Back in the late 1980s I worked at a video store. It wasn't exactly the greatest job in the world, but it served its purpose by putting enough cash in my pocket to stay drunk, and giving me the opportunity to see some great films. At the time I started working at the store I was just beginning to get into independent film, and I tried to watch every new title we got that hadn't played at the local multi-plex. Of all the films I saw during that time, one of my most favorites was, and still is, Powwow Highway.
When Buddy Redbow's estranged sister Bonnie is jailed in New Mexico, for a crime she didn't commit, it's up to Buddy (A Martinez) to rescue her. Enlisting the aid of his fat, simpleton friend Philbert Bono (Gary Framer), the motley pair leaving the reservation in Montana to rescue Bonnie, hitting the road in Philbert's beat-up car — Protector, the war pony. Buddy is a Vietnam vet, and a former member of the American Indian Movement, who is consumed by his anger and always looking for a fight. Philbert, on the other hand is more concerned with eating, telling folk tales, and "gathering magic". Along the way they wreak havoc at a Radio Shack, get into a confrontation at a powwow in Pine Ridge, SD, have a spiritual awakening, and instigate the biggest manhunt in the history of New Mexico.
Powwow Highway is an indie classic from the era that spawned such great works as She's Gotta Have It, Down by Law, and sex, lies & videotape. And while those films have managed to find their place, Powwow Highway remains overlooked.
Based on the hilarious novel by David Seals, anyone who has seen the movie and read the book, will tell you how vastly different the two are. Of course, the book delves more deeply into the characters, and is full of plot twists and clever moments that never make it to the screen. The film tones down the humor, and approaches the story more seriously, but manages to keep from losing the spirit of Seals' original story. Besides, how could you show Philbert actually having sex with a mountain?
Farmer and Martinez are great as Philbert and Buddy, carrying the film with their natural chemistry and charisma. Farmer is especially good; creating in Philbert a gentle giant that is both simple and wise. Powwow Highway is one of those films that catches you totally off guard. Funny and compelling, it is the sort of film you want to share with all your friends. I've been waiting for this to come out on DVD for years, as my copy was "borrowed" and never returned. It had been over five years since I last saw the film, but it still held up.
Powwow Highwayis presented in widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The picture quality is fair at best, and looks like the disc was mastered from an old, less-that-pristine video master.
Powwow Highwayis presented in Dolby Digital mono.
There are no bonus features on the Powwow Highwaydisc. Considering the fact that this is an Anchor Bay release, it is possible we'll see three or four more versions of this disc with all sorts of bonus features in the upcoming weeks, but somehow I doubt it.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]