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  • This movie is certainly worth watching if you're an Altman fan, or a fan of revisionist Westerns. The performances are great (as per usual when Altman is at the helm) and the movie is entertaining enough on its own merits.

    The two biggest flaws, though, are these: Compared to most of Altman's films, much of the dialogue in this movie is very "stagy" and theatrical. I suppose it's supposed to be that way because of the questions of "myth" and "legend" that the story concerns itself with, but my impression was that such theatrical-sounding dialogue didn't mesh well with Altman's typically naturalistic style of filming.

    The other problem I had is that the whole subject matter -- myth vs. reality, history vs. reality, show business vs. reality, etc. -- isn't really explored with any depth or subtlety. We're constantly being reminded that Buffalo Bill is a man who created his own legend out of lies, and that that is the basis of modern show business to this day, but really, that just didn't strike me as being a particularly insightful observation. This is hardly the first movie to point out that lies are often more "real" (or more attractive) than the truth, and Altman doesn't seem to bring anything new to the table.

    Still, it's Altman, which means it's well-made, entertaining and beautiful to look at. I don't think this will ever be considered one of his major works but it's certainly worth a look.
  • I can understand some of the arguments that people have made against this film through the years. Its revisionist history can seem pretty simplistic, and its depiction of Indians seems stereotypical and not particularly enlightened. Or at least that all seems true on first glance. But I can also understand why a few revisionist film critics, including some of us on IMDb, are beginning to re-examine Buffalo Bill. I've seen a couple of people refer to it as a masterpiece, and I'm very much leaning towards that direction myself. Even if one were to find its themes and message poorly done, it would be hard to deny the grand vision of Altman in this film. This is one of his most ambitious, perhaps surpassed only by Nashville. The entire movie takes place in and around Buffalo Bill's theme park-like show. The Wild West is pretty much dead, and Bill (played by Paul Newman), who famously hunted buffalo and fought with Indians, has encapsulated the experience in a little world all his own. He's shined it up into some rip-roaring entertainment, a sort of Hollywood before Hollywood existed. The film is as much a show-biz exposé as The Player (and I would say it's much more effective).

    We meet a fantastic cast of characters, played by many of the best actors around giving wonderful performances. Among them are Joel Grey, Kevin McCarthy, Burt Lancaster, Harvey Keitel (really playing against type as Bill's goofy, childlike nephew), and Geraldine Chaplin (as Annie Oakley). Everyone, including Buffalo Bill himself, is deftly characterized in a very Altmanesque way. They wander through a semi-story, often seen and heard only in glimpses. Chaplin in particular, who gives probably the most memorable performance in the film, has very few lines. Mostly she characterizes Annie through her face. The Wild West Show is becoming more and more popular, and grossing more and more money. Their newest attraction is Sitting Bull, the man who famously defeated George Custer at Wounded Knee several years earlier. To have Sitting Bull for his show makes Bill extremely proud. In his mind, he has now defeated and subjugated the one Indian who really gave the white man a run for his money, and, by doing so, he has single-handedly tamed the West. Unfortunately for him, Sitting Bull is no subject. He has only joined the show because he has dreamed that, if in the show, he would get to meet President Grover Cleveland. We only once see Sitting Bull speak, when he attempts to talk to Cleveland. The rest of the time, his servant, Halsey (Will Sampson, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), speaks for him. While he's participating in the show, he wants to change it in order to make it more factual.

    Altman's detractors will have a field day with Buffalo Bill and the Indians. The biggest complaint against the director, as it seems to me, is that he is overly cynical and hates his characters. I'll admit that that is sometimes true, but I also think that the detractors see that aspect where it just doesn't exist. It does exist in this film, however. Buffalo Bill is most certainly a target for derision. Most of the action in the film revolves around the man being humiliated by Sitting Bull. Bill thinks he's the greatest adventurer who ever lived, and the film delights in having him showed up by the Sioux chief. I do not believe that it is an artistically invalid to have a character as the central target of a satire. Network, made the same year, has Faye Dunnaway, for instance. Who can like her by the end of the film. The difference is, I suppose, that Dunnaway wins some pathos by the end of the film. Maybe that's a difference, anyway. Buffalo Bill might have a bit of it by the end of the film, I think.

    The character of Buffalo Bill is a wonderful satirical target because he really exists in such a state of absurdity. Once a genuine American military hero, Bill Cody wrapped up his entire experience and put it inside a bottle. In that bottle, the Wild West grew more and more fantastic, and less and less real. The environment is controlled, the goings on are fake, and any bit of history is freely created. It's not unfair, I suppose, to say Buffalo Bill and the Indians has a somewhat simplistic revisionist history behind it, but, in a big way, it is itself about revisionist history. Buffalo Bill Cody was revising history, creating entertainment out of true, historical human misery. And that's not only the suffering of the Native Americans, which is at the forefront of the film, of course, but also white settlers. The film begins with a rehearsal of an Indian raid on homesteaders. The bigger message is that was what Hollywood did, as well.

    Bill likes his world, loves it, in fact. It is a celebration of his ego (the film often focuses on the gigantic portraits of Bill, which certainly would garner much criticism from some people – and I would agree that it's not particularly subtle, but I would also say that it is pretty funny at times). Sitting Bull, one of the greatest Indian leaders and, from most accounts, an enormously clever and skilled man, completely undermines Bill's superiority as soon as he arrives. A blowhard as big as Buffalo Bill deflates pretty easily. Sitting Bull's presence also works to make Bill finally look around himself and begin to question the false world he has erected around himself. This thread of the film is resolved, at least as regards the narrative, in the climactic sequence, where Bill encounters Sitting Bull in a dream. This sequence is probably the low point of the film, I think. It more or less spells out everything that the film has been building to, and it doesn't really accomplish anything new. We know Altman for his amazing and original climaxes, and this one is certainly not one of his best. Still, it does work in a strictly functional way, and it is followed by a truly interesting and exquisite final sequence. This final sequence, which I won't discuss in this review, is not merely restating what has already come before, as I believe many viewers will take it. This, I think, is where the character of Buffalo Bill claims his pathos. Paul Newman's eyes in that final close-up are both frightening and quite sad, in any number of ways. Any film as shallow as many people like to claim this one is would never have given rise to this much depth in one man's expression. If you watch it and don't see it, I really think you've missed the point.

