"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Flaming Star

tn_flamingstarFLAMING STAR is a Don Siegel western about a mixed-race family – a white man, his white son, his Native American wife, and their son together, Pacer. They all get it from both sides but especially Pacer, who has one foot in each world. The whites won’t even speak to him after a Kiowa massacre of a white family, and at the same time he’s being pressured by the new chief to turn his back on the white man and become a Kiowa warrior. Not like the chief gives two shits about him, he just wants him for the propaganda value, to be able to show somebody who turned their back on the white man. But Pacer doesn’t want to do it and thinks they’ll kill him when he says no.

He and his mother go into the Kiowa village to try to talk their way out of it. Pacer is convinced he’ll be forced to say no in front of everybody, but in fact the chief respects his bravery and allows him to leave peacefully to consider it more. They shouldn’t have been so distrustful. Ironically it’s a white man, an old friend, who ambushes them when they’re leaving.

Oh, and by the way Pacer is played by Elvis Presley. You know, the singer. I should’ve mentioned that probly. That might be relevant to how you’ll react to this one.

mp_flamingstarThat’s why I rented FLAMING STAR – when I realized there was a Don Siegel/Elvis team up I wanted to know how that works. The opening credits have Elvis singing the title song, and really early on he picks up a guitar and leads everyone in a singalong. So you’re figuring it’s a regular Elvis musical in a western setting. But then there’s a violent massacre with flaming arrows, and it’s a straightup western from then on. It just happens to star the King of Rock n Roll.

Elvis rides a horse and wears a cowboy hat and everything that being in a western entails, but he doesn’t try to hide his iconic persona. He’s still got the slick pompadour, still talks like The King. I guess Elvis is one of these guys like The Three Stooges, or like Mickey Mouse or the Muppets. He can travel through time, exist in different histories. There could’ve been an Elvis movie about the Crusades, about Shinobis, about the American Revolution or the construction of the Pyramids, and he’d be exactly the same dude, he’d just have different clothes on, that’s it. I like that. I think he deserves to have that power. I wish I could see those movies.

And you know what, there must be some kind of T.C.B. magic that makes it work, because somehow I accepted him as the half breed. You know, he has real dark hair. Seemed to make sense. Looks more Native American than Tom Laughlin, anyway. (In fact, his great great great grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee. I looked it up.)

It’s weird, but this movie fits into a couple of the themes I was writing about a month or so ago. Like THE BLIND SIDE it’s a very favorable portrayal of mixed race families. Also like THE BLIND SIDE it’s a good message held back slightly by problematic Hollywood traditions (in this case putting white people in makeup instead of hiring Native Americans). Also the message gives some serious ammunition to the argument that Chuck D. shouldn’t have called Elvis a racist (as discussed in the ELVIS PRESLEY GLADIATORS thread).

Pacer goes through the whole range of reactions to his predicament. He tries to transcend race. He tries to stick with the whites. When his (SPOILER) mother is killed he lashes out at everybody, even his brother, about all the racism he’s suffered throughout his life. Ultimately he gives up, but tells his brother that “Maybe some day they’ll understand people like you and me.”

“People like you and me” could mean people from mixed races families, or it could mean people who accept different races and cultures as brothers, and don’t see what the big fucking deal is. People like Elvis.

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 28th, 2010 at 11:18 pm and is filed under Reviews, Western. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

42 Responses to “Flaming Star”

  1. This review had quite the affect you wanted, I think, Vern. I was thinking this sounds like an interesting movie, and then I see the poster of Elvis, and think what the hang? It’s an Elvis movie?
    Colour me curious, I haven’t really seen any Elvis films, but this just sounds like it has to be seen.

  2. yeah i would like to check it out now, too. couple questions. how do you think this movie fits in with the other siegel movies you have seen? is it tonally similar? like you, i have a hard time imagining how elvis would fit into that. also, the opening titles song and the singalong, do they seem at all out of place, or are they do they flow smoothly in the context of the film? not that i have anything against musical numbers – actually i am a huge fan of movie musicals (though i hate broadway) – but like you suggest in the review, it seems like if it starts with an opening titles song by elvis, it seems just like his other musicals, and then when a character breaks into song within the story, and that character is elvis fucking presley, it seems like that would somewhat break the verisimilitude of the story, if the rest of it is tonally like a western, not a musical. just curious.

    finally, at the risk of feeling stupid when i hear the answer, what is T.B.C. magic?

