What the Heck Is Sam Elliott's Beef with Jane Campion and 'The Power of the Dog'?

'The Power of the Dog'Credit: Netflix
You know who knew about the glory of the Old West? Bronco Henry. 

There's something about podcasts where people just let their guard down and say anything. I wonder if it's the illusion of talking to one person in a room, or the perceived solitude, but something about it gets them to open up. Maybe it's the great interviewer across the table.

Marc Maron is a great interviewer. His podcast is a must-listen during the year, but around awards season he always gets the most guests from movies and television. 

This week, Sam Elliott stopped by to talk about 1883. But when the topic swung to western movies... he had a lot more to say.

This all happens near the end of the podcast, around the one-hour mark. At first, Maron brings up The Power of the Dog, asking if he's seen it, and Elliott goes right in.

“You want to talk about that piece of shit?” Elliott says.

“You didn’t like that one?” Maron replies.

Then things heat up.

Elliott says, “Fuck no. I’ll tell you why I didn’t like it anyway. I looked at when I was down there in Texas doing 1883 and what really brought it home to me the other day—when I said, ‘Do you want to fucking talk about it?’ There was a fucking full-page ad out in the LA Times and there was a review—not a review, but 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 made it look like—what are all those dancers that those guys in New York who wear bowties and not much else. Remember them from back in the day?”

Maron supplies, "Chippendales."

Elliott says, “That’s what all these fucking cowboys in that movie look like. They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the fucking movie.”

Maron tries to explain that this is, thematically, what the film is about.

Now, it's at this point where I'll mention that none of this was pulled out of Elliott, it's really just a rant. After he trashed how Benedict Cumberbatch's character struggles with his sexuality, he also raises a concern with Jane Campion, the director, being out of her element. 

“What the fuck does this woman—she’s a brilliant director, by the way, I love her work, previous work—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.’ That fucking rubbed me the wrong way, pal."

'Power of the Dog' director, Jane CampionCredit: Kirsty Griffin/Netflix

He also had a problem with how the movie depicted cowboying.

Elliott says, “The myth is that they were these macho men out there with the cattle. I just come from fucking 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 fucking saw that [movie], I thought, 'What the fuck? Where are we in this world today?'"

Unfortunately, a lot of Elliott's opinions seem to be rooted in old-fashioned, machismo ideals of what a western man should be, and also who should be telling stories about those men. And it comes across as both homophobic and misogynistic. Maron tries to play these comments off and focus on the bigger picture.

But Elliott can't be deterred, saying, "I mean, Cumberbatch never got out of his fucking chaps. He had two pairs of chaps. A woolly pair and a leather pair. And every fucking time he would walk in from somewhere—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. It's like, what the fuck?"

There's a lot to unpack here. I can sense Elliott was not happy with a western picking apart manhood in ways he didn't think were befitting, and was against the idea of the project shooting in a foreign location (would love to know what he thinks of Spaghetti westerns), but it does feel like the animosity for this movie might be overstretched.

As for the "American myth" deconstruction, it sounds like he should be madder at the reviewer who said that than the movie itself. And even so, if he thinks the American myth is cowboys in work-appropriate attire all the time, and he got a movie about repressed urges and a man desperately trying to fit in... well, isn't that a deconstruction of the effortless cowboy of the past? 

I wonder what Bronco Henry would have to say about all of this. 

As a palette cleanser, why not listen to our podcast with The Power of the Dog editor Peter Sciberras?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.      

You Might Also Like

Your Comment

13 Comments

Although, maybe he does have a bit of a point. Don't you think?

March 1, 2022 at 9:48AM, Edited March 1, 9:47AM

0
Reply

He does but we more and more live in a society where you have to have one ideological view, like that of fiercely-left podcaster Maron (who's great when he can shut up about his political views) or this content writer otherwise you're put up to the firing squad. Love Elliot's courage and honesty here.

March 3, 2022 at 7:21AM

7
Reply
avatar
Brad Bingham
Actor/Writer/Filmmaker
201

I find it interesting that people champion seeing life through different perspectives until they find someone with a perspective with which they wholeheartedly disagree. Then they describe the other's views as "rants" and throw out all sorts of hypocritical analysis of their opinions. Why can't we just let everyone have their opinion and simply choose to disagree. If not, then you need to admit you think it's your job to save others from their misguided thoughts - never knowing if you're the one that needs saving.

