restricted access Karl Marx goes West: Three Westerns from the East: The Sons of Great Bear (1966); Chingachcook, The Great Snake (1967); Apache (1973) (review)
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Jochen Wierich Whitman College wiericj@whitman.edu Karl Marx goes West: Three Westerns from the East | Wierich Karl Marx goes West Three Westerns from the East The Sons ofGreat Bear(1966) Chingachcook, The Great Snake (1967); Apache (W1O) Available via ICESTORM International, inc. . In The Sons ofGreat Bear, one of fourteen so-called "Indianerfilme" produced between 1966 and 1985 in East German film studios, Jenny, the barmaid, sings a "Western" tune which could have been composed by Kurt Weill for a Berthold Brecht opera. For those who are not historical purists when it comes to Western film, the release of three of these "Indianerfilme" on video should offer a refreshing alternative to Classical Hollywood fare. Although The Sons of Great Bear (19'66), Chingachcook, The Great Snake (1967), and Apache (1973) share plot elements with traditional Hollywood Westerns, politically, historically, and aesthetically , these East German films are distinct from their Classical Hollywood counterparts. They are products of Cold War antagonism played out in the arena ofpopular culture . Following a transparent historical script, all three films blame the forces of imperialism for the decimation of the Indians. In Chingachcook, an adaptation of Cooper's The Deerslayer, British and French colonialists manipulate Delaware and Hurons into war and self-destruction; in Apache, the United States army and scalp hunters invade Mexican territory and massacre the Native Americans to gain control of the silver mines; in The Sons ofGreat Bear, railroad companies and gold miners trick the Dakota into worthless treaties and then send them to a reservation. The film series follows a German (European) tradition of romanticizing Indian males for their nobleness, bravery, and "racial purity." Surrounded by the signs ofdefeat, the Indian protagonist, played in each film by Gojko Mitic, always maintains his stoic demeanor. He is the East German counterpart to Winnetou, the Indian hero in Karl May's popular novels written in the late nineteenth century. Several ofMay's books were set into film in West Germany in the 1960s, with Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker as the Deerslayer-like character Old Shatterhand. (Karl May did visit the United States, but only a couple decades after he had already finished the majority ofhis Winnetou books. Ironically, he wanted to meet Apache Indians during his visit, but he only made it to the Niagara Falls.) The German interest in the fate of the American Indians went beyond Cold War rivalry. In 1967, the height ofthe Vietnam war, a West Berlin newspaper (quoted on the video cover) praised The Deerslayer for its "historical truth." On the grounds of historical truth or accuracy, German Westerns thus challenged the dominant western mythology produced by Classical Hollywood. The claim for authenticity is written all over the promo texts, which state that ethnologists researched costumes and props, including an "authentic" Indian canoe, and that Apaches was based on "original documents ." While this may be true, the filmmakers' eagerness to create an authentic look had a reverse effect. Although the Indians have some distinct tribal features throughout, they still seem to have stepped straight out of an ethnology museum. These films may be historically revisionist, but they are not gender benders by any means. The Indian women either silently wait for the return of their loved ones, charmingly sing about the Missouri river, or surprise the viewer with one line ofdialogue. The barmaid Jenny, singer ofsensitive Kurt Weill songs, gets infected by gold-fever and turns, in the words ofvillain Fred Clark, into a "tart." A Mexican peasant woman in Apaches, who shoots a gun while defending herselfand her husband, is too sketchy a character to make a difference. - article continues on page 79 Vol . 30.1 (March, 2000) | 73 Dear Home: Letters from World War Il I Landon Philip J. Landon University of Maryland, Baltimore County landon@charm.net Dear Home: Letters from World War II The History Channel, Fall 1999. Produced by History Television Network (HTV) Productions Dear Home: Letters from World War II joins the legion ofWorld War II documentaries which air regularly on the History Channel. Letters linking fighting men with their distant homes have long been familiar images in both documentaries and feature films devoted to what Studs Terkle...


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