    Even if you don't buy into the content of Buffalo Bill and the Indians, it's hard to imagine being unimpressed by Altman's direction or any of the other technical aspects of the film. Many claim it to be a bore, but I think Altman was just light years ahead of his audience at times. It's very entertaining and especially very funny at times. There are any number of masterful sequences. In my opinion, it is second in achievement only to Nashville.
  • I disagree with the general consensus that this film was a misstep. Albeit having a big star like Paul Newman in an Altman film unbalances things a bit, but it is the surety with which the thematic elements are juggled that distinguishes it. I can see this film being a companion piece to `The Candidate,' because as much as `Buffalo Bill' is about the onset of capricious celebrity and the occupation of `Superstar' where it is strongest is in its political parallels. That way we keep Butch and Sundance together. The most perfectly Altman scene in the picture occurs when President Grover Cleveland (played ineptly by the same actor who was terrible opposite Carol Burnett in `A Wedding' [sometimes a good reason not to cast non-actors is that many of them can't act!]) is told that Buffalo Bill coins all his own sayings, a shady character whispers in Cleveland's ear and he replies, `All great men do.' Despite everyone speaking more or less as though they were in an Altman picture from modern day the twists put on the script of Arthur Kopit's play `Indians' make it much more cinematic (even though the majority of the action takes place within the gates of Fort Ruth). I believe the change to Altmanspeak overcame the usual problems of stageplay-screenplay, and Altman's `Greatest Show On Earth' mentality provides us with excellent reenactments of acts from the show. I believe Newman gets better as it goes along, he and Altman reveal how much more he knows about Bill than Bill knows about himself without winking or indicating, just by letting it play out, especially in his last big aria to the `ghost' of Sitting Bull. Sitting Bull is as enigmatic as Cleveland is simple, you never can tell if he's just as dopey or if he really is a great spiritual leader, you never can tell for sure if his interpreter (the great Will Sampson, fresh off `One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest') is helping Sitting Bull, selling him out, just interpreting. The events seem to indicate that Sitting Bull's dreams of foresight are correct, and the final image of Bill tearing the feathered headdress away from Will Sampson's interpreter, who has a white name, then holding the scalp up with apparent joy in their acclaim and terror at the part he has played in it says it all. Annie Oakley, the white person who has the most genuine sympathy for Sitting Bull, never has a righteous speech about it, never gets preachy about treating Indians like humans; she just says she'll leave if Sitting Bull leaves, he asks to stand next to her in a picture and she cries when she hears he's been shot. This is a morally complex film, and part of what it asks us to consider is what happens when the livelihood and lives themselves of actual people can be controlled by a showman like Bill who cares nothing for them and has reached his present power without any greatness to recommend him, or a schill like Cleveland (apocryphal, I might add, there isn't much to support that Cleveland was a figurehead particularly, he was written that way for a reason). Notice how Bill and Cleveland often speak in aphorisms that sound deep but usually mean absolutely nothing. At one point Buffalo Bill parries an aphorism Sitting Bull is using to indicate the conditions under which he will stay with one that Bill immediately tells his crew was giving Bull back some of his own confusing mumbo-jumbo. The same style of sayings are used by Burt Lancaster's `Legend Maker,' the writer of 10-cent westerns that made William F. Cody a star, and when you're watching a movie about the first hero made entirely by myth, with no military or political background, just great accomplishments that were completely made up, made right around the bicentennial by a maverick such as Altman I think such things are worth more consideration than `dumb film!'

    Performance-wise who knew that Harvey Keitel was in this movie at all? He gives a memorably tiny performance, low key and inconspicuously funny as heck. Joel Grey plays one of the parts that would be given to Bob Balaban in more recent years, not really adding much to it. Burt Lancaster gives rich character to essentially a narrator and commentator. Newman's performance doesn't unbalance this film nearly as much as it did Altman's `Quintet' (both genre-wise and scriptwise, it was almost a character study), but it does show why Altman is more successful with a giant cast of B actors, or one main character that is content to listen and react more than speak, than with superstars.

    The stage play is much much different. It focuses much more explicitly on the atrocities and hypocrisies committed. Sitting Bull speaks, quite a bit, and believes Buffalo Bill to be his friend. Buffalo Bill is ineffectual, and the one person most responsible for the extinction of the Buffalos the Indians once hunted (it would have been nice if they'd at least mentioned how he got the name Buffalo Bill, he killed thousands and thousands). Of the two, I prefer the movie, but wish Altman had shown a little more responsibility toward historical record.

    This is a confusing and complex movie, alternately very subtle and prone to brash sometimes annoying running gags (the mezzos singing in the background are particularly cloying) and it is no surprise that people didn't know what to think of it. I'm just glad it is out on DVD so people can see an excellent representation of it and make up their own minds.
  • Don't see this film if you don't like sarcasm! It's not as much about the history behind Buffalo Bill and his Wild West show as it is about making fun of the racist attitudes present in many Western films. There are also some good laughs available when Annie Oakley shoots and her "target" flinches with anxiety.

