Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976) is a English movie. Robert Altman has directed this movie. Paul Newman,Joel Grey,Kevin McCarthy,Harvey Keitel are the starring of this movie. It was released in 1976. Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976) is considered one of the best Comedy,Western movie in India and around the world.
Buffalo Bill plans to put on his own Wild West sideshow, and Chief Sitting Bull has agreed to appear in it. However, Sitting Bull has his own hidden agenda, involving the President and General Custer.
Fans of Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976) also like
A film that divides critics equally, Robert Altman's 1976 offering is a clunky movie that fails to sparkle and delivers far less than it should. Flowing haired Paul Newman plays the titular hero, and the premise centres around his Wild West sideshow and his attempts to lure the legend that is white-American nemesis Sitting Bull into the show ring. Meanwhile, the great red Indian chief secretly has his own agenda, and the stand off comes in Newman sacrificing historical fact for blatant commercialism whilst Sitting Bull wants his opportunity to put the record straight on behalf of him and his people. Altman went on record and denied any deliberate political allegory, but there is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. The main problem with the movie for me is that a Wild West sideshow with the chief protagonists turned into circus acts just doesn't work. And whilst Gerladine Chaplin is highly watchable as Annie Oakley, with her breathtaking shooting skills ready to go wrong at any minute, there is little to engage the viewer here and it doesn't rise above the mediocre. Newman delivers his lines admirably, and, for such a consummate professional is not inconvenienced by the fact that the movie misfires, but it's too slow in places. He was very similar in WUSA, where he was perfectly able to display his skills with ease whilst all around him was uninspiring, but there are a few too many movies like that in the Newman cannon. This is probably for strict Newman or Altman fans only (unless you really want to spot a youthful looking Harvey Keitel) but you won't be rushing to see this one again and again.
This movie is certainly worth watching if you're an Altman fan, or a fan of revisionist Westerns. The performances are great (as per usual when Altman is at the helm) and the movie is entertaining enough on its own merits. The two biggest flaws, though, are these: Compared to most of Altman's films, much of the dialogue in this movie is very "stagy" and theatrical. I suppose it's supposed to be that way because of the questions of "myth" and "legend" that the story concerns itself with, but my impression was that such theatrical-sounding dialogue didn't mesh well with Altman's typically naturalistic style of filming. The other problem I had is that the whole subject matter -- myth vs. reality, history vs. reality, show business vs. reality, etc. -- isn't really explored with any depth or subtlety. We're constantly being reminded that Buffalo Bill is a man who created his own legend out of lies, and that that is the basis of modern show business to this day, but really, that just didn't strike me as being a particularly insightful observation. This is hardly the first movie to point out that lies are often more "real" (or more attractive) than the truth, and Altman doesn't seem to bring anything new to the table. Still, it's Altman, which means it's well-made, entertaining and beautiful to look at. I don't think this will ever be considered one of his major works but it's certainly worth a look.
I can understand some of the arguments that people have made against this film through the years. Its revisionist history can seem pretty simplistic, and its depiction of Indians seems stereotypical and not particularly enlightened. Or at least that all seems true on first glance. But I can also understand why a few revisionist film critics, including some of us on IMDb, are beginning to re-examine Buffalo Bill. I've seen a couple of people refer to it as a masterpiece, and I'm very much leaning towards that direction myself. Even if one were to find its themes and message poorly done, it would be hard to deny the grand vision of Altman in this film. This is one of his most ambitious, perhaps surpassed only by Nashville. The entire movie takes place in and around Buffalo Bill's theme park-like show. The Wild West is pretty much dead, and Bill (played by Paul Newman), who famously hunted buffalo and fought with Indians, has encapsulated the experience in a little world all his own. He's shined it up into some rip-roaring entertainment, a sort of Hollywood before Hollywood existed. The film is as much a show-biz exposé as The Player (and I would say it's much more effective). We meet a fantastic cast of characters, played by many of the best actors around giving wonderful performances. Among them are Joel Grey, Kevin McCarthy, Burt Lancaster, Harvey Keitel (really playing against type as Bill's goofy, childlike nephew), and Geraldine Chaplin (as Annie Oakley). Everyone, including Buffalo Bill himself, is deftly characterized in a very Altmanesque way. They wander through a semi-story, often seen and heard only in glimpses. Chaplin in particular, who gives probably the most memorable performance in the film, has very few lines. Mostly she characterizes Annie through her face. The Wild West Show is becoming more and more popular, and grossing more and more money. Their newest attraction is Sitting Bull, the man who famously defeated George Custer at Wounded Knee several years earlier. To have Sitting Bull for his show makes Bill extremely proud. In his mind, he has now defeated and subjugated the one Indian who really gave the white man a run for his money, and, by doing so, he has single-handedly tamed the West. Unfortunately for him, Sitting Bull is no subject. He has only joined the show because he has dreamed that, if in the show, he would get to meet President Grover Cleveland. We only once see Sitting Bull speak, when he attempts to talk to Cleveland. The rest of the time, his servant, Halsey (Will Sampson, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), speaks for him. While he's participating in the show, he wants to change it in order to make it more factual. Altman's detractors will have a field day with Buffalo Bill and the Indians. The biggest complaint against the director, as it seems to me, is that he is overly cynical and hates his characters. I'll admit that that is sometimes true, but I also think that the detractors see that aspect where it just doesn't exist. It does exist in this film, however. Buffalo Bill is most certainly a target for derision. Most of the action in the film revolves around the man being humiliated by Sitting Bull. Bill thinks he's the greatest adventurer who ever lived, and the film delights in having him showed up by the Sioux chief. I do not believe that it is an artistically invalid to have a character as the central target of a satire. Network, made the same year, has Faye Dunnaway, for instance. Who can like her by the end of the film. The difference is, I suppose, that Dunnaway wins some pathos by the end of the film. Maybe that's a difference, anyway. Buffalo Bill might have a bit of it by the end of the film, I think. The character of Buffalo Bill is a wonderful satirical target because he really exists in such a state of absurdity. Once a genuine American military hero, Bill Cody wrapped up his entire experience and put it inside a bottle. In that bottle, the Wild West grew more and more fantastic, and less and less real. The environment is controlled, the goings on are fake, and any bit of history is freely created. It's not unfair, I suppose, to say Buffalo Bill and the Indians has a somewhat simplistic revisionist history behind it, but, in a big way, it is itself about revisionist history. Buffalo Bill Cody was revising history, creating entertainment out of true, historical human misery. And that's not only the suffering of the Native Americans, which is at the forefront of the film, of course, but also white settlers. The film begins with a rehearsal of an Indian raid on homesteaders. The bigger message is that was what Hollywood did, as well. Bill likes his world, loves it, in fact. It is a celebration of his ego (the film often focuses on the gigantic portraits of Bill, which certainly would garner much criticism from some people and I would agree that it's not particularly subtle, but I would also say that it is pretty funny at times). Sitting Bull, one of the greatest Indian leaders and, from most accounts, an enormously clever and skilled man, completely undermines Bill's superiority as soon as he arrives. A blowhard as big as Buffalo Bill deflates pretty easily. Sitting Bull's presence also works to make Bill finally look around himself and begin to question the false world he has erected around himself. This thread of the film is resolved, at least as regards the narrative, in the climactic sequence, where Bill encounters Sitting Bull in a dream. This sequence is probably the low point of the film, I think. It more or less spells out everything that the film has been building to, and it doesn't really accomplish anything new. We know Altman for his amazing and original climaxes, and this one is certainly not one of his best. Still, it does work in a strictly functional way, and it is followed by a truly interesting and exquisite final sequence. This final sequence, which I won't discuss in this review, is not merely restating what has already come before, as I believe many viewers will take it. This, I think, is where the character of Buffalo Bill claims his pathos. Paul Newman's eyes in that final close-up are both frightening and quite sad, in any number of ways. Any film as shallow as many people like to claim this one is would never have given rise to this much depth in one man's expression. If you watch it and don't see it, I really think you've missed the point. Even if you don't buy into the content of Buffalo Bill and the Indians, it's hard to imagine being unimpressed by Altman's direction or any of the other technical aspects of the film. Many claim it to be a bore, but I think Altman was just light years ahead of his audience at times. It's very entertaining and especially very funny at times. There are any number of masterful sequences. In my opinion, it is second in achievement only to Nashville.
Don't see this film if you don't like sarcasm! It's not as much about the history behind Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show as it is about making fun of the racist attitudes present in many Western films. There are also some good laughs available when Annie Oakley shoots and her "target" flinches with anxiety. The satire also explores the way Bill runs his show, or the way any CEO might run a company, and whether truth or entertainment is more important to the crowd. The truth Sitting Bull wishes to bring to the people is much less important to Bill than are his ticket sales. The juxtaposition of Sitting Bull's meekness and the way Bill portrays him in the show as a murderous, ruthless warrior is really brilliant.
