THB #90: Man Chaps Dog
Marc Maron: Did you see Power of the Dog?
Sam Elliott: Do you want to talk about that piece of shit?
M: You didn’t like that one?
S: Fuck no.
M: Okay… why?
S: I didn’t like it anyway. I looked at it when I was down in Texas doing 1883, and what really brought it home to me the other day… there was a full-page ad in the LA Times and there was a [clip] and it talked about ‘the evisceration of the American myth,’ and I thought, ‘What the fuck? What the fuck?’ This is the guy that’s done Westerns forever. The evisceration of the American West, they look like, what are all those dancers in New York that wear bowties and not much else? Remember them from back in the day?
M: The Chippendales?
S: That’s what all these fuckin’ cowboys in that movie looked like. They’re all runnin’ around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the fuckin’ movie.
M: I think that’s what the movie is about.
S: Yeah. Well, what the fuck does this woman from…
M: Who? Jane Campion?
S: Yeah. She’s a brilliant director, by the way. I love her previous work... previously. But what the fuck does this woman from down there, New Zealand, know about the American West? And why in the fuck does she shoot this movie in New Zealand and call it Montana and say, ‘This is the way it was?’ So that fuckin’ rubbed me the wrong way, pal. And the myth is that they were these macho men out there with the cattle. I’d just come from fuckin’ Texas where I was hanging out with families, not men but families, big long extended multiple generation families that made their living and their lives were all about being cowboys. And boy when I fuckin saw that I thought, “What the f—k? Where are we in this world today?”
M: I don’t know if that’s the biggest issue at hand.
S: Well, no. It’s not the biggest issue at hand. But for me, it was the only issue… because there was so much of it. I mean, Cumberbatch never got out of his chaps. He had two pair. A woolly pair and a leather pair. And every fucking time he’d walk in from somewhere, I don’t know where in the fuck he… he never was on a horse, maybe once. He’d walk into the fucking house, storm up the fucking stairs, go lay in his bed in his chaps, and play his banjo. And I was like, “What the fuck? What the fuck?” You know? Where’s the western? Where’s the western in this western?
Analyzing The Comments
What does Sam Elliott feel about the gay content of this year’s likely Best Picture winner? We don’t know because Marc Maron isn’t the hard-pressing-follow-up kind of interviewer. (He is many other excellent things… love talking movies with him… but not a probing journalist.) This could have gone in all kinds of ways. What does Elliott think of Brokeback Mountain? How does Sam feel about Spaghetti Westerns? What other movies might Mr. Elliott feel bends the western in a way that is flawed beyond his point of irritation?
How about, “Were you happy with the ending?” (This would have required “spoiler alert” sirens.) I feel for Marc. After an hour with a very likeable guy, it’s hard to ask, “You sound kinda homophobic… are you?” It was the end of the show. Marc got this sure-fire Twitter bait with “that piece of shit.” I get not wanting to turn the ire of your guest in your direction. But it would have been better for him and his guest had he thought to do so in that moment. That was the real money.
And if you miss or it goes bad… you get shit for having done it for years. I still get shit daily for telling the lovely Timothee Chalamet that he hadn’t really answered a question that had, indeed, evaded - his right - during an interview. I didn’t beat him with a wire hanger and I doubt he remembers it happening. But his fans… oy.
Speaking for myself, I have spent friendly hours with Sam Elliott and even got him a little peeved at me one day when I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my mic set-up as he waited. Get him talking about his wife not getting roles in the last decade and you will (appropriately) see Angry Sam. But I have never gotten the read that the man is focused on race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation in a negative way. Quite the opposite.
But he is 77. Few people born in the 1940s have the same perspective as people born in the 70s or later… no matter what they feel in their hearts. They certainly don’t have the same shared language. To live through the 50s/60s/70s civil rights era in America as an adult is quite a different experience, even as people of color and other minorities are still being attacked within American culture, as fighting that fight today for the first time.
I can’t tell anyone how to read what Sam said about this film, especially after they listen to him say it for themselves. (As I wrote, I’m not 100% clear myself.) Just as he reacted to the film, others will react to what he says and how he says it.
But I think a big chunk of this is the same thing I get when others - and sometimes me - find what they see as a broken reality in a film too distracting to really look at the work. And here, Sam was pissed off by a quote in an ad (Manohla Dargis still throwing hardballs) regarding a movie he says he already didn’t like. Maybe that is where this splits off into a more right/left kind of conversation. Maybe not.
