In the press materials for his new film The Business of Fancydancing, writer/director Sherman Alexie calls making the movie -- cheaply and with every crew member sharing in the profits -- "a tribal collaboration of art and capital." After seeing it I call this an extraordinary act of generosity. No auteur is an island, but in The Business of Fancydancing, we can feel the long shadow of Sherman Alexie everywhere. The film is based on a 1992 collection of poems that first brought Alexie to prominence as a writer. Several more books of poetry, novels and short story collections followed, including The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, the basis for the acclaimed film Smoke Signals (1999). Nearly all of Alexie's creative output (oh, he's a national slam poet champion too) has been aimed at a reinterpretation of the Indian (he rejects the term "Native American" and so will I) in contemporary American culture. Tonto, Chief, and the Indian Crying over Pollution gather dust on the shelf of the past. Alexie sees today's Indians (he himself is Spokane/Coeur d'Alene) as raised on rock 'n' roll, aware of their simpleminded portrayal in Hollywood, and conflicted over the legitimacy of reservation life.
Alexie centers this conflict on Seymour Polatkin, a gay poet who has moved off "the rez" to Seattle and enjoys a successful literary career. His best friend Aristotle Joseph went to college with Seymour but dropped out to return to the reservation where "Indians like us belong." Several years later, Seymour has received word that their old friend Mouse the Violin Player has killed himself. Seymour heads back to the rez for the funeral where Anges Roth, his college girlfriend who is both Spokane and Jewish, is a school teacher and now Aristotle's lover.
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