Return to the Land of the Head Hunters

Edward S. Curtis, the Kwakwaka'wakw, and the Making of Modern Cinema

Edited by Brad Evans and Aaron Glass
Foreword by Bill Holm

  • paperback not available
  • $50.00s hardcover (9780295993447) Add to Cart
  • Published: 2013
  • Subject Listing: Native American and Indigenous Studies; Film and Media Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 392 pp., 113 illus., 16 in color, 7 x 10 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Published with: Bill Holm Center for the Study of Northwest Coast Art, Burke Museum, Seattle
  • Series: Native Art of the Pacific Northwest: A Bill Holm Center
  • Contents

The first silent feature film with an "all Indian" cast and a surviving original orchestral score, Edward Curtis's 1914 In the Land of the Head Hunters was a landmark of early cinema. Influential but often neglected in historical accounts, this spectacular melodrama was an intercultural product of Curtis's encounter and collaboration with the Kwakwaka'wakw of British Columbia.

In recognition of the film's centennial, and alongside the release of a restored version, Return to the Land of the Head Hunters brings together leading anthropologists, Native American authorities, artists, musicians, literary scholars, and film historians to reassess the film and its legacy. The volume offers unique Kwakwaka'wakw perspectives on the film, accounts of its production and subsequent circulation, and evaluations of its depictions of cultural practice.Like his photographs, Curtis's motion picture was meant to document a supposedly vanishing race. But as this collection shows, the film is not simply an artifact of colonialist nostalgia. Resituated within film history and informed by a legacy of Kwakwaka'wakw participation and response, the movie offers dynamic evidence of ongoing cultural survival and transformation under shared conditions of modernity.

Watch the trailer:
Brad Evans is an associate professor of English at Rutgers University. Aaron Glass is an assistant professor of Anthropology at the Bard Graduate Center.

"Lively and inspiring . . . a comprehensive and completely original cross-disciplinary collection that offers a model of how new work on older cultural materials can take place."
-Faye Ginsburg, director of the Center for Media, Culture, and History, New York University

"A highly original collection of essays that offers a theoretically sophisticated understanding. . . . Exemplifies collaboration between indigenous communities, scholars, and artists."
-Pauline Turner Strong, author of American Indians and the American Imaginary: Cultural Representation Across the Centuries

"Curtis's epic melodrama of the precontact Kwakwaka'wakw world has been given a new life, with the advantages of the discovery of a surviving bit of original film, the revival of the orchestral score originally composed for the motion picture, the expertise of film historians and musicians, the use of advanced film-reconstruction technology and modern concepts of restoration. It is a new chapter in the story of Edward S. Curtis in the land of the head hunters."
-Bill Holm, From the foreword

U'mista Cultural Society Statement of Participation / William T. Cranmer
Foreword / Bill Holm
Preface / Brad Evans and Aaron Glass

PART ONE. Mediating Indians / Complicating Curtis
1. Edward Curtis and In the Land of the Head Hunters: Four Contexts / Micky Gidley
2. Images of Time: Portraiture in The North American Indian / Shamoon Zamir
3. Indian Landscapes: Pauline Johnson and Edward Curtis / Kate Flint
4. A Chamber of Echoing Songs: Edward Curtis as a Musical Ethnographer / Ira Jacknis
Photo Essay 1. "At the Kitchen Table with Edward Curtis"/ Jeff Thomas

PART TWO. Head Hunters Across Two Centuries
5. Consuming the Head Hunters: A Century of Film REception / Aaron Glass and Brad Evans
6. Unmasking the Documentary: Notes on the Anxiety of Edward Curtis / Colin Browne
7. Indian Movies and the Vernacular of Modernism / Brad Evans
8. Musical Intertextuality in Indigenous Film: Making and Remaking In the Land of the Head Hunters / Klisala Harrison
9. Reflections on Working with Edward Curtis / Barbara Cranmer (Tlakwagila'ogwa)
Photo Essay 2. "Old Images / New Views: Indigenous Perspectives on Edward Curtis" / Dr. E. Richard Atleo, Pam Brown, Marie Clements, Karrmen Crey, Mique'l Icesis Dangeli, Andy Everson, Linc Kesler, David Neel, Evelyn Vanderhoop, and William Wasden Jr.

PART THREE. Reimaging Curtis Today
10. In the Land of the Head Hunters: Reconstruction, not Restoration . Jere Guldin
11. In the Land of the Head Hunters and the History of Silent Film Music / David Gilbert
12. Performing Braham, Interpreting Curtis: A Conversation on Conducting / Neal Stulberg, Owen Underhill, Timothy Long, and Laura Ortman
13. "What the Creator Gave to Us": An Interview with William Wasden Jr. (Waxawidi)
14. Cultural Interpretation / Dave Hunsaker
15. The Kwakwakka'wakw Business of Showing: Tradition Meets Modernity on the Silver Screen and the World Stage / Aaron Glass

Afterword. Twentieth Century Fox / Paul Chaat Smith
Appendix 1. Promotional Images for In the Land of the Head Hunters
Appendix 2. The Kwakwaka'wakw Cast and Crew of In the Land of the Head Hunters
Appendix 3. Curtis Film Props in the Collection of the Burke Musem of Natural History and Culture
Appendix 4. Title Cards from the 2008 Reconstruction of In the Land of the Head Hunters

"The benefit of hindsight tempts us to dismiss Curtis's naiveté or his fetishization of authenticity. But the many voices brought together here - art historians both native and non-native, activists, anthropologists, even a renowned modern Kwakwaka'wakw documentary filmmaker - reach for a more nuanced critical appreciation of the film's legacy. . . . Glass, Evans, and their contributors show Curtis and his native collaborators have left something that can be bent to new uses as a bulwark against cultural erasure."
-Christopher F. Roth, Reed Magazine

"An important work, dealing with the history of the Kwakwaka'wakw as well as the history of cinema . . . [with] essays by anthropologists, Native American authorities, artists, musicians, literary scholars, and film historians. The book includes Kwakwaka'wakw perspectives on the film, as well as information about how it was made and distributed."
-Dave Obee, Times Colonist

"This richly illustrated, multivocal, and altogether remarkable volume is the result of many years' work on the part of the editors; the U'mista Cultural Centre and the Gwa'wina Dancers of Alert Bay, British Columbia; and many scholars and cultural experts...[the] book does us all a service by ushering Curtis's In the Land of the Head Hunters into the 21st century."
-Richard Handler, American Ethnologist