Everyone seems to know they’re supposed to be offended by the new Tonto, (Johnny Depp will be playing him in 2013’s The Lone Ranger) but there has been some confusion as to why. This has been further obscured (or placated) by Depp’s claim to Cherokee or Creek Indian ancestry. Let’s assume the actor is Native American.
He’s got work to do.
Tonto’s name has become symbolic of all cinematic servitude. He’s probably the best-known sidekick in media history. So reframing the character as a full-fledged human being, and exercising some agency, will be a must from one perspective.
Not incidentally, it would be hard to have more Native American street cred than the original Tonto: this guy. Jay Silverheels was born Harold Smith, and was full-blooded Mohawk.
The biggest misstep seems to be assigning this Tonto to a fictional tribe– one that looks more eccentric than ambiguous (he wears a dead bird on his head.)
Giving Tonto an actual heritage would have rooted him to history in a sobering way, but as is, he looks more like a signifier of something we, with genocidal gusto, removed from the North American landscape long ago, and then appropriated for convenient fantasy making. Hollywood!
Moving from awkward racial concerns to entertainment potential, this looks like the best we can expect from Gore Verbinski, who has finally grown tired of his increasingly irredeemable Pirates franchise (although the rest of the consuming world still seems energetic: the fourth Pirates film, the first not directed by Verbinski, grossed over a billion dollars.)
The Lone Ranger looks fun, and 100% pure pastiche. It’s a remix film, or is at least advertised as such. The interesting thing about a remix is that, the more disparate and numerous the elements (the more copying/sharing that goes on) the more original the work becomes in its own way (we already mentioned Girl Talk.)
Based on the trailer, in Lone Ranger (2013) we can expect:
1. A remake of various old-timey Lone Ranger media, including but not limited to: a radio show, a serial, a long-running TV series, a film, and numerous lunchboxes.
2. Johnny Depp spiritually reprising his role as the heavily made-up, beaded, hat-preoccupied, and memorably eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow. This character, while explicitly a white pirate, had “gone native” in a special way. This character was itself, a remix of: the historical pirate, the cartoon/cinematic buccaneer, and Keith Richards. So now, if you ask me, there are at least three obvious levels to the remix of the character alone.
3. The genre, as described by Disney: “…a thrilling adventure infused with action and humor, in which the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes… taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.” Neither an adventure, action film epic, buddy comedy, remake, reboot, or period piece, The Lone Ranger is, of course, a little of everything, and nothing at all. Note the feeble attempt to deal with that trivial obligation: the plot. What are our heroes up against? Greed and corruption, of course! Lock and load. The forces of evil have been dropped in to fill the void. The bullets must fly at something.
4. While we’re on it: the bullet fetish.
5. The traumatic memory montage.
6. The assault on the steam engine. (See The Great Train Robbery, The General, Stagecoach (for a proxy,) Wild West, 3:10 To Yuma, A Bullet For the General, Duck, You Sucker!, The Great Locomotive Chase, Lawrence of Arabia, Wild Wild West and others.)
7. The villainous plot to control an emerging technology (see Trailer #1.)
8. The modern “period-wild-west” aesthetic, which has recently oscillated between There Will Be Blood and Jonah Hex, for two illustratively disparate examples.)
And to get right down to it:
9. Start your trailer with the subjective flashback-montage.
10. End your trailer with something large, heavy, and CGI sliding towards our heroes.
11. Feature something flying in slow-motion, from an outstretched hand to an outstretched hand— probably weapons or munitions.
12. Feature the specter of the feminine, but be careful not to hint at her being anything more than a strange and silent body.
13. Sweeping landscape/ helicopter shots.
14. Star-worshipping close-ups.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And Hollywood won’t consider the remix broken until it stops being highly lucrative. For my part, I’ll probably see it. Although I do ask you: will it be better than this?