Evocative Canvas of the World of Native Americans

Article excerpt

GERONIMO-MANIA is here.

TV ads for the theatrical film, which opens Friday, seem to be running hourly. A&E is pushing the Dec. 12 repeat of its "Real West" documentary about "The Last Renegade." And this weekend, the Turner cable empire kicks off its yearlong campaign, "The Native Americans: Behind the Legends, Beyond the Myths," with its own "Geronimo" film, rushed forward to debut on TNT Sunday night.

The upcoming "Geronimo" theatrical film will have to work hard to beat the intimate majesty of TNT's moving production. Made by a crew largely staffed by American Indians, this is a lyrical portrait of a man, a people, a culture, a nation, evocatively sketched in impressionistic brush strokes that convey an entire panorama through compelling images.

And it's about Geronimo and his people. The white guys are mere backdrop - there aren't more than six whites with speaking roles, and they're of no consequence. Not even Teddy Roosevelt.

Geronimo's Apache life is the point. The first scenes take us from his early clashes to the odd juxtapositions at the end of his life: First, he's an Apache teen (Ryan Black), escaping from Mexican forces by becoming part of the land, the dirt beneath their feet; then he's an old man (Jimmy Herman), a living tourist attraction in an urban 20th-century society where gawkers pay $5 for his autograph.

The in-between flashbacks form the rest of the film, which dedicates itself to immersing us in the world of the man born as Goyahkla. As a vibrant young man (Joseph Runningfox), he gains his fighting fame and his name by leading the slaughter of Mexican forces at the feast of San Geronimo - but only in revenge for the Mexicans' scalping of his wife.

Fresh portrayals are abundant here, and the emotional complexity of the film is eye-opening; Geronimo is no crazed renegade, no endlessly valiant leader, no overly articulate spokesman. He's a simple man of elemental impulses, the overriding of which is self-preservation. …