Monthly Archives: February 2015

Review Roundup: Newly Restored Edward S. Curtis Film and Book

Just over a century ago, the famed–and controversial–Edward S. Curtis produced a groundbreaking silent feature film, In the Land of the Head Hunters. Made in cooperation with the Kwakwaka’wakw of British Columbia, this melodramatic feature-length film was the first to star an all-Indigenous cast. It employed innovative camerawork and narrative structure that had yet to be seen in other early motion pictures and was extensively color tinted and toned. At early screenings, it was accompanied by a live orchestra playing an original musical score said to have been based on recordings Curtis made with the Kwakwaka’wakw. Although the film received rave reviews from critics, it was a failure at the box office and was soon forgotten and nearly lost completely.

Over the past decade, Brad Evans and Aaron Glass have worked with the U’mista Cultural Centre and a team of experts to meticulously restore this lost treasure of American film history. In the book, Return to the Land of the Head Hunters, Glass and Evans bring together an impressive slate of anthropologists, Native American activists and community members, artists, musicians, literary scholars, and film historians to recount the complex and challenging process of restoring the film and to discuss its legacy.

Now, after screening in select cities across the U.S. and Canada, the fully restored version of In the Land of the Head Hunters is available on DVD from Milestone Films. Noting the film’s significance, The New York Times and Indian Country Today have reviewed the film on the occasion of its DVD release.

From The New York Times, In the Land of the Head Hunters,’ a Recreated Artifact of Ancient Ways:

Poster for ‘In the Land of the Head Hunters’ by the World Film Corporation.

“Around 1911, Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), the celebrated photographer of Native Americans, began preparations for a six-reel feature about the Kwakwaka’wakw (formerly Kwakiutl) Indians of British Columbia. The movie, a commercial enterprise intended to underwrite the cost of Curtis’s lavish photographic albums, was to be set before the arrival of European explorers and to feature a Kwakwaka’wakw cast. In addition to collecting masks and ceremonial objects, Curtis created a movie location off Vancouver Island, constructing false house-fronts, commissioning totem poles, and having wardrobes of cedar bark clothing woven.

‘In the Land of the Head Hunters’…is the reconstruction of a reconstruction. It preserves an artifact that used a once advanced technology to document a no longer extent way of life, and was itself all but lost to history.

Read the full New York Times review here.

From Indian Country TodayReturn to the Land of the Head Hunters: 100 Years Later, Edward Curtis’ Movie Plays Again:

Filmed in beautiful Northeast corner of Vancouver Island, Canada, the film contains accurate depictions of  Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonies and dances performed decades, and even a century, earlier. As such, despite its fictional narrative, it’s an important document of culture that may have otherwise have been lost […]

According to William Cranmer, hereditary chief and chairman of the U’mista Cultural Society in Alert Bay, Canada, “Many of our old relatives were part of the film and when we saw them as teenagers, that was great for us. We appreciated that the story was told in the way things happened in those early days. We saw the canoes as they were expertly paddled by the people of the day. We saw the way they used the designs on the house fronts and the history of those designs. There is a lot of information that is useful for us today. If Mr. Curtis hadn’t made that film, we wouldn’t see it.”

Indian Country Today: Some aspects of the film have been dramatized and do not depict ceremonies accurately. However, George Hunt, who served as the films assistant director and was the chief of the Kwakwaka’wakw in 1914, left thousands of detailed records of what was done in the film as well as historical documentation.

Read the full Indian Country Today review here.

Watch the trailer for the restored film here and the book trailer here:

Visit to learn more about the book and the film.

Before #BlackLivesMatter: A History Lesson from the Black Panther Party

As part of our ongoing celebration of African American History Month, Craig J. Peariso—author of Radical Theatrics: Put-Ons, Politics, and the Sixties—examines the Black Lives Matter movement within its broader historical context.  In doing so, he revisits Black Panther Party doctrine and questions how it might inform contemporary discussions surrounding police brutality and race relations in America.

