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[whitespace] 'The Business of Fancydancing'
Low Rez-olution: Seymour (Evan Adams) gets an earful from Ari (Gene Tagaban) when he returns to the reservation in 'The Business of Fancydancing.'


'The Business of Fancydancing' follows a poet who has torment by the ton

By Richard von Busack

LET'S MAKE a giant leap of logic and presume that the fictional Seymour Polatkin (Evan Adams), the successful gay Spokane Indian poet, has something in common with the writer/director of The Business of Fancydancing, the successful (though not gay) Coeur d'Alene Indian author and poet Sherman Alexie. No broke writer ever labored on a screenplay about the emotional pain of a rich writer. In The Business of Fancydancing, Polatkin re-examines his roots when an old friend, Mouse (Swil Kanim), dies. For the first time in 10 years, the poet returns to the reservation. There, his former friend and now enemy Ari (Gene Tagaban) confronts Seymour. The poet is still remembered and disliked as the sissy who got too big for his britches and became a literary star while his two best friends stayed behind, wasting away in violence, cynicism and substance abuse.

Seymour loathes the reservation as a prison where Native American populations are stuck, drunk and suicidal. In that, he has something serious to talk about. But despite Polatkin's understandable bitterness, he isn't as alone as he thinks. Let's see: he's self-loathing, he's gay, he's in AA, he's depressed about his cultural heritage, his parents are dead alcoholics, his childhood friends are anti-intellectuals who don't understand him and he loved someone who couldn't love him back. Welcome to the club, Poindexter! You could meet 19 people with those troubles at any poetry reading in America, and chances are they're not getting published, either.

Seymour may have bad memories, but he's treated like a prince. The poet has an ob-gyn boyfriend, Steven (Kevin Phillip), who worships him, but Seymour only has contempt for him. Seymour's old girlfriend Agnes (Michelle St. John, charming in a badly written part) supported Seymour through college. He influenced Agnes to go to the reservation, although she hadn't grown up there. She's culturally at home but doomed to unhappiness.

Adams plays Polatkin with levels of coyness unseen since Truman Capote died. In the most aggravating scenes, Polatkin argues with an angry Interviewer (Rebecca Carroll) who believes that the poet has sold out Native Americans. This straw-woman reporter is like the fake newscasters Martin Lawrence hired for the opening of his new in-concert film. In the old days, artists castigated themselves; it was a more hands-on era.

We can forgive an artist his incredible narcissism--and maybe even his repellent ethnocentric streak--if he's honest with us. There's one poem here that transcends self-pity, a piece about children waiting in a car outside a tavern for their parents to finish drinking. But just as Alexie's last film was called Smoke Signals, this one ought to be called Smoke Screen. The film fogs our understanding of this writer. The Business of Fandydancing--one of the year's most agonizing shot-on-digital films--offers more evidence that the digital-camera revolution may be as big a bust as the dotcoms. It's as if someone had designed a revolutionary new hammer, and people thought the new tool would turn them into carpenters overnight.

The Business of FancyDancing (Unrated; 103 min.), directed and written by Sherman Alexie, photographed by Holly Taylor and starring Evan Adams, Gene Tagaban and Michelle St. John, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the August 29-September 4, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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