  3. Easily Elvis’ best movie and a damn fine film in its own right. I just wish I could remember something about it outside of ‘it was pretty damn good.’

  4. “I accepted him as the half breed”

    Vern – Perhaps because as a white southern kid for 1950s standards, he was popular (and controversial with the bland white mainstream racist squares) for basically being black & queer. Gotta admit, John Waters got that part right.

    Speaking of Chuck D., I think you can find it on YouTube but by accident I found a clip of him discussing (rather favorably) the Beatles. Now when I got up this morning, ate my cereal, watched the local news, assaulted the mailman, I didn’t have in mind to find out that Chuck D. was a big fan of the Beatles. His favorite song from that catalogue is rather surprising too.*

    David Lambert – Didn’t Elvis say it was his best as well?

    Reminds me of the king’s CHARRO!, that obscure western he did at the tailend of his career. Rather generic and since it was scripted by the creator of the GUNSMOKE television program, maybe too old school in the late 1960s. None the less, interesting in seeing The King play a non-singing part. Not a good actor per say techncially, but he certainly had raw compelling charisma.

    Who knows, if he had been allowed to do more movies like FLAMING STAR (I suppose) or wasn’t greedy/stupid and turned down shit like MIDNIGHT COWBOY….who knows?

    *=”The Long and Winding Road.” Didn’t see that coming, did ya?

  5. I remember hearing once that Chuck D’s favourite song of all time was “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, which is a good song but not what I would have expected

  6. An Elvis Shinobi movie would have allowed him to do more karate on screen at least.

    This sounds pretty interesting. Nice review Vern.

  7. I have seen many Elvis films and thus, despite this review (not that it’s a great review at all (only in terms of Vern reviews)), I still dun feel compelled to ever see another. As the kids say this days, FAIL!!! (I had to release something negative for the negativity pent up from the boondock saints 2 review for though i have not sen the movie, the ugly negative energy of the review has prevented me watching the movie even though i own it and thus demands some sort of backlash, so this is that backlash).

    I think this comment was more mathematical than commentry, but I think math is still valid this days.

    Ta for review.

  8. Disclaimer. That was a drunk post, but I think surely not over the top on whatever scale seems everyone can see but me. Though I think from previous weeks I finally have the knack of posting without causing total widespread offence. Correct me if wrong and i disappear again for another 3 months to ponder alternative style.

  9. Cos the boondock review was Verns ugliest review… oh oh, u nearly drew me in u sneaky trollbaiters, i go now before u molest me

  10. Die u faggots die

  11. Denmark represent! That little poster up there is in danish. I feel so proud. Of that..and of Elvis.

  12. Virgin Gary, T.C.B. stands for Taking Care of Business.

    I don’t know enough about Elvis and his personal or political beliefs to comment one way or another on whether he should be considered a racists, but he is a culture stealer. He was the white face of black music packaged for consumption by the white masses. At the very least he is Jay Leno and was more than happy profit from others misfortune.

  13. Charles – I wouldn’t go that far. For Pat Boone, sure. I mean that asshole tried to clean up Fats Domino’s classic “Aint That a Shame” into “Isn’t That a Shame.” What the fuck?

    Before The King’s career took off, he was a regular down on Beale Street in the early 50s, playing music and geeking up with the black R&B artists like B.B. King. And well he didn’t have it easy from the other rednecks for being “black.”

    That said, he didn’t do anything (to my knowledge) for the Civil Rights struggle. Either he didn’t give a shit, his management told him to not threaten his fortunes, or he was with the other side.

    Though some would argue that he did his part already, his “black” music was that moment which shattered that ghettoized barrier in the pop music industry between the “white” and “black” music…and it was his “black” music for a white audience which helped alot of those younger kids be supportive of Civil Rights.

    Incidentally, you can google up his famous letter to President Nixon. In it Elvis bitches about those Beatles being a bunch of communists for coming over to America and making a ton of money. I suppose that term could make sense (in a right-wing paradigm) to Lennon, but Harrison was a hippie, and McCartney was conservative.

