Friday, December 30, 2011
On These Amazing Shadows
A run of the mill advertisement for the National Film Registry, which is an admirable foundation (a subset of the Library of Congress) with a fascinating group of films covering a surprisingly wide range of American film. The doc is all talking heads and movie clips, but the clips are great and some of the heads are inspired (Nina Paley!, The Self-Styled Siren!, George Takei!). Unfortunately, the last 20 minutes devolves into a minority roundup, with boxes checked for marginalized groups the Registry recognizes: documentaries, animation, experimental film, women directors, African and Native Americans, etc. This wouldn't be so bad, merely plainly schematic and a bit pandering, if they didn't pair The Searchers with The Birth of a Nation as racist films that are countered in turn by The Exiles and Boyz N the Hood. Setting aside the fact that Boyz N the Hood is a pretty lame film, the mistreatment of The Searchers is criminal. And it's not just the filmmakers at fault, though they include clips from the film taken out of context to prove how racist Hollywood was against Indians (which is kinda the point of the film but never mind), they get a Native American studies professor to talk about it, though it's unclear if they've misedited him. No, the worst is Charles Burnett, director of the marvelous Killer of Sheep, talking about how he never knew how racist The Searchers was until he watched it with a friend who walked out in the middle of it. When he asked her what was wrong, she asked "Can't you see all the racism?" I don't know which is worse, Burnett for not realizing the film was about racism despite seeing it several times, or the woman drawing such an extreme conclusion after walking out halfway through. I don't know how this idea that one of the most complex, powerful and moving indictments of racism ever to come out of Hollywood was in fact racist itself merely because it showed acts of racism in all their ugliness, but this kind of thing has got to stop. And equating this with one of the most vile perversions of the art form in its history? Unconscionable.