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SILENT TONGUE, a powerful drama about vengeance, redemption, and the shameful legacy of the old West, is written and directed by SAM SHEPARD, one of the most original and versatile talents of our time. Hailed by Newsweek magazine as "America's Cowboy Laureate," Shepard, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and an Oscar-nominated actor, uses the evocative American Southwest as the setting for a compelling ghost story. SILENT TONGUE stars ALAN BATES, RICHARD HARRIS, the late RIVER PHOENIX, and DERMOT MULRONEY. Rounding out this impressive cast are SHEILA TOUSEY, JERI ARREDONDO, and TANTOO CARDINAL as SILENT TONGUE. The film was produced by Carolyn Pfeiffer and Ludi Boeken, and executive produced by Jacques Fansten, Gene Rosow, Bill Yahraus, and Shep Gordon.
A haunting examination of the hopes and failures of the American West, SILENT TONGUE tells the story of PRESCOTT ROE (Richard Harris), a father who will do anything to help his grieving son TALBOT (River Phoenix) come to terms with the death of his half-breed wife, AWBONNIE (Sheila Tousey).
Hoping Talbot will be comforted by Awbonnie's sister, VELADA (Jeri Arredondo), Prescott tries to buy her from her father, Medicine Show owner EAMON MCCREE, who has fathered his two daughters by the Indian woman, SILENT TONGUE. But this time, McCree's son REEVES (Dermot Mulroney) protests. The voice of the future, he calls for a more reasonable world, where people -- and especially Native Americans -- are not treated like chattels. But before these four men can deal with each other, they must first reckon with the angry ghost of Awbonnie -- a powerful spirit with a fearful score to settle.
SILENT TONGUE explores many different themes - the relationships between fathers and sons, the importance of honor and the family, and the mistreatment of Native Americans during the last century. But Shepard refuses to label the movie with any one description. "I don't like to define my work," he explains. "Interpretations are always subjective and this movie can be taken on different levels. Hopefully, it will mean different things to different people."
This expressionist approach to story-telling applies to all of Shepard's work. Author of over forty plays, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning BURIED CHILD, as well as several screenplays, Shepard always presents a vision of America that is at once mythic, surreal, and profoundly tragic.
While his concerns are often political, Shepard explains that SILENT TONGUE should not be interpreted as just a political statement about the plight of the American Indian. "Obviously, all the horrible genocide that went on should be constantly restated as part of our nightmare history. But to me, it would be more positive to bring some of the real power of the Native American spirit into a film. There's this dichotomy between European intellectual culture and the Native American tradition of spirituality."
These two worlds clash in SILENT TONGUE, when Awbonnie's ghost emerges as one of the main characters. More than a spirit, Awbonnie is a force. She is an unusual ghost in that she appears in daylight and she has great physical presence. Awbonnie radiates power -- power that is impossible to ignore.
On one level, the story of SILENT TONGUE is the story of two nineteenth-century families, the Roes and the McCrees, trying to make sense of their lives as they move through a world where they don't belong. Transplanted Europeans they are essentially trespassing. But on another, more philosophical level, SILENT TONGUE explores the clash of cultures and the differences between the old and the new orders in an emerging land. Long acknowledged as the finest playwright of his generation, Shepard proves himself to be an equally impressive screenwriter and director as he brings this dichotomy to life.
In fact, in SILENT TONGUE, Shepard repeatedly demonstrates his roots as a dramatist. For example, the Kickapoo Medicine Show functions as a kind of comic and ironic chorus in the film, a tradition in Shakespeare and in Greek tragedy. Executive Producer Gene Rosow describes SILENT TONGUE as "a western redefined, like a Greek drama on the prairie."
Shepard has always been fascinated by medicine shows, the touring companies of entertainers/charlatans who were so popular in the last century. "It says something about Americans," he explains. "There's a cure somewhere and the cure resides in some kind of magic potion." But, as Shepard points out, there are no easy cures. "None of those medicine show guys were for real. They sold snake oil. People got drunk and felt great, and the next day woke up and discovered they'd been duped and the Medicine Show was out of town." The medicine show serves as a sort of overriding metaphor for the white man's entire relationship with the Native American.