March 1, 2022 at 11:06AM, Edited March 1, 11:06AM

0
Reply

Nailed it.

March 2, 2022 at 12:06PM, Edited March 2, 12:10PM

0
Reply

...waitaminute This is the country where disagreements are "traditionally" solved with revolvers.

March 30, 2022 at 7:27PM

0
Reply
avatar
devtank
photographer
248

Well, it IS a shitty movie.
The kind of movie people make just to hit all the current social relevant points, that will give it an Oscar opportunity.

Even though the overal public think it's shit.

Seems to the Oscar trend the last few years.

March 1, 2022 at 1:47PM

0
Reply

He's entitled to his opinion and my main take is: seems like it struck a nerve. Critiquing it by way of saying it wasn't realistic though? Since when were ANY of the classic Westerns all that realistic anyway?

March 3, 2022 at 7:05AM

11
Reply
avatar
Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics
545

Problem with this article is both Maron and this writer are of the mindset that we should all have the same viewpoint on things. Since big tech has relentlessly silenced differing opinion over the years many simply don't know how to respond when someone has a different opinion. I love him even more for saying this. No, that doesn't make me a homophobe. Gay people are awesome, more power to them! But he has some incredibly accurate viewpoints here and contrary to what we've been taught these last 2 years, having a different opinion doesn't make you wrong or possessing "misinformation"

March 3, 2022 at 7:25AM

3
Reply
avatar
Brad Bingham
Actor/Writer/Filmmaker
201

I agree with Mr. Elliot that it was a piece of crap movie. But, I really shouldn't be commenting because I never finished watching it. I walked out after the first hour because of boredom. However, his comments on the Cumberbatch character never removing his chaps is not what makes it a bad movie. Heck, Buster Scruggs never removed his chaps and that was a fantastic little flick.

March 3, 2022 at 8:15AM

22
Reply
avatar
James Dean Brown
Aspiring Screenwriter
8

It's not what we say but how we say it. Isn't that right, middle schoolers? Elliot's chafed because Campion goosed his sacred cow(boy). His podcast response was, at best, rude, crass, and unfortunate. If we want respect, then we need to show some. The kids in the room shouldn't be too surprised that the someone called him out. I find the author of the article to be mostly on-point.

Whether or not it was a technically, commercially, or socially "good" film is moot, in my opinion. I applaud Campion (via Thomas Savage) for challenging the narratives pushed by Elliot, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and others. As if white, American male cowboys are the only ones with the right to tell the story of the "American west." Women, immigrants, and (yes) gays lived it, too. To say nothing of the indigenous tribes whom we all know have a completely different interpretation of historical events and the cultures that perpetrated (and still perpetrate) them.

I love many of Elliot's roles. He plays a good cowboy. But why should he get to say whatever he wants, however he wants, without expecting some pushback? White, heterosexual, male, American cowboys are a statistically small part of the population, over-represented in film and TV. Bravo to Cumberbatch and crew for telling a sort-of new story. That's what courage and honesty looks like, @Brad Bingham.

March 3, 2022 at 12:21PM, Edited March 3, 12:21PM

6
Reply
Keiran Regan
Auteur/Raconteur/Provocateur
1

Did not watch the movie to the end... Guess why.

March 3, 2022 at 2:16PM

0
Reply
avatar
Pavel Tsvetkov
Producer/Director/Writer
187

Mr Elliot assuming this should be compared to a “western movie” to begin with explains a lot.
Given his expectations, I understand some of his criticism.
It’s like someone (a director) painting a VW bug in black and white stripes to provide something (a film) unexpected, and then Elliot complaining after his ride that it was nothing like a Zebra. It just makes him look. . . a bit short sighted- but given the expectations, I understand why he was annoyed - makes total sense.

March 8, 2022 at 1:35PM

0
Reply
avatar
Richard Gerst
Freelance stills + motion work.
154

You really need to rethink the way the ads interrupt one's reading of the article. It's very annoying.

March 10, 2022 at 11:37PM, Edited March 10, 11:37PM

5
Reply