“ Smoke signals” = independent movie , released in 1998, directed + co-produced by Chris Eyre . It’s the first full-length film written , directed and co-produced by Native Americans and certainly the first movie in recent memory shot from the point of view of a Native American man.
Based on the short story “ This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona ” from the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto: Fistfight in heaven , written by Alexie Sherman .
Won several awards + well-received at numerous film festivals: best movie at the American I n dian Film festival.
Road movie = trip from point A to point B (from Idaho to Arizona) turns into a sentimental journey as much as a physical one.
Title : s moke signal = one of the oldest forms of communication in recorded history. It is a form of visual communication used over long distance. Each Indian tribe had its own signaling system and understanding.
The story is s et within the Coe u r d’Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho .
F ocus on the lives of two young men, Victor Josep h and Thomas Builds-the-Fire .
They’re joined at birth tragic fire accidentally causes the death of Thomas’ parents.
Victor’s father, Arnold , saves Thomas’ life by catching him after his parents throw him from a second floor window defining moment of Arnold’s life and a symbol of his shame as he hides the fact that he accidentally started the fire.
The haunting pain of Arnold eventually causes him to desert Victor and his mother, Arlene when Victor is 12 years old.
When they receive word that Arnold has died, Thomas gives his life savings to purchase the bus tickets for Victor and him to go and claim his remains.
The rest of the film is about Victor's journey, along with Thomas , to collect his father's ashes.
Thomas Builds-the-Fire :
One of the main characters : sensitive nature and a storyteller .
R aised by a grandmother who has no idea of masculinity . This fact is reflected in the way he dresses: old-fashioned suit, braided, pig-tailed .
As he has never experienced the alcoholism or domestic violence that plagued Victor’s childhood, idolizes the man who saved him from the fire .
He offers to give Victor the money to travel to Arizona, to get Arnold’s ashes.
Opposite of Thomas.
Stoic in appearance. Doesn’t open up a lot but actually suffers from his father absence. Hides his anger.
Arnold (the father):
Alcoholic, violent, keeps the secret about the fire accident, doesn’t know how to express his feelings.
Angry reaction: leaves his family absent during the most part of the movie.
Arlene (the mother):
Alcoholic at first doesn’t represent the traditional image of the mother who is supposed to take care of her children.
Realizes that Victor suffers decides to start taking her responsibilities, declares that the drinking “has got to stop” after having seen Victor throwing bottles against the back of his father’s pickup.
Arnold’s neighbor. Knows him well. The one who tells Arlene that Arnold passed away. Tells Victor that despite of the distance his father used to talk about him every day. Feminine and sensitive.
We could expect a love story between her and Victor (?)
The movie depicts the modern Native American culture.
Reveals the difficult struggle indigenous people face in attempting to retain their racial and cultural identity.
Well-known stereotypes are used to define the different characters: some are physical, or mental or concern the surrounding:
Victor = warrior: self-confident/ plays sports/ angry disposition on life
Thomas = Shamanism (a healer and storyteller, also the one who assists others on their spiritual journey)
stereotype of reservations being poor and in need of help
Both Victor’s parents are addicts self-destructive behaviour
Arnold accidently started the fire because he was drunk. He’s haunted by this secret and drinks to overcome this ill-being
Thomas’ parents + Arnold tradition: to cut one’s hair
Imprisoned by the grip of alcohol, Arnold abuses his son Victor. The effect on Victor is to create a volcano of anger beneath a stoic exterior of a warrior.
Also very proud of him. Used to talk about him every day.
Setting: mostly outdoors.
Flashbacks: t hrough a weaving of the images of Victor‘s childhood and his present life as a young adult, we watch the violence escalate as the haunted father is unable to free himself of his pain or the alcohol he uses to subdue it.
Props: bottles of beer, truck, mortuary urn (represents the father).
Acting style: Thomas’ way of speaking , always smiling goofy , immature
Costume: Thomas oversize glasses, pig-tails, suit nerd in his reservation
Victor loose hair, loose-fitting clothes expression of his freedom, like a real warrior
“ Smoke Signals ” concernes one tribe of American Indians in today’s world.
Attempts to illustrate the uniqueness of the father/son relationship among Native Americans .
I ndicates that Native American men face some of the same conflicts other American men confront, that these stories transcend cultural differences.