Jean's Take

A blog about words, women, & whimsy

Tag: movie review

Caroline Weldon alias Woman Walks Ahead

Woman Walks Ahead, 2018, 101 mins., is adapted from a novel by Eileen Pollack called Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Caroline Weldon and Sitting Bull.  It tells the story of Caroline Weldon, a well-to-do widow and portrait painter from Brooklyn, who, in the late 1890’s, packed her paints and her trunk and made the long, arduous trip west to paint Chief Sitting Bull. (Woman Walks Ahead is the name Sitting Bull and the Lakota Sioux gave her.) Our government attempted to send her back—these were tense times with the Indians—but she meets Sitting Bull and stays, well, I don’t know where she stays for many of the scenes of them together are in his tent, or walking the range, etc.  One time, he changes clothes in front of her and there is tense music but that’s about it.  Their relationship is the major focus of the film. But if this film is trying to make a case for a more intimate relationship between the two of them, it fails . . . , dismally. Research shows that there was mutual respect and she became his confidante and secretary, but lover? A real stretch—besides, he already had 2 wives.

Weldon is played by Jessica Chastain, a fine actress, but wasted here. She dresses in prim ruffled day-dresses and shoes designed for the drawing room; hence, one can easily spot her in a crowd. One time, the director sits her on a big white stallion in her eastern garb, moving through a crowd. The scene made me think of Rembrandt’s Nightwatch in which he tucked his recently departed wife into the canvas. Her otherworldly figure enhances; Chastain just looks silly.

On the other hand, Sitting Bull played by Michael Greyeyes almost makes up for that.  I looked him up to find that he is a Canadian actor with a Master’s Degree in Theater from Kent State and an accomplished ballet dancer—a tall one at 6’2”.  When Caroline first meets this great Chief who brought down Custer, he’s wearing a beat-up floppy hat and old clothes and is on his knees digging up potatoes. This menial task along with his demeanor helped to quickly establish an aura of sadness and resignation combined with a dignity that he maintained throughout the film.

This is not a great film but it did send me into research mode. I needed to know more about Caroline Weldon. Alas, we were duped! No wonder Chastain was no more than a cardboard copy, she was mostly fiction. The real Caroline Weldon was born in Switzerland in 1844 and her name was Susanna Carolina Faesch. She moved with her mother to Brooklyn when she was a child. Her mother married a physician and when Caroline got older, she married a physician too. About 10 years into her marriage she ran away with a married man, had a son and when her lover returned to his wife—which happens more often than not, she had no choice but to move back with her mother. During this time, she got interested in the Indian Rights movement and when her mother died and left her a little inheritance, she changed her name to Caroline Weldon, took her son and went off to paint Chief Sitting Bull. Later, the two would have a falling out  and she would leave. She was on the Mississippi on her way to visit a cousin in Kansas City when he was killed—not, as we saw her in the film, being dragged away in tears. Sometime around this time, her son died and, in 1921, she would die alone in a small apartment in Brooklyn from candle wax burns. (I know, that does sound unlikely, but it was a hundred years ago.)

Hers is a sad story. We don’t know whether she ran away with a married man on impulse or if her marriage was so unhappy that she had to do something, but her actions, of course, would have destroyed her reputation. Even her son had to feel society’s rebuff—remember, it was the 1800’s. (Funny that men don’t seem to have that problem.} It is logical to assume that when she changed her name and started west with her son, she was hoping to start over, to leave that past behind. Her support of the Sioux and their plight is recorded. There just wasn’t anything left to do. The Senate had already passed the Dawes Act which gave the government the right to place the Indians on small reservations so they could send settlers to what would become North and South Dakota. She was too late, but she tried. She did what she could.

There’s a cemetery in Scotland on the North Sea with a grave tucked in near the wall that has the epitaph, ‘She did what she could’. Caroline Weldon made me think of it. She was brave; she was kind—even spending her meager fortune to help feed the Sioux, and she wanted to make a difference. She tried; she did what she could which is all we should expect from anyone.. She deserved better than this film.

I’m giving this film 2 carats, one for making us aware of Weldon. In fact, last year, after the film came out, Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn had a trolley tour in March during Women’s History Month called ‘Women who walked Ahead’ and featured Weldon’s grave. It likely wouldn’t have happened without the film.

