War as a Hollywood Western

There are moments when the noisy rush to war is a little too much to absorb, and the whole scene slips into dreamtime. I have no idea who or what populates your dream of war, but mine -- well, say that we are all extras in the last epic Western.

I. High Noon, every day about this time

The town is astir -- again, always -- with news of hostiles gathering nearby, occupying rich territories yet to be conquered. The sheriff is mightily agitated. Bush is a High Noon man: He likes the idea of standing alone in the middle of the street, squinting into the sun. If you do it any other way, you wind up having to share Grace Kelly after the picture's over. Friend, would you want to share Grace Kelly?

II. Howard Hawks hated High Noon

He said that was why, years later, he made Rio Bravo. He believed that the romantic loner who stood tall against every outlaw was a dangerous, juvenile lie. So Hawks made a movie about a group of men and women finding the best part of themselves in a crisis, and surviving together. They're screening it at the U.N. this month.

III. But remember

This is a Western, which means somebody has to pay in blood.

IV. George W's Dream

He's not a bad kid. Rambunctious, sure, but that's good. You'd never figure a squirt like that to turn out tougher than his brothers and his daddy, but he did. He's wiry as hell. He ain't all about oil like they say. That's the spoils. He means to protect the Alamo from the Mexican bandit Saddam Hussein, simple as that. In his heart he just wants a good fight, a chance to stand up and be the kind of man his mama taught him.

V. Dick Cheney's Dream

There's so goddamn much to do that the star of the movie never even sees, so many backroom meetings choked with cigar smoke (and him with his bad heart!), and guys like Dick Cheney never even wind up with a big part. They are the ones who hang around the saloon in string ties and fancy vests, sitting at tables of their own in the back, making the deals that keep the wheels greased. These guys never get their due in Westerns. You realize they 're powerful, sure, but do you really understand what would become of your shitty little epic without them? There's a whole other world behind the scenes of a big-budget movie like this, and if you want to enjoy the picture, better you don't know about it.

VI. They Died With Their Boots On

But this is a latter-day Western, a tragic picture. You know the posse's past its prime and all the easy pickings are gone from the frontier and it's time to settle down and learn to live with what you've got. But the head guy is a callow little bastard. He's bitten off more than he can chew and wants more. It isn't that he's going to come to ruin anytime soon -- the way he goes about picking fights, how could he? But the point is, all the various Indian tribes are talking amongst themselves now. That's never really happened before. The little bastard hears of this and shakes his head. He tells his men he doesn't want to have to kill them all, but his eyes say otherwise. (The truth is, he is just trying to look like John Wayne in The Searchers: no more, no less.) By now some of the men can see he's dangerous; others will forever believe he would not be the head man if he weren't always right. But they all know you don't fuck with John Wayne just because, in this picture, he happens to be crazy.

Steve Perry is the editor of the Minneapolis/St. Paul alternative weekly City Pages. Email him directly at sperry@citypages.com.

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