Pirates Of Monument Valley—OR—The Lone Ranger As Dumbass

Left is a painting by Kirby Sattler, called "I Am Crow", and right is Johnny Depp dressed up like that painting (except in the painting the crow is a spirit symbol, not a stuffed joke). Neither painting nor the actor's getup has anything to do with actual Comanche warriors, and both artists surely get paid a lot more money than the people they're inaccurately mimicking.
We won't even get into how inauthentic it is (a lack of authenticity is not a deal-killer with a movie like this). But you know, the stupid crow headdress is a rip from some white artist who likes to paint pictures of generic indians, in a style pleasing to white people and their fantasies about Native Americans and their spirituality.

Actual Comanches were Plains indians, who dressed a lot more like the Tonto of Jay Silverheels, about whom we'll say more below.

The long lonely stare out to one of the Mittens, rock formations in Monument Valley, Utah, the iconic vista not in Texas, but often used to represent it in Westerns, including the 2013 Lone Ranger. The allusion to John Ford's style would have worked a lot better if an allusion to (or faithful plagiarism of) John Ford's storytelling ability had been made as well. In fact, even the style is wrong. Ford never put the horizon in dead center.
And also, the cool rock shapes, that look like something CGI'd for a scifi movie: they're real, and they're a traditional locale, Monument Valley, Utah, much filmed by the greatest Westerns director, John Ford.

And of course those great rocks are not in Texas. The vast majority of Westerns that take place in Texas were not filmed in Texas.

There are currently quite a few postmortems going on concerning The Lone Ranger, the already rotting corpse of the latest  Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) effort to squeeze just a little more goofy-cute-juice from the very over-ripe pulp of Johnny Depp.

But, you know, Depp is fucking HALF A CENTURY OLD!! now, and his goofy seems more coot than cute.

Depp's take on Tonto, one of the few classic indian roles in American entertainment, is like the first glimpse we get of Depp's old Tonto (in San Francisco in 1933), playing the live version of the noble savage, as a statue in some carnival sideshow exhibit of Old West artifacts.

Depp never gets much more dynamic than this, as he plods his way through The Lone Ranger like a cigar-store indian.

You can noticeably see that age is wearing Depp down. His body is thicker, his movements far less elegant and eccentric. Or maybe dull of wit and body is how Depp wished to play Tonto. As is suggested in the movie, repeatedly, only a very stupid indian ("Tonto" means "fool" in Spanish)—or spirit-horse either—would choose John Reid (the real name of the Lone Ranger), raging nerd and damned fool, to be his partner in the great fight against evil spirits in the West.

The real Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, on Silver. 1949
So old and cynical is the Bruckheimer-Gore Verbinski (director) Tonto, and so young and dumb is their Lone Ranger, that any partnership of these two would seem unlikely. That is particularly the case when Depp's Tonto keeps pointing out, with good reason, what a totally worthless excuse for a warrior the much weaker part of the lawman brotherhood Reid really is.

While this odd-couple routine sort of worked with Jack Sparrow (Depp) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), in the Pirates movies, we should recall that audiences were mostly quite pleased to see Turner die and Sparrow live at the end of At World's End. Because their relationship was mainly antagonistic, three movies worth of it was more than enough.

And that totally goes for any extension of the life of that lame formula in the current movie.

This new Lone Ranger could have been killed off with great benefit early on in the ambush that wipes out a small group of Texas Rangers, including Reid's older, better, brother.

We don't need to go into the plot of this mess. If you've seen the Pirates movies, you've seen far better setups for the endless narrow-escape gags than the ones Verbinski perpetrates here.

The key point and problem with the movie is that the producer-director apparently figured that The Lone Ranger could just be like Pirates of Monument Valley, and so very little care and concern was spent getting or respectfully rebooting the original material.

And that's REALLY too bad. Because the original material, treated respectfully, could have made a great movie for kids of all ages.

The great Jay Silverheels, as Tonto, 1949. Silverheels played Tonto as a 100%-loyal friend to the Lone Ranger. Many people subsequently criticized this portrayal as seeming to make Tonto look subservient. But, understanding the origin story, and how the two men were intimately linked to one another, explains it much differently. In that view, Tonto is simply being an honorable and decent person, looking after the man who once saved his life, and whose life Tonto saved in return.
First off, let's look at the key difference between the old Lone Ranger, and here I'll focus mainly on the television series, which started in 1949, and starred Clayton Moore as John Reid (the Lone Ranger), and Jay Silverheels as Tonto, and this new, really dumbed-down and shit-stained one.

In 1949, the Lone Ranger and Tonto were not an odd couple. They were more like a married couple, who had a bond of love and respect, and a commitment to doing what is right and just. So hard-core was this commitment on the part of the Lone Ranger, that he vows never to shoot to kill, but only to wound or disarm, because as 1949-Reid says, determining the fate of the accused is for the law, not for law-enforcement officers (the men behind the six-shooters).

