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July 20, 1976 - Image 6

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-07-20

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Page Six Tuesday, July 20, 1976
Arts & Entertainment THE MICHIGAN DA LY
Al rman's 'Buffalo BilflExtremes

By CAlRA PRIESKORN
S TIIE ights dim before a
new Altman film, I always
get a little shudder of excite-
ment, nd at the prospect of
viewing Buffalo Bill and the
Indians or Sitting Bull's History
Lesson, it was no different. How-
ever, I left the theater two and
one half homrs later rubbing my
sore bottom and remarking on
what a long film it had been.
Altman's main theme is to
portray the legends of the Old
West for the fallacies that they
are and to give his audience a
history lesson of his own design.
The film opens with the Wild
West Show staging the American
saga - lone pioneer family
trying to scratch out a living
from the soil and being attacked
and defiled by "savage red-
skins." The rehearsal ends and
one sees the cabin being hauled
away by horses and the call for
dress rehearsal. The producer
calls for more realism, as
"we're in the authentic busi-
ness."
The film shows a man be-
lieving in stories about his fabu-
lous deeds and as he gets older,
he begins to realize that they
were only myths, at which point
Buffalo Bill Cody desperately

tries to deny this by making
his Wild West Show even more
blatantly biased.
ALTMAN uses his familiar
montage effect, but not as dras-
tiatly as I have previously
seen. The montage was one of
scenes rather than separate
characters and subplots. One
sees Buffalo Bill talking earn-
estly to himself in a mirror,
reflecting his insecurity and in
the next scene he is in the arena
victoriotsly staging the killing
of Indians, much to the delight
of his audience (at the Wild
West Show, not in the movie
theatre).
The cast included a bevy of
A I t m a n regulars. Geraldine
Chaplin was subdued as Annie
Oakley, a woman being con-
stantly humiliated by her wo-
manizing husband, "the world's
most handsome living target"
Frank Butler (John Considine).
Her role was that of the only
person in the company with any
conscience or scruples - it was
only by her threat to leave that
Sitting Bull was allowed to re-
main with the show, rather than
being cast out where he would
almost certainly be killed.
Her underplayed Annie Oak-
ley is in direct contrast to the

flakey journalist she portrayed
in Altman's finest, Nashville.
Opal (from the BBC) kept
bouncing into scenes, finding
the camera and the spotlight on
her own. As Annie Oakley the
camera must find her and in
some of her most powerful
scenes she is performing a com-
mon activity while someone else
is frantically pleading with her.
It is her silent composure and
periodic glances that mold her
into a paragon of strength, sin-
cerity and virtue that is not
found anywhere else in the Wild
West.
Shelly Duvall had a cameo role
as the First Lady, which con-
sisted of trying to hide boredom
at trick shooting and buffalos.
She did a very convincing job
as the air-headed wife of Grover
Cleveland (Pal McCormick).
McCormick confirms our dis-
trust of the U.S. government and
its treatment of the Indians,
whenbetrefuses toteven listen
to Sitting Bull's request for his
people, saying that if his local
agent could do nothing for him,
it must be a good indication
that the request is impossible.
JOEL GREY was exacting in
his performance as Nate Salis-
bury the producer/entrepreneur

behind the show. Nate has a fine
mind for business, saw and de-
veloped the marketable property
of the Honorable William F.
Cody, Buffalo Bill. The sad
thing about Nate is that he al-
most naively believes the Buf-
falo Bill stories, but he also
shrewdly knows that America
does believe them and he con-
tinues with his plan to "Cody-
fy" the country. At one point
he makes a comment referring
to Cody as his hero, and then
corrects it to "our hero . . .
America's."
Yes, hard as it may be to
believe, Paul Newman did
choose to play Buffalo Bill in
his first legitimate film in years,
and he is wonderful. One clearly
sees the person of Cody degen-
erate as his box office revenues
an legends soar. The pathos in
the character is gripping as the
man realizes he is just that, and
not the legends that he pro-
duces nightly for his audience.
Throughout the film, one sees
glimpses of an old soldier
dressed in remnants of a Civil
War uniform telling boring folk
stories to children andbsaluting
any man who walks by. Thin
sorry old man is the only
authentic touch to the Wild West
Show and he is treated as a
joke around the camp.
I HAVE never been under the
powerful spell of Altmanmany
people, including most film pro-
fessors at this University, rave
over any and every piece of
celluloid that is released with
magic name stamped on it.
The main fault with the film
was its indecisive humor. The
message to be made is a pathe-

