Beating a Dead Horse:
Or, What I Did With My Cultural Studies Certificate

Matt and Ross are still aghast at what I did to Red River, how I deconstructed it and John Wayne’s package, how I made the other men his harem, headed by Montgomery Clift. They flinched when I said “homosocial,” like the word was one of the seven formal calls of round dance, and they absolutely wouldn’t dance. There is only one man in Red River, I said, and maybe I should have quit while I was ahead, but I had to point out the camera’s emphasis on It above the others', horse of horses, king of kings, reducing Monty and the rest to three women on horseback sweeping hundred head of cattle across this great country of ours. John Wayne, with his wives, Hagars, starlets, and all of the cows and cowboys besides, would make Howard Hawks great with child. By then, Matt and Ross had heard enough. And so had I. It was far to the river, farther home. And what, after all, was my point? The question rose up like the wail of the espresso machine, and my coffee was cold. It was simple, I said. They had to pull straight women into the film, and gay men as well, and straight men with gay leanings, lesbians with straight leanings. But with so few women in the cast per se, Hawks had to pose Monty and the other dude that way near the fire, talking low about some rustlers from down south, but form trumps content here, you see, and they could just as easily be muttering sweet nothings – so that everybody gets a little something from the scene before broad daylight blares, John Wayne stands up, and it’s back to the Law of the Father, jacques lacan, chaka khan, and the fact is it was only through this lens that I could stand to watch the damn thing from beginning to end.

by Ellen McGrath Smith

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Poetry at the Movies