Die-ins; marches; rallies; signs painted with the words “Hands Up!”; NFL players taking the field with their hands in the air; NBA players in shirts that read “I can’t breathe.” The grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for killing two men—one in Missouri, the other in New York—have given rise to a series of actions and gestures of solidarity over the last several months. The slogan “Black lives matter,” which has come to be used as something like the official name for the movement as a whole, encapsulates the sentiment. The outrage that has fueled a number of riots in the last fifty years–Watts, Newark, Los Angeles, Miami…the list could go on—has resurfaced once again, becoming increasingly intense and widespread in the months since Michael Brown was shot by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri last August.

In the press we see images of a diverse group of people coming together to give form to their opposition to racial profiling and injustice, expressing their anger and frustration over the excessive force too often deployed in the arrest of minority suspects. With each story we hear a narrative that turns on questions of police racism. Are the officers who patrol minority neighborhoods more likely to use force in apprehending suspects? Are they predisposed to seeing young black men as potentially violent? Is the excessive use of force simply a result of officers patrolling communities with which they have no connection? Much as I understand the need to ask these questions, it is important that we also look beyond these longstanding racial tensions in understanding our current predicament.

I cannot help but think of the Black Panther Party’s 1966 “Ten-Point Platform and Program,” which called explicitly for “an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of black people,” and proposed the organization of “black self-defense groups” dedicated to defending the community. That year the Panthers began organizing their own patrols, following police through the ghettos of Oakland and standing, visibly armed, at a legal distance to observe as police stopped individuals for questioning. While some will hear of this and conclude that little or nothing has changed in interactions between the police and minority communities, to do so would be to forget the Panthers’ larger point.

Bobby Hutton and Bobby Seale, California State House, May 2, 1967. Photo by Wade Sharrer.

The Party’s founders, after all, insisted repeatedly that their work not be mistaken for simple racial politics. Their Minister of Defense, Huey Newton, spoke on any number of occasions of the need to understand the organization’s actions as part of a larger class struggle, stressing that in many ways the Party used both race and the gun as rhetorical strategies, deploying common tropes of oppression and rebellion to emphasize the need for a broader conversation about social and economic injustice. Little to nothing would be accomplished, he argued, so long as individuals insisted on thinking only in the very limited, and limiting, terms of race—terms that had been dictated not simply by the history of prejudice in America, but also, and in large part, by the media and those who profited from existing relations of power.

In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, we would do well to remember this lesson from the Panthers and to ask other equally important questions about the events in Ferguson and New York: Has media coverage skewed our understanding of who is participating in the protests and overemphasizing racial antagonisms? Is police brutality simply a result of racial prejudice or are there also class issues at play? Given the speed with which corporate media has reduced this movement to being solely about race, one cannot help but ask just who has benefited from this narrative of racial antagonism, a narrative that existed long before August 2014. It has certainly not been Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or any other poor soul who has found him- or herself on the wrong end of official aggression.

Craig Peariso is assistant professor of art history at Boise State University.

New Art History Books and CAA 2015

This week we head to the 103rd annual meeting of the College Art Association in New York City. UW Press Editor in Chief Larin McLaughlin, Senior Acquisitions Editor Regan Huff, and Advancement and Grants Manager Beth Fuget will be representing the Press, unveiling several new books, meeting with partners to discuss our Mellon Foundation-funded collaboration, the Art History Publication Initiative, and hosting a book signing with photographer Margaret Morton.

Here’s a sampling of some of the new titles we’ll be unveiling at the conference, but be sure to stop by our booth (#1007) or check out our CAA program ad to see the full slate of titles we’ll feature.