The second carat is for making me think about Native Americans. . We don’t see much about them. Oh, there’s the Lone Ranger and Tonto but we have to think hard to come up with much else. They are our dirty linen. Did you know that our government even killed all the buffalo so the Sioux would lose their source of food and become dependent, easier to control?

By the way, Caroline Weldon painted 4 canvases of Sitting Bull. Two still exist – one is held by the North Dakota Historical Society in Bismarck, ND and the other at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock, Ark.  Go see them.

Sam Rockwell plays a disgruntled soldier

Directed by Susanna White                       Screen writer: Steven Knight                               2 carats

 

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HOMESMAN: Surrealism on the Barren Plain.

cowboy-brown-horseshoe-hiI like Westerns; I like Hillary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones.  They are good at what they do, so I settled back with a smile to spend the evening with them in the Wild West.  It didn’t take long to realize that something was wrong–the land was too barren, the town too small and the settlers too few.  Swank plays, Mary Bee Cuddy, a strong, stalwart, spinster tilling her own land and wanting more than anything a man, for various reasons.  Jones plays, George Briggs, a good-for-nothing drifter whom Cuddy finds hanging from a tree (the only tree I believe within a hundred miles) getting ready to offer up his last breath.  (I know what you’re thinking, but forget it.) As the story proceeds, Cuddy has volunteered–for want of a valiant ‘Townsman’ to do so–to take three immigrant women who had become quite mad, across the barren plain to get help.   Briggs comes along—not because he feels any debt to Cuddy for saving his life but because she agrees to pay him.

From this point on, ‘Homesman’ makes no sense and don’t wait for it to do so.  Cuddy picks up these immigrant women, who couldn’t hack it on the barren plain, in a wood-enclosed wagon with no windows and a lock on the door.  They are handcuffed inside in their flimsy nightgowns, and at least one has no shoes.  There is no baggage and even few supplies for this barren plain adventure—I’m beginning to worry.

Along the way, they get hungry and BEHOLD! on this barren plain, with absolutely nothing around but barrenness, sits a Victorian Hotel that looks very much like a gingerbread house.  Inside is the innkeeper, James Spader, with a full staff preparing a feast and acting much like that rabbit who was always late in ‘Alice in Wonderland’.  Next, the little party arrives at a thriving Western town and Briggs delivers his looney cargo to Meryl Streep, the minister’s wife.   “Aha,” I say aloud, a smirk on my face, “You can’t fool me.  You may think you look like Meryl Streep in that bouffant black dress and pretty little black bonnet but I know you are really the Queen of Spades!”

I wait for Tommy Lee Jones, who directed the film, to put everything aright as he has so many times, but no, the movie ends as he dances a macabre jig and a wooden grave marker floats down the river.

 

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Good for Grown-ups: ‘CAPTAIN PHILLIPS’ has Three Surefire Ingredients for Success. . . .

  • It stars Tom Hanks and he’s always a class act(or).   Here, he portrays Captain Richard Phillips with a competence and sensitivity that made this viewer feel empathy for a mangy, undernourished gang of captors that simply had a boat, a few guns, and nothing else to do.
  • It was developed from an intense and wild true story.  In 2009, the Maersk Alabama, a large freighter, was hi-jacked off the coast of Africa by Somali pirates.  The Somalis took the Captain as ransom when they left the ship on an enclosed lifeboat.
  • The Navy shows up and then the SEALS and, well, if you’re  like I am who still gets tears in her eyes during the proper performance of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, you know the feeling.

 Mal-nourished pirates take-over Freighter on High Seas

Comments:

One thing about a well-publicized true story, we know the major details–we know that the pirates get on the ship, that the captain is taken hostage and that we get him back. But as the tension builds, I caught myself searching for logical ways to keep it from happening.  After all, the fact that four raggamuffin Somalis in a run-down motor boat could illegally board a large freighter with a crew of 30, take it over, leave with the Captain and $30,000 never quite seemed real even when I read it, but it does reaffirm that “truth is stranger than fiction.”

Wake up, Maritimers!!!

 

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