". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, January 22, 2017

It's Official: Frontier is Awful. And Preposterous Too

     . . . .  Frontier (2016) season one. Canadian Discovery Channel – Netflix.  It's been renewed for a second season already.

It's unclear just when this period costume series is set.  It's evident that it is after the conclusion of the War of Independence, but not necessarily after the the Constitutional Convention and ratification (1788 - 1789).  The neighbors south of the Canadian territories are referred to as "Americans," and we didn't start doing that until about the time of we began the process of separation with Britain at the time of the tea parties, around 1773 and forward.  The series' opening title sequences include a manikin colonial soldier with a musket positioned in front of a red and white stars and bars with a circle of 13 stars on blue field in the corner. It's a cheap mock-up of such title sequences that have been done so brilliantly with visual and graphics and music as in Black Sails and Vikings great intro (though the series itself has turned to merde).

So we have a rough idea of chronology here, which matters considering there are competing 'companies' from ore than one place trying to break the Hudson's Bay fur monopoly for harvest, trade and employment of the Native groups to do the hardest work of the fur trade, which has a long colonial history both above and below the Canadian line, among the colonists / USians, the British companies, the French, the Spanish and the French.  We need to know these matter too in order to figure out who the characters are and why they are so mutually hostile.

But where are we, exactly?  That's even more vague.  Supposedly in The North -- The Wilderness, quite unpopulated by colonists at least, around Hudson Bay and the part of it called James Bay, north of the relatively civilized Montreal. (So we are definitely not in the 1760's, since until then it was French, you know! And supposedly there are now British banks there, as well as Hudson Bay offices and trans-shipment points.)  So when not trekking through seasonally incoherent and inconsistent northern wildernesses, we are trekking between Montreal and Fort St. James, which at this time is merely a rough trading station providing some supplies and sustenance to trappers and hunters, and is also a trans-shipment point for at least the Hudson's Bay Company.  However, people dash back and forth between the Wilderness and St. James with a rapidity that is only more astonishing than the rapidity they make the dashes back-and-forth between St. James and Montreal.

There are lot of good actors in this 6-episode series. But the writers are so awful, that the characters the actors play are probably the most mentally challenged people in North America in 1780's and 1790's -- even more stupid than King George III was about North America.

The stupid things they do, from pretending they are being sneaky and clandestine and hiding identities, to not killing their rivals any time they have a chance -- and instead they talk talk talk talk.

The villain instead of killing his nemesis, Declan Harp, a half Cree and half Irish fellow whose father was a Hudson's Bay employee, played by the rather splendid Jason Mamoa, who has no opportunity to redeem this stupid stuff, tries his best to talk him to death instead.  So Harp is rescued, but only to be so stupid as to go back and peer at his nemesis who had tortured his dead wife and child and tortured him too, and NOT KILL HIM every time he had the opportunity.

Everybody does this bs -- getting away, coming back, getting away, coming back.  While unimportant characters, many of them, are killed frequently in grisly manners.  Though there's always sexual threats against the women, they tend to avoid that -- on screen anyway, thank goodness.  It really makes one think that the writers are all believe they are channeling James Fennimore Cooper of the Leatherstocking Tales.  I pardon Cooper (for that at least) but not these jokers.

Many of the scenes are shot so darkly that no matter what one does, one can barely see what is going on.

Grace Emberly, who naturally owns the only tavern, "The Ale Tavern" in Fort Saint James.  She seems also to be the only woman in St. James, except for her bar maid, Mary, and The Villain's whore-spy, who he transported all the way from London to spy on Emberly.  But despite them all using their very feminine wiles and assets to beguile any and all men, they are not whores, no siree bhob!  Ms. Emberly also wears really nice spandex leggings and trousers and knee high leather boots.  Note, how dark everything is!  The viewer can hardly make out anything.

This was so poorly done that I spent a lot of time clicking away from the netflix screen where the episodes were running to researching the fur companies, the historical situation, checking that women really did not wear such stylishly tailored clothing in the Wilderness that one thought were actually in Montreal in 2017. Additionally -- there are too many parallels between Frontier's plot and characters and the latest great white tv hope, Taboo, to ignore. Whew!

In other words, I watched this so nobody else has to.  I feel so sorry for the actors.  They have all earned better -- well maybe not Katie McGrath, who was Morgana in Merlin and other equally silly productions?

Res police officer, Officer Mathias. played by Zahn McClarnon, whose character is in his own way is as smart as Henry Standing's Bear's character, played by Longmire co-star, Lou Diamond Phillips, and as admirable.

But certainly actors such as Zahn McClarnon, whom I first got to appreciate in the Longmire series. But he got only a single episode in Frontier. Then he was killed, which is what happens, you know, to good Native Americans.

This was Discovery Canada's first scripted drama.  They have a long, long, long way to go -- and they really need to give back the History Channel's Vikings' teleporter too. Worse, it is obvious all the places where the production is pretending, instead of spending money.  For instance there a couple of transition scenes that the viewer is supposed to see as real human beings dressed in red coat Hudson Bay -- or British army uniforms (which is which is n't always clear!). However anyone can see that it is a model of the so-called governor's house and those guys standing there are manikins, not human actors.  Good way to save money, of course.  They also tell us a geat deal instead of showing, and saving more money, by using long quotes on title cards -- one even from . . . Ice Cube!

It's all too bad, because there is so much going for such a series set in these landscapes, during these times, with all these conflicting forces.

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