Courageous, flawed, fascinating and different
Seeing stars Graham Greene and Eric Schweig in other, more mainstream
films, and, latterly, Schweig excelling in the adorable and brave
modern fairy tale that is "Big Eden", combined with an interest in the
great hidden shame that is reservation life in North America, to make
me get hold of "Skins" on DVD. The story: Rudy Yellow Lodge is a
reservation cop who turns vigilante in disgust at the abuses he sees
around him. Meanwhile his Viet vet brother is drinking himself into an
early grave, and the white town on the border of the reservation gets
rich selling him and his friends alcohol. The story is not always
skilfully told, but it is punctured by moving and well-done moments.
But when a film and its makers take big risks, and overcome huge
obstacles to make something with social and historical significance,
you make certain allowances.
One of the signs of a successful minority culture thriving within a
dominant society, is when its cultural life 'owns' and masters all art
forms. A cinema in its infancy doesn't progress by everyone sitting
around thinking what kind of films they'd make if someone would only
let them rather, it progresses because someone like Chris Eyre stands
up and tries, and even if he doesn't completely succeed, has helped
really start something. It's pretty amazing that "Skins" got made at
all. Many of the people whose lives it spotlights got to see the film
only because of director Chris Eyre's "Rolling Rez" tour, where the
film was shown on reservations and in selected cities in an adapted
truck. This should tell you starkly enough why it's necessary for films
like this, flawed as they are, to be made, and seen.
And yes, it's very flawed indeed. It's so easy to sit in my armchair
thousands of miles from the stark brutalities of rez life, and point,
remote control in my hand, to the inconsistencies, plot holes, the
slightly stiff and unconvincing acting in the minor roles (though I'd
point out that they wouldn't seem half so stiff if the script had been
sharper). These things do diminish the film as a whole, and I kept
thinking, if only they'd had some Hollywood money here some script
editing there but that's the whole problem. Even if the script had
made it to the desk of Hollywood's Junior Vice-President Butcher of
Scripts, by the time it emerged, the largely native cast would have
been condensed to a single, wryly funny sidekick whilst the hero, a
white guy from the local town, takes on the infamous beer sellers
single-handedly, with an upbeat message at the end. So ultimately the
sheer existence of a Native cinema by, and for, Native Americans (I
think I prefer the thinking behind Russell Means' more controversial
"American Indians"), and using Native source material, is more
important than its weaknesses.
Leads Greene and Schweig do an excellent job as the brothers in
difficult circumstances, and the final scenes are powerful and
emotional, and do justice to all involved. Greene's portrayal of what
could have been a vastly unsympathetic character marks him out as a
very talented, nuanced actor. It's extremely hard to bring pathos to an
extended portrayal of an alcoholic. But the last word goes to Eric
Schweig: during an interview once he was asked a question along the
lines of, how would he address the stereotyping and misrepresentation
of Native Americans in films? He laughs and says simply "make our own!".
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A good interpretation of the trials of the modern Aboriginal Person, a well thought out film.
I enjoyed this film a lot. So many times are Aboriginal People shown in
the Romantic Period (i.e. prairie bareback horse riding, warriors, etc)
It may not be Chris' finest edit, but a well thought out film. The
actors did their jobs and the film was made on the Pine Ridge Reserve.
It shows both ends of the spectrum when it comes to First Natiosn
people. Those effected negatively by the modern world, and those who've
overcome it's tragedies.
Chris Eyre is great at getting at the truth, many people find some of
the content offensive, because it touches home. People have said "this
happened to my family," and this is because it has. This is real life..