tic one and the humorous parts
are meant to be in that vein,
but this was not achieved. The
humor ranged from almost
cheap gags (Annie Oakley shoot-
ing her husband during a show
for the President) to racist
cracks.
The other fault was the length
of the film - almost two and
one half hours. Nashville was
longer, but enough was happen-
ing to warrant the time. In
Buffalo Bill, Altman just keeps
pounding into the viewer what
phonies these people were and
how sad the whole situation was.
He has a point to make, but he
makes it over and over and
over. Please, Bob, we get the
message.
ONE STRANGE scene takes
place when a drunk and tired
Cody begins to see visions of
the now dead Sitting Bull. New-
man did an effective job as a
psychotic Bill but the strength
of the scene was lost with the
appearance of Sitting Bull in
full headdress materializing all
over the room. I felt like I
was watching Bewitched. Sitting
Bull was too real and too solid
to be a vision that kept disap-
pearing.
The end is as ironic, but
much more pathetic than the
beginning; a man who knows
he is a fake adjusts his act to
make himself even more heroic.
Newman is not a large man, but
as Buffalo Bill he can easily
wrestle an armed 7 foot tall
Indian to the ground. The
crowds cheer and Cody forgets
for a moment that the fight was
staged and they were only act-
ing. The legend grows larger.

A 2 Civic's' Harvey': At
best, it's mediocre fun

By JOANNE KAUFMAN
IN SEARCH of a pleasant
evening (though a hot,
sticky one the night I was
there) I took myself down to
Mulholland Drive to see the Ann
Arbor Civic Theater produc-
tion of Harvey.
Now I didn't actually see
Harvey, though Elwood P.
Dowd, who met the six foot,
one and a half inch rabbit by
a lamppost at Eighteenth and
Fairfax sees him all the time.
Not only sees him, but talks to
him, drinks with him, buys
magazine subscriptions with
him, and drives his sister Veta
Louise and his niece Myrtle
Mae crazy with him. But is El-
wood P. Dowd crazy? Not a
bit of it.
You and I might be surpris-
ed to see a rabbit leaning on
a lamp post at Eighteenth and
Fairfax Avenue but Elwood
wasn't in the least nonplussed.
He wasn't even particularly
surprised that Harvey knew his
name. As Elwood explained, it
was a small enough town
that you got to know ev-
eryone. He was only surprised
that be didn't recognize Har-
vey. But when they were pro-
perly introduced, he and the
rabbit became fast friends, do-
ing, as I said, Absolutely Every-
thing Together.
The proverbial straw break-
ing the proverbial camel's back
is reached when Elwood, played
by Greg Yank, mortifies Veta
and Myrtle, (overplayed by
Nancy Gilmartin and Dorothy
Milne), when he attempts to in-
troduce Harvey to Veta's guests
at the Wednesday afternoon mu-
sicale.
SINCE ALL six imaginary
feet of Harvey are standing be-
tween Veta's chance for happi-

