Political Film Society - Newsletter #244 -January 15, 2006

January 15, 2006


On January 1, the Political Film Review contained a ballot for members to narrow the list of nominated films in each of three categories to no more than five for voting during February. The list of films is as follows:

EXPOSÉ: Assisted Living, Before the Fall, Crash, Downfall, Good Night & Good Luck, The Great Water, In My Country, Innocent Voices, Lord of War, Machuca, Munich, The Ninth Day, North Country, Paradise Now, Turtles Can Fly.

HUMAN RIGHTS: Caché, The Constant Gardener, God's Sandbox, The Great Raid, The Great Water, In My Country, Innocent Voices, Machuca, The Ninth Day, North Country, The War Within.

PEACE: Before the Fall, Downfall, In My Country, Jarhead, Munich, Private

Consult the January 1 newsletter for the actual ballot. The deadline for all mail ballots is January 31, 2006. Return to polfilms@aol.com.

The New WorldThe New World, directed by Terrence Malick, should perhaps have been named "The Pocahontas Story," as the film focuses mostly on her life from 1607, when the 12-year-old Native American princess first encounters 27-year-old Captain John Smith (played by Colin Farrell), until her death in England during 1616 from pneumonia or tuberculosis as the 21-year-old bride of John Rolfe (played by Christian Bale). When the film begins and throughout the 149 minutes, filmviewers will be in awe of the timeless, pristine beauty of an unspoiled Virginia. (The actual filming is in Virginia!) The first action occurs when the initial 102 Jamestown settlers of the London Virginia Company disembark, including Smith, who has been confined for mutinous conduct. Captain Christopher Newport (played by Christopher Plummer) pardons his death sentence, but after awhile sends him on a potentially perilous mission up the Chickahominy River for provisions from a rumored major settlement. During the 12-mile trek, Smith is captured, taken to the Algonquin chief Powhatan (played by August Schellenberg) at Werowocomoco, where Smith again escapes an apparent death sentence when his favorite daughter Pocahontas (played by Q'orianka Kilcher, a mixed-race Inca descendent reared in Hawai`i) intervenes. The chief then makes Smith his son, and Pocahontas and Smith thereafter are inseparable, learning each other's languages while falling in love without a hint of pederasty, as she bears him no child. When Smith returns to Jamestown months later, he is considered to have gone AWOL, and he discovers a society less pleasing than he experienced with the Powhatans.

Soon, Pocahontas is banished because she warns Smith of an impending attack on the settlers, who hitherto had been left undisturbed on the assumption that their visit would be short. So she goes to live with Smith at Jamestown, and the English stave off the attack. (In actuality, she visited the English fort from time to time, was crucial in enabling the settlers to have enough food to live on, was seized as a hostage to get prisoners released by the tribe, but never lived in Jamestown.) Two years later, Smith is recalled to England to organize an expedition farther north up the North American coast, but he does not bring Pocahontas along, presumably because she is too young to be a legal spouse in England. She then becomes despondent. After arriving in 1613, John Rolfe sympathizes with her plight, as he has recently lost a wife and child. He befriends her, and the two are properly married after her baptism in 1614. Although the original settlers were hoping to find gold, Rolfe's wealth is from cultivating tobacco with the aid of Pocahontas at a location outside Jamestown. In 1616, the couple goes to England, and (a cinematic fiction) she meets the king and queen. Powhatan sends along a few emissaries on the voyage, led by Opechancanough (played by Wes Studi, a Cherokee), who are also eager to discover what is to them the "new world," so that they can meet the God that the English keep talking about. What they discover is the opposite of their symbiotic adaptation to nature--a place where nature has been tamed into geometric hedges and topiaries. Pocahontas is able to see Smith there before her death, the final touch to the Madame Butterfly story that serves as the allegory for the wanton conquest of the North America, the other "new world," by mostly uncouth Europeans. Various events of a more political character are also portrayed, notably battles fought between the native peoples and the unwelcome settlers. The introductory theme, from Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold, consisting of a very lengthy note sounded by horns, portrays the unspoiled wilderness. A piano concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is Pocahontas's theme. But one key element in almost missing--dialog. The production appears to have been filmed from storyboards with very little dialog; almost inaudible, confused voiceovers appear to have been added later in order to reveal the emotions of the main characters. The most memorable epigram is the tagline "Once discovered, it was changed forever." Released two years before the four hundredth anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, though scriptwriting was completed by 1987, the film presents history as a dreamlike legend. MH

Amazon.com Music

Love and Hate in Jamestown : John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation
by David A. Price

A richly flavored, fascinating narrative of the first two decades of the Jamestown settlement.