Silent Tongue

Director: Sam Shepard
Screenwriters: Sam Shepard

Institute History

  • 1993 Sundance Film Festival


Sam Shepard's reputation to this point has, of course, been that of a great American playwright. With the production of Silent Tongue, he will also be recognized as a great American filmmaker. This is that rarest of cinematic achievements: a film which can be applauded for its artistry, for its intellectual content, for its emotional power and for its message. It is a work which has been meticulously researched and conceived and exhibits an absolutely stunning attention to detail, as well as an arresting beauty. On top of that, it features superb performances from a standout cast.

The narrative is compelling and complex. It begins with an American icon, the traveling medicine show. Eamon McCree (Alan Bates) heads the Kickapoo Indian Medicine Show. He's part entrepreneur, part show· man, part self-appointed doctor of the plains. His performers are a rag· tag collection of sideshow oddities, clowns and stage acts, and the circus is headlined by his mixed-blood daughter, Velada, a trick rider.

Then Prescott Roe returns to the encampment. Earlier he had traded three horses for Velada's older sister, Awbonnie, who was to be a des·perate gift for his son Talbot (River Phoenix). Unfortunately she died in childbirth, and Talbot is inconsolable. He guards her corpse with a vengence, keeping a vigil of despair and madness. Prescott intends to offer the second daughter to Talbot to heal his soul. And he will take her by any means necessary.

Someone else longs to be free. liberated by death, Awbonnie's ghost nevertheless remains chained by Talbot's love. Frustrated and furious, Awbonnie demands her release with the righteous anger of a Kiowa warrior. She also wants justice for the girls' mother, the woman they call Silent Tongue.

Shepard's accomplishment is no less than a redefinition of the western. The drama is distinctive and multileveled, and the legacy of the Native American is emphatically recalled and realized. This is a film with a personal and ideological vision and the power to influence our sense of both the past and the future.

Thursday Jan 28 7:00 pm
Egyptian Theatre

Friday Jan 29 9:30 am
Prospector Square Theatre


— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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