It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Homer is already three-quarters smashed. He buys a beer, sprawls in a booth, and looks over the crowd in the bar. Through his eyes, we see them too: Down-and-out alcoholics, loosely or happily or angrily tilting the long-necked bottles of beer to their mouths. One old man has something wrong inside, and has to drink sideways, at a tilt. Another old man peers out from under his hat, taking it all in without eye contact. A young white guy is rock-and-rolling with a small Chinese man, in a movement that seems poised between dancing and fighting. Most of the others are Native Americans. Homer rolls his bottle off the table, and it smashes.
Homer Nish is one of several American Indians who are followed for most of a day and all of a night in Kent MacKenzie"s "The Exiles," a sad and beautiful film about a group of hard-timers in Los Angeles, circa 1960. MacKenzie was a USC film student at the time; he died in 1980. His film, photographed in stunning 35mm b&w by Erik Daarstad, Robert Kaufman and John Morrill, would have been a key work of the New American Cinema, the Cassavetes generation, if it had ever been seen. It played three film festivals, never got picked up for distribution, has survived only in a low-quality 16-mm print. Now the UCLA Film and Television Archive has restored it, apparently working from the original materials, and it looks like it was made yesterday. Milestone has picked it up, will exhibit it in "selected theaters," and then release it on DVD. It is like cracking open a time capsule.
"The Exiles" in the title are Indians who have left reservations to live in Los Angeles. They were already exiles, of course, when they lost their ancestral lands and were confined to the reservations. Those we meet are alcoholics, marginally employed, locked in a cycle of drinking and carousing and fighting all night. In footage shot over many months, MacKenzie used his "cast" to recreate a typical day. It begins in the kitchen of Homer's wife, Yvonne Williams, the most sympathetic character. She fries pork chops and serves them on white bread to her husband and his buddy Tommy Reynolds, and then the two join friends in a convertible, drop her off at an "all-nite" movie, and hit the town.
Homer and Yvonne both have voice-over narrations. Homer talks about looking for "a little action--you know, a score, a fight, some action." Yvonne, who is pregnant, says she used to go to church and pray for what she wanted, but she has stopped going to church and doesn't always say her prayers. She would like her unborn son to go to college, but since she married Homer that seems unlikely to her. Tommy is the ringleader, deep-voiced, egging others on.
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