Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Only Robert Altman would have had the wily nerve to release his cynical, ultra-revisionist Western oddity Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson on the bicentennial anniversary of the United States. It's a film easier to admire than it is to outright "love." Casually ripping apart the shared notions of "white nobility" and the "violent Native American savage," this is a darkly comical, defiantly strange movie with a careening tone and a hazy, sometimes murky visual style that relies heavily on long shots with multiple characters in the frame, all of whom are talking at once, without any close-ups to establish which voice is coming from which mouth. Altman's use of sound has always been a point of conversation, but in this film, it may have reached its apex in terms of the use of multiple and simultaneous audio tracks. Co-written with frequent collaborator Alan Rudolph, the film has an episodic, farcical approach to the material, and arriving immediately after his much celebrated Nashville, my guess is that critics and audiences didn't know what to do with Altman's latest at the time of its release. Paul Newman is terrific as Buffalo Bill, taking the myth out of the man, and layering him in alcoholic glee. This is a phenomenally ambitious, wholly original, and totally unique item in the legendary filmography of one of America's greatest and most influential filmmakers.