  14. “the flaming star”

  15. is this the one where elvis dies? [spoiler]

  16. No, that’s Bubba Ho Tep.

  17. RRA, maybe I am being too hard on the King. However, I look at music as a resource just like oil or land, and when you take something from a community whether it be oil, land or music/culture and you profit from it and never give back that is exploitation. I guess I would put Elvis in the same boat as Eminem. They are both successful artists, and they are both talented, but they have both profited by being the “safe” and accessible face of black music, and gave little to nothing back to the black community that pioneered the music that they profited from. They may not be conscious of how exploitive their action were, and they may love the culture they are taking from but in the end it is still exploitive.

  18. Jareth Cutestory

    March 29th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Charles: I can think of safer ways to appropriate hip hop idiom than to fill your songs with misogyny and psycho white trash revenge fantasies. If he’s cashing in on hip hop, he certainly didn’t take the path of least resistance.

    And his pupil/mentor relationship with Dr. Dre seems like a sincere attempt at acculturation. Maybe someone more familiar with his music can comment on that.

    As for giving back to the community, I’d have to see a roster of his record label. Does signing 50 Cent count as giving back?

  19. He also used his success to get his fellow members of D12 exposure (supposedly it was a pact they all had that the first one to make it big would do so). And considering his initial big time popularity was from signing with Dre can you really say the exploitation is one way?

  20. Jareth, I am not trying to bash Eminem. I consider him a great MC, but I stand by my statements that he is a culture stealer. As I said in my post I believe he loves the culture he is taking from, but what has he given back? I do not count signing 50 cent or D-12 as giving back. Signing 50 was good business and signing D-12 is nothing more than giving your unqualified buddies a job when you have the chance. By giving back I mean has he used his wealth and status to improve and enrich the culture/community he took from. Maybe I am wrong but I have never heard about Eminem helping out those in need in the community he came from, or signing lesser known old school artist that inspired him and using him name to get the some much deserved exposure.

    To your point about his lyrical content. I think the main reason Eminem has been successful is because he raps about topics that few if anyone have explored. That has helped to set him apart from other artists based on his talent and not just his appearance. He also would have been rejected as a phony if he tried to rhyme about topics associated with the black experience in America associated with the culture of Hip-Hop.

    Stu, Dre is a shrewd businessman and he saw an opportunity with Eminem and made the best of it. I would say he is as guilty as Em is. There are a lost of great black MC’s Dre could have got behind but despite their talent they would never sell to a white market the way Em would. The reality is Em gets play on radio stations that don’t even really play rap music, and this is because he is white. It is not his fault but it the reality of culture.

  21. Sorry about all the typos in my last post. That is what I get for trying to post while working.

  22. Charles – I think Eminem did more than that, I mean Vern pointed out sometime back how before Marshall Mathers the idea of a white MC was a pop culture punchline that even most whites agreed was a silly concept.

    And save for the awesome Beastie Boys, they would have a point. Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark didn’t help the White MC cause, though Vanilla Ice like MC Hammer both gave hip-hop a bad taste name for awhile if you ask me. Ice even worse. Then comes Eminem, initially dismissed as a Vanilla Ice 2.0…then people listened to his records.

    Eminem deserves even less flack than Elvis because Mathers WRITES HIS OWN STUFF. I’ll defend Elvis, but he covered the black catalogue. Eminem is pretty concious of that whole racial thing. And like the Beastie Boys, he won people over with his skills and raw edge and sincere (even in “Kim,” which made me take a shower after the first time I heard).

    This is crazy-sounding, but Eminem in a way reminds me of why Johnny Cash was so great. Sure Eminem throws profanity like a chef throws salad and indeed is much more overt, but Cash similarly drawed something from his impoverished white-upbringing darkside which people can relate to, that sense of helpless rage against something, whether that may be. You think Nashville would get behind a cover of something like “Cocaine Blues”?

