The Exiles



The enterprising folks at Milestone Films have come up with yet another fascinating cinematic exhumation with "The Exiles," directed by Kent Mackenzie. This long-forgotten 1961 feature, which received kudos at the Venice Film Festival but never was released theatrically, is notable for numerous reasons: its John Cassavetes-style indie aesthetic, its realistic portrait of displaced American Indians and, perhaps most notably, its vivid visual representation of a Los Angeles neighborhood that has long since been consigned to oblivion.

That last element, with its stark, high-contrast black-and-white photography of the now-disappeared Bunker Hill section of downtown Los Angeles, was highlighted in the acclaimed 2003 documentary "Los Angeles Plays Itself."

The low-budget "Exiles," shot during a period of three years, is a largely improvised, documentary-style depiction of the dusk-to-dawn activities of several American Indians, including Mary (Mary Honahue), a young housewife; her hard-drinking husband, Homer (Homer Nish); his party-animal best friend, Tommy (Tom Reynolds); and several other subsidiary characters.

The barely there narrative chronicles the nighttime activities of these figures as they wander the streets of the neighborhood by car and on foot, frequently stopping at bars, liquor stores and dance halls along the way.

While less than gripping dramatically and quite crude technically -- the post-recorded dialogue often doesn't match the actors' lips, with an extensive use of voice-overs to compensate -- the film nonetheless exerts an undeniable fascination. Its moving conclusion features the characters converging on a hilltop overlooking the city and performing native chants and drumming.

The filmmaker, who went on to make only one other feature ("Saturday Morning"), died in 1980. This beautifully executed restoration is being "presented" by Sherman Alexie and Charles Burnett, which is fitting because Milestone recently has found success with its releases of the latter's "Killer of Sheep" and "My Brother's Wedding."