    The satire also explores the way Bill runs his show, or the way any CEO might run a company, and whether truth or entertainment is more important to the crowd. The truth Sitting Bull wishes to bring to the people is much less important to Bill than are his ticket sales. The juxtaposition of Sitting Bull's meekness and the way Bill portrays him in the show as a murderous, ruthless warrior is really brilliant.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A film that divides critics equally, Robert Altman's 1976 offering is a clunky movie that fails to sparkle and delivers far less than it should. Flowing haired Paul Newman plays the titular hero, and the premise centres around his Wild West sideshow and his attempts to lure the legend that is white-American nemesis Sitting Bull into the show ring. Meanwhile, the great red Indian chief secretly has his own agenda, and the stand off comes in Newman sacrificing historical fact for blatant commercialism whilst Sitting Bull wants his opportunity to put the record straight on behalf of him and his people. Altman went on record and denied any deliberate political allegory, but there is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. The main problem with the movie for me is that a Wild West sideshow with the chief protagonists turned into circus acts just doesn't work. And whilst Gerladine Chaplin is highly watchable as Annie Oakley, with her breathtaking shooting skills ready to go wrong at any minute, there is little to engage the viewer here and it doesn't rise above the mediocre. Newman delivers his lines admirably, and, for such a consummate professional is not inconvenienced by the fact that the movie misfires, but it's too slow in places. He was very similar in WUSA, where he was perfectly able to display his skills with ease whilst all around him was uninspiring, but there are a few too many movies like that in the Newman cannon. This is probably for strict Newman or Altman fans only (unless you really want to spot a youthful looking Harvey Keitel) but you won't be rushing to see this one again and again.
  • A very weak Altman film, all the weaker because it came out the year after one of Altman's best works: "Nashville." "Buffalo Bill..." is one of the most savagely satiric films from a director known for savage satire. Unfortunately, it's also a one-joke film, whose joke is given away in the first five minutes, leaving the film nowhere to go. Paul Newman plays Buffalo Bill as a complete buffoon, surrounded by yes-men and lackeys. He practically buys ex-Indian chief Sitting Bull for his Wild West show, and what we suffer through is scene after scene of white men making asses of themselves while native American Indians nobly and quietly observe and judge them. It's two hours of smug finger pointing at oblivious Caucasians for raping and pillaging the American frontier.

    All of Altman's films have the feel of coming together in the editing room, and many times this approach to structure results in inspired moments, but "Buffalo Bill" feels even more than usual like a film without a center. There's no narrative thread to hold it together, so it has a wandering and monotonous quality. Also, it doesn't help that Altman's shooting style is uncharacteristically distant. There are virtually no close-ups in the entire picture, so scene after scene is photographed in medium and long shots. Both the screenplay and the camera keep us at a distance; as a result, we never become engaged in the action.

    A definitive misfire.

    Grade: C
  • I was not particularly fond of "Buffalo Bill and the Indians" when I saw it in the theater in 1976. I found the story ponderous and the cinematography rather difficult to handle.

    When the movie was first released in 1976, quite a bit of controversy surrounded the washed out color and hazy yellow filter Altman had used to film the movie. I believe the intention was to make the movie look like a faded photograph. The final effect, at least to my eyes, was the equivalent of watching the film through yellow tinted sunglasses that were very, very dirty. I simply did not care for it. Nonetheless I couldn't deny it had made a strong impact on the feel of the film.

    I recently watched the movie in HD on cable and was shocked to see that the hazy yellow filter that once colored the entire film was gone. The story was still ponderous but the images were as brightly colored as if they had been filmed for a TV movie. The image was much easier to watch but it caused me concern. By removing the filter, MGM had completely changed the feel of the film. Even though I hadn't liked it, this was no longer the movie that Altman had intended. It was like colorizing a black and white film.

    I know that the movie was re-edited by Dino de Laurentis for European release and that Altman had denounced the changes that had been made. Perhaps the removal of the filter was made for this re-edited international version. I really don't know because I never saw it, but if it was, it should be restored to the original for modern distribution.

    I find this a troubling precedent for the release of experimental films like this for DVD. The audience can no longer experience the film as it was intended. I can only hope that when the film is released on Blu-Ray they will allow the option of watching the film both with and without the filter Altman intended. As strange a failure as it was for a seasoned director like Altman to make, the look of "Buffalo Bill" and the Indians should be preserved as he had intended it.
  • My title quote is something that Paul Newman remarks as Buffalo Bill when he decides he's going to camp out one night and forgo the pleasures of bed and the ladies who clamored to inhabit his. William F. Cody certainly had his share of what we'd now consider groupies, but on that night he felt a need to get back to his roots.

    The reason why Buffalo Bill sustained an enduring popularity was because he really did have a background that was colorful and exciting. He was a kid raised in Nebraska frontier territory who ran away to escape hard times and was one of the young riders for the short lived and legendary pony express. He had real exploits in that, as a buffalo hunter (hence the name)and an army scout. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor and did kill Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hand in single combat.

    But a lot of people in those days could have shown similar resumes. What set Cody apart was his discovery by Ned Buntline who wrote those dime novels who created all the mythology around him. Buntline was in need of a new hero, his previous literary Parsifal Wild Bill Hickok had fallen out with him. Buntline later wrote about Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, just about every colorful character our old west produced. His dime novels for better or worse created the characters.

    The greatest weakness in the film is Burt Lancaster's portrayal of Buntline. Not taking anything away from Lancaster because I'm sure he was taking direction and working within the parameters of the script and the original Broadway play Indians upon which Buffalo Bill and the Indians is based. But Lancaster plays it like the elderly Robert Stroud. The real Buntline was more like Elmer Gantry.

    Paul Newman as Cody however gives one of the best interpretations of Buffalo Bill seen on film. He's a man trapped in his own legend, but he's smart enough to know what's real and what's phony in his world, including himself. He knows behind all the ballyhoo and hoopla of his Wild West Show, there's a man who did not always know ease and comfort.

    The original play Indians ran for 96 performances on Broadway and starred Stacy Keach as Cody. It was far more involved and had Hickok, Billy the Kid, and Jesse James as characters. Author Arthur Koppit trimmed it down so it had more coherency for the screen.