Imperial Illusions: Crossing Pictorial Boundaries in the Qing Palaces
By Kristina Kleutghen
Art History Publication Initiative
In the Forbidden City and other palaces around Beijing, Emperor Qianlong (r. 1736-1795) surrounded himself with monumental paintings of architecture, gardens, people, and faraway places. The best artists of the imperial painting academy, including a number of European missionary painters, used Western perspectival illusionism to transform walls and ceilings with visually striking images that were also deeply meaningful to Qianlong. These unprecedented works not only offer new insights into late imperial China’s most influential emperor, but also reflect one way in which Chinese art integrated and domesticated foreign ideas.

Great Qing: Painting in China, 1644-1911
By Claudia Brown
This comprehensive overview of painting in China’s last dynasty, the Qing (1644-1911), fills a need in the field of East Asian art history and will be welcomed by students and collectors. Claudia Brown provides a thorough chronological account of painting in the Qing period, from the tumultuous Ming-Qing transition to the end of imperial rule, while examining major influences along the way. Among topics explored are the relationship between painting and mapmaking, the role of patrons and collectors, printmaking and publishing, religious themes, and Western influences. Great Qing is innovative in providing many fine examples of Qing painting in American museums, works from all regions of China, and paintings by women.

Excavating the Afterlife: The Archaeology of Early Chinese Religion
By Guolong Lai
Art History Publication Initiative
In Excavating the Afterlife, Guolong Lai explores the dialectical relationship between sociopolitical change and mortuary religion from an archaeological perspective. By examining burial structure, grave goods, and religious documents unearthed from groups of well-preserved tombs in southern China, Lai shows that new attitudes toward the dead, resulting from the trauma of violent political struggle and warfare, permanently altered the early Chinese conceptions of this world and the afterlife. The book grounds the important changes in religious beliefs and ritual practices firmly in the sociopolitical transition from the Warring States (ca. 453-221 BCE) to the early empires (3rd century-1st century BCE).

Image Problems: The Origin and Development of the Buddha’s Image in Early South Asia
By Robert DeCaroli
This deft and lively study explores the questions of how and why the earliest verifiable images of the historical Buddha were created. In so doing, DeCaroli steps away from old questions of where and when to present the history of Buddhism’s relationship with figural art as an ongoing set of negotiations within the Buddhist community and in society at large. By comparing innovations in Brahmanical, Jain, and royal artistic practice, DeCaroli examines why no image of the Buddha was made until approximately five hundred years after his death and what changed in the centuries surrounding the start of the Common Era to suddenly make those images desirable and acceptable.

Book Signing

Margaret Morton, author and photographer of Cities of the Dead: The Ancestral Cemeteries of Kyrgyzstan, will sign copies of her book in UW Press’s CAA booth (#1007) from noon to 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 12. The book features 75 stunning duotone photographs of Kyrgryzstan’s otherworldly cities of the dead and represents the latest work from award-winning photographer Margaret Morton.

Click over to this photo essay for a preview of Cities of the Dead. And if you’re gallery hopping around New York, stop in and see Margaret’s photos on display at Cooper Union’s Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Gallery.

Stars for Selma

This year’s African American history month comes at a critical moment in American race relations: Black Lives Matter protests and dialogues continue across the country; Ava DuVernay’s film Selma is garnering critical acclaim and its Oscar nominations and purported slights are generating debates about racial equity–or lack thereof–in Hollywood; plans are underway for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the march from Selma and other watershed moments in Civil Rights history. In recognition of these ongoing dialogues, historian Emilie Raymond, author of Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement (forthcoming May 2015) elaborates upon the historical context of the film Selma. In this guest post, as in her book, Raymond argues that black celebrities made critical contributions to the success of the Selma march, as well as to the Civil Rights Movement in general.

In the concluding scenes of the film Selma, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, Southern Christian Leadership Conference associates celebrate the news that Harry Belafonte is chartering a plane at his own expense to bring in the celebrities Dick Gregory, Odetta, the trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, and others for the last leg of the Selma march to Montgomery. None of the entertainers expect to be paid for the appearances.

“Day-O!” one reverend cries. “Freedom come and it won’t be long,” the others answer, in a play on Belafonte’s famous “Day-O,” also known as “The Banana Boat Song.” A montage of historical footage shows Sammy Davis, Jr., and Belafonte amongst the crowd in Selma.

