A Quiet Masterpiece
emeleste | Jacksonville, Florida United States | 05/21/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This deceptively simple "road buddy" film was first introduced to me in 1991 when I was researching Native American culture for my 2 children so they would better understand their heritage. What a feast for the eyes,ears and spirit! The score,some of it by Robbie Robertson (U2) is a wonderfully effective backdrop that carries us into the world of one Native American's unique vision quest. One scene that comes to mind is when the gentle Cheyenne named Philbert Bono (Gary Farmer) surveys a dilapidated junk yard full of wrecked cars, but sees instead a herd of wild ponies galloping on the plain. His choice of a "pony" is a broken down Buick,yet to him it's as noble as any horse that ever ran. And so it goes. A. Martinez is facinating as Buddy RedBow, Philbert's activist friend who joins him on the road. The film weaves together humor and pathos,fantasy and realism for a story that entertains while it touches the spirit and makes one feel,at least for a little while, as if life could indeed be as Philbert sees it; and wouldn't that be a wonderful,magical thing! I have not seen this film since 1992 and thought I might never again. That Pow Wow Highway is available now is a dream come true. I cannot recommend it highly enough!"
My pony flipped me!
B. Berthold | Somewhere out west... | 06/13/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not my usual film fare, I happened to bump into this film by accident and I'm glad I did. While my knowledge about Native American culture is anything but comprehensive, I found myself swept along 'Pow Wow Highway.' A touching and funny peek into the reservation blues that are part and parcel of the American 'Indian' experience, this film touches all who take a chance on it.
This could have another been another Smoke Signals, poignant and light-hearted, but this film has more meat to it. The reason: the very meaty and lovable Gary Farmer. Farmer's heart-warming performance as Philbert Bono---overweight warrior on his own vision quest---is reason enough to watch this film. Farmer's character doesn't say much nor does he need to. Every stare, twinkle in the eye, and puckish smile tells us everything we need to know.
The film starts off with Philbert daydreaming in his reservation's junk yard. The ugliness of reservation reality surrounds: flimsy mobile homes and trashed-out cars, but Philbert sees beyond all that. He spies himself his 'war-pony,' a rusted-out '64 Buick and saddles up for his adventure. His quest is to become a true Cheyenne warrior. Things don't start off so smoothly as Philbert's childhood friend, the angry young AIM-er, Buddy Red Bow (A Martinez), sets out to rescue his sister. Caught with weed in her car, Red Bow is determined to set her free from the hayseed Anglo cops of the Santa Fe PD. Thus begins Red Bow and Philbert's journey of self-discovery. A journey of finding out what it means to be Native American, and more importantly, what it means to be human. Like Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, Philbert and Red Bow represent two sides of the human coin: passion and reason. Red Bow is all anger and resentment against an Establishment that has robbed, raped and killed his people for over three hundred years. In every scene, we see the seething revolutionary ready to strike. At anybody. One of the film's funniest scenes is when the war pony needs a stereo. Confronted with a condescending salesman, they surprise him and buy the priciest stuff in the shop, shattering his 'impoverished Indian' stereotype. Soon installed in the pony, the new equipment doesn't seem to work, sending Red Bow into a rage, thrashing both shop and owner. And through it all, Philbert searches for and finds the problem: in the instruction manual. Think before you act. A clichéed lesson, but valuable all the same. This interplay between Philbert and Red Bow dominates the whole trip. Whereas Red Bow talks like a warrior, Philbert acts like one. With shrewdness, intelligence, dignity and most of all, humor, Philbert becomes the 'trickster' indeed, masking a deepness of character beneath his childish silliness. Red Bow bitches about the Pine Ridge Pow Wow being nothing more than 'drums in a gym,' while Philbert involves himself in every bit of his past he can. He beats the drum, he climbs the sacred Black Hills, he talks of Cheyenne legends over the CB, while Red Bow fumes and glooms. Red Bow even mistakes the Hills for 'somewhere outside Pueblo.' A grand faux pas. As a result, it is Philbert who becomes the real hero, the real warrior. His weapon is his quietly earned self-knowledge. With silent strength and subtle humour, he takes back what Red Bow with all his rebellion can't: an identity nearly destroyed through years of oppression and negligence. It is no coincidence that by the time they free Red Bow's sister (again, Philbert's doing), Philbert has transformed into his real self: Nightcloud Whirlwind, a warrior.