    As we know from Annie Get Your Gun, Sitting Bull was briefly part of Cody's Wild West Show. But here the attention is focused on Frank Kaquitts who in his one and only film plays an impassive Sitting Bull, who's doing Cody's show to gain food and supply from the government for his people. In fact Cody now the total show business creation is more impressed with Will Sampson who's well over six feet tall and is better typecast as the savage Indian. There's nothing terribly savage about either of them now.

    Look for good performances from Geraldine Chaplin as Annie Oakley who in real life as well as in Annie Get Your Gun befriended Sitting Bull and from Joel Grey as Nate Salisbury, Cody's business partner and Kevin McCarthy as John Burke, the publicist for the Wild West Show. They continued what Buntline started in creating the Buffalo Bill mythology.

    Buffalo Bill and the Indians is not the best film of Robert Altman or Paul Newman. It's certainly a lot better than the science fiction film Quintet that they did later. It's a good study of how in America our western mythology got its start.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Robert Altman made great films, such as Nashville, The Player, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. What defined these movies was a great and engaging script that kept the audience involved for the entire film. Such is not the case with Buffalo Bill And The Indians. It as if Altman was in too much of a rush to make this film, because he wanted to make a statement about Native American history.

    There were a lot of interesting bit roles in this film, but these characters were never developed very well. I felt robbed that not much time was devoted to explaining them a little more. Altman assumed that the audience understood that it was 1885 and the Wild West was now "tamed". That was clear, but still I feel that the film would have been much stronger if it began with a flashback to nine years before, explaining where each of these characters were at the time. That way we would have had more understanding for the points Altman was making.

    For example, it is hard to believe that the great actor from the Heche days, Burt Lancaster, was reduced to this engaging and enigmatic role, who waxing philosophically, but we have no idea who he is and how he relates to Buffalo Bill. This is the downside of this film. The script seems winding. There is a lot of dull time where one is just yawning and wondering when this movie will start going somewhere. Is that part of the point of the film? Altman never makes it clear. It is quite possible the point was that this town in the prairie had basically become filled with bored, opportunistic townies who sought significance even if it was tormenting someone by hanging him up on a rope and swinging him like a baby.

    In many ways this movie was uneven. For example, the ideas were brilliant. The idea was that Buffalo Bill was no longer the man he once was, but now just a money grubbing tool who made up myths and tales about his exploits. Buffalo Bill must have been a very handsome and engaging man in real life. He may well have been a great actor and promoter. You could not help like Buffalo Bill, and Paul Newman plays him brilliantly. Bill was also very childish, probably an alcoholic, who used to have infantile temper tantrums.

    The racial arrogance was also very clear. Buffalo Bill was very happy to exploit the myth that Native Americans were just 'savages who brutalized women'. It was a terrible moment when Sitting Bull tried to speak with President Cleveland and was rebuffed and treated with contempt. I also loved the ending. Buffalo Bill had this mad and crazed look, like now he was the great hero he never was. He now was beating and defeating Sitting Bull, which was a complete fabrication of history to promote white man's ego.

    I also loved how President Cleveland was just another part of the opportunism to seek significance from Buffalo Bill's mythology about how the West was really "tamed". Although he was "the Great White Father", he was mainly about finding a way to win re-election and defeat his opponents. There was another beautiful moment, where a woman sang an opera song, and the camera showed the various reactions of members of the audience. It was hard to determine whether they were awed by the beauty of her voice or bored. And that was a confusing moment for me, too. I did not quite get it. The whole movie was afraid to really state what it really wanted to state. There were great moments, but not enough to engage the audience and win it over.
  • slokes8 February 2011
    The best part of "Buffalo Bill And The Indians, Or Sitting Bull's History Lesson" is the first ten to 15 minutes. We join a Wild West show rehearsal circa 1885, and watch as its staff work at creating a show that takes itself a little too seriously. The feeling of observing a real, living thing comes across, only a bit funnier than reality.

    "Tell Joy not to get on the horse in back," mutters the show's MC, Salisbury (Joel Grey) regarding an actress playing a white woman abducted by Indians. "It looks fake. We're in the authentic business." Later, Salisbury shoots down a band's idea of real frontier music as "too Ukrainian."

    All this is easy to miss when so much is going on at once, while horses nearly run down a pedestrian in the foreground. This is a Robert Altman film, after all, or "Robert Altman's Absolutely Unique and Heroic Enterprise of Inimitable Lustre!" as it bills itself.

    As Jeff Lebowski might say, Altman's not into that whole brevity thing here. A two-hour extravaganza, "Buffalo Bill" stars Paul Newman as Bill and makes its points about how show business and American mythmaking became one with repetitive, haymaker swings. The end result is a comedy that's not that funny and a social statement that's not that convincing, but Altman's secret sauce of a busy camera and piquant performances makes for a pleasant if shapeless affair.

    Newman's something of a disappointment, giving less a performance than a caricature. I get the feeling he was directed by Altman to just play a slightly older and more pompous Hud with a goatee. He fills out Bill by drinking rotgut from a schooner, loving and spurning a succession of opera singers who never stop singing in frame, and watching over his stardom with a kind of prissy defensiveness that belies his self-cultivated frontier image. He can be a joy to watch still, working his eyes and playing to his mirror, maybe winking at the audience about what they expect from him as both Bill and Paul. If only he had better material.

    "You ain't changed, Bill."

    "I ain't supposed to. That's why people pay to see me."

    There's also the business of his dealing with the Wild West Show's newest star attraction, Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts), which gives the story much of its social perspective. Bill thinks of Bull as an ungrateful pet who needs cultivation in "the show business," while Bull thinks Bill sells lies in the guise of history. Hence the "history lesson," which feels shoehorned in from a more socially committed source play. Altman wants to tell that story, but most times he'd rather have fun with the show-making part, and while you are watching this, you wish he'd cut loose and do just that.