  23. Charles, I think you contradict yourself a bit there. You say he stole from black culture, but you also credit him for exploring topics that few other rappers have, but then go on to say Dre was basically only promoting him because he could sell to white people, as if the originality you point out wouldn’t factor into it. I can’t really comment on the radio coverage, because I assume you mean american radio. On the british daytime radio stations here they just tend to play a pretty wide cross-section of genres, with really only their popularity/buzz/chart success being a common connection between them all.

  24. I can’t stand Elvis. Yes, he was an important artist for the first half of his artistic career. But today i can only see the self-parodic clown he became, and not the genious he once was at the start.

    And yes, i saw this movie once. He dies at the end. Not a bad ending. Vern should had reviewed THE WILD BUNCH instead, if you ask me. Or BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.

  25. Stu, I guess I should be more clear. I am referring to American radio. The reason I mentioned his lyrics is only because it differentiates him as a product to the consumer. The subject matter of his songs are different but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily good. They may be well crafted but he is often not really saying anything of any real cultural relevance. My Name Is and The Real Slim Shady are pop trash, and good examples of what I am talking about. Even Eminem has said that he hates The Real Slim Shady, and that it was crafted by him and Dre as a calculated pop radio money grab. I am not arguing whether he is talented or not. Elvis had to have some form of talent or he would not have had the success he did, but both him and Eminem benefited from a system that has exploited black music/culture. I would say that Redman is a superior MC to Eminem and was his style was a big influence on Em, but he is not the house hold name Em is. This has nothing to do with talent and all to do with race.

  26. Jareth Cutestory

    March 29th, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Charles: I get what you mean about Eminem giving back, and as far as I know you’re right, I’ve never heard of him undertaking any such project. In fact, I can’t think of many popular musicians who do that, just Oprah. Do you think there is a special burden on white rappers to pay some kind of dues to their community that a white pop star wouldn’t have to pay, or are you making a class distinction? Do only the poor musicians go back home and try to make life better? I saw a documentary where Tricky went back to his junior high school and hung out with the kids, but as far as I know he didn’t donate a recording studio to the school or even plant a tree. Actually, he seemed a bit stoned, but it’s not always easy to tell with Tricky.

    I like your characterization of D-12 as “unqualified buddies” who benefitted from Mathers’ success. I’m looking forward to Vern hitting the big time so that we can all claim a similar status. I wonder what he’ll ask us to do to qualify as an unqualified buddy.

  27. Jareth, I think that anyone fortunate enough to be successful should try and give back. I am not saying he has to invest in the hood or anything, but the very least he could do is use his status and influence to educate the masses about the origins of Hip-Hop or remind the white majority of the struggle of people many of whom are black that live in poverty in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The reality is that just by being white in America you automatically have more opportunities then someone that is not white. I know it is something white Americans don’t want to be reminded of but it is the truth. I think it is ridiculous when Eminem bitches about how he gets no respect as a white MC. Poor baby, he will just have to settle for status, wealth, and privilege. I know the Wire is a popular show on this site, and that show is no joke. The level of poverty shown on that show is very real in America. Kids born into that environment have very limited options, and Eminem could use his voice to shed light on their situation but he doesn’t. I am not saying he doesn’t care, but I bet he is aware of how bad for business it would be. Most white Americans don’t like to be reminded of how lucky and privileged they are. It is uncomfortable, so they would rather listen to a guy rap like Triumph The Insult Comic Dog.

  28. Jareth Cutestory

    March 29th, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Well put, Charles. At the very least, Mathers could have thrown a block party like Dave Chappelle.

  29. @Virgin Gary: Flaming Star doesn’t have a musical feel to it at all, except for the weird but thankfully short sing-a-long which seems like it was forced into the picture. The title tune is only played over the opening credits, if I remember correctly.

    @ Charles: You do have a point when it comes to the favourable radio play Elvis got because he was white. But that’s not necessarily in the hands of the artist, especially in those early days. It’s because of prejudiced consumers and ingenious marketing.

    Calling Elvis a “culture stealer”, because he covered songs from a culture he admired or because he was influenced by R&B in the way he sang songs that were specifically written for him, seems to me a very narrow black&white view. Have you ever heard the beautiful rendition of “Let it Be” by Aretha Franklin? Or “Eleanor Rigby” by Ray Charles? Did they ‘steal’ British culture? Did you know that Fats Domino played Don’t Be Cruel on stage in the late 50s and released a cover version of Love Me Tender? Does that mean that Fats Domino tried to cash in on the white crowd? I think not.
    I guess it’s like Vern said: They didn’t see what the big fucking deal was. They were just way ahead of their time – and ahead of ours, it seems.

