Essay about Head Hunters

Essay about Head Hunters

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"Head Hunters" was a great event, though it's easy to see why this "movie" failed to generate much excitement in its original run.

A great photographer Curtis certainly was; a great cinematographer, not so much, even by the standards of that long-gone era. The screenplay, such as it was, is wooden, contrived, and makes insufficient and clumsy use of the rich ethnographic and mythic material available (and of which Curtis was well aware--in fact, the information recrded by him is itself of ethnographic and historical value).

Even as an attempt to appeal to (whatever Curtis imagined the appetites of) his Euro-American audience to be, the story-line is wince-some rather than winsome.

Curtis staged almost every scene from the perspective of a still photographer, rather than with even the shakiest grasp of the potential made available by "moving" pictures. There are few scenes in which the camera even rotates on its tripod and virtually no pans or dramatic close-ups.

Little of this clumsiness can be laid to the cast members. When allowed to act at all naturally in anything like their accustomed element, they appear to have been "naturals." Their scrambling over rocks, leaping into canoes, boat-handling in general, dancing, fire-handling, and ceremonial recreations all portray comfort and fluidity, even though in many cases they were being asked to wear clothing and portray activities that already lay decades, and even generations, in their past.

Despite the considerable efforts (and remarkable luck) which have allowed scholars and film students to "restore" some sense of much of the original movie, too many scenes remain damaged or missing to retain whatever "flow" made its way past the limitations of Curtis's techniqu...


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...masks and other props created for the movie!).

It was with the conclusion of the "movie" itself, and the introduction by Chief Bill Cranmer of the Alert Bay dance troupe (partly decked out in their own regalia, and partly fitted out with Bill and Marty Holm's wonderful collection of authentic costumes and masks, due to problems with the cross-border shipment of the troupe's gear), that this aspect of the presentation came into its own.

The dancing, drumming, and singing were simply sensational: an exceptional tribute both to the original movie cast from whom several of the troupe are directly descended and to the dedication of the mostly-young dancers to the perpetuation of the most vital aspects of their own culture.

Both the orchestra and the dance group received extended and healthy rounds of applause from the large audience at the Moore.

Deservedly so!

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