    The film succeeds in short bursts, though the eccentric casting choices Altman throws at you here don't work as well as they did in his other films. Geraldine Chaplin as Annie Oakley? Harvey Keitel as Bill's nerdy nephew? Some Altman vets like Robert DoQui and Allan F. Nicholls are barely in the film while stars like Newman, Keitel, and Burt Lancaster get longer spotlight time. John Considine is fun as Annie's flinchy husband, "the handsomest human target in the West," though that running joke, like so many others, is plugged more times than one of Annie's nickels. I was impressed also by Kevin McCarthy's publicist character, not only for the juiciness of his grandiloquent performance but the magnitude of his handlebar mustache.

    "Buffalo Bill" takes a lot of time saying a good deal less than it thinks. But the spectacle of "the show business" and the minor bits of Altman kookiness and sardonic commentary around the edges keep this a diverting if underfilling entertainment.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A great cast is wasted on this effort, a theme looking for a story to embody it. It's hard to fill ten lines describing this effort, since there really isn't much to describe. Newman does have a "mad scene." The problem is, Newman's mad scene doesn't evolve from anywhere due to the fixed nature of his character. Given the lack of a story and the fact that nothing climactic happens that actually offers any new insight to the characters or changes them from the way in which they were at the beginning, coming up with ten lines about this film is reminiscent of those papers assigned in grade school than were required to be "X" number of pages. But it looks as though I've finally made it.
  • Normally we were told that Buffalo Bill was a courageous man who fought and killed Indians during the confrontations of white men with them. The portrait given of this man is always the same, but this film is a little bit the opposite. According to Ned Buntline (acted by Burt Lancaster), the "hero" Buffalo Bill was invented by him, i.e. too much noise about a person who was not as brave as it was told. In addition, the Indians were then used for shows. It is true that they accepted to do this job, but we must figure out under which conditions they accepted. Dramatic was the scene when Indian boss Seated Bull wanted to give a request for his people to the then American president, who did not accept to take it. Critic did not welcome very much this film, but it is matter to know which critic wrote about, the one in favor of the Indian cause cannot be, perhaps were those who do not care about the fate of the Indians in North America.
  • Released in 1976 and directed by Robert Altman, "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson" stars Paul Newman as Buffalo Bill Cody, the star of his famous "Wild West Show" in the shadow of the Rockies in 1885. After Chief Sitting Bull of Little Big Horn fame (Frank Kaquitts) arrives with his Number One (Will Sampson), Cody is irked that the chief isn't a slaughtering savage, but is silently heroic and honorable. Cody fires him, but relents when star attraction Annie Oakley (Geraldine Chaplin) sympathizes with Sitting Bull. Then President Grover Cleveland (Pat McCormick ) visits with his entourage.

    This is revisionist Western, a "message movie" that Altman uses to criticize popular ideas or myths about the Old West. The titular hero is merely a showbiz creation who can no longer differentiate the truth from his made-up image. He's a blustering fool who asserts to be one with the Wild West, but lives in extravagance, play-acting in his Western circus. His hair is fake, he can no longer shoot straight or track a Native; and all his theatrical duels with owlhoots and Indians are fixed in his favor.

    The theme is interesting and the ensemble cast is great (which also includes Burt Lancaster, Kevin McCarthy, Harvey Keitel, John Considine, Noelle Rogers, Shelley Duvall and Denver Pyle, amongst other notables). It should've worked, but it didn't. It's somewhat akin to "Little Big Man" (1970) but less of a comedy and nowhere near as entertaining (not that I'm a big fan of that movie or anything, but at least it has its entertaining moments). While the Wild West circus elicits some entertaining moments (e.g. rodeo stunts) they can't save the flick from being an arty, pretentious, tiresome bomb. Moreover, the principle Native Americans are ironically so one-dimensional and wooden I thought maybe Altman was making a snide aside about "wooden Indians."

    Lastly, the ideology is blatantly one-sided against the New Americans, depicting Not-as-New Americans as super-noble while conveniently ignoring their documented dark side, e.g. the heinous torture tactics most tribes inflicted on their captive enemies, including other tribes-people, so as to hinder their condition in the afterlife (the "happy hunting grounds" or whatever). For instance, they'd gouge out enemies' eyes or mutilate their genitals so they (supposedly) wouldn't be able to see or copulate in the after-world. Yup, that's just so virtuous (sarcasm). Actually, I could handle this lopsided perspective if the movie itself were entertaining, but that's hardly the case.

    The film runs 123 minutes and was shot in Alberta, Canada, mostly at Stoney Indian Reserve.

    GRADE: D
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Pompous showman Buffalo Bill Cody bribes the United States government into transferring custody of Sitting Bull to him and his show, only to find the old man a little more eccentric and unbroken as he expected.

    Light years away from Joel McCrea's loving and famous performance, William Cody is portrayed as the walking, breathing embodiment of "Manifest Destiny", already fulfilled and ten-years past it's prime, fronting a two-bit circus that's more of an insult to the past than a tribute.

    Paul Newman, as Cody and Will Sampson, as Sitting Bull's interpreter, are good, though the script (like every Robert Altman movie I've seen) is pretty talky, with whatever wittiness it exudes rendered impotent by it's smug demeanor, a smugness hammered home by the film's climax, featuring a drunken Newman ranting at the ghost of Sitting Bull, before symbolically killing him in effigy, in a staged combat for the masses.

    This is a perfect example of the kind of films by Hollywood's new guard of the nineteen-seventies, casually killing off the cherished heroes of their parent's (and sometimes their own) childhoods, for the sake of being called a "rebel" or "a maverick" by swooning critics. BLAH!
  • RHKLWK23 March 2002
    Movies are meant to entertain--and, on any level, this one doesn't. The high marks Robert Altman earned (in some quarters) for his 1975 movie, "Nashville," apparently encouraged him to apply the same cut-and-paste technique to this movie, and the result is a disaster. There is no story. The dialogue is bland. The scenes are disjointed. The Indians--who are portrayed as universally noble, a characteristic of the seventies--nevertheless come across as completely one-dimensional. The excellent cast is wasted. Burt Lancaster looks as if he would rather be anywhere but on the set.

