“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]


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.