Thursday, October 29, 2015

Journey Through Rosebud (1972)

          A well-intentioned meditation on the plight of the modern Native American that can’t quite lock into a storyline worthy of its themes, Journey Through Rosebud scores a few decent emotional hits but fails to make a lasting impression. The title describes a young man’s visit to the South Dakota town of Rosebud, and the lack of a hidden meaning in the title reflects an overall dearth of literary ambition. If the apex of narrative reach is a grand statement, then Journey Through Rosebud is a small assertion at best.
          Fresh-faced Kristoffer Tabori plays Danny, a longhaired draft dodger hitching his way through the American West. One day, he happens upon an Indian reservation, where he befriends bespectacled drunk Frank (Robert Forster). Although Frank is the nominal chief of his tribe simply by dint of heredity, Frank is so consumed with despair and self-loathing that he’s unwilling to comport himself with dignity, much less assume the mantle of leadership. Danny watches various white people abuse, cheat, and humiliate the Native Americans living in Rosebud, so Danny and Frank engage in philosophical discussions about one’s responsibility to combat injustice. Sometimes Frank assumes moral high ground because he performed military service, accepting a burden that young Danny shuns, and sometimes Frank undercuts himself with pathetic episodes of brawling and public drunkenness. Meanwhile, pretty Native American woman Shirley (Victoria Racimo) gets caught in the middle—when the story begins, she’s Frank’s lover, and when the story ends, she’s taken up with Danny. This being a bleeding-heart ’70s drama, everything builds toward a tragic climax that’s meant to be laden with emotion and meaning.
          While director Tom Gries stages scenes with his usual competence, Albert Ruben’s plodding script precludes the creation of genuine cinematic energy. Neither the circumstances nor the stakes of the story are made especially clear, and the character relationships feel writer-convenient. What keeps blood pumping through the movie’s veins are the performances, although even those are underwhelming. Tabori incarnates an acceptable if unimaginative vision of the arrogant youth who talks a good line about questioning authority even though he takes very little action, while Forster captures the dejected quality of his character without fully revealing the warrior that the script implies is buried inside Frank’s soul. So even though Journey Through Rosebud is more restrained than, say, Billy Jack (1971), it is yet another flawed attempt by Hollywood to dramatize the challenging realities of life on the rez circa the volatile American Indian Movement era.

Journey Through Rosebud: FUNKY

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