    This movie was a precursor of the many failed projects Altman would direct in the next 25 years. He's currently on a roll ("Gosford Park"), but nothing can justify the directorial pretense and excess that permeate this film from start to finish.
  • A lot of reviews on this site keep this down as something of a misfire from director Robert Altman, that it might have been too easy a target or that it's being too cynical. Can there be enough cynicism in looking at the history of Old-West Americans and American Indians? After so many years of Westerns showing things as black and white- of John Wayne Vs. Tonto and the like- there needed to be a good dose of reality, but not just by any run of the mill filmmaker. Altman is able to sympathize with the Indians while at the same time adding a certain mystery to them (how they cross the river, come back from the mountains). On top of this he makes a very strong, funny comment on celebrity and mythology in a somewhat typical de-mythological style. It's not entirely an anti-centennial statement (his real centennial movie is Nashville), but one that criticizes things while still staying true as a semi-serious comedy.

    In fact, this has a few of the funniest scenes in any Altman picture. Take when Annie Oakley (Geraldine Chaplin) is performing her 'stunt' with her partner, and throughout the picture it's been a dicey and tense act with it never being as clear-cut as it should be; Annie is always talking to herself in mid-shot, asking to try it again if she misses. Then when it comes time to do the 'stunt' in front of President Cleveland, she shoots her partner right through the shoulder, with it (mostly) being passed off like nothing happened. Little asides like this that build up- or, for example, a hatred for birds that inexplicably Bill has against the cheery German singer who owns it, leading up to a frantic shoot-em-up against the bird's cage until it escapes. Sometimes it's simply "funny ho-ho" humor, the kind that one might have a quick chuckle and then see back to what's going on. But it's brilliant "funny ho-ho" comedy, where manners are tested to the extremes in the face of Buffalo Bill's troupe and the unmovable Sitting Bull and his 'voice' played by Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

    There is actually something of a firmer story for Altman than usual, though that goes without saying it's like a belt thrown on once in a while with a pair of pants. Buffalo Bill is riding on his reputation, and hosts a big-time show that is a good lot like the circus only real physical prowess and weirdness replaced usually by good-old-fashioned American storytelling, which is, basically, that Indians killed a lot of people and then Buffalo Bill struck back. When Sitting Bull actually comes to the act to be apart of it, he has some conditions to be in it, *many* conditions, some easy (i.e. setting up camp across the river), some that test Bill's patience (i.e. changing the whole story of Sitting Bull to show Bill killing masses of Indians). Meanwhile, President Cleveland is coming for a special visit, Bill's drinking gets bigger, and he loses the thread of his own presumed skills like when he can't bring back Sitting Bull and his group when the "escape" to the mountains.

    This all leads up to a conclusion that has a double-side to it. On the one hand the very end should feel kind of conventional, where Buffalo Bill faces off against Sitting Bull (or rather another actor playing him), and 'wins' in front of the cheering audience. On the other hand this is preceded by a tragic note, and a very strange, near perfect dream scene where Buffalo Bill confronts and constantly shifting-position Sitting Bull, confronting him as well as his own ego and reputation. At the end of it all, Altman isn't saying outright America is evil or anything; it's that there are some serious wounds caused not simply by the obvious Americans vs Indians but by over a century of holding up icons to the sky without the slightest gray area or real humanization past superhero status. And in the midst of all this, in the work of Altman's usual good ensemble (Keitel, Joel Grey, Chaplin are very good, Lancaster good if in a superfluous mouth-piece role), Paul Newmna shines incredibly in a role that requires him to be star-like but to also get into the shallowness and inner demons of the character. It might even be one of the best performances he gave in his career: he's magnetic in personality, naturally comic, and haunted to a degree. A-
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "In so far as they cannot be assimilated by modern culture, the wild peoples will have to disappear from the surface of the earth." – Karl Kautsky

    Paul Newman plays Buffalo Bill, a one-time soldier who now runs a successful Wild West Show. Bill hires an Indian warlord called Chief Sitting Bull to guest star in his show, but to Bill's annoyance Sitting Bull proves to be a decent and honourable old man rather than a murderous savage.

    Bill attempts to get Sitting Bull to re-enact various battles between cowboys and Indians, but Sitting Bull refuses to be portrayed as a caricature. Rather than act out Custer's Last Stand as a cowardly sneak attack initiated by red skins, Sitting Bull instead requests to portray the massacre of a peaceful Sioux community by marauding US Cavalry soldiers. What follows is a battle of myths. Sitting Bull wants to portray his people as the victims of genocide, whilst Bill hopes to portray himself (and by extension the history of White American settlers) as a noble hero and the natives as brutal savages in need of either expulsion or civilization. Bill's history is wrong, of course, but he is the victor as he owns the show, controls the money and knows exactly what his white audience wants. His myth gets printed.

    And so these various themes – politics, show-business, the commodification of history, the blurring of fact and myth – play out in typical Altman fashion. And like most of Altman's films, this is a giant ensemble piece which takes place in a self-contained environment (the ropey confines of a Wild West Show). Elsewhere Altman's camera glides through his landscape, floating from character to character, various narrative strands gently picked up and followed. It's a graceful sort of film-making, Altman less concerned about delivering spectacle, than gently exposing the conditions under which such spectacle thrives.

