Having previously done a BBC4 documentary on the westerns, Rich Hall this time looks at the misrepresentation of Native Americans down the years, with particular focus on the role of Hollywood in the portrayal. On the face of it there isn't much to say since it is common knowledge that as a people they got slaughtered and screwed by those colonizing America and then in the media were generally one-dimensional baddies played by tanned-up white actors who mostly fell off horses when the white hero shot them. Sure there have been some revisionist westerns in the last few decades but generally these have been more of a pill for the guilt of the mass audience rather than anything else. So with this general knowledge, it is a fair question to ask what Hall can bring to the table.
Well, in the grand sweep of things the answer is not much because the conclusion you will have at the end of the film is pretty much this one, however Hall still manages to produce an engaging, thoughtful, funny and well structured documentary that makes this case very well and doesn't just rely on accepted wisdom. Presented partly as a narration and partly as a discussion with Dallas Goldtooth, the film starts with the association with the name Geronimo with the mission to kill Bin Laden before jumping back to the man himself. The history is brisk but engaging as the script makes very good choices regarding what gets covered and what doesn't. The focus becomes more and more about recent cultural influences but it never loses touch with the root history.
The tone is jocular but not to the point where it trivializes the subject, just the point where it makes it fresh and entertaining. Hall himself is great as a presenter as he has a real cynical tone which works well with the facts and the subjects. I love him as a standup but his recent move into documentaries is a great one and he consistently makes films as strong as this one. Dallas Goldtooth works very well with him even though mostly he is a foil for Hall. He brings a certain perspective to the subject but talks the documentary down in a way – which allows Hall to avoid the accusation of being patronizing. The additional talking heads also work well as they fit the tone of the film and do not come over too heavy even if their subject is.
The film may not give you a different conclusion than the one you started with, but it does provide a very structured and informative presentation to get you there. The content is well chosen and it is presented with humor while still being informative and engaging. Hall and Goldtooth work very well together, with the former in particular good form.
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