So says Chris Packard, a former Topekan who teaches literature at New York University and recently published Queer Cowboys and Other Erotic Male Friendships in Nineteenth-Century Literature. As part of the Kansas City Gay and Lesbian Film and Video Festival, Packard reads Sunday from his new book and introduces clips he has chosen from classic Hollywood Westerns.
"Not that much about the Western film is original," Packard writes in an e-mail to the Pitch. "Important myths in American culture repeat themselves in each generation's popular culture. Our culture, for some reason, celebrates pairs of men in the wilderness. This motif can be traced back to The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper.
"Did the actors in Red River know that when they fondled and admired each other's guns, they were subtextually fondling each other's cocks?" Packard continues. "Yes, the director [Howard Hawks] specifically instructed the actors to bring out the male-on-male sexual subtext."
Packard says there's more to gay film scholarship than searching out camp and cleaning out closets.
"Most middle-class Americans are tremendously sophisticated film viewers and don't need a film scholar, even a gay one, to tell them what to think," he writes. "But that doesn't help much when popular films rely upon treadworn stereotypes." Despite the presence of more gay characters on TV, he adds, "the popular movie industry, with a few exceptions, is woefully unimaginative when it comes to representing diversity of any kind -- when it comes to the 'homosexual' in film, about all they see are gratuitous and sensationalistic punishment of this figure."
Kansas City's festival, which runs July 22-28 at Tivoli Cinemas (4050 Pennsylvania), is not all The Man Who Spanked Liberty Valance. Look for international-circuit entries from directors Gregg Araki and Don Roos, more than half a dozen other queercentric titles, a couple of other presentations, and shorts from local filmmakers. See the schedule at www.kcgayfilmfest.org.