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Cindy Bruchman

Films. Culture. History. Photography. Writing. Let's talk.

Meet Kay, the Hopi Indian

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Inside the Gold Plated Pistol

It’s 1927. Kay is Hopi who lost her family at a young age and was picked up by a German couple in Clarkdale, Arizona. Over the years, Kay helped plant the orchard and tend the animals. She felt at peace with the cycle of the ranch nourished by the Verde River. One morning a shot rang out. Kay stole George’s precious, gold plated pistol. Then, her new friend Sally dragged her to a film shooting of a Zane Grey Western where she is discovered and dressed as an Indian male on the set. When an Apache family comes to work at the farm, Kay must come to terms with her hybrid identity; her quiet childhood becomes a chapter of the past. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 3:

Sally took Kay down to the second floor of the boarding house to the communal bathroom and locked the door. She ran hot water in the porcelain tub and added soap flakes until the bubbles jiggled. She assessed Kay’s shabby dress and matted hair and told her she stank.

     “I try to bathe every day. You really must,” she explained to Kay as she helped her take off her clothes and examined her. Kay blushed. Sally looked at her dispassionately as though she were a rag doll which had fallen into a mud puddle. 

     “I’ve got dresses in the costume closet. You soak and I’ll be back.”

     Sally left her alone. Kay listened to the tub sprocket drip water into the mound of bubbles. The water was hot but felt good to her stiff arms and thighs from climbing the orchard ladder yesterday to prune the row of Persimmon trees. This morning, she hitched a ride on the back of a truck that contained two calves and a goat. The driver drove up the swaying road to Jerome. She leaned against the calves and rubbed the downy hair above their noses while the hot sun caused all to steam and she felt like an over-ripe persimmon, puckered and moldered.

     Kay exhaled slowly and tried to submerge until her shoulders were covered. Though the tub was long, her heels went up over the end and exposed her callused feet. A half hour later Sally still had not returned and the water was cold. Kay stepped out of the stained tub and dried herself, and that was when Sally burst into the room with an armful of clothes and set them on a bench next to the vanity cabinet. Mrs. Weese taught her how to change without exposing herself. Nacktheit ist eine Sünde. Kay had alternated between three smocks and a nightgown, ever mindful to hide her body because nakedness was a sin. In her room at the wash basin, Kay sponge-cleaned her body daily, and at the yard pump, she washed her hair once a week.  Sally threw away the bandages that functioned as a brassiere and gave her a soft, side-lacing bra and new cotton panties. Kay changed into the clothes Sally brought her. It looked like an old cowboy costume, and she wondered if Sally was playing a joke.

              “Whatta’ya know—an Injun-Cowboy,” she said, mimicking her crude aunt.

     Kay ignored the remark. She shook her head and said, “This looks ridiculous.”

        Kay took off the vest and left on the blue chambray shirt and the gauchos, liking them more than her old dress. Sally nibbled on a slice of bread coated with butter and sugar, and she tore a piece off and gave it to Kay. She was hungry.

     Sally lifted a handful of Kay’s hair that fell to her waist and tried to smooth her locks. Sally inspected the ends. “Have you ever had your hair cut? Mind if I cut it?”

              Kay felt her eyes bulge. “To your length? Nein.

        “No, it wouldn’t look right at your ears. Let me trim up the ends a few inches. Your hair looks like the tail end of a horse.”

        She thought of Marvin and envisioned him swinging his tail like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. She felt a pang of guilt for being away from the farm and hoped the old horse would have enough sense to stand in the shade under the Cottonwood trees. Kay thought again about being angry, but the luxuriousness of the bath and Sally’s sketchy hospitality brought out a giggle for which Sally took as consent. She located the black shears from the top drawer of a dresser. She babbled on about the upcoming day and patted her shoulder. Kay sat on the toilet seat and let her play with her hair. Kay tried to remember a time when Mrs. Weese had touched her affectionately or hugged her. She could not remember. Mrs. Weese had never been mean to her, but she had not doted, either. As Sally’s white hands snipped the black straw that was her hair, Kay thought about the farm animals who twisted their heads whenever she patted their flanks. They considered the gesture, their dumb eyes neither accepting or rejecting the touch. She wondered if this was how she appeared to Sally. Was Sally’s attention an act of pity or friendship? The light of the sun stabbed through the high window and illuminated the dingy bathroom. The water gurgled out of the tub.

