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Reviewed by:
  • Celluloid Pueblo: Western Ways Films and the Invention of the Postwar Southwest by Jennifer L. Jenkins
  • George Porter Thomas
Jennifer L. Jenkins, Celluloid Pueblo: Western Ways Films and the Invention of the Postwar Southwest. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2016. 227 pp. Cloth, $45.

Celluloid Pueblo begins with an account of every researcher's dream: Jennifer L. Jenkins's discovery, along with archivists at the Arizona Historical Society, of a trove of uncatalogued silver nitrate films "spliced with masking tape, scotch tape, and, in one case, an archival Band-Aid" (xi). The films, now restored, were shot by the husband and wife team of Charles and Lucile Herbert in Arizona between the 1920s and 1960s; they represent "a time capsule . . . of the Arizona borderlands" with depictions of tourism, landscape, and local communities during a crucial era in the region's development (5). Jenkins has a keen eye for cinematic and ethnographic complexity; she demonstrates both the documentary significance of the films and their complex engagements with perspective, performance, and power.

The Western Ways archive (Jenkins names it after the Herberts' Tucson studio) is full of memorable images that transcend western archetypes to reveal a layered complexity: the Grand Canyon, filmed through the window of a Ford Tri-Motor in 1929, takes on a mechanized sublime unavailable to the nineteenth century; two Mexican American cowboys herd cattle along a border that is still an unmarked abstraction, calling to each other in scripted English; a group of Indian children at a mission school boldly reverse the camera's gaze; a Navajo silversmith, frustrated with a pair of tourists pretending to buy a bracelet for the sake of the camera, tells them (and, perhaps, us) in untranslated Diné that "you are lying" (58); in a particularly surreal sequence, a pair of cowgirls ride their horses on the streets of downtown Tucson in 1950 to participate in the postwar consumer boom. [End Page 453]

The best chapter, "Framing Race in the Arizona Borderlands," explores a pair of Herbert films about Native communities in southern Arizona filmed on either side of World War II. In a film called Last of the Indian Scouts (1940), contemporary Apache scouts stationed at Fort Huachuca dress up in mock tribal uniforms and reenact their unit's participation in the 1916 Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa. The expedition involved several hundred buffalo soldiers; in 1940, when the Herberts filmed their reenactments, there were still Black soldiers stationed at Fort Huachuca. We watch the spectacle of Blacks, themselves to some extent still performing Americanness in a still-segregated army, watching the spectacle of enlisted Indian soldiers performing what Jenkins calls "Indianness" (92), all during a reenactment of an invasion of Mexico. Jenkins argues convincingly that the film represents a "double meditation" on racial performativity, in which "the [Indian] Scouts clearly both adapt and challenge contemporary models of Indian identity" (98).

Ideally, Celluloid Pueblo would contain a more penetrating account of how the Western Ways films challenge or change our perception of Arizona and northern Mexico; the book does not always attend to its subtitle, The Invention of the Southwest. However, Jenkins certainly accomplishes her main purpose in outlining the value and import of the Herbert archive. Furthermore, as she herself reminds us, her provocative readings of ten of these films just scratch the surface: there are one hundred and thirteen extant reels, many of which will surely warrant further study. This book (including its filmography) provides an excellent account of a new and important archive and will be valuable to students of Southwestern history, border studies, Native American studies, and documentary film. [End Page 454]


An earlier version of this review was published with the book title erroneously listed as Celluloid Pueblo: Western Ways Films and the Invention of the Southwest.

George Porter Thomas
University of California, Davis


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pp. 453-454
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