Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 1976. Dino De Laurentiis Company, Lion’s Gate Films, Talent Associates-Norton Simon. Screenplay by Alan Rudolph, Robert Altman, based on the play Indians by Arthur Kopit. Cinematography by Paul Lohmann. Produced by Robert Altman. Music by Richard Baskin. Production Design by Anthony Masters. Costume Design by Anthony Powell. Film Editing by Peter Appleton, Dennis M. Hill.
Robert Altman followed the enormous success of Nashville with another examination of American culture, this one going further into the nation’s past. He exercises his talent for experimental free-association as we follow a number of characters taking part in a wild west show being put on by the famous Buffalo Bill (Paul Newman) in the late nineteenth century.
At the centre of the jazzy improvisation is Buffalo Bill’s decision to hire Sitting Bill (Frank Kaquitts) to take part in his show, which recreates “true” scenes of battle for paying audiences, but mainly for the purposes of exploiting his co-star and perpetuating the myth of the heroic white man taming the wild frontier.
Coming out as it did during the nation’s bicentennial celebrations (Altman insisted that it was coincidence), it is impossible not to think of the film as an attempt at incisive criticism on the subject of America’s own mythmaking. This would be more effective if the film actually had a greater punch: the various scenes are so loosely linked together and feel so natural that it hardly feels like an actual film at all.
Despite such a lack of tension, however, it is a strangely watchable project, particularly thanks to such great performers being involved and the pristinely beautiful cinematography by Paul Lohmann that still looks dazzling today.
Berlin Film Festival Award: Golden Bear