Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Technicolor, VistaVision, and the Widescreen Visual Experience

ATTENTION! SPOILER ALERT!

Not only did John Ford film the 1956 movie, The Searchers, in brilliant Technicolor, but he filmed it in VistaVision, providing the audience with an enhanced widescreen visual experience.

http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm

Movies made in VistaVision were intended to be viewed in theaters with large screens, both in height and width. VistaVision technology created an “optical reduction from a large negative image to the standard release print image . . . [that improved] the front and side seat viewing” (American WideScreen Museum) in widescreen formats.

John Ford’s spectacular landscape shots of Monument Valley (cinematographer Winton C. Hoch) were perfect for both Technicolor and widescreen viewing. Here are some examples:

In this wide angle long shot, the audience sees the renegade Comanches attacking the search party from two sides and chasing them through the valley. The landscape is open and wide, giving the impression of an unlimited environment with no place to hide. Will the search party survive this attack?

In this long shot, the searchers forge ahead with the search for the lost child, Debbie, in spite of a desolate desert landscape, storms, and few provisions. It is a dramatic scene which highlights the grim determination of the men involved.

In the final long shot, John Wayne walks away, after reuniting Debbie with her adopted brother, in order to avoid being arrested for murder. He is framed in black, indicating that this is the end of the story, and he will probably never return. He is a loner who got his revenge, found personal redemption, and saved his family. He is the hero of the story— but he is also a broken man who does not fit into civilized society. He has not necessarily overcome his bitterness and racism. He merely decided that saving one of the last members of his family was more important than killing her.

If John Ford’s intention was to highlight spectacular landscapes and provide the audience with an incredible widescreen experience, Technicolor and VistaVision were the right film stock and technology to use.

But if it was his intention to tell a dramatic and tension-filled story, he might have done better to use black and white film stock. The bright colors and wide angle screen shots detract from the story. It is easy to get caught up in the visual spectacle and miss what’s happening in the story. Barsam and Monahan describe The Searchers as “a psychological western that is concerned less with the traditional western’s struggle between good and evil than with the lead character’s struggle against personal demons” (Barsam and Monahan 216). They conclude that the movie “might have been even more powerful shot in black and white instead of color.  Doing so might have produced a visual mood, as in film noir, that complemented the darkness at the heart of the movie’s narrative” (Barsam and Monahan 216).

John Ford was not striving for accuracy and authenticity in The Searchers, and the use of color highlights the movie’s many flaws. Viewers in the 1950s were not as familiar with the Southwest as they are today. In 2017, John Ford could not get away with filming a western in Monument Valley (which is located in Northern Arizona and Utah), and slapping on an intertitle identifying the location as Texas. The viewers would not accept it. Neither would they accept a white actor with gray or hazel eyes masquerading as a full-blooded Comanche wearing all-too-bright red and yellow war paint. The women in Scar’s tribe of renegade Comanches are attired in traditional Navajo clothing – including John Wayne’s lost niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood). Today’s Navajos watch movies and would eagerly point out this historical inaccuracy. (Monument Valley is Navajo country, and it is obvious from the movie that Ford employed local natives to masquerade as Comanches. As part of my job, I worked with members of the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache tribes. I found the inaccuracies in The Searchers to be jarring, even though I first saw the movie on TV many years ago as a child.) Black and white film might have minimized the obvious flaws.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Ford, John, Dir. The Searchers. Perf. John Wayne. Warner Bros., 1956.

Ryder, Loren L. “The Story of VistaVision.” The American WideScreen Museum. 2006.

       <http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 1, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

11 Comments »

Coyote Spirit

In Navajo culture, Coyote is an “ancient deity” — essential to maintaining the order, balance, and harmony of the world. He is the creative force that created the world and provided the first humans with the basic essentials of food, plants, medicine, animals, fire, and light. As a multi-dimensional character, he is both good and evil; human and god; unpredictable and ambivalent — traveling easily between the human, animal, and sacred worlds.

Coyote is the embodiment of human consciousness and the reservoir for all knowledge. As the original sacred Being, he initiated chaos and death, disrupted the positioning of the stars, and acted to ensure the survival of the human race.

As the trickster, his adventures test the boundaries of the cosmic order, reaffirm the harmony of the world, and expand the possibilities for human interventions and activities in the world. His characteristics of egoism, greed, excessive sexual lust, gluttony, rudeness, interference, and unrestrained curiosity, playfulness, and restlessness mirror his human counterparts. He is intelligent, perceptive, adaptable, flexible, and cunning, all characteristics necessary for survival. Coyote trickster stories are told to children and adults alike to impart important moral lessons.