What is remarkable about Selma is its nuanced approach to the civil rights movement. The film shows the triumphs and tragedies of the freedom struggle, King’s convictions and self-doubts, and the debates within the movement regarding leadership, local organizing, and tactics. However, the film focuses on King at the expense of a number of other activists who laid much of the groundwork in Selma or filled other roles important to the success of the Selma to Montgomery march. While this focus represents legitimate artistic choices, there is obviously more to the story than is presented on film.

One such aspect was the role of celebrities in Selma. The “Day-O” scene alludes to the SCLC’s familiarity with Belafonte, but does not explain it. The positioning of the conversation to the film’s conclusion also makes it seem like celebrity involvement only came at the end of the march, but celebrity involvement served important functions throughout the occasion.

In fact, this was at least Gregory’s third trip to Selma, as he had begun working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on its voter registration projects there as early as 1963, projects which Belafonte had helped finance. SNCC experienced extreme violence and retaliation, and Gregory’s presence had helped boost the morale of the activists and bring publicity to their project. After King arrived in Selma, Gregory returned as well to help lead 3,200 marchers out of Selma to begin the 54-mile walk into Montgomery.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is pictured here with Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis, Jr. at the “Broadway Answers Selma” benefit show at the Majestic Theatre on April 4, 1965. The event, which raised an unprecedented $150,000, marked the peak of celebrity involvement in the civil rights movement.

After “Bloody Sunday,” Sammy Davis, Jr., announced his intention to produce “Broadway Answers Selma,” a massive fundraising benefit in New York City’s theater district, which took place after the conclusion of the march. Although Davis had organized countless benefits for the movement in the past, his pledge to raise $150,000 (the equivalent of over $1 million today) set a record. The popular Broadway stars Carol Burnett, Barbra Streisand, Eli Wallach, Lou Gossett, Diana Sands, Alan Arkin, a young Martin Sheen (who played the judge authorizing the march in the film), and over sixty more performers all donated their services.

The film does not actually show the march itself, which took five days and was limited to 200 marchers on the vast portion of the two-lane highway. Rainstorms and a hostile local population made the journey arduous, and the marchers slept in hastily-prepared campsites on land donated by local African Americans.

Two celebrities completed the entire walk from Selma to Montgomery: the actors Gary Merrill (known for All About Eve) and Parnell Roberts, star of television’s Bonanza. They helped other volunteers erect and break down the huge tents at each campsite along trek. The singers Odetta and Pete Seeger arrived on the third night of the march to lead sing-a-longs.

The vast number of celebrities arrived on the fourth night of the march to participate in the concert organized by Belafonte. Ossie Davis skillfully harnessed the enormous crowd for a four-hour spectacle of songs, sketches, and speeches. Other performers included Nina Simone, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Anthony Perkins, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Shelley Winters, Ruby Dee, Nipsey Russell, and George Kirby. Most of them stayed for the final walk into Montgomery.

A still from the film “Selma.”

Belafonte led another impromptu concert the next day on the Alabama state capital plaza with Joan Baez, the Chad Mitchell Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and several other singers. Providing filler for the news cameras and entertaining the marchers as the rest of the crowd filled in, their performance was a festive and rousing build-up to King’s stirring concluding address.

Moviegoers know that films can’t possibly explore every historical detail, yet compelling films like Selma do highlight important trends, just as in the “Day-O” scene. Indeed, celebrities boosted morale, raised money, and brought positive publicity to the Selma campaign, functions that Belafonte, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dick Gregory, and Sidney Poitier had been providing for the civil rights movement since the late 1950s. These Stars for Freedom played important roles as unique activists with the visibility, influence, and connections to help make the struggle for racial progress a national movement with the money and legitimacy to successfully address its goals.

Emilie Raymond is associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the author of “From My Cold, Dead Hands”: Charlton Heston and American Politics.