AN OPEN LETTER TO ED HARRIS
CONCERNING A FILM ABOUT BOB SCRIVER:
(I’ve tried making contact through your agent and your lawyer. Now let’s try six degrees of separation. Somebody out there must know somebody who knows Ed Harris.)
Though there’s some danger of you becoming the male version of Merrill Streep, an actor who can be anybody, this project is worth your time because it combines so many of your interests: art, music, Westerns, religion, and maybe Native Americans, though I don’t know of you doing any movies about them. No one has picked up on the concept of the “cowboy artist” so far. Tommy Lee Jones might be moving towards a painter/cowboy, but I haven’t heard about any Western sculptor stories, which are a lot more physical, even more than painting like Pollock.
Here’s the way I’d go with this. There is no script -- just a “biographical memoir” (covered both bases there) -- called “Bronze Inside and Out.” I tried to mail you the book. I have no ambition to write the script, but I do have some recommends.
I might prove useful. My undergrad work was at Northwestern University with Alvina Krause. I was a lousy actor but I understand “spine,” “through line,” “beats” and all that stuff. In short, I know the concepts but don’t have the acting talent. It was a long time ago. (Class of 1961) I write.
1. Use Amy Madigan (if she’s interested and willing) to be a voice-over as “me.” This is to give intimacy, privileged insight, philosophical argument about what Bob was doing, and to frame the action. She should be rueful but not regretful: one of Bob’s mantras was “no regrets.” His advice: “if you’re going to regret it, don’t do it. If you do it, take it for what it is.” The tone should be full of love, sometimes indignation, and occasionally rage. (It was a one-sided relationship.) The grief is not just for Bob but also for what James Willard Schultz wrote about in “Why Gone Those Times?” The free West.
2. Confine the action to the Sixties when I was with Bob, not because I was there, but because this was when Western art began to catch fire commercially. Make the focus the nature of success and what that does to an artist. Don’t make Bob a wonderful hero, show how everyone tried (STILL tries) to mash him into the template of Charlie Russell when he WASN’T Charlie Russell. Charlie Russell wasn’t even Charlie Russell. This is an echo of what has happened to the American West. Stylized, packaged, made into a lifestyle. Marketed.
3. Then against that put the reality of what a sculptor does, the reality of casting bronze with a Blackfeet crew, of living on a reservation (leave out the AIM stuff -- that came later), of getting up at dawn to ride across unfenced prairie for the sheer glory of it. And bring in Rodin, French Beaux Arts equestrian monuments, Barye and the Animaliers. Bring in as many animals as is practical: bobcats, foxes, badgers, gophers, horses, the eagle. (Right into the bed -- except the last two.) Don’t forget the bison roundup and hunting on the East Slope of the Rockies.
4. When the pain, the confusion, the pressure, the conflict in the relationships, the aging, become unbearable, show what a gift it was for Bob (and me) to participate as Bundle Keepers in the ancient Blackfeet ceremonies, quietly and privately. (It moved me on to divinity school eventually.) Don’t argue with the political part of it -- just show the reality of the event. Light through the smoke, light through the tipi canvas. Grace.
5. Show the quarrels over what we thought art should be: I was fighting for masterpieces and exaltation. Bob wanted to be a success for his family’s sake. He wanted his “Pop” to say, “Well done.” End when his pop dies (without ever saying it), I stop to pick up the road-killed badger, Bob invents his Badger Lodge, and we put it up. We spent the day ceremonially with the Kicking Woman family and old-time Canadian Indians. End the action with us (and grandkids and animals) -- faces painted with the badger stripes -- sprawled on a bison robe at the little Two Med ranch by a fire with the lodge in the background and a sunset behind that. Reconciled. For the moment. This was our Beethoven's Ninth.
5. End the voice-over with “me” walking the same area, wondering, thinking about time, waving at an Indian kid on a horse up on the ridge. Then the camera pans to “No More Buffalo” against the sky. Then “I” get into my filthy, rackety little pickup and drive off in a cloud of dust, elbow out the window. Time goes on. The prairie... the prairie... the sky...
You could even make the movie without ever saying it was Bob Scriver, but a character in reality gives it an anchor. He’s been dead ten years. He was 84, so his contemporaries are pretty much gone. (All the old circle of Bundle Keepers are gone except Joe Old Chief.) In his beginning Bob taught high school music and some of his students are still living. His two children are dead. The grandchildren are in their forties and not involved. The great-grandchildren hardly knew Bob. I was the third of four wives, one year younger than his daughter by his first wife. Demographically and genetically, I was more like him than any of the others. The other wives are dead.
There’s no money in this, but there’s no money anywhere anyhow. Do it digitally. Do it for fun. And love. I'll help.