When the Navajo depended on hunting, Coyote was the powerful, positive impetus that brought success in war, hunting, and running. But when agriculture became the main means of subsistence, Coyote became an evil force that prowled around in the darkness of night, destroying crops and livestock.

Coyoteway is an ancient healing ceremony that is sometimes performed by Shamans to heal illness. While Coyote is capable of healing disease, he is also the one who sends disease when the Coyote People (coyotes, foxes, and wolves) are displeased.

The most frightening entities in Navajo culture are the Skinwalkers — witches who pray to Coyote, shapeshift into coyotes, and enchant people by throwing coyote skins over them. In this regard, Coyote is considered a negative and evil entity. On the other hand, Coyote sends helpful messages to humans through dreams, omens, and signs. His malleable nature allows him to align himself with both good and evil forces.

~

The Coyote and the Giant

“Once a giant was terrorizing the land, and eating people, especially small children. Coyote convinced the giant that if he allowed Coyote to break his leg and then heal it by spitting on it, he would be able to run as fast as Coyote. However, this was one of Coyote’s tricks, and the giant thereafter found it much more difficult to outrun anything, even small children.” ( from Coyote Stories of the Navajo People, 1974)

In this story, Coyote uses his tricks to help humans and becomes a hero.

According to Coyote storytellers in the Navajo tribe, Coyote stories can only be told during the winter, from October to February.

Coyote Superstition

A coyote traveling in any direction but north that crosses your path can be a good omen. However, many Navajos believe that ANY coyote crossing your path means trouble ahead. Beware of the trickster!

Thanks for stopping by!

Dawn Pisturino

January 24, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

13 Comments »

Reprise: Trapped in the Snow

(Photo by Angelo Christo)

Delaware Territory 1755

Nunganey trudged through the crusty snow searching for signs of beaver and other game. He longed for a blazing fire and his mother’s warm smile. But the villagers were counting on the hunters — the best of the tribe — to bring back fresh meat.

“Turn back!” shouted his father over the rising wind as a shower of white flakes fluttered down from the sky.

Nunganey’s heart dropped with disappointment. There would be no fresh meat. His younger brothers and sisters would cry with disappointment when their mother served hot watery broth, brewed from old bones, and meager portions of mashed acorns for dinner. His own hunger raged inside of him, and he longed for a piece of fat beaver cooked over a hot fire.

Suddenly, one of the hunters shouted, “Raccoon tracks!”

Nunganey’s father pointed at an old tree with a large hole in the center of the trunk. “Nunganey, follow those tracks and see if the raccoons have taken shelter in that tree.”

With the wind and snow blowing in his face, Nunganey followed the tiny footprints to the old tree, but the tracks led deeper into the forest. He knew he should turn back, but the boy was determined to find the raccoons.

The tracks disappeared at the base of another large tree. Nunganey climbed up the tree and peered into a large hole. He had found the raccoons!

“Yohoh!” he called into the wind. “Yohoh!”

Shivering with cold, Nunganey clung to the tree and waited for a response. He called again, trying to shout louder than the wind, but no familiar voice shouted back.

Where were his father and the band of hunters? Had they left him behind? He scrambled down the tree and trudged through the snow with the wind at his back, looking for dark shapes moving among the trees. No voices called his name or answered his desperate cries.

Lost and alone, the boy shivered with hunger, wet, and cold. If he did not find shelter soon, he would freeze to death. He had his bow, arrows, and tomahawk, but nothing to build a fire. Even if he found shelter, how would he stay warm?

Old Grandfather’s words echoed in his head: Be strong, and Owaneeyo, the Great Spirit, will guide you. 

He soon came upon a hollow tree with an opening large enough for him to crawl inside. The center of the tree was dry and wide enough for him to stand up and move his arms and legs. But the wind and snow blew fiercely through the opening, chilling him to the bone.

Nunganey crawled out into the snow and looked around. Nearby, a dead tree had fallen to the ground. He chopped off the top of the tree with his tomahawk and propped it up against the opening in the hollow tree, leaving a small entrance to get in and out.

He fashioned a small block of wood out of the trunk of the dead tree and gathered a large pile of small sticks. When he had finished, he crawled inside the hollow tree, drawing the block of wood behind him to close up the entrance. Then he used the small sticks to plug up any remaining holes. He was now snug inside the hollow tree, protected from the wind and snow.

