Sioux Ghost Dance (1894)

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Sioux Ghost Dance (1894) Poster

A group of Sioux Indians from Buffalo Bill's Wild West exhibition demonstrates a dance called a "ghost dance".


5.2/10
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17 May 2007 | jluis1984
6
| Buffalo Bill's show arrives to the Kinetoscope...
1894 was an extremely important year for American cinema, as finally after 5 years of hard work, the Edison Manufacturing Company showed to the world the first motion picture exhibition device: William K.L. Dickson's Kinetoscope. It wasn't anything like what we now know as cinema (it wasn't a projector), but it was the first device that allowed people to be able to contemplate moving images. Soon the first public Kinetoscope parlor was opened and motion pictures started to become part of our world, opening the way to new pioneers like the Lumière brothers, inventors of cinema as we know it, who found a lot of inspiration for their work in Dickson's invention. When the Kinetoscope debuted, it offered short films depicting vaudeville artists, common activities like horse shoeing or metal forging, and some sports; but soon everyone wanted to be captured by the camera and among those first movie stars were the members of the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show.

According to historians, on September 24, 1894, several members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show arrived to Edison's famous Black Maria studio in order to perform in front of the camera and be part of the motion pictures revolution. Among the films done that day by Dickson and cinematographer William Heise, were two short films about Native American dances, which are considered as the very first movies where Native Americans appeared. "Sioux Ghost Dance" and "Buffalo Dance" were those two films, and both showed a group of Native Americans performing a song. In "Sioux Ghost Dance", a group of Sioux people make the ritual dance inspired by prophet Jack Wilson's (known as Wovoka) religious teachings. Sadly, due to the limitations of Dickson's early camera-work the magnitude of the Ghost dance can not be fully appreciated.

While a product of the late 1800s, the Ghost Dance was based on the traditional circle dances that Native Americans had been performing for centuries, so "Sioux Ghost Dance" (and its companion piece, "Buffalo Dance") allowed to Kinetoscope's audiences a small look at real Native American traditions. Despite being a show were the actors reenacted scenes from the wild west, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" had many extremely accurate and realistic elements, and the Native dances were one of them, proudly portraying their traditions under the protection of Buffalo Bill Cody (who was very respectful of them). It's true that without the sound, the dance loses a lot of its impact, but this movie is still an early example of documentary film. 6/10

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