     Sally faced her with eyes eager with anticipation. “I–we, have to go to the Montana Hotel later. It’s Thursday, and tonight is the first Nickel-hopper dance.”

        Kay did not understand.  Sally’s black hair shined. She did a Charleston Step. “Dancing. Men will come and pay for a dance. We’ll make a nice pile of change, we will. You’ll see.”

 

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The picture above of the Hopi man weaving a blanket is an example of old and rare Native American photos taken circa 1900, and I found them at Paul Ratner’s 2014 article in THE HUFFINGTON POST

I have a lot of research to share regarding Southwestern Indians, but I will do that in a separate post. Thanks for reading!

 

L13FC: Terry Gilliam’s Trilogy

CindyLucky13Banner (1)Welcome one and all as this month’s film discussion centers around writer/director Terry Gilliam and his futuristic trio spread out over thirty years. I am much obliged to share today’s event with Australian movie buff, Jordan at Epilepticmoondancer, who shared his admiration for Brazil(1985),12 Monkeys(1995), and Zero Theorem(2013) with me; the more we emailed about this set, we discovered there was a lot to discuss. Fantasy Drama? Thriller/Tech noir? Dystopian Dark Comedy? Science Fiction? However you decide to classify them, the eccentric mind of Gilliam is a fun ride. Let’s go!

Jordan’s thoughts: 

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Though a brilliant satire, darkly hilarious and filmed by the inimitable Terry Gilliam, giving the film some crazy angles and busy sets, at its core, Brazil is a love story. Poor government worker Sam Lowry is lonely, and dreams about Jill from the beginning of the movie, while the film is essentially poking fun at the government by making it impossible for Lowry to track down information on this person, burying him under paperwork and government malarkey.

twelve-monkeys-original-600x90012 Monkeys also has dreams that link the film together, but here they are much more thought out, as the dreams slightly change each time we see them. They impact the story in very different ways. Again the film focuses on a lonely protagonist, Cole, played by Bruce Willis. This film is set in a dystopian future, and to begin with it seems that love is impossible for Cole, living underground, a prisoner. But through his travels through time, and his stressed relationship with what was his psychiatrist, he finally finds someone he can bond with, someone he loves. Importantly, this love doesn’t feel forced; it is so psychologically draining it would be odd for the two to not form some sort of connection. Additionally, like Lowry, Cole doesn’t possess much in the way of showing initiative – both seem rather naive to their respective words. Both films satarise society in one way or another too, and this, added to his incredibly unique style, is what somewhat successfully links the three films.
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In my opinion, the Zero Theorem deviated from the formula- the dreams, the love story. Qoen is also a lonely protagonist, another common motif of these trilogies, and he, like Sam and Cole, is naive to the world he lives in. The Zero Theorem also pokes fun at modern society, too. What differs isn’t the lack of dream sequences (though they really were done perfectly in 12 Monkeys) but the fact that this lonely man doesn’t find love is what stilts the film. And I’m not a sentimental guy, I usually hate romance, but the love was what made those first two so special. That love isn’t present in Zero, rendering the story a little jarring and confusing.

Cindy’s impressions: 

I’m a fan of contrasts, and Terry Gilliam delivers oxymorons in abundance to my delight. Through Gilliam’s imagination, the ludicrousness of governmental control is the vessel for all three films: inefficient bureaucrats, Homeland Security(?), preservation of the aesthetically insipid, and worshipping technological advancements, made by humans, cripple them.

