Horse Playsrnby David R. SlavittrnUlzana’s RaidrnProduced by Carter De HavenrnDirected by Robert AldrichrnWritten by Alan SharprnReleased by Universal, 1972rnDances With WolvesrnProduced by ]im Wilson andrnKevin CostnerrnDirected by Kevin CostnerrnWritten by Michael BlakernReleased by Orion, 1990rnNo, I haven’t lost my mind, or atrnleast that’s what I choose to believe.rnBut this hasn’t been a terrificrnmonth for movie-viewing, and I saw arnneat flick on American Movie Classics, arn20-year-old Western I’d never heard of,rncalled Ulzana’s Raid. Smart, tough, funny,rnit was all the things that Dances WithrnWolves wasn’t. And I’d been thinking ofrnthe latter picture, because I watched thernOscar presentations (broadcast from arnplanet in some ways much like our own)rnand I saw Richard Gere perform an actrnof self-parody of such extravagance thatrnI was disappointed afterwards when herndidn’t pull off his rubber mask and turnrnout to be Billy Crystal in yet anotherrnmadcap prank. Gere, you will recall,rnthought we should broadcast waves ofrnlove to the Chinese communists thatrnwould cause them to slap their foreheads,rnrealize that thev have really beenrnunpleasant to Tibet, and then, presumably,rnmend their ways. He never took hisrnface off, and, indeed, in the New Yorkrn’limes of mid-April, cither he or someonernwith an identical name published an opedrnpiece urging us to “uphold the bannerrnof Tibetan freedom.”rnWell, it’s all right with me if thesernpeople have views, but when the viewsrnget turned into movies, the critic has arnright to point out that there have beenrnlapses in taste and judgment. AndrnDances With Wolves got seven academyrnawards, you will recall, including thernprize for best picture. Ulzana’s Raid, onrnthe other hand, got nothing but thernshort end of the stick, which is what usedrnto happen to Westerns. (Clint Eastwood’srnsuccess with Unforgiven will, norndoubt, spawn a new wave of oatcrs, or itrnwould if the union rules weren’t so unrealisticrnand if there didn’t have to be arndouble for every horse, cow, buffalo, andrnpig that we see on the screen—but that’srnanother story.)rnSo, Dances With Wolves … I’m sure Irnnever wrote about this before because Irnavoided it, managed to miss it entirely,rnwhich wasn’t easy. I’d heard and readrnenough to know that the Indians are therngood guys, noble and ecologically responsible,rnwhile the white men are thernbad guys, rude, crude, and careless ofrnthe ecosystem in which they are workingrnout a sordid caricature of Manifest Destiny.rnThis is funny, perhaps, but not entertaining,rnas it was funny but not entertainingrnwhen, in a section of upper-classrnundergraduates at the Lfniversity ofrnPennsylvania, not a single young man orrnwoman could say where Lisbon is. Theyrnknew the names of several extinct tribesrnof the Amazon, but Lisbon is a Europeanrncapital and therefore part of DeadrnWhite European Men’s History, whichrnis to say irrelevant and even offensive.rn(“On the banks of the Tagus,” I prompted,rnbut that got only blank stares.)rnSo I rented Costncr’s epic—181 minutes!rn—and watched it on the very samernscreen that I had seen Aldrieh’s cavalrymenrnand Indians romping and friskingrnon only a few nights earlier. I wasrnamazed at how crude this picture is in itsrntechnical aspects—in what we haverncome to call the grammar of film. Onernof the basic rules is that you don’t tell thernaudience in words what it has just seen.rnIf you hear bangs and then see a guyrncome out of a saloon holding his gutrnwith red stuff oozing down, you get therngeneral sense of what is being portrayed.rnBut if the guy then says, “My God, I’vernbeen shot,” that’s likely to get a laughrnout of an audience, not because it is inherentlyrncomical but because the characterrnis telling us something that wernalready know. And Costner’s noble lieutenantrndoes this all the time. He’s gotrnthis journal, see, and he is somethingrnlike Robinson Crusoe or maybe JohnrnBartram, writing out his deep thoughtsrnand making sketches… to tell us whatrnwe’ve just seen.rnA whole screen full of dead buffalo!rnWow! There they all are, all these carcasses,rnand even on the small screen of arntelevision set, they look faidy impressive.rnThe shots in the sequence that leads uprnto this panorama have been nicely built,rnand we’ve watched the Sioux dress up,rnpaint themselves, and go out on a buffalornhunt that is at least half-religious inrnits character. And surprisingly, shockingly,rnthere these dead animals are,rnstrewn across the prairie. We don’t needrnLieutenant Dunbar’s voice-over to letrnus know that this is not a good thing.rn”Who would do such a thing?” he asks.rn”The field was proof enough that it wasrnpeople without value and without soul,rnwith no regard for Sioux rights.”rnNot that the Sioux arc vegetarians,rnexactly, but when they kill buffalo, therernis lots of soulful French horn music andrnlush strings, which John Barry has suppliedrnto nudge us toward transcendentalrnsplendor. W-e understand that becausernthey paint their faces and use bows andrnarrows or spears instead of rifles, theyrnare at one with nature. The buffalo mayrnnot appreciate the difference, but Costnerrnmakes it clear to even the densest ofrnviewers. “I’ve never known a people sorneager to laugh, so devoted to family, andrnso dedicated to each other,” our youngrnlieutenant says, and then, with an ingratiatingrnaw-shucks kind of gesture, hernadds, “and the only word that came tornmind was harmony.”rnThe white guys are, to be blunt, inharmonious.rnThey shoot the lieutenant’srnhorse—a heroic horse, a veteran ofrnCivil War battle, and a gift from a Unionrngeneral to the heroic lieutenant—andrnthey shoot his pet wolf, a critter he hasrntaught to eat from his hand and hasrnnamed Two Socks. They are so inconsideraternand disagreeable that they destroyrnthe whole country and make impossiblernthe harmonious nomadic lifernthat the Sioux have been living. The audiencernis then entitled to wallow in justrnenough guilt to afford an agreeable fris-rnAUGUST 1993/49rnrnrn