ness - selling the house and
taking a vacation to Pasadena
- and between Myrtle's chanc-
es for matrimony - negligible
at best - it is decided to dis-
patch Elwood posthaste to
Chumley's Rest, a local sani-
tarium. But apoplectic Veta is
committed by mistake and Mr.
Dowd, after presenting his busi-
ness cards all around, along
with offers to join him for a
drink at Charley's is inadver-
tently let off free.
The ensuing contretemps -
a temporarily misplaced El-
wood, a temporarily misplaced
Psychiatrist, a love affair be-
tween nurse and doctor and a
mysterious opening and closing
of doors with nothing to account
for such going-on-come to a
happy conclusion with more peo-
ple than Elwood coming to be-
lieve in Harvey's existence.
Now I personally didn't find
Harvey's existence hard to
swallow. What I did find dif-
ficult to accept, however, were
the portrayals of several cast
members, most notably those of
the hospital orderly Duane Wil-
son (Bob Vincent) and the
aforementioned Veta and Myr-
tle. Myrtle's mouth was set in
a pout, her back in a slouch
(reminiscent of the Hunchback
of Notre Dame) and her voice
in a nasal whine for the whole
of three acts. I'm not sure if
that was her idea or the direc-
tor's, but it was a less than
inspired characterization.
Gilmartin's Veta, though a
bit better realized, was still too
broadly played for my taste,
with an excess of waving hands,
arms, and handkerchief. Bob
Vincent as the orderly I found
particularly annoying. Referred
to by Veta as "a white slaver"
he did everything but crack

the whip. Since he began his
characterization at an unjusti-
fied fever pitch, he was left
with no room to raise the ceiling
of his histrionics when things
really got loony around Chum-
ley's Rest.
IN CONTRAST to some of the
scenery - chewing cast around
him, Yank's Elwood was a
well - controlled, understated
performance. Watching Yank
reminded me of a production
of You Can't Take it With
You that I was forced to view
several years ago. Now let me
explain. Many of the characters
in You Can't Take It with You
are, like Elwood Dowd, uncon-
ventional. But the actors in the
misbegotten version of the Kauf-
man and Hart comedy were
very selfconsciously wearing
their unorthodoxy.' In contrast,
Yank's Elwood had the cerul-
ousness of a child, and conse-
quently, was both credible and
funny. And in spite of the fact
that Elwood seems, well, just
a bit eccentric, as the play
goes on the audience becomes
convinced that Elwood is the
only sane one around.
. If this sounds like contradic-
tion, it isn't. When the Kauf-
man - Hart play is done well,
juxtaposing the normal folk
with the alleged loonies, the
audience is just as convinced
in the reversal of reality.
Jim McCullough as Dr.
Sanderson couldn't quite con-
vince me that he was the virile
heart throb that Nurse Kelley
(Cassie Mann) thought he was,
but I suppose that's her busi-
ness. Anyway, they get togeth-
er, Veta and Myrtle come to ac-
cept Elwood, and Mary Chase's
30-year old play comes to a
happy finish for the ten-thous-
andth time.

Tunesm'ith Johnny
Mercer diles at 66
Johnny Mercer, the award-winning singer-song writer,
and one of the founders of Capitol Records died Friday, June
25 in Bel-Air at the age of 66.
Mercer has long been considered one of the most talent-
ed and prolific composers of popular music and lyrics, and
wrote or collaborated on more than 1,500 songs.
Mercer collaborated with Henri Mancini on "Moon
River" and "Days of Wine and Roses", both of which won
Academy Awards. He also won Oscars for "The Atchison,
Topeka and The Santa Fe" and "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of
the Evening"
He was born in Savannah Georgia but left for New
York in 1929 hoping for a stage career. Mercer married
Elizabeth Meehan in 1931 and they had two children.
Mercer started singing with the Big Bands, among those
the Whiteman band and also the Benny Goodman and Bob
Crosby orchestras. He performed on radio's Camel Caravan
and Your Hit Parade, and had his own show called Music
Shop.
In 1942, Mercer, Glenn Wallachs and B. G. DeSylva
joined forces and organized what was first called Liberty
Records, but the name was later changed to Capitol Re-
cords. Among their first releases and first hit was Mercer's
own "Strip Polka".
He also wrote several film scores for Hollywood, such as
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Daddy Long Legs and Star
Spangled Rhythm. He also wrote for Broadway shows Lil
Abner, Top Banana and St. Louis Women.
Some of Mercer's most memorable songs include "Some-
thing's Gotta Give", "Accentuate The Positive", "That Old
Black Magic" "You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby",
"Jeepers Creepers," "Blues In The Night", "Dream",
"I'm An Old Cowhand", "GI. Jive", "Goody, Goody" and
"Too Marvelous For Words."

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