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Lance

Michael Bartley, are you here?

William Rennie

Your best initial essay in the series so far. Need to think on some of this.

Lance

Just to get the ball rolling, as much as I enjoyed Newman in this movie, my favorite performances are by Burt Lancaster, Joel Gray, and John Consodine, who plays Annie Oakley's husband, Frank Butler.

William Rennie

You've definitely nailed the difference between the Koppit play and Altman's film. The play was a dialogue between Cody and Cody's vision of Sitting Bull. In this version, Sitting Bull is completely mute.

Lance

Considine is very funny. I love how he shows Butler's nerves unraveling through the movie even as Butler forces himself to continue his job as Annie's human target.

William Rennie

Watching Frank and Annie made me homesick for the stage. What actor hasn't felt like his life was in the other actors hand, and how often does it go wrong.

What's geraldine chaplin's relationship to Charlie?

Lance

Thanks, Bill. And welcome back. You know of course that every time I type "Bill" I'm going to think I'm addressing Cody.

Lance

I believe she's his daughter by Eugene O'Neill's daughter.

Lance

I like the way Considine suggests that he was already growing shaky because Annie was getting more and more ambitious but now he has the additional worry that he knows about his affair with the kitchen girl.

Lance

I wish I'd seen a production of Koppit's play. I've only read it. But I think Altman felt a little bad for how far he strayed from it and he used that in Newman's big scene with the Bull's ghost.

William Rennie

By O'Neil and Chaplin. Well that goes a ways towards explaining how she got so much out of a role with nearly no audible lines shot almost entirely in long shot.

Loved the Shelley Duval cameo.

That scene with Cleveland was familiar. I don't need to hear the question to know my answer is no. Sounds like about 40 Senators, one ex VP, and of course the soccer mom from hell.

Lance

You mean hockey mom?

Lance

I think the casting of Burt Lancaster as Ned Buntline, the man who invented Buffalo Bill was perfect, but I'm not sure I've put my finger on exactly why yet.

William Rennie

Koppit was writing a play largely about what happened to the Indians, Altman had a different agenda. He clues us in on that finally in the scene with Cleveland. In a scene where issues could have been discussed, they aren't in an unmistakeable way.

Maybe the Altman film was less about how we got here, and more about where this was leading. A little obscure. I'm not a writer and I have the flu. It will have to stand.

William Rennie

Lancaster. Probably because everything that he says sounds mythic. When he orders in a resturant, the people around him probably fall silent and take notes.

Lance

Sorry to hear you're not feeling well.

One thing Newman's Cody seems to realize is that the truth as he knows it and lived it and as it's embodied by Sitting Bull lies in the past, which is to say that the truth is over. The future will be all lies. That's personally upsetting for Cody. It's of course Altman's indictment of Nixon's America. By the time he made Buffalo Bill he must have known Reagan was on the way.

Michael Bartley

I'm here but with a headache that's blurring my vision and computer that's balky as a rank mare. How's that for western night. So, spelling and coherent thoughts may not be possible tonight.
Anyway, great essay. Just as the casting of Newman was essential, even though to some it seems to have violated Altman's troupe tradition, as he needs to have a big star who can carry the weight of BB (even if Newman is clearly against type). Lancaster is great casting because he needs to be the moral center (which is particularly funny when put up with the real life Buntline) of the film and, my geebus, who better than Lancaster.
Also, I love Mr. White in this film. Talk about playing against type. Keitel is hilarious and a sort of co-moral center along with Lancaster and the wonderous Geraldine Page.

William Rennie

Its always struck me how closely related this movie was to Nashville. Both are about the whole canvas, crating lumber and scene paint underpinnings of american myth. Neither rises to the point of being completely critical of it.

Lance

"When he orders in a resturant, the people around him probably fall silent and take notes." Excellent.

Another thing, though, Lancaster was practically the last living connection between Newman's generation of actors and Hollywood's golden age. He was the bridge. So when his Buntline tells Newman's Cody "It was a thrill to have invented you" there's an inside joke.

Michael Bartley

I think your discussion on past vs. future is interesting. The historical BB is interesting because he is so identified with the mythic past but was, in fact, representitive of the celebrity future.

Michael Bartley

Also, can't resist but here Bill is sick as well..."we're with you Bill" which is a line from the film that friends and I have used for years whenever we are in a tough spot. Although we've changed it to "we're behind you Bill." Try it sometime it works great.

Lance

Micheal, we're the walking wounded here tonight. I'm not feeling so hot either and neither is Bill. But we're tough guys. We'll soldier on so all the lurkers can have something to read.

William Rennie

Asprin and Scotch Mike. The headache will be gone, but the vision might still be blurred.

You're right Newman was essential. I believe it was at a point in his career when he was being heavily typed, and I think he brought that dynamic to the role.

