For approximately a full hour, the latest episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast goes absolutely swimmingly. The episode’s guest, Sam Elliott, rumbles on amiably about all manner of subjects, and he seems to be building a genuine rapport with Maron. And then, almost as a closing afterthought, Maron asks Elliott: “Did you see Power of the Dog?”
And then everything went to hell.
“Yeah, you wanna talk about that piece of shit?” Elliott growls. Maron laughs a stunned “Oh no”, and then Elliott proceeds to give the weirdest take on a film that may have ever been spoken aloud.
“There was a fuckin’ full page ad out 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?’ … What are all those dancers, those guys in New York that wear bowties and not much else? That’s what all these fucking cowboys in that movie looked like, running around in chaps and no shirts. There were all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the fucking movie.”
At this point, Maron steps in. “I think that’s what the movie’s about”, he suggests, not incorrectly.
“Well, what the fuck does this woman from down there – she’s a brilliant director – know about the American west, and why the fuck did she shoot this movie in New Zealand and call it Montana? That fucking rubbed me the wrong way.”
Honestly, where to start? The primary takeaway, which has already been covered in several thousand headlines elsewhere, is that Elliott doesn’t seem to care for gay people very much. Towards the end of the WTF episode, he justifies his weird rant by pointing out that he had just been spending time in the American west, surrounded by families – “Not men, families” – suggesting that this is the true depiction of the cowboys that he’d like to see on screen.
But, really, it just sounds like Elliott simply hadn’t done his research. The Power of the Dog is a resoundingly queer movie. It’s based on a book that was written by a gay man about his experiences in the west, and almost every review written about the film has mentioned the closeted longing at the heart of the film within the first few sentences. In a recent Vanity Fair interview, Benedict Cumberbatch had to defend himself against accusations of appropriation for taking the role. But maybe Elliott didn’t read that issue of Vanity Fair. Maybe he was put off by all the swans on the cover.
His suggestion that the film isn’t a true reflection of the west also needs to be picked apart. First, it’s slightly ridiculous to assume that a forcefield is in place across the entire American west that sucks the gayness out of anyone who crosses it. But mainly – even if by some statistical impossibility – he is right, then what business does he have to say that all films have to be a true depiction of real life? Elliott has racked up more than 100 acting credits across the course of his 55-year career, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that some of them have been complete cobblers.
Take the 1972 film Frogs, which climaxes in a scene where hundreds of frogs stare at a man until he has a heart attack. Or 2018’s The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, where he plays a man who has to stop a deadly global virus by literally murdering a Sasquatch. Or the cartoon Rock Dog, where he played a wise old yak named Fleetwood Yak.
My favourite of Elliott’s gripes, though, is that Jane Campion had the temerity to shoot a western in New Zealand. Imagine how furious he’s going to be when he hears about Sergio Leone, or any of the other spaghetti western directors. Imagine how angry he’ll be when he realises they shot the newest Batman film in Scotland. Imagine the rage when he realises that Robert Downey Jr didn’t actually go into space in those Avengers movies. Really, all this newest WTF incident shows is that we should feel bad for Elliott. He’s the only film star alive who doesn’t appear to know how films work.
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Can someone explain to Sam Elliott what The Power of the Dog is about – and what movies are?