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DID YOU READ

“Reel Injun,” or just playing one on TV?

“Reel Injun,” or just playing one on TV? (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

Close your eyes. Say the phrase “Native American” and examine the image your mind conjures up. The man I see, informed by a lifetime watching movies, is seated atop a horse, an elaborate necklace dangling in front of his chest, his face flecked with war paint, his hair held in place by a headband. Who do you see? Is he wearing a headband? He might; Native Americans in the movies very often do. In real life, though, Native Americans almost never wore headbands. Movie Native Americans only wear them because back in the silent movie era, Native Americans were played by white actors in redface and they needed something to hold their wigs on during stunts and fights. Hence, headbands. So many stuntmen wore so many headbands that they became an intrinsic part of Native Americans’ image on screen, and like so much about the way they’ve been portrayed in movies for a century, it is utterly inauthentic.

The gulf between the Native Americans of the film world and those of the real world is the subject of SXSW selection “Reel Injun” by filmmaker Neil Diamond, who just officially replaced “Hunger” director Steve McQueen as the director with the most unfortunately confusing name in the entire world. This Neil Diamond is a member of the Cree nation, and, according to his official bio on SXSW.com, “one of Canada’s foremost Aboriginal filmmakers and photographers.”

In “Reel Injun,” Diamond blends two popular documentary formats into one hybrid: The Documentarian’s Journey, where the filmmaker goes on a quest to find something or someone (e.g. “Roger & Me”) and The Minority Survey, which traces the history of a minority’s representation in cinema (e.g. “Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema”). Diamond, who narrates the film and appears on-screen, announces that he’s taking a rez car to Hollywood to uncover the truth about its rocky relationship with Native Americans. Along the way, he examines different native stereotypes — the “Noble Injun” of “The Silent Enemy,” the “Savage Injun” of “Stagecoach,” the “Groovy Injun” of “Billy Jack” — and charts how they have evolved over time.

03122010_ReelInjun2.jpgThe road trip storyline doesn’t pay off. Diamond spends the entire movie traveling to Hollywood, then when he finally gets there, he interviews one actor for a few minutes and leaves. That whole aspect is just a blatant attempt to graft a narrative onto a doc that doesn’t otherwise have (or need) one. What redeems the travel portions of the film are the modern Native Americans that Diamond encounters on his journey, whose diverse lives and livelihoods serve to counterbalance the stereotypical imagery of the old Hollywood movies Diamond shows.

There’s the stuntman who brags about his range (he can play Latinos and Muslims as well as natives). There are activists who, in 1973, were under siege from the American military when Marlon Brando had Sacheen Littlefeather accept his Academy Award for “The Godfather” in 1972 as a protest of the mistreatment of Native Americans. We also meet surviving relatives of Iron Eyes Cody, the man who played the Native American who cried about pollution in the iconic 1970s commercial. Diamond calls Iron Eyes Cody the most prolific Native American actor in history even though, in reality, Cody wasn’t even Native American. Maybe that’s why he was really crying in that commercial.

Though one independent documentary can’t erase, correct, or repair the mistakes of generations of cinematic slander, “Reel Injun” does, in some small way, reclaim a little bit of the Native Americans’ on-screen heritage for Native Americans. The historical clips are varied and extensive, as are the array of talking heads, from critics and historians to filmmakers like Clint Eastwood and Chris Eyre (no mention of “Avatar,” though, sadly). The film is enlightening, entertaining, and, thanks to the contributions of Oneida comedian Charlie Hill, very funny. Probably the best thing I can say about it is to tell you that the next time I close my eyes and imagine a “Native American,” I can promise you this: he won’t be wearing a headband.

“Reel Injun” will be released by Lorber Films this summer.

[Photos: “Reel Injun,” Lorber Films, 2009]

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.