  30. Chuck Berry’s first big hit, “Maybellene”, was a rewrite of a white country hit, “Ida Red”.

    The first hit recording of “Stagger Lee” (not the first actual recording, but the first one to really sell), was in 1927 by a white “hillbilly” singer, Frank Hutchinson. Black musicians, of course, had been singing it since 1895, and many would go on to have their own hit recordings of the song. The best known recording these days, though, probably even better then (black) Lloyd Price’s archetypal 1950s recording, is by another white guy, Nick Cave–an Australian, no less.

    To just point at Elvis and say, “He stole from black music and black culture!” is really a very simplistic and kind’ve narrow minded way of viewing not just American music, but American history.

  31. Cliff & CC,

    I am aware that I am painting with a pretty broad brush in my characterization of Elvis and Eminem as culture stealer, but in the end they both profited greatly from being the white face of black music. I am not condemning them personally. I have stated repeatedly I am sure they loved the culture they took from and meant no harm. I am merely pointing out that they both benefited from the racism that exists in our culture, and they did not use their status or power to try and combat that racism.

  32. also, there is obviously a big difference between a black musician “appropriating” white music and a white mainstream musician appropriating black music. it’s all about position in the structure of society’s hegemony (sorry to bust out the H word). i’m not articulate enough to explain this properly, but it is obvious to me that a member of the dominant culture exploiting a minority or peripheral culture is not the same thing as someone from a fringe or minority culture appropriating something from the dominant (i.e. hierarchically powerful) culture.

    that said, i am a huge elvis fan. honestly.

  33. I dunno about Emimen using his influence to educate the public about poverty amongst black people. For one, I don’t think that’s something that is exactly a big secret, and two, wouldn’t that sort of thing be pretty condescending, coming from a white guy, especially if it would be him talking about something he didn’t exactly experience? Emimen talked about his OWN impoverished upbringing in his work, which really is the only thing he’s actually qualified to do, surely?
    There’s also a difference between Elvis and Eminem’s situation, just by the fact they’re in different eras. Elvis was performing black-originated music in a white-dominated industry, while Emimen is doing black-originated music in a black-dominated industry plenty of black artists are doing well in the same area as him. Plus as to this whole idea of stealing culture, can you really “steal” an art form? Surely once it’s out there, any discipline, if it’s true art, is free for all to use. And if someone has talent, why should you give a damn if they’re the “conventional” type of person to perform that sort of thing. And yeah, there is a bit of a double standard in play, because we wouldn’t really get people saying black musicians shouldn’t be doing traditionally white genres. As much as the idea of a black country and western star has been used for comedy, it’s not something that would be met with outrage, is it?

    Besides, both Eminem AND Black People are just appropriating something that came from MY country anyway:
    So whenever Jay Z wants to come and lavish me with a milliona dollars and a mansion, I’ll be waiting!

  34. #Caledonia love!

    Caledonia…knows how to party
    Caledonia…knows how to party
    In the citaaay of Glasgow,
    In the citaaay of good ol’ Watt
    In the citaaay, the city of Dundee
    We keep it rockin! We keep it rockin!

    Now let me welcome everybody to north of the border
    A place that’s free from the old english order,
    The track hits ya eardrum like a kiss to your head,
    Pack a vest for the climate, and eat some shortbread,
    We in that Saltire State with a bomb ass bag pipe
    the State where ya never find a flag with red stripe
    And neds be on a mission for that Buckie
    And if you don’t get glassed then you’ll be lucky
    I been in the game all years makin rap tunes
    ever since a wee bairn reading The Broons
    Now it’s ’08 and they clock me and watch me
    But I send then runnin’ with the threat of the Malkie
    It’s all good, from Arbroath to Skye
    Your city is all braw if your Whyte and Mackay
    Throw up a Claymore if ya feel the same way
    Stu puttin it down for

    Caledonia…knows how to party
    Caledonia…knows how to party
    In the citaaay of Glasgow,
    In the citaaay of good ol’ Watt
    In the citaaay, the city of Dundee
    We keep it rockin! We keep it rockin!

