February 09, 2005

The Business of Fancydancing

I hated her. I realized this today during a training session at work, where we were learning about how to deal with suicide calls. Talking about the motivations for suicide brought up for me the time when my friend Seagull committed suicide three weeks after my wife and I got married. She didnít come to the wedding and we missed her but didnít have time to try and follow up and see how she was doing. She'd been below the radar for several months at that point.

All this time she's been fluttering around my mind, showing up somewhere in my thoughts almost every day. And all this time Iíve been working on forgiving her and getting over the anger I feel toward her for what she did.

When I started to get a little choked up today I did a role play in my mind where I was talking to the instructor of the class about suicide issues, and that statement came out: I hated her. And I realized it was true. All the time I knew her she was Little Miss Love-n-Light, but really she was full of shit. It was all obviously a masterfully painted faÁade, or else she certainly wouldnít have done what she did.

I don't need to forgive her. I need to forgive myself for feeling that way.

Us Spiritual Cool Dudes aren't supposed to hate anything or anybody.

Last night my wife and I watched The Business of Fancydancing. This is a film written and directed by Sherman Alexie.

We saw Sherman in 1998 at the Taos Poetry Circus. That year he defeated Jimmy Santiago Baca in the World Championship Poetry Bout. I don't want to go into a big explanation of that -- the Poetry Circus has apparently gone out of business. There isnít much to find on the net anymore, so to heck with that digression.

Sherman was great though. Some of the poems you hear in this film are poems that we first heard that night in Taos. And I had a strange personal experience with him. I accidentally bumped into him in the aisle, and he looked at me like I was Columbus or Custer or somebody; but not in an angry way. You had to be there.

This entry is supposed to be about a film but it's kind of like the movie. Maybe not as good as the movie but it's non-linear like the movie, and I like it like that. The movie I mean.

I had a cynical attitude going in having read that Alexieís direction wasn't good. But I still wanted to see it because of our experience of seeing him, and seeing another film he wrote a few years back called Smoke Signals. That one was really good. And Fancydancing proved to be much better than expected.

I love how Sherman can make a powerful statement about the condition of the modern Native American, and still keep a good sense of humor about it. This is true of both films and his writings. Fancydancing is more serious than Smoke, but you still have to smile at it sometimes.

The Business of Fancydancing is obviously autobiographical in large part. The central character, Seymour Polatkin, is a gay Indian writer (can we have a little more oppression and angst here please?). Seymour leaves the reservation, becomes a famous poet and travels the world giving lectures and being an object of fascination. Then a childhood friend dies and he goes back to the rez. You can fill in the rest.

From some of his other work, I don't think Sherman is gay but that's none of my business. Not that there's anything wrong with that of course.

This film isn't so much a story but a body of excellent character studies. Seymour isnít the only one. You also get a load of Aristotle, one of his friends; Mouse, the fiddling Indian who dies; and some of Agnes Roth, a half Indian half Jewish teacher on the rez. The story is actually told with Shermanís poetry.

The only white guy in the film gets beat up by Aristotle and Mouse. There is a strange appearance by Cynthia Geary. If you were a Northern Exposure fan youíve seen her.

The budget was obviously low, but as is often the case, this lends an earthy charm to the flick. Sherman Alexie's direction is actually pretty good for a first timer.

Seeing The Business of Fancydancing I was reminded of the poet within me. I havenít written poetry for some time. I decided that I didnít like poets very much, but thatís a lame reason to leave the artform. Donít hold your breath.

One day Seagull will rest in my mind. I hope that day is soon.

Posted by Wayne at February 9, 2005 11:47 PM

Thanks for writing about your feelings about the movie The Business of Fancydancing. I am in the process of trying to locate this movie on either DVD or VHS. I bought and watched Smoked Signals. It is a excellent film.

Sherman Alexie is a local favorite of mine, and that's why I hope to be able to find this movie. I have heard it is out of print now. Maybe I will be lucky enough to find it at the rental store.
thanks, AL

Posted by: al at March 2, 2005 05:31 AM
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