Black Cloud disconnect

Tonight, I went to see movie #4 for this week, Black Cloud, a film written, directed, produced and “acted” in by Rick(y) Schroder, of “Silver Spoons” and “NYPD Blue” fame. As a point of reference mostly for Lawrence people, the screening was held in the big theater at Liberty Hall and was, according to the box office guy, only the second time they have sold out for a film there (the first was a screening of C.S.A.). This movie was brought to town to open the Haskell Indian Nations University Film Festival, which is running through the weekend (I have a schedule if anyone’s interested in what’s playing when).

So. Black Cloud is the story of a 20ish Navajo boxer, named Black Cloud, who faces adversity in the forms of an alcoholic father, a dead mother, a grandfather who takes him to the spirit world and then dies, a really ugly truck, and a girlfriend who has a child from a previous relationship with the dumbest, meanest cowboy in the world (played by, hey! It’s Ricky Schroder!). Also he has some rage issues, some justified, some… just there. Oh, and he finds out in the course of the movie that he’s a “mixed blood” because his great-great-grandfather was white. This is revealed to him by a government housing official who has tried to extort sexual favors from the girlfriend. Still with me? OK. Remember I said he’s a boxer? Well, he almost loses a fight at the very beginning, only to make a remarkable comeback that catches the eye of an Olympic talent scout who happens to be standing ringside. So the movie is basically about Black Cloud deciding, in the midst of all these obstacles — did I mention the attempted murder charge? — whether he wants to pursue boxing or not, and once he decides he does, then it’s whether he can win.

I did not like the movie as a movie. I felt the storytelling was jumbled and unfocused (see the above summary for evidence, and did I mention the best friend who maybe dies?), the dialogue was ridiculous, and the acting lacked, well, direction. The worst of it all was Rick Schroder’s own role in his own movie — honestly, had I seen his scenes on TV I might have thought it was a parody film. His character was, I think, supposed to be an overblown picture of evil smarm, but his scenes were bad, laughably bad. Sorry, Ricky; I am led to believe he must be an actor who needs a LOT of direction.

Anyway, at the end of the film, there was a standing ovation for Mr. Schroder as he took the stage, and he began to weep — this must have been sincere, because I didn’t see a director standing anywhere nearby inducing him to cry. He talked a little about how the movie had been his baby — and this I believe was true, because he put his name in the credits three times before the film ever started, and repeated several times the fact that he wrote the movie himself (I wrote it! I directed it! I wrote it!) and then filmed the first draft of the script without any personal knowledge or research of Native American lifestyles or traditions. I thought, whoa, he’s going to get fried as a fraud for this cliche depiction of a life he knows nothing about.

So, then the Q&A begins. And… people start thanking him for making the movie. I had another moment of absolute disconnect from my surroundings. Here I was, judging the film as a film, while much of the audience — let’s say it was 60 percent Native American — was just watching the film as a story, as someone trying to tell a story about them. Whereas I felt many things were cliched and poorly executed, the film apparently managed to connect on an emotional level with a good number of the people around me. I mean, two little kids stood up and proclaimed that Black Cloud was their new hero; women thanked him for making the film so that they could show it to their grandchildren someday; and everyone wanted to know what his next Native-themed work might be.

On a sociological level, this was one of the most fascinating viewings I’ve ever attended. It came on the heels of last night’s screening of C.S.A: Confederate States of America, which I need to write about at length, but not until I can get my head around it a little bit more.

Tomorrow: Sin City! Soooo excited.

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