For all the invasive warnings in Brazil; the topsy-turvy future where animals rule and humans are caged in 12 Monkeys; and the complete loss of the cognizant individual to the simulated state of being in Zero Theorem, Terry Gilliam has been warning us for decades about the devolution of man. With this heavy message, he delivers his ultimate contrast: give the bad news with a healthy dose of laughs. His perverted sense of humor has had me in stitches since I was a teen. His garish sets in Brazil and Zero Theorem, the vaudevillian sound effects punctuating conversations, the askew camera angles and frenetic conversations such as Brad Pitt in 12 Monkeys (his best performance) or Robert DeNiro and Bob Hoskins in Brazil, or Tilda Swinton as Dr. Think-Rom in Zero Theorem come immediately to mind. You are scared because you’re in a bad-acid nightmare at the carnival and laughing with the clowns glaring in your face. Brilliant.

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Need more contrasts? How about the artistic images that have you morbidly curious? The baby face, the flying man in glitter, that red techno-suit, the youth-obsessed, cheek-pull of Mom, and the zoo animals running amuck the city? The infinity sets and industrialization displayed like evil traps of the mind and body? Oh, I love that wicked mind of yours, Terry Gilliam. Thanks for the laughs.

Matt Damon never looked better in Zero Theorem.
Matt Damon never looked better in Zero Theorem.

Which dark message resonates with you? Which lonely character at odds with his world do you like best?

Beryl Markham (1902-1986)

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Getting to know British pioneer aviator, Beryl Markham, came about in a roundabout way. The first instance came this summer when I was attracted to the cover and bought a copy of Paula McLain’s 2016 best seller, Circling the Sun. Blending fact with fiction, her prose aroused the stunning setting of 1920s Kenya with authenticity.

Do you recommend 'The Paris Wife'?
Do you recommend ‘The Paris Wife’?

As I read the novel, I vaguely remembered it was based on a true person. About half way through the story, the life of Beryl Markham began to feel like an epic romance novel, something from Margaret Mitchell’s imagination, the heroine’s life too outlandish to believe. The ingredients included the British Royalty, Kenyan tribes, eccentric personalities and their parties, horse breeders, big game hunting, love triangles, Beryl’s swinging passions between horses, men, and aviation. Include other associations such as coffee-plantation owner Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke whose memoir Out of Africa(1937) inspired me long ago. It followed with the film adaptation in 1985 starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford–still one of the best films of that decade. After reading Circling the Sun, I itched to read Beryl Markham’s memoir; a colleague passed along her copy to me three years ago. West with the Night was one of those books I knew I needed to read, but it collected dust on my bookshelf instead.

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West with the Night, published in 1942 did not do well at first publication. Thanks in part to Ernest Hemingway, his praise for her writing precipitated the second publication forty years later with success. She was four when her family moved to Kenya from Britain. Raised by her father, she learned to ride and train horses and became the first licensed female to train horses in Kenya. In the 1920s, her relationship with the dashing Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford’s character in Out of the Africa) inspired her into aviation. In 1936, she became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east (Abingdon, England) to west (Nova Scotia).

Over the years, critics have raised doubts whether her beautiful prose was an original effort or perhaps shaped in part with her third husband, Raoul Schumacher. Regardless of the controversy, I’d like to think the descriptions and tales of Africa–the animals, the horses, and the people, like her wise childhood friend, Kibbi were expressed by her. Here is a hefty sentence, a sampling of her writing from West with the Night (160):

The shores of its lake are rich in silence, lonely with it, but the monotonous flats of sand and mud that circle the shallow water are relieved of dullness, not by only an occasional bird or flock of birds or by a hundred birds; as long as the day lasts Nakuru is no lake at all, but a crucible of pink and crimson fire–each of its flames, its million flames, struck from the wings of a flamingo. 

I remember in the film Out of Africa, the birds played a symbolic role romanticizing the beauty of Kenya. In Paula McClain’s novel, she includes this scene of flamingos, and the imagery stands out. I recommend all of it: Paula McClain’s Circling the Sun; Beryl Merkham’s West with the Night; Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you watch the film version. These leading women were fierce individualists and trailblazers.

Here’s an interesting article with Paula McClain about Circling the Sun. You can read it  HERE.

One of my favorite scenes from the film Out of Africa. It’s no wonder Beryl loved to fly. Ahh, that score by John Barry!

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