With his tomahawk, Nunganey removed the rotted wood lining the hollow tree and pounded it into small pieces on the ground. He now had a soft bed to lie on.

But it was cold and dark inside the tree. How could he get warm without a fire?

Then he had an idea. He jumped up and down, waving his arms, whooping and hollering, and dancing wildly inside the tree, until beads of sweat trickled into his eyes and he could jump no more.

Using his wet moccasins for a pillow, Nunganey wrapped himself in his damp blanket, curled up in a little ball, and went to sleep.

When Nunganey woke up, he didn’t know if it was day or night. But he was warm and dry, so he lay still for a very long time, listening to the wind, and finally the noise outside began to die down.

Nunganey put on his moccasins and felt around for the block of wood marking the entrance to the tree. It was so dark he couldn’t see. But then his fingers touched the rough contours of the block, and he sighed with relief. He pushed his hands against the block, expecting it to move, but it wouldn’t budge. He was trapped inside the tree!

He beat his fists on the trunk of the tree, tears stinging his eyes. Would he ever see his family again?

Then he remembered Old Grandfather’s words: Be strong . . . Owaneeyo will guide you.

Pushing his back against the trunk of the tree, Nunganey kicked the wooden block with all his strength. This time the block gave way, and a great blanket of snow fell down on the ground. A blast of cold air rushed in, and bright daylight flooded the tree. He was free!

Nunganey crawled out of the tree into the powdery snow. Many of the older trees grew moss on the northwest side of their trunks. He followed the moss-covered trees for many miles until he arrived at the creek which flowed past his village.

Suddenly, a large buck deer crashed through the bushes. Nunganey grabbed his bow and arrow. Aiming carefully, he waited until the rushing animal was almost upon him. Then he released the arrow, holding his breath, and watched the buck fall slowly to the ground. There would be fresh meat for his brothers and sisters!

Old Grandfather would be proud.

Dawn Pisturino

May 1, 2012; December 5, 2021

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

10 Comments »

Apache Blessing Prayer

Apache man, 1903, by Edward S. Curtis

Apache Blessing Prayer

May the sun

bring you new

energy by day.

May the moon

softly restore

you by night.

May the rain

wash away

your worries.

May the breeze

blow new strength

into your being.

May you walk

gently through the

world and know

its beauty all the

days of your life.

Traditional Apache Blessing

Dawn Pisturino

December 2, 2021

21 Comments »

Native American Tattoos

Many Native American tribes across the United States practiced the art of tattooing for a variety of reasons: to mark special rites of passage, such as puberty; to identify other members of a clan; to scare off enemies; to express spiritual beliefs; to honor great achievements, such as bravery in battle; to provide magical protection and strength; and to mark certain leaders, such as the medicine man.

Tattooers used geometrical designs to represent celestial bodies, natural phenomena, and animals. A person receiving the tattoo of a turtle, for example, would expect to achieve a long, healthy life since turtles symbolized Mother Earth, water, life, and health.

Tattooing was a painful process, but many tribes believed that pain brought a person closer to the spirit world. Designs were cut, hand-tapped, or hand-pricked into the skin with sharp needles made of stone, bone, or other materials. Then dye was rubbed into the wounds.

Black dye could be made from soot or charcoal. Ochre mixed with clay produced a brownish-reddish hue. And blue came from indigo or other materials.

These tattoos became permanent markings on the skin that could be enhanced with temporary body paint, especially during time of war.

Dawn Pisturino

September 25, 2012; November 30, 2021

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

10 Comments »

Reprise: Bigfoot!

(Still photo from Bigfoot film by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, October 1967)

Crack! The bullet zings past my ear, hitting an old oak tree.

I drop the salmon wiggling in my hands and run along the bank of the Mokelumne River, propelling my long, hairy arms for speed. Behind me, the hunters move carefully through the dense underbrush, tracking my movements.

Sharp green thorns snag on my hair and tear at my flesh as I struggle through the blackberry briars and wild grapevines. I hike deeper into the wilderness on two strong legs, climbing skillfully around granite boulders barring my way. In the distance, the jagged outline of Deadwood Peak rises above the trees. If I can only get there, I will be safe.

Rounding a bend I see her, tearing meat from a rabbit carcass with big, sharp teeth. Mama! Her shaggy brown head turns in my direction. With a low growl, she opens her long, hairy arms as if to embrace me.

And then she smells it, the distinct odor of musky sweat. The hunters are near!

We run, ignoring the stones piercing our feet, causing us to stumble. Behind us, the humans call back and forth, “Bigfoot!”

