Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Exiles DVD



DVD Review by Kam Williams


Headline: Found Footage from Fifties Featuring Native Americans Released on DVD as Docudrama


                The Exiles strikes me as less a convincing docudrama than an amusing amalgam of period footage from the Fifties overlaid with a trite soundtrack of dialogue that doesn’t pass the smell or, should I say, the ear test. The upshot is that because the movie never feels authentic, it’s hard to invest emotionally in its slight storyline or in the plight of any of its characters.

 The picture was shot in 1958 by Kent Mackenzie who wanted to capture on film a day in the lives of young Native Americans from the reservation who had settled in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles. The late Mackenzie wrote the script which his well-rehearsed cast executed, although most of their lines were later lip-synched during post-production, and it shows.

 Don’t be surprised to find yourself wondering, “Is this it?” after about five minutes of watching this movie. “Is it ever going to become realistic?” But it never does. I’m not sure what to make of it, or why it’s supposed to be of interest. I can relate that it’s little more than a very tame, dubbed home movie of partying Indians mugging for the camera, but never working up the nerve to do anything daring.

 The most remarkable aspect about the annoying experience was that I managed to stay awake from beginning to end. I figured that there had to be a reason why it took a half century for The Exiles to be released. It must be that enough time has passed for it to attract an audience as a nostalgic curiosity rather than as a conventional flick offering a satisfying cinematic experience.


Fair (1 star)


In black and white

Running time: 72 minutes

Studio: Oscillioscope/Milestone Cinematheque

DVD Extras: 4 short films directed by Kent Mackenzie including Bunker Hill 1956, commentary track: Watching The Exiles with Sherman Alexie and Sean Axmaker, audio of the cast and crew at The Exiles' Opening Night at UCLA, 2008, Last Day of Angels Flight. A short film by Robert Kirste, Bunker Hill: A Tale of Urban Renewal: a short film by Greg Kimble, White Fawn's Devotion (1910): the first film directed by a Native American, Sherman Alexie and Sean Axmaker, a second Interview, WNYC Leonard Lopate Show with Sherman Alexie and Charles Burnett, and more.

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