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Buffalo Bill And The Indians
cast: Paul Newman, Joel Grey, Kevin McCarthy, Harvey Keitel, Geraldine Chaplin

director: Robert Altman

118 minutes (PG) 1976
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
William F. Cody (Paul Newman), renowned scout and buffalo hunter, has set up Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, including such attractions as Annie Oakley (Geraldine Chaplin), the surest shot in the West. His old adversary Chief Sitting Bull has also agreed to take part, but the Chief has his own agenda...

Buffalo Bill. Hero. Legend. Bullshit artist. That's the message of Robert Altman's revisionist western, written by Alan Rudolph and Altman, and 'suggested' by Arthur Kopit's play Indians. The film begins with a voiceover of how the Wild West Show tells us of our (that is, America's) heroic past. It's played absolutely straight, but just like Henry Gibson's patriotic song 200 Years that begins Altman's other film of 1976, Nashville, you can't help but read it as ironic in the extreme. Buffalo Bill, we are told, is a man who "could tell a pack of lies and persuade you it's God's own truth."

Following his huge success with M*A*S*H, Altman worked prolifically throughout the 1970s, given carte blanche by the studios to make films in a wide variety of genres, most of which he set out to subvert. Although he had his critical successes (especially Nashville, which did also reasonably well at the box office) many of the films flopped badly. Certainly, a two-hour debunking of their history was not something that the American public wanted to see in 'Bicentennial Year', and they stayed away from Buffalo Bill And The Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson.

This really is a film for Altman fans, diehard western completists, and not very many other people. There's plenty of interest, such as the work of many of Altman's regular company of actors. Almost all of the director's 1970s' pictures were shot in scope (Thieves Like Us is an exception) and Paul Lohmann's photography gives the film an appropriately dusty look. With an Altman scope film, you have to watch it at the full 2.35:1 ratio or not at all, and Buffalo Bill And The Indians contains plenty of examples of his trademark use of the wide format to marshal his large cast. There's also his characteristic multilayered soundtracks, using much overlapping dialogue, which stretched the possibilities of monophonic sound to their limits. But this is a one-note picture, and way too long at two hours. There's probably no such thing as a perfect movie in Altman's filmography, only more or less flawed. This is one of his more flawed ones.

Momentum's DVD, in their Take One collection, is encoded for Region 2 only. A shorter, re-edited version was available on video in the 1990s, but this is the complete film. The transfer is anamorphic in the correct ratio of 2.35:1 and the soundtrack is Dolby digital 2.0 mono, in the original English and a German-dubbed version. Subtitles are available in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Turkish. Menus are available in English, German and Spanish. Extras: the theatrical trailer and a four-minute making-of featurette.
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