Pow Wow Highway
Pow Wow Highway was one of the first “Native American Movies” to come out at a time when social realism was big in cinema. The film is a bit dated. The music and some of the characters are distractingly irritating. The film has many qualities that make it socially important and ultimately enjoyable. It is considered a cult classic by many. I remember when I was 13, a family friend who was considered very wise and very spacy was telling me to see this movie. She couldn’t remember the name and she reconstructed the entire movie for me. Since she was sort of our village root doctor, I politely listened and have wanted to see it ever since.
Every time I got into this movie, the score would pull me out. I think it was the Robbie Robertson tracks that were the most jarring and grating. The Buddy Redbow and Rabbit characters seemed ridiculous and comical in an unintentional way. After seeing Wes Studi as Goyactla in that Geronimo movie, or as The Sphinx in Mystery Men, (both awesome roles, well done) it was very odd to see him play the unlikable Buff character so akwardly.
Given these draw backs, Pow Wow Highway still has enough real substance to make it a good movie. The storyline and the performance of Gary Farmer as Philbert are enough to save any film. I really liked how the story revolves around Philbert’s quest for self actualisation in a social context where it isn’t taken seriously. Philbert is not deterred by other people’s ideas, and his quest is ultimately successful. The other more normal storylines are played out in the background by people who think that Philbert’s outmoded worldview is invalid. As in real life, the mythological and mundane storylines intertwine and are dependent on each other. Pow Wow Highway communicates this to the veiwer very effectively. I kept thinking of the Jungian and Campbellian books that have made me view my own life story much as Philbert does. Philbert has the psychosocial construct of his recent Native ancestors to guide his self-actualisation. This quest is seen as outmoded and useless to most characters in the movie. Modern American culture sees many Native American mythologies as outmoded and useless. This analogy says more about modern Native American life than the film’s realistic depiction of reservation life does. The success of Philbert’s quest validates the dissapearing traditional worldviews of Philbert’s Native ancestors. This was a powerful social statement during a time when nearly all Native Americans in film were in historical movies.
I consider this a good movie. Beyond the film’s irritating music choices and unlikeable characters, it has a well told story. The story is important as a social commentary of Native American life. More importantly, Philbert’s quest represents vital steps in human development that our current society is unsupportive of.