Buffalo Bill And The Indians, Or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson, Robert Altman, 1976

After the historic wins of the first ever Native Americans from ‘Indian Country’ to the US congress, Deb Haaland from New Mexico and Sharice Davids from Kansas, both not incidentally women; Robert Altman’s brilliant, satirical staging, as ‘entertainment,’ of American colonialism, came to mind. In Altman’s film, Sitting Bull has had a dream in which he met the ‘Great Father’, the president of the United States, then Grover Cleveland, at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West circus, in order to make a ‘last stand’ before being shipped off to a prison in Standing Rock. Sitting Bull’s last stand, in the film, was to request something of Cleveland, one national leader to another, the substance of which is never disclosed, but is easily imagined. Altman’s satire is of course a brilliant expression of the -hinge form of tragicomedy. Cleveland refuses Sitting Bull’s request with ever allowing the latter to state what it is. Sitting Bull is then shipped off to Standing Rock and is killed before he arrives there. And his death is portrayed in the media of that time in such a way as to make the US government fault-free.

Sound familiar?

Altman’s Buffalo Bill, were it to be remade today, with the Republican party and it’s Great Father leader in power, would have to shift from cynical satire to abject parody, were it to reflect 2018 rather than 1976, the date of course that marked the tricentennial of the ‘birth’ of the United States of America. Of note is that just a year later, in 1977, the first episode of Star Wars was released when George Lucas put a definitive end to the radical New Hollywood upon which it was economically dependent; along with its Truffaut and French New Wave Cinema inspired influences, to which Altman’s film was a significant contribution. Altman’s film clearly draws on both Michelangelo Antonioni and Franz Kafka’s Amerika, among many other sources.

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Altman’s Buffalo Bill came to mind not least because of the election of two Native American women to congress for the first time in US history: Deb Haaland of New Mexico, and Sharice Davids of Kansas. A point worth repeating. Two Native American women have been elected to the US congress from traditionally very conservative states.

Here is the partial voice of Deb Haaland:

Buffalo Bill And The Indians, Or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson, Robert Altman, 1976

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