). 

Below are some questions for you to consider as you watch and study the film:
  • Does it seem as though this film is made for a Native or a general audience (or both)?
  • How does it address stereotypes of Natives?  How is it different from or similar to Harold of Orange?
  • What themes does Medicine River deal with?  How are they different from or similar to other films and texts we've studied this semester?
  • Is there/are there trickster figures in the film?  Who?  What are their purposes?
  • Though this film is based on a different text from the one we are studying, what connections do you identify between it and Green Grass, Running Water?
  • What vision of Native American women does the film portray?
  • Who or what is the hero of the film?
  • Thomas King is often quoted with saying, "The truth about stories is, that's all we are."  How does this film represent this idea (or not)?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

a different perspective

This movie was a very different take on the relationship between Anglos and Indians. It took the perspective that white people don’t really know who Indians are. It makes fun of the fact that the well-educated business men and women still think of Indians as a primitive group of hunters rather than just a group of people. There is also an interesting relationship between the givers and the receivers. It shows that white people feel the need to give to Indians even though the reasons for giving are sometimes illegitimate.
                Even though the movie was aimed at an Indian audience I found it funny, and I think that the biggest difference between this movie and all the others we have seen. It made fun of stereotypes and misconceptions in society which I enjoyed. I do feel like I probably missed out on some of the humor because I have not been part of the misconceptions or stereotypes and I do not fully understand them. Today the ‘Family Guy’ type humor would have gone over better than it did when it was released because today it is more socially acceptable to make humor out of a bad scenario.

_Harold of Orange_: Audiences and Tricksters

In Celluloid Indians,  Kilpatrick writes that Harold of Orange "privileges the Native audience in the way that Hollywood films have privileged the mainstream audiences from the beginning of film history" (192). While a Native audiences gets the jokes and recognizes the issues the film addresses, it is harder for a mainstream audience to pick up on all of this, although some of the issues include white fantasies about Indians, stereotypes, colonialism (the Bureau of Indian Affairs), genocide (the Ghost Dance and the Massacre at Wounded Knee), the commodification (commercialization) and acquisition of Indians and their culture (through collecting of "artifacts") and the display of Indians/artifacts in museums.

Kilpatrick writes that Harold and his Warriors are trying to get a grant from a nonprofit, charitable foundation, "where--from a native American trickster's point of view--white money launders its conscience" (183). In other words, the tricksters are actually giving the white foundation what it wants:  an opportunity to assuage its guilt over the U.S.'s treatment of Native Americans. While the board members aren't aware of their patronizing  and patriarchal attitude toward Harold and the Warriors, Native people having been having to deal with it for hundreds of years. From the author/writer Gerald Vizenor and Harold's point of view, laughter and imagination are better ways to deal with these issues than are anger, violence or depression.

Questions for discussion and reflection:
  • Do you feel, as an audience member, that you understand the film?
  • What problems are there with marketing this movie in a commercially successful way?
  • How does this movie align with other narratives or films we have studied to date in this course?
Link to watch the movie online via SnagFilms: 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Connections Between Alexie's Novel and Film

              After watching the movie Smoke Signals and reading the novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I realized many connections and similarities. Part of the reason for these similar traits in each title is their association with Sherman Alexie. His novel was autobiographical and some of the same events I saw in Smoke Signals. There are obvious traits in both that represent the stereotypical Indian lifestyle such as alcoholism and poverty, and then there are traits that represent Alexie’s life. For example, the fire that killed his family (or sister in the novel), his relationship with Victor (Rowdy in the novel), strong relationship with his Grandma, ability to story tell, and his overall appearance in both pieces seem similar. Both the novel and the movie also address what it means to be a “real” Indian. In Smoke Signals, Victor criticizes Thomas’s appearance by mentioning he was not a real Native. Thomas then lets his hair out of his braids and took off his vest to look more intimidating otherwise the whites, as Victor said, “will walk all over him”. The same idea can be seen in the Alexie’s novel when the other Indians on the reservation call him an “apple”, being red on the outside and white on the inside. There seems to be this consistent battle between Indians and whites that isn’t seen with the eye but seems to be buried deep in their conscience. There seems to be metaphorical rope that western society has that keeps pulling Indians farther and farther away from their culture.
                The concept of storytelling is an important aspect in Smoke Signals. The way that Thomas is always going on and on about stories that Victor really has no interest in, brings out Victor’s anger and sadness. There is an underlying issue that Victor didn’t reveal to Thomas until later in the film, but the issue and reason for all his anger was the disappearance of his father. He was always telling Thomas that he would come back, but Thomas knew the real reason he left and why he wasn’t going to come back. Victor’s father’s responsibility for Thomas’s parents’ death left him to be a useless alcoholic that couldn’t deal with his emotions properly. I think the reason Thomas was always telling stories about Victor’s father was because most of them portrayed him as a loveable and kind guy. Victor’s father’s relationship with Thomas was always a loving kind because they both knew who was responsible for Thomas’s parents’ death. At the end of the film, the burning of Victor’s father’s trailer represented respect and was a pled for forgiveness from Thomas’s parents. 