In 2013, this commitment to doing what is legal and just sounds, in the era of drone strikes, the NSA, and global slaughter of remote peoples by US military, quaint or downright stupid. Of course it sounds that way in part because the US government and the US entertainment industry have worked together to change the equation of what is just and decent in the minds of the American people.

A restrained or contemplative hero like The Lone Ranger or Superman, who doesn't need or want to kill people, strikes modern audiences as boring. Vengeance, the bloodier and more explosive the better, is what modern audiences want in their heroes, because vengeance is what the American people have been told (and sold) for over a decade is what will make them feel better and be better.

Of course, that was a stupid, damnable, lie, told to us by leaders whom the Lone Ranger and Tonto would throw into a jail cell, where they belong.

Let's look now at a key difference between the origin story of the 1949 Lone Ranger and the 2013 amusement-ride version. Remember, 1949, four years after the end of WWII. If ever a people had experienced a bellyfull of blood and horror and vengeance, it was those Americans, who in the end even went so far as to nuke two cities into plains of ash. They were hardcore.

When those hardcore soldiers came home, and started buying television sets, and the first kids began watching television shows made just for them, the parents sure as hell were not interested in their kids being told a bunch of nazified hogwash about the glories of killing. In fact, they wanted messages about how enemies could get along and get over things without resorting any longer to violence.

Thus, the Lone Ranger is partnered up with an indian, Tonto, who actually is introduced to us in the first show as he comes to the rescue of John Reid, much in the same (superficial) way they do in the new movie. The producers of the television show knew as well as anybody that Texas Rangers and indians, mainly Comanches, had been arch-enemies. Why would an indian in an Old West story help a wounded Texas Ranger?

In the 2013 movie, they treat the premise as preposterous, and Tonto at one point tries to bury the wounded white man, John Reid, alive! Uh-huh. The only reason in the 2013 version Tonto finally consents to drag along his new partner (literally through horse shit) to recover from his wounds, is because Silver, the "spirit horse" has picked Reid as a Spirit Walker, and so a chosen warrior against evil. Tonto calls Silver stupid for making this choice.

If a character in a kid's television show back in 1949 had tried to bury the hero alive—no kids and no parents would have accepted the absurd explanation that this was just a bonding moment for two future friends. They would have understood that was just bullshit. Which it still is.

Here is the origin story of Lone Ranger and Tonto, in 1949:

Tonto puts his friendship ring on John Reid (the future Lone Ranger). The innocence of a bygone era allowed kids to watch this, without their older siblings making lame jokes about how "gay" it seemed. But maybe it IS gay—and maybe that's actually a strong point, since the love of the two male characters for one another, and their commitment to always help one other in times of danger, is obviously an important message. From the Lone Ranger episode "Enter the Lone Ranger", 1949, an ABC show.
After Tonto rescues John Reid, the Lone Texas Ranger survivor of an ambush, the indian recognizes the Ranger by a ring Reid is wearing. And Tonto calls Reid by the name he knew him by when they were boys—Kimosabe—which Tonto says means "trusty scout". Tonto explains to Reid that, when they were boys, Reid had come upon Tonto's village after it had been attacked by "renegade indians". Tonto was the only survivor, and Reid nursed him back to health. Reid then offered Tonto his horse, so the indian boy could ride to find his father and the other members of his tribe. But Tonto refused the horse, unless Reid accepted in exchange Tonto's silver friendship ring, which Tonto explained would bring Reid luck.

Apparently, the two never saw each other again, until Tonto, as he was tending the wounded ranger, recognized the ring hanging around Reid's neck. Thus, the two men had a long bond of friendship, based on coming to the rescue of one another in time of great need. This translates as a metaphor for the partnership the men form to come to the rescue of others in the West in similar need.

In short, the 1949 version of the relationship of Lone Ranger and Tonto was based on mutual respect, friendship, and love.

While much about "back in the day" was unenlightened regarding anything like an authentic rendering of the relationships between white people and indians in the Old West, at least the 1949 Lone Ranger had a message of hope and reconciliation in it, that audiences in 2013 simply seem immune from understanding.

People, in the process of becoming ultra sophisticated in their postmodern values, have become barbarically so in many ways. The 2013 Lone Ranger went down in flames in large part because what was worth keeping from 1949 was tossed in the trash, and what was worth updating for 2013 (maybe telling a more authentic version of the story) was way too cerebrally-oriented for a 21st-century blockbuster.

Sometimes, and this is one of those times, cynicism of this magnitude (the film involved a total investment of over $300 million!), gets properly punished.

Hi-ho, Silver, away!

Comments