Friday, July 15, 2016

Indians vs Indians in the newly rediscovered/ restored silent epic, THE DAUGHTER OF DAWN

Milestone Film & Video -- the company that has given us so many recent restorations of seemingly lost and/or classic movies, from the hugely over-rated Losing Ground to a documentary TrustMovies would not have missed to save his life, NotFilm -- has a new one releasing to home video this coming Tuesday, July 19, in its DVD and Blu-ray world premiere. THE DAUGHTER OF DAWN, a 1920 silent movie directed by Norbert Myles and using an all-Indian cast of over 300 Kiowa and Comanche people, proves a curiosity that anyone who enjoys silent film, American Indian sagas or good old-fashioned melodrama will most likely want to see.

If not the first film to tell a story of Native Americans using actual Native Americans, The Daughter of Dawn was certainly among the first. (Hell, protestors are still trying to get Hollywood to cast real Indians in movies in which Indian characters appear.) And according to two of the cast members who were interviewed some time back (in the very good Bonus Features that appear on the disc), the filmmakers went out of their way to get all the details as honestly and correctly as they could manage.

The movie itself -- six reels lasting 80 minutes -- is no great shakes as a piece of art or even entertainment, yet it's appearance is definitely worth a shout-out. Thought to have been lost, along with so many other silent films, especially independents, the movie suddenly re-surfaced after nearly a century. (The story of how it was found and then restored is one of the highlights of the disc's Bonus Features.)

The tale told by The Daughter of Dawn is awash in, well, cliche, each one as obvious as the next. "From time immemorial: the eternal triangle," notes one of the early inter-titles. This is actually an "eternal triangle" plus-one, as our heroine -- that titular daughter (above, left), named because she was born as the sun rose -- is desired by two men, White Eagle and Black Wolf (guess the good guy via his color), the latter of whom is loved by a very sad Indian woman named Red Wing.

As the plot unfolds, we are privy to everything from a Buffalo hunt (filmed in Oklahoma, where actual Buffalo were relatively plentiful back then) to a Comanche raid on the Kiowa in which the women are abducted Sabine-style, a death-defying leap from atop a bluff (above), a dance of Thanksgiving, followed by a dance of War. There's kidnapping, betrayal, and a Romeo/Juliet-like conclusion, which is more than wasted on a real rat-fink of a Romeo.

The acting is stolid, rather than solid, and yellow/sepia filters are used for day-time shots and blue ones for night. Despite all of the above (probably because of it), the film manages a considerable amount of charm and sweetness. And since we have almost no filmed record of our Indian heritage, the movie takes its place as pretty much one-of-a-kind. You won't see another film like this one anytime soon.

The musical score on the sound track was created especially for the film's current release, and we learn much of how this was handled in those Bonus Features. With an old-fashioned aspect ratio of  1.33: 1, the restoration is a joint venture of the Oklahoma Historical Society and Milestone Film & Video and will hit the street this coming Tuesday, July 19, on Blu-ray and DVD -- for purchase and, I hope, rental. You can learn how to order it by clicking here, and to read the very interesting press information about the movie and its re-discovery, simply click here.

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