The beauty of this film is that is goes far beyond social history. Pow Wow Highway shows the wide range of 'types' in the Native American community from assimilated 'collaborator' selling tribal land to mining companies to the tortured and lost Vietnam veteran (brilliantly played by Graham Greene). So wide and rich is the film's parade of characters that we forget that this is supposed to be a 'Native American' film. We see friends and family in these characters and yes, eventually ourselves. And this I think was director Wack's goal: to break down the borders set up by our labels, Native American or otherwise.
While the ending is a bit too predictable and some characters never really get to fly (Red Bow's sister, the fellow AIM activist), Pow Wow Highway is well worth the watching. Follow Nightcloud Whirlwind as he proves the adage: its the quiet ones you need to watch out for."
A Movie Classic.
Yuli Martov | 01/19/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There have been a plethora movies about Native Americans in recent years, which are a bit misleading. For instance, Sherman Alexie in his movie Smoke Signals, portrays us as half-minded individuals who never leave their reservations. Watching these sorts of movies, I feel somewhat offended. In addition, the Indians on Smoke Signals spoke with a southern Accent, which makes them sound retarded! Well, the makers of Pow Wow Highway didn't distort the facts, the way others movies have.The protagonist is a political activist, named Sunny Redbow, who is protesting the installation of a mine(in all probability a pit-mine, which just destroys the beauty of an area) on the Lame Deer Indian Reservation. So the organization which is trying to build the mine, diverts Redbow's efforts by having the FBI(which was run in a despotic J. Edgar Hoover-esque way at the time), arrest his sister, Bonnie Redbow, on some bogus drug charge. After this, the movie takes a sort of "48 hours" buddy movie twist. To clarify, Sunny Redbow doesn't have the necessary means to get to Santa Fe, New Mexico(where Bonnie was arrested), so he asks his best friend, Philbert Bono, to give him a ride. Philbert Bono, who recently just acquired a vehicle, which he affectionately refers to as his "War Pony", agrees. And the interval between Sunny Redbow's departure from Lame Deer Montana, to the freeing of Bonnie Redbow in New Mexico, is probably the most hilarious few hours I have had the pleasure to visualize. They encounter members of the GOON squad(an anti-AIM organization funded by the US government, which intimidated red nationalists by scare tactics, such as drive-by shootings and physical assault), the Sante Fe police department, fellow Indians, and of course, the elements(i.e. the weather). Without question, this is one of the five best movies that you will ever see, so please, purchase it."
Power of the Spirit
kelenenn | Northeastern USA | 05/01/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A wonderful movie with the ultimate message, in my view, that we each create the world in which we live. Put another way, you reap what you sow. The movie tells the story of the journey of two friends who view life from opposite poles. One (Martinez) is a rebel so bent beneath the weight of the chip on his shoulder he can hardly move. He greets the world with rage and impatience, reactionary and impulsive, and is frustrated by obstructions at every turn. The other (Farmer) lives in an entirly different world, where the spiritual infuses everyday life and the "outer" world is shaped by the "inner"; where things happen at their own pace and as they are meant to; where stories hold wisdom and a Journey has meaning. Nothing could infuriate his friend more. Martinez and Farmer are great as the travelling pair, and each brings a depth to their character that makes this much, much more than a simple "buddies on the road" movie. It reminds us, most importantly, that we can choose the path on which we walk, and that others have left guideposts along the way."