    On the most basic level Altman deconstructs Old West iconography, presenting the cowboy as a show-biz creation who is himself duped by the very myths he bolsters. Altman's Buffalo Bill wears a wig, can't shoot straight, can't ride a horse and requires all his mock battles to be rigged in his favour, and yet he's constantly proclaiming himself to be a grand hero and seasoned man of the west. The film's great joke is that we the audience are so seduced by Paul Newman's star persona, his charisma, the way he commands his on screen lackeys, that we don't quite notice how much of a bumbling idiot he is.

    The film's characters go out of their way to illustrate this mightily confused blurring of reality and illusion. Altman makes us aware that his film is populated by mere actors and implies that both the personal and show business personae of Buffalo Bill are equally fraudulent. As such, Bill is constantly looking at reflections or portraits of himself, his personality always distorted.

    Altman also exposes the symbiotic relationship between show business and politics. Upon seeing President Cleveland, Bill exclaims "There's a star!" and of Sitting Bull he says, "If he wasn't interested in show business he wouldn't be a chief!" Later it is revealed that President Cleveland consults an aid before speaking and that Bill has someone else write all his material, both men the unwilling orators of a national myth.

    Altman then implicates both the audience and the public in the writing of both history and show business. "Truth is that which gets the most applause," one character correctly remarks. The show that is most seen, most palatable, most digested by the masses, is the show that is embraced as historical fact. Nations are built on noble lies, Altman says, and art exists to either propagate or challenge these national myths. This is made most direct when, in the film's final scene, Bill studies a portrait of himself on a white stallion. "Is he sitting on that horse right?" Bill asks, then turns to the camera. "If he's not sitting on that horse right, how come you all took him for a king?"

    Altman's point is clear. The facts, the cinematic clues, that Buffalo Bill was a fraud were always there. We just chose not to look. The implication is that seeing is always a matter of choice, perception a function of the needs of a dominant ideology. Altman is challenging the audience to see the flaws, to see our history and our present as it really is.

    And so Altman demonstrates that history itself is increasingly becoming another commodity of capitalist economy; history then is not a Truth, but a matter of choice, able to be traded, bought and sold. The resulting alienation from its process of creation and from the interconnection of its events leads to a loss of truth which only performance can replace. Tellingly the film ends with a photograph - a staged event of a staged event - the audience asked to recall an earlier scene in which this shot was composed. Without this prior context, anyone stumbling upon the photograph would assume that a tall and muscular Indian, carefully positioned by Buffalo Bill to draw attention away from the old and timid looking Sitting Bull, is the real deal. It is this loss of context, of objectivity, that Altman is ultimately condemning. History is like a photograph, deliberately composed, and so without context values may be constantly reformulated according to the narrow requirements of the dominant ideology.

    Compare this to the end of Brian De Palma's "Redacted", in which a soldier's smile is recorded as truth, when in fact it is forced, a lie and masking something far darker. Altman's film amounts to the same thing, though his photograph is then sold and paraded about as political currency.

    8.9/10 – Masterpiece. See Hany Abu-Assad's "Paradise Now".
  • I really enjoyed some of Buffalo Bill and the Indians. The first half hour of the film is Altman doing what he does best, the camera wanders around a fully-realized world built from the ground up and peopled by Altman. The overlapping dialogue is great and the casting looks perfect. I think the film peaks with the scene where Bill and Annie Oakley are target practicing - Altman weaves together firearms, sex, showbusiness and relationships into a pretty funny scene.

    Then the Indians show up. Sitting Bull and William Halsey are portrayed as noble, mysterious and aloof. The movie spirals into a series of events where they confound the smarmy Bill Cody over and over. The last hour of the movie requires Newman to act more and more flustered by Sitting Bull until he has a really cringeworthy breakdown in front of a ghostly Sitting Bull. Maybe there was more fresh drama in watching a white profiteer abase himself before noble Injuns in 1976. It's hard for me believe that anyone but the most hardcore sentimentalist will find the drama between Cody and Bull interesting.

    Anyway, there's stuff for hardcore Altman fans to watch for. Newman is initially impressive in his role and then sputters. The pageants and attention to details that Altman excels at are well done. Ultimately the themes of showbiz and history wilt before the rambling blah of the noble savage.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    As I am not so good at English to write a long and deep comment on this movie, I would like to refer the original scenery, surely some of readers may be heard about books like Bury me at Wounded knee. I should read and see only Italian versions of the book and also the movie, so the movie was for me a perfect re-construction of those historic facts(I could and might confuse historic facts and 'narrated' events of that book but we can't verify it with ease and the book seems to tell us in an inanimous point of view, even though it could be criticized as inclined toward Indians.)

    Whatever quality Paul Newman has shown in the continuous sceneries with Cleveland, Sitting Bull or other characters, indicated by other comments, he acts perfectly matched to Buffalo Bill, who in facts, refused to intervene the reality of Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. (B.Bill was asked to take some official role between Indians and U.S governments but had run away...) The movie actually disguises well the reluctance of B.Bill's original character by mixing up with other sceneries, characters & events. Anyway this movie goes quite well as the situation is focused on the main characters like B. Bill and Sitting Bull, so the real factor for things seems to depend on the decision maker "Cleveland" as it describes,but the very general people of the American society has made the whole situations. Extinction of bison and consequently their living grounds made them no choice. This reality should be treated by much more serious and unique way of telling if the writer is conscious. Exactly wanted, the story finally explodes at the climax the absurd, confused mentality of himself in confront of the problem between Indians and general American citizens at that time(I don't think this can be interpreted in any other exaggeratedly dramatic ways)when Sitting Bull started to appear ghostly. The whites are whites and the Indians are Indians, this is the perfect description of historic verities, and the representative voice of that time and current(still, I believe... ) united citizens.

    So now, are you, Americans trying to understand the verity of yourselves? or still insisting like B. Bill that that is the reality of solely those Indians?
  • Altman's name isn't readily associated with Westerns and, in fact, the film's genre classification is tenuous at best: like LITTLE BIG MAN (1970), it pokes fun at Western myths - but, while the former was given an epic perspective, this one's a talkfest (it originated as a stage play) which barely strays outside of the titular character's sideshow setting!