Its curious that Altman made Buntline the moral voice, given that most of the audience would not have know about Buntline, and would not have been aware of the irony.

Lance

Re: Keitel. It's funny to see him playing it so sweet and naive.

Michael Bartley

BTW, is "moral center" even possible with an Altman movie? Is that too cynical? Hell, I'm contradicting myself.

Lance

I love Buntline's line: "When you're out to set the world on fire, always remember who gave you the matches."

Lance

Michael, I have Buffalo Bill's America coming from the library. Have you read The Return of Little Big Man?

Michael Bartley

Good idea Bill but I'll go with bourbon.

Lance

There's enough in the movie and in Lancaster's performance to hint that Buntline's main claim to being the voice of morality is that he's the only liar in the room who knows he's lying.

Lance

Buntline to Cody's partner Nate (Joel Grey): It's my experience that when two partners agree on everything it means one of them is unnecessary.

Michael Bartley

Yes, but it is one of those novels that left me torn because Little Big Man is one of the all time greats. So, I'm not sure if my hesitation is as a comparison or, simply that I didn't think as highly of it.

William Rennie

I was once asked to teach a American theater history course by a department that didn't know me well enough. I ditched the bad 18th century theater that was an imitation of bad English 18th century theatre, and used the hole I created to teach the Wild West show.

A lot of the forms, conventions, themes and characters that went to make up American film came directly from Bill and small fry that imitated him. When the shows broke up, they all moved to hollywood. The 20th century american theatre is far more influence by film, than by Brecht or Shakespeare.

End of ramble: Its not just celebrity, Buffalo Bill had far more to do with HOW we create our myths than we think.

They nevered hired me to teach Theater history again. There was that Film course . . .

Lance

Little Big Man's one of my favorites too, but I enjoyed Return for what it was. Reason I brought it up though, of course, is that it covers a lot of the same territory as Buffalo Bill and the Indians, but with a lot less cynicism.

Michael Bartley

I preferred Welch's The Heartsong of Charging Elk.

Lance

I wonder if Berger was commenting on Altman's film.

Michael Bartley

Great great point on Buntline Lance. Bill, I think you might like Louis Warren's BB bio. It is exceptional.

Lance

Bill, teaching the Wild West should have gotten you tenure. Do either or you know if there are any movies of the original Wild West floating about? Cody lived until 1914. I think if he could have had his show filmed he'd have done it and directed it himself.

Michael Bartley

Speaking of authors commenting on Altman, Warren, who I respect greatly, comments on the film a couple of times. He doesn't like it. Seems to think that the Indians in the film are naive. I think he gets it completely wrong.

William Rennie

There were movies made. I have seen brief clips. Let me take that on as a search.

Michael Bartley

Cody tried to transition to film. I believe he tried to make a move on Wounded Knee but apparently he failed to understand such things as the close up. Everything was shot at a distance replicating his wild west show and missing an essential point of filmaking. There are short grainy remains of film from the actual shows but, sadly, nothing much.

Michael Bartley

MOVIE...I think you can find the clip online. I've seen it but I can't recall where.

Lance

Michael, rewatching the movie I was surprised by how the Indians were almost ignored. You could watch the movie and not know there were any actual Indians in the troupe before the Bull arrives. And Sitting Bull is a reflection of Cody more than he's anything else. Might be better to say he's a mirror or a keyhole into the past. Whatever he's not there as an Indian. He's there as a device.

Michael Bartley

PBS, I believe American Experience, had a bio. on Cody and there were clips from his Wounded Knee film as well as a very short shot from the wild west.

William Rennie

Sad. It would have been interesting to have more celluloid. It would have made the path to say -- Die Hard, easier to understand.

I will look at that bio, as well as the other books mentioned. At the moment, I have an early curtain, so I am afraid it is good night.

Lance

Night Bill. Thanks for stopping by. And remember. "We're behind you, Bill!"

Lance

One last thing before you go, though, Bill. Did you catch my Bronco Billy reference?

Michael Bartley

Well, the Indian treatment is interesting through out. In the opening, when one of the Indians is injured they don't even know his name. Also, I crack up everytime Bill and others says Ladies and Gentleman (pause) Indians or Injuns depending on the speaker. I think Altman is very much in the post-Bury My Heart phase of Americana. His Indians, not the Shoshone perhaps, but Halsey, Sitting Bull and the Lakota are all part of that pendulum swing era of Little Big Man, Soldier Blue, etc. They can cross that river to the rise. I'll think on your point because a question I've always had is the relationship between Halsey and SB. Sitting Bull only speaks once on camera.

Michael Bartley

We are Bill will surely are. Goodnight.

Michael Bartley

WE surely are...argh this is getting harder. Wow, spelling going all to hell.

Lance

Michael, American Experience site has a clip.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/cody/

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