The New World
Terrence Malick, 2005

#2, 2005 Skandies

This is a movie, conceived in the 1970s but made three decades later, about the contact between the English settlers at Jamestown and the Powhatan Confederacy. The writer/director, Terrence Malick, was very concerned with authenticity: the actors were taught real Algonquin, the fort was built in the same amount of time as the original, everything was shot in natural light... really, the only mark against it where authenticity is concerned is that the entire fucking movie is about an affair that never happened. There is no evidence whatsoever that John Smith, depicted here as a brooding emo rather than the self-promoting rogue of the historical record, had any romantic relationship with Pocahontas, depicted here as years older and much more frequently clothed than her historical counterpart. You might say, "So what?", but c'mon, this is like trying to make a serious, heavily researched movie about 18th-century America and deciding to make it all about young George Washington and the cherry tree.

The other mark against the movie is that it is terrible. It starts off with ponderous voiceover poetry, and these voiceovers never go away or get better. The spoken dialogue is almost as bad. But this is the surface; the fundamental approach to the material is equally flawed. Malick teaches us that those so-called savages were downright noble. Pocahontas teaches her admirers to paint with all the colors of the wind. You would be forgiven for expecting a scene about how the wise Indians used every part of the buffalo, but no — the buffalo were out on the plains, and this is Virginia. See, authenticity!

William T. Vollman, 2001

Many years ago I discovered that a guy named William T. Vollman was writing a series of novels about contact between European settlers and American natives, so I eagerly picked up the first one, The Ice-Shirt, about the conflict between the Vikings and the "skraelings" they encountered in Vinland the Good. Unfortunately, it drew heavily from Norse sagas and Inuit mythology, which I found impenetrable, so I eventually gave up.

Argall's subtitle is "The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith." Is it more authentic than The New World? I have no idea, because it's written in fake Elizabethan prose. Life is too short for opaque books even when they aren't 736 pages long.

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