starring Richard Dreyfuss, Jenna Elfman, Tom Poston, David Odgen Stiers and Lily Tomlin
directed by Todd Holland
Based on a book by Frank Parkin, this is a goofy, fun movie that mocks the pretensions of our so-called ‘advanced’cultures and, in particular, academia. Then, it contrasts that collection of cultural baggage against the myriad of cultures for the so-called ‘developing’ world to comic effect.
At the same time it skirts some major issue of the academic and scientific community including fraud and plagiarism. In the meantime it exposes the vicious political fin-fighting that goes on in university faculties. As students we tend to think of our professors s knowledgeable, wise, powerful people to be respected and obeyed in our quest for a degree. But the truth is often that they are just as silly as the rest of us and that is what Krippendorf’s Tribeplays on.
Anthropology profession Krippendorf (Richard Dreyfuss) studies tribal cultures among the nastives of Papua New Guinea. He has been givena a large grant by his university to search for a ‘lost’ tribe (a fantasy theme in the Western mind). During his sabbatical his wife dies and instead of completing his research he squanders the grant money. Judgment Day comes, as it always must, and Professor Krippendorf finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to deliver a lecture about his lost tribe ‘discovery.’ In fact he never found one, he did no research at all, and he spent all the money. What is one to do?
With the help of his children the professor fakes it. He decorates his backyard garden as a jungle hamlet. With videotape of the kids dressed up in a collection of ethnic garb, they fake the whole thing, inventing out of their imaginations the lost tribe of the “Shelmikedmu.”
The story line then becomes a familiar one when the Krippendorfs must continue lying to cover up their original deception all the while trying to devise a way to get out of it with their fraud undetected.
Dreyfuss’co-star is Jenna Elfman. I wonder if she is any relation to the Hollywood music score composer, Danny Elfman who has done such work as Nightmare Before Christmas, and music for The X-Files?
Also appearing are great performances by Lily Tomlin, and television actors Tom Poston and David Ogden Stiers. I was interested to see Stiers, who became well-known for his work as Major Winchester on the TV series M*A*S*H. If my older brother was a little taller and fatter he could pass as Stiers’ double.