Phil Konstantin's Reviews of "The Business of Fancydancing."

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The Business of Fancydancing

I wrote this review in September 2003.

The film was written and directed by Sherman Alexie. Alexie is well known as an author. He also wrote the screenplay for the movie "Smoke Signals," which was based on his short stories. Alexie took a film-making class, and this movie is the result of that effort. It was made on a low budget, using no "big name" stars. It is not the kind of movie you would see at the local movieplex, unless you live in Indian Country.

Alexie said "I was often winging it." He also has a social agenda (I do not use that phrase in a demeaning way) and he hired an all woman staff as a part of that effort. Alexie wrote the screenplay quickly, and the movie also includes some improvisation. Alexie said that the final film was about 70% different than his screenplay. He had a deadline to meet in order to get the movie shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

In one of the opening scene, the main character Seymour Polatkin (a full-blooded, mixed tribe Indian played by Evan Adams) reads from his book (All My Relations): "In the Great American Indian novel, when it is finally written, all the white people wil be Indians and all the Indians will be ghosts." Alexie adds two pop-up quotes to the screen which are reviews of the book (not a real book, just the book the character is supposed to have written). The New York Literary Quarterly Review gives it good reviews. The quote attributed to (again, none of this is about a real book) is "Full of Shit." This gives you an idea of the nature of the rest of the movie.

Parts of the movie are set in Seattle, the rest is in the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. One of the background scenes during the opening credits shows a man doing a shawl fancy dance. Not being a real expert on powwow trends, I did think it was a bit unusual to see as man doing a shawl dance. This anomaly was soon explained. The website Internet Movie Database ( ) describes the plot thusly: "Seymour Polatkin is a successful, gay Indian poet from Spokane who confronts his past when he returns to his childhood home on the reservation to attend the funeral of a dear friend. Based upon Sherman Alexie's book of poetry of the same name."

The time frame of the movie shifts quite often with liberal use of flashbacks. It also involves the reading of several poems (most Alexie's poems). I particularly enjoyed the poem about Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse tries to donate blood. The nurse tells him that he cannot donate because he has already given too much. "You'll have to wait several generations to be eligible again."

The movie's subject matter covers life on the reservation (Washington state style), conflicts between cultures (white vs Indian, Reservation Indian vs Indians off the reservation), conflicts between life styles (gay, heterosexual, Indian, white), alcoholism, and drug usage. The main character, Seymour, faces quite a bit of criticism from the folks who have stayed on the reservation. Seymour has become very famous for his writings. The folks who have stayed (or returned) on his reservation are often quite unkind in their comments about Seymour. Alexie says many of the insults used in the movie were actually made about him in real life.

There is some interesting music in the movie. Alexie said that he almost made the movie a musical.

While I found it interesting, this movie will not be enjoyed by everyone because of the subject matter, especially that dealing with homosexuality. It is another movie that unflinchingly looks at the poor quality of life on a reservation. Unlike "Skins," this is very much a personal movie.

I have been told that the movie will sometimes show up on some cable channels. You can find this movie in some movie rental stores. Netflix (the DVD by-mail rental company I told you about last month at: Netflix ) has it.

You can buy the DVD (which has good commentaries by Alexie) through here: The Business of Fancydancing

You can buy the VHS copy through here: The Business of Fancydancing

You can buy the book which contains Alexie's poetry here: The Business of Fancydancing

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