Created as a site-specific installation, Trick Saddle, sets a Spaghetti Western underwater to critique the absurdity of gender roles— “masculinity” staged as a synchronized underwater cowboy ballet. Originally shot in digital video, the film was later transferred to 35mm so that it could be screened as a drive-in movie. It debuted at the dilapated Starlite Drive-In, located in State College, Pennsylvania, where the film was accompanied by 20 female performers, dancing live on the hoods of cars under the big screen. Trick Saddle was later developed into a full length theatrical piece so we could bring the drive-in indoors in New York City.
Set in a ghost town at the bottom of a swimming pool, the film features “the Seven Syncros,” a synchronized swim team, in full cowboy attire - chaps, hats, & masculine bravado- performing ritualized archetypal movements and scenes from the dying & desperate culture of Western movies—the gunfight, the bar room brawl, the hanging & the rogue posse on the move across the desert.
Inspired by the stylized movements in old Buck Jones & Tom Mix films, Trick Saddle explores the Western as a form of modern dance. Water is employed as a way of immersing the action in a never-ending slo-mo. As seen in Sam Peckinpaw films, slow motion within the Western elevates all motion above the narrative moment.
By flipping gender roles and immersing cowboy bravado in water, the masculine cool is displaced in an environment where it is impossible to be stoically cool, in fact, where it is a struggle to make any move at all. The piece plays out as a series of ritualized stoic poses— vignettes that simultaneously camp masculinity as defined by the Western and dramatize the difficulty of being a woman in a culture where the body is always awash in gender codes.
Like the Drive-In, itself, the Cowboy myth is a decaying piece of Americana in desperate need of a makeover. Animated by the classic recordings of Spaghetti Western composer, Ennio Morricone, Trick Saddle is a fractured western with a gender twist that turns cowboy mythology inside out & upside down. It’s Busby Berkeley meets classic cowboy flick, Wild West meets Esther Williams. Trick Saddle is a feminist assault on the Spaghetti Western and a cinematic reinterpretation of the classic hero—these gender-benders put the myth out of its misery in campy style. Gender is a trick -- it’s the saddle you wear and the saddle you ride. Ride on.
Trick Saddle is a permanent part of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection and was featured in the PS 1 / MoMA Greater New York 2005 Exhibition.
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