    This was star Paul Newman's fourth(!) stab at a Western 'hero', following Billy The Kid, Butch Cassidy and Judge Roy Bean; he is alternately dashing and amusing in the role but, like the Custer of Arthur Penn's film (mentioned above), he goes mad towards the end. He later collaborated again with Altman on QUINTET (1979) which, being a science-fiction film, was equally unlikely territory for the director to dabble in! Still, as is typical of Altman, he has assembled a wonderful - and eclectic - cast: Burt Lancaster (as the man behind the legend of Buffalo Bill), an unrecognizable Joel Grey and Kevin McCarthy (as Bill's side-kicks), Harvey Keitel (as Newman's nephew!), Geraldine Chaplin (as Annie Oakley) and Will Sampson (as Sitting Bull's 'interpreter').

    Ultimately, while not particularly compelling (there is very little plot to speak of), the film remains consistently interesting throughout and it actually emerged the winner of the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival! Unfortunately, however, the Italian-dubbed print I watched was cut - as the film only ran for about 100 minutes, whereas its complete running time is officially given as 123!
  • This film is a mess. No coherency at all, I had no idea what was trying to be told. The editing is so choppy and you spend so much time trying to figure out what went on in the preceding "snippet" that it eventually just gets massively annoying.

    30 minutes into the film I was drifting badly and ended making appetizers for my work's potluck the next day.

    What the heck does the above line have to do with the movie? Well, I could say that about the movie itself. Half the "snippets" left you wondering what the heck was just said in relation to the movie. The movie is crying out for some kind of plot and never gets one.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    At the time the film was dismissed by critics and ignored by audiences, in part because its deflation of American myths could hardly compete with the Bicentennial. But also because the critics couldn't see past the obvious satirical element to the more complicated themes that Altman explored.

    Altman is not content merely to satirize the West, because he understands that America's gift for self invention and self-serving myth making is really what sets it apart, what makes America "exceptional." Altman is interested in the power of fiction, and he argues that in the contest between reality and fiction, neither is a clear winner, but genuine art, rather than mere showmanship, is every bit as consequential. When the opera singer entertains President Cleveland, the president yawns, but Cody and his band of liars are moved to tears because as showmen they recognize the power of a really good show.

    And this is what ultimately distinguishes Sitting Bull from Bill Cody. As Ned Buntline observes, "I was thinking about Sitting Bull. Just put yourself in that Injun's place. You sit in your tepee and dream. And then you go to wherever the dream may take you... it might come true. And you wait for real life to catch up. Injuns gear their lives to dreams. And what an injun dreams, no matter how far-fetched, will wait until he dies to come true. The white men - they're different. The only time they dream is when things are going their way." The real conflict is not between a mythical and a real West, but between competing dreams, as played out in the contest between Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull, who bests Cody at his own game. Sitting Bull is not just the real deal — a real chief and a real horseman, who can easily slip away from camp without being tracked down by Cody (thus spoiling his reputation as a famous tracker) — he is also the superior myth maker. And he authors his own myth, whereas Cody is the invention of Ned Buntline, as Ned reminds him toward the end of the film. In the end what matters is whose myth is the more powerful, the more convincing, the more enduring. Cody appears to have the last word by staging a phony act in which he slays Sitting Bull, but Sitting Bull defeats death itself by appearing before Cody after having been murdered at Standing Rock. Sitting Bull had the patience to wait until real life caught up with his dreams.

    Many consider the film a minor effort, but take a closer look and you'll find that it exemplifies all of Altman's strengths as one of the most original and individual of America's directors in the 70s.
  • There isn't really much to say about this movie. It's about Buffalo Bill and his white men being racist towards Buffalo Bill and his Indians. No action till the very end, which should get an award for worst action scene ever. it involves Buffalo Bill using man-strength to force Sitting Bull to the ground and then the camera moves away and we see Sitting Bull's body lying there. This is probably a bad review, which is understandable, as I pretty much stared at the TV half-asleep the entire time due to boredom (I had to watch it, though, for school). Um, don't watch it unless you like really, really boring films. I watched it with my dad, brother and mom 9she left in the middle of it), my dad said it sucked, it was like a 3, my brother (3 years older than me) said it was O.K.. So, unless you've watched every other film in the world and are sleep deprived, don't watch this film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I'll have to dig into the true story of Buffalo Bill Cody, as this revisionist Western paints a decidedly one sided view of the pioneer legend, with no redeeming qualities that I can remember from the picture at all. His condescending demeanor is illustrated by the assignment of a 'colored' stand-in for Chief Sitting Bull, and the shoot 'em up contempt he has for an unfortunate canary. To his credit, Paul Newman does an exemplary job of pulling off that portrayal, but there must have been some good qualities Cody might have had, though they weren't on display here.

    Will Sampson has always been a personal favorite, and I was blind sided as I'm sure most viewers were when it's revealed he wasn't Sitting Bull. I'm curious now how one time actor Frank Kaquitts managed to land his only screen role as the legendary Chief of the Hunkpapa Sioux. The disappointment for me came at the end of the picture when Sampson reprised the role of Sitting Bull for the Wild West finale, surrendering any integrity he might have had as spokesman for the Chief.

    What I liked about the story was how Buffalo Bill kept being put in his place by circumstances beyond his control, even when surrounded by an army of yes men. You would think he'd have been a more principled individual, but it appeared that every decision was based on promoting the gate. In that regard, probably the most interesting aspect about the movie is it's take on the beginnings of 'the show business', as Bill and his partner (Joel Grey) liked to call it. Can you picture 'Entertainment Tonight' back in the late 1800's paying tribute to Pahaska Long Hair and Annie Oakley as the celebrities of their day? Who knows how big their legends might have been if Al Gore had invented the internet a hundred years sooner.
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