Together, we melt into the shade of a thick stand of pines, hoping to slow down and catch our breath. But our feet become tangled in nets concealed by pine needles, and suddenly, we are swinging up, up into the air, and dangling from the limbs of a sturdy pine tree.

Mama struggles inside her net, growling with rage. I struggle, too, yelping helplessly as the net swings back and forth above the hard ground.

“We’ve got them now,” says a bearded hunter to his companions. “Bigfoot! That TV show, Monster Search, will pay us big bucks for these babies.”

“We’ll be famous,” cries a husky hunter with red hair. “Scientists won’t laugh at us anymore. Finally! Proof that Bigfoot exists!”

“How are we going to get them back to San Francisco?” asks an old man with spectacles. “I mean, we weren’t really expecting to find anything.”

The bearded hunter pulls out his camera. “I’m taking plenty of pictures, just in case something goes wrong. They can’t call it a hoax this time!”

While the camera clicks and the three men argue over the best way to get us back to the city, I turn my head from view and gnaw on the net’s thick webbing with my teeth. Pretty soon I’ve made a small opening, large enough to stick my fingers through. I wiggle them at Mama, and she understands what to do.

The red-haired hunter chuckles as he pokes me in the back with a long stick. I give him a warning growl, but he keeps it up. My powerful jaws chew faster on the netting.

“We need some of that fur,” says the old man with spectacles. “We can send it to a lab for analysis.”

“Good idea!” says the red-haired hunter. “Then, if they get away, we’ll still have proof.”

The three men stand under the nets, looking up at our shaggy brown bodies hanging in the air. Suddenly the nets give way, and Mama and I find ourselves lying on top of the three men on the ground.

We howl victory cries and scramble to our feet. The men, tangled in the nets, shout curses at us as we run away.

The Miwok Indians tell stories about us — great hairy beasts roaming these desolate mountains. They fear us and protect our sacred habitat on Deadwood Peak. We are going there now, secure in the knowledge that we cannot be followed. Men from the city will continue to hunt us. But, with help from the Miwoks, they will never find us. And we will never let them capture us alive.

Dawn Pisturino

©2014-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

17 Comments »

Legend of the Dream Catcher

from St. Joseph’s Indian School, Chamberlain, South Dakota (Lakota Sioux Tribe):
 
“Native Americans of the Great Plains believe the air is filled with both good and bad dreams. Historically, dream catchers were hung in the tipi or lodge and on a baby’s cradle board.
 
“According to legend, the good dreams pass through the center hole to the sleeping person. The bad dreams are trapped in the web, where they perish in the light of dawn.”
 
Visit their website here: 

http://www.stjo.org
 
And pleasant dreams!

Dawn Pisturino
November 29, 2021


16 Comments »

Reprise: The Woman with the Blue Tattoo

Olive Oatman, Library of Congress

Olive Oatman became famous in the 1850s for the blue perpendicular lines tattooed onto her chin. She called them “slave marks,” and people all across America wanted to know how and why she had acquired them.

On the afternoon of February 18, 1851, while camped along the Gila River in Arizona, Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann, watched in horror as a band of Western Yavapai Indians massacred their mother, father, two sisters, and three brothers. Held back as captives, the two girls, fourteen and seven, were forced to walk barefoot through the rugged desert to the isolated Yavapai camp. For a year they lived there as slaves, fetching wood, hauling water, and gathering food, until traded to the Mohave tribe for two horses, three blankets, vegetables, and beads.

The Mohaves (Aha Macav, “along the river,”) inhabited a lush, fertile valley along the banks of the Colorado River, the traditional boundary between Arizona and California.

Chief Espaniole and his wife, Aespaneo, welcomed the girls into the tribe and adopted them into their own family. They were proud to have rescued the girls from the cruel Yavapai and vowed to treat them well.

The girls worked alongside the other women of the tribe, gathering wood, fetching water, and planting seeds. They soon learned the Mohave language and developed close friendships with other members of the tribe.

Olive was variously called “Ali,” “Aliutman,” “Olivino,” and “Owich (cloud),” the clan name of Chief Espaniole’s family. Mohave women inherited clan names passed down from their fathers, and bearing a clan name meant Olive was considered a full member of the tribe.

Facial tattoos were common among the Mohave Indians because they believed the permanent marks guaranteed a place in “Sil’aid,” the land of the dead. Tribal members who died without tattoos would spend eternity in a desert rat hole. Since Olive and Mary Ann belonged to the tribe, they were expected to undergo the tattooing process.

