Friday, May 23, 2008
The Business of America
Robert Altman's 1976 movie Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, is mostly about the dawn of the age of entertainment, when America first had the time and money to spend on amusing itself. Several of the characters in the film speak of "show business," but they enunciate the phrase in different ways: They'll say "the show business," or they'll emphasize the syllable "biz," rather than "show," as people do today.
So we're at a point in history when "show business" is understood as a concept (I didn't notice a specific date given for the movie's setting, but since President Cleveland shows up with his new bride [Shelley Duvall!], we've got to be around 1886), but hasn't yet ossified into cliche. That happens sometime before 1946, when Irving Berlin writes Annie Get Your Gun, with its big hit "There's No Business Like Show Business," Annie Oakley, of course, having played a key role in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as well as in Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, where she is marvelously portrayed by Geraldine Chaplin.
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson also presents Sitting Bull - about a decade after he slaughtered General Custer at Little Big Horn and less than five years before federal marshals killed him at Standing Rock - as a celebrity to be trotted out in the Wild West Show. That stuff is all true, although Altman did move up the date of his demise to take place during the movie's running time. As Ray Davies said, everybody's in showbiz.
Hey, did you know there's film footage of Annie Oakley in action? This was taken on my birthday in 1894, although technically I wouldn't be born until some years later: