CrimeReads is a very fine — and highly influential — website focusing on the crime and thriller genres in fiction, nonfiction and film. It recently sent me down an obscure sidetrail that somehow escaped my notice back in 1991. Here is THE DARK HISTORY OF THE INDIAN RUNNER, SEAN PENN’S MEDITATION ON AMERICAN VIOLENCE, BY WAY OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.
You can probably discern that this headline alone strums several chords in my Frontier Partisan soul…
The Indian Runner is a movie of profound ambition. It seeks to dramatize nothing less than the history of violence within the United States, and how that violence infects spirit after spirit, like a powerful and contagious disease. It is also the screenwriting and directorial debut of one of the world’s greatest actors, Sean Penn.
I have never been enamored of the antics of Sean Penn, but I won’t deny the talent on display in his best work. And he’s not the only artist whose work I can’t help but admire — while simultaneously entertaining fantasies of punching them repeatedly in the face. Looking at YOU Quentin Tarantino. Anyway, I can’t fathom how I failed to catch the scent of The Indian Runner, as it is directly inspired by one of my very favorite narrative folk songs by Bruce Springsteen: Highway Patrolman.
In 1982, Sean Penn began dating photographer Pamela Springsteen, legendary songwriter Bruce Springsteen’s sister. When Springsteen released his dark and brooding acoustic masterpiece of story-songs, “Nebraska,” Penn became obsessed with the track, “Highway Patrolman.”
Sean Penn tells biographer, Richard T. Kelly, in the outstanding oral history of Penn’s film career, Sean Penn: His Life and Times, that one night, while visibly and audibly drunk, he told Springsteen, “I’m going to make a movie out of ‘Highway Patrolman.’”
The rock and roll star, who already didn’t much care for the cocky actor dating his sister, reacted with a combination of amusement and condescension—laughing and remarking, “Ok, Sean.” In 1991, less than ten years after the intoxicated exchange, The Indian Runner opened nationally in movie theaters. The opening credits announce, “Inspired by the Bruce Springsteen song, ‘Highway Patrolman.’” Those words act as Springsteen’s endorsement. Part of the contractual agreement gave Springsteen the right to refuse to have his name associated with the film. After a private screening, he thanked Penn for giving a profound and deeply moving presentation of his song. Many years after the release of The Indian Runner, Bruce Springsteen’s record company would release a music video for “Highway Patrolman” featuring footage from Penn’s film.
The title comes from an obscure and apparently hard-to-find book titled, Indian Running: Native American History and Tradition. Of course THAT has me intrigued as well. The titular Indian Runner apparently appears as a kind of harbinger of doom in the film.
So, yeah, I’m on the track.
In other film news, Yellowstone aka My Cowboy Soap Opera just dropped a teaser trailer and confirmed that the show will return in the fall, promising that:
“Revenge is worth the wait.”
I finally picked up a copy of Reminiscences of A Ranger: Early Times in Southern California, by Horace Bell for my library. Not only was this an important document — the first book in English printed in Southern California — it’s an absolute hoot to read. Bell’s Los Angeles of the 1850s was the wildest of the Wild West — it had the highest homicide rate in U.S. history. Members of the Glanton Gang walked its mean streets. Bell served as a Los Angeles Ranger and was a filibustering soldier of fortune in Latin America. He was also a very good writer, and his memoir is full of colorful and sometimes comedic anecdote.
It’s a good thing that the Swedish Gränsfors Tomahawk has limited availability, and only in Europe. I do NOT need to be tempted by a $500 tomahawk. But ain’t it a beaut?
The Gränsfors Tomahawk is inspired by a French trade axe. It is traditionally forged using a coal forge, hammer, and anvil. This is an extremely complex and time-consuming process, and the axe is produced in small series. Each axe is stamped with a series number, year of production and the smith’s touchmark.