I disagree with the general consensus that this film was a misstep. Albeit having a big star like Paul Newman in an Altman film unbalances things a bit, but it is the surety with which the thematic elements are juggled that distinguishes it. I can see this film being a companion piece to `The Candidate,' because as much as `Buffalo Bill' is about the onset of capricious celebrity and the occupation of `Superstar' where it is strongest is in its political parallels. That way we keep Butch and Sundance together. The most perfectly Altman scene in the picture occurs when President Grover Cleveland (played ineptly by the same actor who was terrible opposite Carol Burnett in `A Wedding' [sometimes a good reason not to cast non-actors is that many of them can't act!]) is told that Buffalo Bill coins all his own sayings, a shady character whispers in Cleveland's ear and he replies, `All great men do.' Despite everyone speaking more or less as though they were in an Altman picture from modern day the twists put on the script of Arthur Kopit's play `Indians' make it much more cinematic (even though the majority of the action takes place within the gates of Fort Ruth). I believe the change to Altmanspeak overcame the usual problems of stageplay-screenplay, and Altman's `Greatest Show On Earth' mentality provides us with excellent reenactments of acts from the show. I believe Newman gets better as it goes along, he and Altman reveal how much more he knows about Bill than Bill knows about himself without winking or indicating, just by letting it play out, especially in his last big aria to the `ghost' of Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull is as enigmatic as Cleveland is simple, you never can tell if he's just as dopey or if he really is a great spiritual leader, you never can tell for sure if his interpreter (the great Will Sampson, fresh off `One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest') is helping Sitting Bull, selling him out, just interpreting. The events seem to indicate that Sitting Bull's dreams of foresight are correct, and the final image of Bill tearing the feathered headdress away from Will Sampson's interpreter, who has a white name, then holding the scalp up with apparent joy in their acclaim and terror at the part he has played in it says it all. Annie Oakley, the white person who has the most genuine sympathy for Sitting Bull, never has a righteous speech about it, never gets preachy about treating Indians like humans; she just says she'll leave if Sitting Bull leaves, he asks to stand next to her in a picture and she cries when she hears he's been shot. This is a morally complex film, and part of what it asks us to consider is what happens when the livelihood and lives themselves of actual people can be controlled by a showman like Bill who cares nothing for them and has reached his present power without any greatness to recommend him, or a schill like Cleveland (apocryphal, I might add, there isn't much to support that Cleveland was a figurehead particularly, he was written that way for a reason). Notice how Bill and Cleveland often speak in aphorisms that sound deep but usually mean absolutely nothing. At one point Buffalo Bill parries an aphorism Sitting Bull is using to indicate the conditions under which he will stay with one that Bill immediately tells his crew was giving Bull back some of his own confusing mumbo-jumbo. The same style of sayings are used by Burt Lancaster's `Legend Maker,' the writer of 10-cent westerns that made William F. Cody a star, and when you're watching a movie about the first hero made entirely by myth, with no military or political background, just great accomplishments that were completely made up, made right around the bicentennial by a maverick such as Altman I think such things are worth more consideration than `dumb film!' Performance-wise who knew that Harvey Keitel was in this movie at all? He gives a memorably tiny performance, low key and inconspicuously funny as heck. Joel Grey plays one of the parts that would be given to Bob Balaban in more recent years, not really adding much to it. Burt Lancaster gives rich character to essentially a narrator and commentator. Newman's performance doesn't unbalance this film nearly as much as it did Altman's `Quintet' (both genre-wise and scriptwise, it was almost a character study), but it does show why Altman is more successful with a giant cast of B actors, or one main character that is content to listen and react more than speak, than with superstars. The stage play is much much different. It focuses much more explicitly on the atrocities and hypocrisies committed. Sitting Bull speaks, quite a bit, and believes Buffalo Bill to be his friend. Buffalo Bill is ineffectual, and the one person most responsible for the extinction of the Buffalos the Indians once hunted (it would have been nice if they'd at least mentioned how he got the name Buffalo Bill, he killed thousands and thousands). Of the two, I prefer the movie, but wish Altman had shown a little more responsibility toward historical record. This is a confusing and complex movie, alternately very subtle and prone to brash sometimes annoying running gags (the mezzos singing in the background are particularly cloying) and it is no surprise that people didn't know what to think of it. I'm just glad it is out on DVD so people can see an excellent representation of it and make up their own minds.