    Jig it jig it baby
    Jig it jig it baby
    Jig it jig it mama
    Jig it Cali
    Jig it jig it baby
    Jig it jig it jig it jig it…

  35. Stu, thanks for the article. That was great. In response to your statement, “I dunno about Emimen using his influence to educate the public about poverty amongst black people. For one, I don’t think that’s something that is exactly a big secret, and two, wouldn’t that sort of thing be pretty condescending, coming from a white guy, especially if it would be him talking about something he didn’t exactly experience?” I think that most of white America does not really understand the level of poverty and hopelessness that is found in our inner cities and what is at the root cause of it. They are not aware that these are symptoms of a system of oppression and exploitation. Most white Americans don’t know about the real Ricky Ross and that our own government helped distribute crack cocaine in our inner cities to fund Noriega. You will not find that in a high school text book but it is the truth. America is built on the exploitation of minorities. I also think that part of the problem is that the American dream is a half truth, and people don’t want to except that. The reality is no matter how hard we as Americans all work for everyone of us that is successful there has to be someone that is not successful. There are two sides to every coin. However if you buy into the idea that all you have to do is work hard and you will make it, then when you see people in poverty you assume they just are not trying hard enough. I will use my father as an example, he is a successful self made white business man, and when he hears about people in the ghetto complaining about their options he writes them off as lazy. In his eyes they are just looking for a hand out. He thinks If I can work hard and make it why can’t they, but he is blind to the privilege and access he has as a white man in our society. He either cannot or does not want to see that the system is unfairly balanced in his favor. Now my father doesn’t know who Chuck D is and he could not name a single member of the Wu Tang Clan if his life depended on it but he knows who Eminem is and he knows some of Eminem’s music. Eminem has the ear of the white masses. Now imagine if Eminem made music with the intent of trying to expose the racist and unfair system’s in place in America or at least tried to draw attention to it in interviews. What if Em wanted to be an instrument of change? He could get someone like my father to at the least ask a few questions maybe look at things a little differently. I am not saying that he would change my father’s mind, but he may change someone else’s mind, and even if he is only opening a couple people’s eyes he would be doing a great deal toward helping change and in my opinion giving back.

    PS: Please understand I am not smart enough or a good enough writer to try and tackle the complex issues I am trying to discuss in this forum so I am sorry if I get off track or do not do the best job of making my point. However, I hope that even if you disagree with me you can at least understand what I am getting at.

  36. No, it’s cool. I think you’re maybe putting too much on him, but I get where you’re coming from.

  37. And i though i would get a shitstorm headed my way because i treated Elvis in my previous post as anything less then a god. But it got unnoticed. Maybe Elvis is no longer as huge as i though.

  38. Elvis is a black white space love machine.
    he can’t steal from culture.

  39. Seriously, just being a white guy in 1955 singing what they called “Rhythm and Blues”, before they started calling it “Rock and Roll”, that was doing a heck of a lot to combat racism.

  40. While Elvis never, as far as I know, spoke out directly against racism he did adress poverty with “In the Ghetto” and racism in “If I can dream”. The latter is basically a simple riff on Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speach. It was recorded shortly after the assassination so it must have been pretty clear what he was singing about. It is notable that both songs don’t contain any reference to race, though it’s not hard to read between the lines. Elvis also toured and recorded with an African-American backing vocals group called the “The Sweet Inspirations” for three or four years. And he repeatedly stated that he’s playing R&B which didn’t sit well with some rednecks back then, even if nowadays the same demographic listens to his music like he was the second coming of Christ…
    Anyway, he certainly could’ve used his status a lot more but it’s not like he kept completely silent on these things and maybe he even opened some people’s eyes to certain issues. When I was a child, “Ghetto” and “Dream” were the first songs I took notice of that approached those themes. Later, his music definitely opened my ears to black Rock N’ Roll artists of the 50s and 60s era.

  41. I like this particular spam because it’s more a statement of fact than anything else; “exercise to lose weight” Why yes, that is quite correct.

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