Zachariah: The 1971 western that celebrated male intimacy
The boys’ embrace on the finish of Zachariah, then, is an earnest rebuttal of the poisonous, violent masculine mores on which the western style was constructed. But it surely wasn’t written that means. “We had been a part of the youth motion, the anti-war motion,” says Proctor. “We had been making enjoyable of the motion as a way to open individuals’s minds to it. A part of the message was ‘love and peace, maaan’. George did not perceive that it was type of tongue-in-cheek. In the event you put it within the context of a shootout in a western, and the ending is, ‘Come on, let’s not do that, I really like you, man’, that is a joke! However that was not understood.”
So is Zachariah a homosexual western? The homosexual press requested the identical query. With Don Johnson gracing its cowl, the March 1971 version of The Advocate, the US’s oldest LGBT publication, featured a assessment with the headline “Are they homosexual?”. Harold Fairbanks, The Advocate’s movie critic, wasn’t satisfied. On the gay implications of the friendship, he wrote, “I am afraid that is all it’s – friendship,” including that the movie’s script results in the brink of homosexuality solely to again away earlier than it turns into express.” Homosexual individuals will likely be constructive that the boys had been lovers, and the straights will likely be left with solely suspicions.” Different publications, together with Selection and the Unbiased Movie Journal, uncared for to deal with the movie’s queer undercurrents in any respect. The New York Instances’ Roger Greenspun appeared nearer (too shut, maybe), concluding that the movie “propagandised homosexual love“.
Nonetheless, the indicators are there. In his ebook Idol Worship: A Shameless Celebration of Male Magnificence within the Motion pictures (2003), Michael Ferguson refers to Johnson at this stage of his profession as “an immediate hit with homosexual audiences”, and “bought as hen feed and pecked at with delight”. Johnson’s first function movie was The Magic Backyard of Stanley Sweetheart (1970), a hippie-exploitation movie during which the then-21-year-old masturbated and appeared bare. Nude stills from his works had been often printed in homosexual magazines, and Johnson was, says Ferguson, “extraordinarily gay-friendly and gay-thankful”. The actor’s sexual enchantment would proceed into Zachariah. When Zach first approaches Matthew, he’s shirtless and sweaty, carrying little however a blacksmith’s smock, Ferguson wrote: “the homoerotic prospects of this change [might] flip it into the primary homosexual western since Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys (1969)”.
Not lengthy after the boys’ first scene collectively, they’re accosted by a person at an area saloon. “You and your girlfriend on the lookout for bother, huh?” he says to Zach, earlier than calling him “Annie Oakley”. Slurs equivalent to these had been usually thrown at hippies and long-hairs, and the change is supposed by Firesign to suggest the misadventures of the counterculture youth. However the sequence speaks to the experiences of many homosexual males too. Zach, for his half, stays unperturbed when his sexuality is named into query. Matthew, in the meantime, glances at his accomplice’s crotch when the aggressor says, “Look what the robust little boy has in his pants”. The movie, nonetheless, is sapped of this frisson every time Johnson is off display screen. “Like all love tales,” says Ferguson, “it desperately wants the boy/boy sexual stress.”