Nevada Smith (1966)

Karla Rae Fuller

Walking away from violence, especially in a film set in the violent old West, delivers a powerful message.

Nevada Smith

Director: Henry Hathaway
Cast: Steve McQueen, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Arthur Kennedy, Suzanne Pleshette, Janet Margolin, Howard DaSilva, Pat Hingle, Martin Landau
Studio: Paramount Pictures
First date: 1966
US DVD Release Date: 2003-04-29

Steve McQueen as a "half-breed"? It's an idea that would be farfetched in any decade other than the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement was in full flower and race and ethnicity loomed large in the popular consciousness. Yet, this is the role McQueen plays in Nevada Smith (and that Paul Newman would play a similar role a year later, in the 1967 film Hombre).

Nevada Smith takes as its basis the earlier life of a character featured in The Carpetbaggers (1964). A then 30something Steve McQueen stars as Max Sand (a.k.a. Nevada Smith), a naïve youth who unwittingly points three killers to his parents' homestead. The trio brutally tortures and murders his parents (a white father and Indian mother) over gold. The remainder of the film dramatizes Max's efforts to systematically find and kill the murders, now separated and living in different regions of the country.

Max Sand makes a curious avenging angel, as he is, indeed, ignorant of what makes a commanding man of the West. He doesn't know how to read, drink or even play cards. Itinerant gun dealer Jonas Cord (Brian Keith) takes Max in and molds him into a skillful gunman. Jonas' early efforts to socialize his charge set up the film's review of traditional locations and qualities of Hollywood's Western hero. This process of acculturation effectively highlights the genre's capacity for self-reinvention.

Rather like its protagonist, this film is an interesting hybrid for its time, delivering the generic conventions of the Western -- lots of action, a love interest, an intriguing and noble loner -- along with an investigation of racial identity. The issue of race is explicit in the beginning of the film, when Max begins his socialization into the larger "white" community of the West. He is mentored (dare we say, "re-parented"?) by Jonas, particularly in that most important of skills -- how to shoot straight and accurately. The narrative of this film posits the acquisition of a gunman's skill and attitude as the way of transcending the limitations of Max's mixed race parentage.

Then Max moves to town, where he meets a potentially kindred spirit, an Indian prostitute/dance hall girl named Neema (Janet Margolin), who identifies his ethnicity by noticing the moccasins he still wears. Their connection challenges the traditional Western plot, in that two Indian characters form an important alliance outside of the familiar context of the reservation, at least briefly. When Max is injured while killing one of the murderers, Neema takes him to a local reservation, where he recovers and even learns to read. The Indians are presented as sympathetic to Max's identity crisis and their reservation as an oasis of natural beauty and civilization. Yet, this community does not appear a viable alternative for Max to settle in and find peace.

Still, he must satisfy his vengeful thirst for blood, a quality traditionally associated with Hollywood Indians (and to be fair, white cowboys as well). As a biracial character played by a white star, Max generates sympathy from a mainstream audience, fluctuating between an oppressed Indian and his white oppressor. In the instances where Max suffers racism, it appears that his Indian identity provides a safer substitute for an African American struggling for Civil Rights. This is most evident in scenes where Max confronts each of his parents' killers, who taunt him with racial epithets, particularly about his Indian mother. The second killer, Bill Bowdre (Arthur Kennedy), calls Max "an Injun," based on his ability to detect the direction of their path through the placement of the sun in the sky.

Suzanne Pleshette also contributes "local color" in her role as Max's love interest, an identified Cajun girl named Pilar, who conveniently dies, ensuring that Max will remain alone in his path toward self-knowledge and emerging identity. Taking the structure of an extended journey, Max's story takes him to communities in the old West, the Southern swamps of Louisiana, and finally, the deserts of Arizona, before he "comes of age," or is properly socialized to join the dominant community in this very moralistic Western.

The most explicit presentation of moral choice for our hero comes during a brief stay with a clergyman. The priest Father Zaccardi (Raf Vallone) relates his own parents' murder by marauding Indians. The difference in his story is that he has forgiven this "sinful" act by Max's "own people," and has dedicated his life to the Church. This reinforces the stereotype of Indians as bloodthirsty savages eager to scalp any white man who dared travel West, and the Christian white man as comparatively "civilized" and generous in spirit. Here the priest embodies the forgiveness that Max might have for the last of the killers. At the same time, the film doesn't quite acknowledge collective suffering of the Indian people and systematic white invasions of Indian land.

By the end, Max has renamed himself "Nevada Smith," and when he finds the last killer, Tom Fitch (Karl Malden), he leaves him alive, if writhing in pain. This constitutes a kind of non-violence, during an era of turbulent and interracial strife, and when the tide was threatening to turn from the non-violent resistance of Martin Luther King Jr. toward the more violent tenets of emerging black radical groups.

Nevada Smith straddles a number of different strategies to produce an impossibly complex set of expectations, using its biracial title character as a progressive symbol, its white star as a commercial selling point, and its retrograde moralism as a safety valve for a more conservative politics. It purports to present something new in the guise of traditional generic codes, and ultimately asserts a reductive dramatic resolution. Walking away from violence, especially in a film set in the violent old West, delivers a powerful message. Nevada Smith was released during a time of intense domestic social and political turmoil in the hopes of containing that struggle which, as we know, inevitably exploded.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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