The true signals of Smoke Signals

The title of the film was changed to Smoke Signals from “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”. What do you think the director is trying to say about the significance of smoke signals in this film? What about communication in general?

The director is trying to say that similar to how a Phoenix is reborn from its own ashes, the fire in the movie also causes the characters to be reborn a different person.  In the beginning they said after the fire Victor’s dad was never the same.  He felt guilty about the fire and therefor was changed because of what happened.  This is also the reason he left.
Smoke Signals were used to communicate over long distances using a code.  This idea is also in the movie during the scenes when the house party goes up in flames, when Victor’s dad trailer is set on fire, and the stories Thomas tells. 

When Victor’s dad saved Thomas from the house fire he was the hero, because he saved Thomas.  Except that was the signal that everyone saw, when the true signal that Victors dad seen caused him to feel guilt.

The signal that might have been sent when Victor’s dads trailer was set of fire, may have been a symbol of letting go.  I was also a symbol for Victor’s dad body.  Like the trailer, his body was burned and for both Suzy and for Victor the ashes that were left changed them. 
Also the stories Thomas tells might have a literal meaning but most of them also have a deeper hidden meaning that when interpreted right show what the true message is.   

Thomas Builds-the-Fire

The character of Thomas Builds-the-Fire is developed very uniquely in Smoke Signals.  Where as some might see him as childish for the way he presents himself, on a deeper level, Thomas is the more adult of the two main characters.  For the most part, he does not try to be anything he is not, whereas Victor makes himself do things simply because he thinks it is what he "should be".  Thomas also loves stories and uses them as a way for entertainment, holding on to memories, and other important reasons.

When Thomas tells the story of Victor's mom, he seems more enthralled by it than Victor does.  Even if the story is not entirely fact based, it is believed by the people, including Thomas, and that is really what makes the story meaningful.  Thomas realizes that not everything has to be based on facts to me important and meaningful to someone, and that is why he is the more grown up character throughout most of the movie.

Smoke Singnals

            After reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and then watching the movie Smoke Signals I saw some similarities connecting the two.  One of the most apparent ones was the two main characters being a “big” tough guy, and the other a weaker guy (in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian it was the friendship of Junior, the weaker one, and his tough friend Rowdy, and in Smoke Signals it was the not as close friendship between the weaker Thomas, and the stronger Victor).  This was the first thing that jumped out as a similarity to me.  Then after watching the whole movie I saw the similarity of one of the two boys from each found themselves, and realized something they didn’t exactly know.  In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Junior realized that he can leave the reservation to go to school, and make something of himself even though he is a poor Indian.  But, in Smoke Signals it wasn’t the weaker of the two realizing something, but the stronger one.  After going to Arizona when Victor’s dad passed away, he realized even though his dad left him Victor was always foremost in this life.  Even though Victor would not believe this in the beginning, it was as if he shed the tough guy persona and let some emotion in.
                In Smoke Signals there were many scenes that involved music, or singing by the characters.  When watching a movie about Indians one would think that the music would be the typical drums playing or chatting, but this was not so in this movie.  Although some of the selection still had that Indian feel to them, they were not the stereotypical ones but ones that any culture could listen to.  It was also apparent that the music that was playing went seamlessly with the scene it was in.  There was one particular scene when Victor and Thomas were on the bus to Arizona and they began to sing while sitting on the bus, while they were singing it slowly faded into the same song that would continue to play while the camera pulled away from the driving bus.  I think that all of the song selections that were selected for this movie were done very well.  Every song had a connection to what was going on in the scene, making the music very enjoyable. 

Smoke Signals

The short film Smoke Signals had a striking resemblance to the novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This would make sense considering Sherman Alexie wrote the screen play and the novel. Characters, ideas, and events were similar between the two.
            The main characters of Smoke Signals, Victor and Thomas, had many similar characteristics to characters Rowdy and Junior/Arnold in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Rowdy was mean and tough as a child. His dad was an abusive alcoholic just like Victors. Junior was a “nerdy” Indian boy who wore glasses who has family members who have passed away. 
            Fire accidents happen in both the movie and the novel. The fire in Smoke Signals signifies a rebirth, especially for Victor because he comes to find out how it happened. Victor’s views about his father change when he realized that his father actually did love him and that he left only because he felt so horrible but didn’t mean to leave him and his mother behind. In the novel, Junior’s sister dies when her trailer catches on fire which could possibly signify a rebirth for her to move on to a better place like Junior was doing, going to a white school in search of better education and hope for himself in the future. He wanted more than what a poor Indian like himself was destined to have.

