Thursday, April 21, 2011
DANCES WITH WOLVES
(November 1990, U.S.)
By 1990, Kevin Costner was a major Hollywood movie star who could seemingly do no wrong on screen. This was his directorial debut of an epic western film which tells the story of a Civil War-era United States Army lieutenant who travels to the American frontier to find a military post. Along the way, he develops a deep friendship and understanding with a group of nearby Sioux Indians. It was credited as a leading influence for the revitalization of the Western genre of filmmaking in Hollywood at the time. The cinematography that captures the frontier as it was filmed in Wyoming and South Dakota is grand and breathtaking, much in the way that director John Ford used to capture decades before.
Costner as Lt. John J. Dunbar (not Dumb-Bear!) finds himself drawn to the lifestyle and customs of the Sioux tribe and begins spending most of his time with them. He becomes a hero among the Sioux and is accepted as an honored guest after he locates a migrating herd of buffalo and participates in the hunt. Dunbar also befriends a wolf he dubs "Two Socks" due to the white hair on its front feet. One day, the Sioux observe Dunbar and Two Socks chasing each other in play and promptly give him his Sioux name "Dances with Wolves." Although I have to say, as a matter of absolute accuracy, Dunbar is actually RUNNING with the wolf in that sequence. But I suppose a title like, "Running with the Wolf" would not have been as catchy. There is also, as cliche would have it, a beautiful romance between Dunbar and "Stands with a Fist", the white, adopted daughter of "Kicking Bird", the tribe's medicine man. By the latter part of the film, Dunbar's identity and loyalties have clearly joined with the Sioux tribe and will ultimately provoke his betrayal against the United States Union army he once served under. Thing is, when you get a look at some of the ignorant, illiterate low-life's that occupy this army, his betrayal will seem all the more victorious for him, for the tribe and for the film's audience.
This is a spectacular film that deserves all the fame it got back in the day. But would you believe that I had no interest in seeing it when it was first released? I was practically forced to see it as a required pre-requisite in order to see a free advanced screening of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in February 1991. So I suppose we can call that an example of some serendipidous film fortune. I should also mention that DANCES WITH WOLVES is my wife Beth's favorite film. I love you, darling!
DANCES WITH WOLVES won the Oscar for best picture of 1990. As much as I loved it, though, my pick would have been for Martin Scorsese's GOODFELLAS instead.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Wind In His Hair: "Dances With Wolves! I am Wind In His Hair! Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?"