An example for me is Aaron Sorkin overloading Being The Ricardos with stuff the film just didn’t need and made it feel unrealistic. I understand compressing reality for dramatic purpose, but the husband cheating and the Red scare and getting pregnant and the almost supernatural obsession on detail and Vivian Vance feeling put in the corner and and and and and… enough already… that isn’t real life.
Or, to be fair, the obsession of some about Javier Bardem playing a Cuban.
Or some people who hate Gaga and Jared Leto in House of Gucci… while others love them.
Or the age difference in Licorice Pizza… or the Japanese imitation-talking husband in Licorice Pizza.
Or the lack of real violent conflict in Belfast.
Or they just think that Drive My Car is just too hard to watch with subtitles and subtlety for 3 hours.
Etc, etc, etc.
Then there are detail people. The Chaps!!! What is with the chaps?
I feel like I need to watch the movie again to watch the chaps. It’s not like Sam wasn’t paying attention to the film. He knows what kind of chaps Benedict was wearing and how often he wasn’t wearing them. Sam was paying attention.
You know how I know I may have ruined a movie that someone likes a lot more than me? When we discuss it and I point stuff out I didn’t like and they say, “I hadn’t noticed that… hmmm.” 8 out of 10 times, they will later told me that they rethought the film. Also works in arguments where I am arguing for a film someone disregarded. A little change of perspective can change hearts and minds.
Have you ever had someone explain to you why a movie was terrible because they used the wrong kind of gun for that year or the architecture was off by a decade or some other detail that you would never have noticed? I have. Often.
For normal humans, they often just write off the movie with a pithy comment that is probably too unkind, just as they might overpraise something that isn’t that good, but hit them in just the right way. But for a lot of people, the devil is truly in the detail.
Or maybe Sam Elliott thinks gay stories in the old west are bad.
I honestly don’t think that he thinks that. But until I ask him, I can’t say that I know one way or the other any more than you do.
Analyzing The Meaning To Oscar Season
This is one of those mystery events. We are 2 weeks from final voting.
Netflix decided to take a sly slap at Elliott today on Twitter…
Probably a mistake. Because however harshly his words are taken, Sam Elliott’s comments are reflective of a significant number of awards voters. However, not likely enough vpters to keep the film from winning Best Picture. And are any of the guys who are agreeing with Sam Elliott on this following Netflix on Twitter to care?
That said, stereotyping “just a man” to argue against a man stereotyping your movie is probably not very sophisticated thinking. Don’t push away the edge voter to amuse the ones who are well locked down.
This is really a story that should go away. The idea of Sam Elliott as bigot is too harsh. Telling anyone who somewhat agrees with any part of what he said - and I have heard some of those arguments around town long before today, stated without homophobia and more clearly - that they are BAD and must be smacked down is a really good way to create enemies who weren’t interested in being enemies. There is too much time on the clock and too soft a set of nominees to be causing a stir. When you are out ahead, enjoy the open sea. Don’t go looking for rough water.
The only problem is, this may be the most boring year in the history of Oscar since last year.
But seriously… last year gets a pass. Pandemic horror show. This is, I think, a better liked group of nominees than last year. But there isn’t a ton of LOVE.
Every film is loved by some number of voters. Some people will acknowledge that they are all good films. But when you are sitting around, getting real, I keep finding that in any group, people will like 3 or 4 films a lot and just not care much about the others. But the films in that group change with seemingly everyone you ask.
I think Power of the Dog is this year’s default. Those who don’t hate it… respect it, respect Campion, love the cinematopgraphy, really dig the score, thing the acting is excellent, etc. Lots of really nice pieces.
Is it a lock? No. Does it have the most puzzle pieces that won’t be rejected by a large chunk of the voter base? Yes.
Unlike some, I won’t tell you there is a 2-horse race, because that is made-up bullshit that comes from our fantasy lives. The best alt arguments come from Dune and West Side Story. But Belfast and CODA are not impossible.
If everyone could see the black and white of Nightmare Alley, I would believe it to be a serious contender. But they won’t and it’s not the film that’s been qualified.
But then again… who knows, in this most soft Oscar season in my memory. It’s been so long and there just isn’t anything explosive going on. I am so looking forward to some of the showy events coming up in the next couple weeks. But none of them are really Best Picture events. They are pieces of the puzzle in a season where that could add up to a win. So off we go.
So what were we talking about? Oh, yeah…