The girls lay quietly on the ground while experienced tattooers drew designs on their chins. Since the tattoos were meant to be decorative, they chose designs that would enhance the girls’ faces. Using cactus needles or sharp sticks, the designs were pricked into the skin until the wounds freely bled. The sticks were dipped in the juice of a special river weed, then into a powder made from a blue river stone, and applied to the pinpricks on the girls’ chins. The process took several hours to complete and several days to heal.

With this rite of passage, Olive and Mary Ann became permanent members of the Mohave tribe and the first white females in the United States to wear tattoos.

A terrible drought in 1855 brought famine to the tribe. Many people died, including Mary Ann. Olive soon fell ill herself. Aespaneo saved her life by feeding her gruel made from cornmeal.

In January 1856, a Yuma Indian named Francisco arrived at the Mohave camp with papers from Fort Yuma ordering the release of Olive Oatman. Chief Espaniole refused to release her. But Francisco persisted, claiming that five million white soldiers were hiding in the hills, ready to attack and destroy the Mohave village. The Mohaves reluctantly gave in.

Once again, Olive was traded for two horses, blankets, and beads. She arrived at Fort Yuma ten days later, tanned, tattooed, painted, her hair dyed black, and wearing only a bark skirt. She was nineteen years old. Her brother Lorenzo, who had survived the massacre, traveled from California for a tender reunion with his long-lost sister.

Olive became an overnight sensation. Newspapers all across America printed stories about “the white Indian” and her blue tattoo. The Evansville Enquirer reported on November 9, 1859: “She will bear the marks of her captivity to her grave. Her savage masters having tattooed her after the customs of their tribes.”

In 1857 Royal B. Stratton published the first book detailing the Oatman ordeal, Life Among the Indians, which became an immediate best-seller. Olive and Lorenzo traveled to New York, where Olive promoted the book with autographed photographs and lectures. She openly displayed her tattoo while relaying the tragic story of the Oatman massacre and her life as a “slave” among the Mohave Indians.

When not delivering lectures, Olive self-consciously covered her chin with her hands to avoid the staring eyes of curious people.

Olive married wealthy cattleman John Brant Fairchild in 1865, left the lecture circuit, and eventually settled down in Sherman, Texas. She became reclusive, hid her face behind a black veil, experimented with make-up to hide her blue tattoo, and refused to discuss her life among the Indians. She died of heart failure in 1903. Afraid the Mohaves would claim her body, John Fairchild had her coffin sealed in iron and covered her grave with a thick granite tombstone.

(Mohave Indian woman with body paint and tattoos.)

Dawn Pisturino

October 17, 2012; November 25, 2021

Copyright 2012-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Please contact author for sources.

19 Comments »

A Tribute to Native American Culture

(Oraibi Hopi Village, Northern Arizona, now abandoned. Public Domain photo.)

I was blessed with the opportunity to work with the Native American tribes in Northern Arizona when I worked in Flagstaff: Navajo, Hopi, Apache, and Supai. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not only did I work with them in a medical capacity, but also as a psychiatric nurse. I met a lot of wonderful people, a lot of talented artists, and learned a lot about Native American culture.

Hopi/Tewa artist Duane Koyawena. Photo from Arizona Daily Sun.

Duane was one of my co-workers. He is not only an incredible artist, but a beautiful human being. Here’s an example of his work:

This painting won 1st prize in Fine Arts, Tahisma Art Show.

In 2017, I commissioned Duane to create a painting for my daughter for Christmas, which she loves. If you are interested in Duane’s work, please visit his website:

Duane Koyawena Arts

http://www.dkoyawenaarts.com

He also paints fabulous murals for community and corporate interior and exterior design.

A musical tribute to Native Americans all across America: a blend of Native American instruments and voices with western instruments and music. This clip features Gods & Heroes, Dela Dela, and A-La-Ke. Length: 9:55 minutes and worth watching for the music and the artwork.
Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A National Geographic video by Keeley Gould. 700 tribes gathered over 3 days to celebrate Native American cultural heritage. Length: 4:10 minutes and worth watching for the information and dancing.
(Havasu Falls, Havasupai Indian Reservation. Photo by M. Quinn)

Dawn Pisturino

November 22, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

25 Comments »

Navajo Blessing Way

In beauty may I walk.
All day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk.
With dew about my feet may I walk.
With beauty may I walk.
With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

Traditional Navajo Blessing

Dawn Pisturino

November 19, 2021

12 Comments »

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