EXILES, THE(director/writer: Kent Mackenzie; cinematographers: Erik Daarstad/Robert Kaufman/John Morrill; editors: Kent Mackenzie/Warren Brown/Thomas Conrad/Erik Daarstad/Thomas Miller/Beth Pattrick; music: Anthony Hilder/the Revels/Robert Hafner/Eddie Sunrise; cast: Yvonne Williams (Yvonne), Homer Nish (Homer), Tommy Reynolds (Tommy); Runtime: 72; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kent Mackenzie; Milestone Films; 1961)
“It’s an essential film that hardly anyone saw upon its release in 1961.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The late (died at 50 in 1980) London-born, USC grad, producer/writer/director Kent Mackenzie’s (“Saturday Morning”) poignant and realistic “social problem” black-and-white documentary is about contemporary Native Americans futilely hanging out one night in downtown Los Angeles (from Friday night to Saturday morning), who live in the Bunker Hill district (where they can commute by a trolley navigating a steep hill that is known as “Angels Flight,” in an area now mostly demolished in a controversial corporate-works urban renewal project that went on for more than 50 years).
This is a no-nonsense and a more or less honest way (no cliches or moralizing or talking heads) of catching the modern-day urban transplanted Native Americans. It’s an essential film that hardly anyone saw upon its release in 1961, but is now on DVD courtesy of a great UCLA restoration job and Milestone Films releasing it after Thom Andersen gave it a mention in his short 2003 video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself. It energetically walks us through 12 hours in the life of a group of exiled women and men who are depressed over their poverty, loneliness, alienation, diaspora, lack of education and opportunity, and broken dreams.
It’s a honky tonk rock ‘n’ roll venture, that follows the sympathetic but hardly saintly souls around to their favorite hangout neon-lit bars, liquor stores, their bare homes, their card games, fistfights, flirty actions and to the top of Hill X–their secret late night meeting place where they wile away the night after the bars close at 2 am to be unwatched by the Man and let go in a ritualistic medicine man like dance as they beat on their drums.
The raw, plotless film never ceases to connect with the viewer in a moving way. It mainly takes us along with the sullen Homer Nish, his equally sullen pregnant common-law wife Yvonne Williams, their jovial Mexican acquaintance Tommy Reynolds, and a few other rowdy Native American exiles from reservations in the Southwest.
REVIEWED ON 9/23/2009 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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