The Exiles (1961) Blu-ray Review: This Film Is a Revelation

Fish-out-of-water stories are pretty common and now cliched; they feature characters who usually leave their home, especially for better lives and opportunities. However, we never usually see this theme or story from the point of view of Native Americans, and late filmmaker Kent Mackenize’s 1961 virtually unseen (until now) but vital portrait of the Diaspora of Indians, The Exiles, shows us how there are many more important stories that deserve to be told.

Based on actual interviews with several main participants and their friends, the film follows a group of young Native Americans who were removed or forced to flee their reservations during the 1950s to live in the rough Bunker Hill district of Los Angeles in the early ’60s. There are a few of these people who stand out, like pregnant Yvonne (Yvonne Williams) who lives her sluggish husband Homer (Nish) in a very crowed apartment. When he goes out with his drinking his buddy Tommy (Tom Reynolds), Yvonne is left all alone to wander, go to the movies, and wait for him to come home. Meanwhile, he and Tommy get constantly drunk, get into fights, flirt with women, play poker, and talk about the many challenges that Indians face on a daily basis.

The fiction comes from the characters and their lives (where they also provide narration whenever they are on screen); the documentary stems from the conflicts and the realities that they and real people deal with all the time. Whatever you think it is, there is an authenticity in this that is rarely shown in Hollywood cinema. It can be depicted in indie and documentary films.

Despite its beauty (and lively soundtrack), there is a sad ugliness to it, meaning that the women in the film are usually groped, grabbed, mocked, and treated like playthings by the men. Only Yvonne (the main female character) is by herself, but the loneliness she feels is her own. She would rather be by herself than to deal with her husband’s and his friends’ slobbery antics. Usually, loneliness is seen as a bad thing, but here, it is used as comfort.

The misogyny and the depressive nature that I mentioned in the previous section is there, but it didn’t completely take away from the fact that this film is a revelation. It’s a haunting, ghostly portrait of a now-ancient era of filmmaking, one that is missing, but one that definitely needs to re-embraced. It’s also an important artifact of showing minorities in a much-needed light. Everyone has a story; why not tell it?

The amazing Blu-ray from Milestone is stacked with special features, including audio commentary with novelist Sherman Alexie and critic Sean Axmaker; audio of The Exiles’ Los Angeles Opening Night at UCLA (Courtesy of UCLA Film & Television Archive); Sherman Alexie and Sean Axmaker: Second Interview; The Leonard Lopate Show with Sherman Alexie and Charles Burnett (Courtesy of WNYC); 7 short films (four by Mackenzie himself); and re-release trailer.


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