Smoke Signals Analysis

One of the things that I took note on during this movie was all of the flashbacks that took place. I believe that they were used for several reasons, one would be to fill in the holes of the past and also to help form who the main characters truly are. They show both Thomas and Victor as young children and as they continue to grow. The flashbacks are very crucial to understanding the story of Victor's dad leaving and what his life was like at the time causing him to leave. Victor's memory of why his dad left and never returned is quite different than the reason he did actually leave and seeing these flashbacks helps understand that he wanted a better life for his son, not the life he was leading at the time. Therefore, it is necessary for this film to have lots of clips of the past to fully understand the whole story.

Another thing that I noticed was the background music that was used. Especially during the flashbacks there was lots of tribal music played. I'm not sure if it was used to show what real Indians are like, or what it was used to represent. Because these flashbacks were often of the 4th of July party, filled with lots of alcohol and drinking. This is in comparison to the present day Indians like Thomas. Another memorable moment when tribal music was played was when Victor threw his dad's ashes into the river, it was like an Indian being reborn, just like the old traditions.

Smoke Signals Vs The Absolute True Diary of a Partime Indian

      I Thought that there were many similarities between the Movie and the Novel. The Characters were pretty similar. I saw Thomas as Arnold, because in the movie Thomas wanted to go with Victor so bad, he wanted to get off of the rez for a little bit. They both the more sensitive when it comes to people. Then Victor reminds me of Rowdy, they are the rough and tough guys. They both had very abusive dads who were drunk alot and were never around. Victor doesn't treat Thomas very well sometime, but other times he will stand up for him just like Rowdy does for Arnold. Also there friendships are tried at one point. At one point in the movie Victor blowsup at Thomas, and Rowdy and Arnold are no longer friends. But at the end of both of there journeys, they are friends again.

     But Victor is also in a way like Arnold, they are both trying to find who they are. They are both going through hard and tough time in there lifes. They both have to find who they are as there own person. Victor has to figure out why everthing happened the way it did. Arnold has to figure out what he wants to do with his life. At the end Victor finds out that his father was the one who killed Thomas's parents and he could never live with the guilt so he left, because he thought that was the best for everyone. Hee finally found out that his father was very proud of him and wanted what was best for him. Arnold knew that if he would stay on the rez all his talents would go unseen and unwanted. When he went to the all White school he didn't know what to expect, but by the end of the Novel he had friends in both the White school and on the rez. He knew that he could do whatever he wanted and that he wanted to do something with his life.

   I really enjoyed both the Novel and the Movie, I thought that they were both easy to understand and I could see the similarities in both very clearly.

Smoke Signals

A large part of this story takes place in the past, which seems very important. By having flashbacks and showing past event through the characters it showed that the past plays a big role in the future. It helps to explain not only why the characters act the way they act, but why the Indian culture is the way it is. I don’t think it is used as an excuse, but it is used as a way of explaining why it is how it is now.  If it wasn’t for the past the present would be different, and I think this is what the use of flashbacks are used for.
                It also seemed to me that the title was used to convey a general idea that was important. The title Smoke Signals hints at a primitive idea, the idea of communicating with smoke, but I think it means more than that after seeing the movie in its entirety. I think it means that there are times of trial in everyone life, and these trials or obstacles are like fire. When you are going through the problems smoke rises and shows that you are overcoming them and becoming better. The importance of the fathers trailer being located in Phoenix and having a literal ‘phoenix’ event cannot be ignored. As the memory and pain that Victor had associated with his father burned, he raised out of the ashes a new man. He was going through a lot of pain and trial from the past, but as the fire burned and the smoke rose it signified that he was letting go of the bad, and he was able to become better because of it.

Smoke Signals

                There are many different significances to the past in Smoke Signals. The flashbacks into Victor’s childhood show the side of his father that everyone perceives him as. They show how he had a drinking problem just like the stereotypical Indian and how he fought with his wife and beat Victor. However, there are some flashbacks about his father like when Victor and Thomas go to get Victor’s father’s ashes from Arizona and they meet Suzie Songs. Suzie describes how she was good friends with Victor’s father and that he told her many good stories about his son and the good times he had with him and his family. She told them the story of when they played basketball against two Jesuits and how Victor was unstoppable and ended up making the final basket to win the game. We end up finding out though, that it was true except in the end Victor didn’t make the basket, his father just said that in the story to show that he was proud of his son no matter if he made the basket or not.
                Another view of the past is through the stories that Thomas tells. He describes many different stories of the past and always does so in the same sort of way. He closes his eyes and acts out the stories in such a believable manner as though you were really there.  Thomas’ stories describe a story of the past that had happened, however, they weren’t completely true. He always had a way of putting a twist on the story to make it better. They were believable but not always true. For example when he tells the story to Suzie Songs about how Victor’s mother had made 50 pieces of fry bread but there were 100 people but she knew a way to feed everyone by ripping the bread in half. That story showed that Victor’s mom was the best fry bread maker and everyone from around came to gather just to have some of it.