Cutting Horse. 2002. USA. Produced and directed by Larry Clark. Screenplay by David Heintz, Clark. With Albert Harris, Cesar Flores, Robert Earl Crudup, Melissa Cellura. 35mm preservation print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. 120 min.
With some rare, notable exceptions, including John Ford’s Sergeant Rutledge, Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles, and 1930s race movies starring the “Bronze Buckaroo” Herb Jeffries, the role of the African American in the Western has been a marginal and demeaning one. Larry Clark’s Cutting Horse is a sensitively realized addition to a small—but recently growing—subgenre of films championing the African- and Mexican-American vaqueros who opened up the West, the story of a itinerant Black cowboy (Albert Harris) who returns home to find his uncle Doc Pete and his old friend Sanchez threatened by a rapaciously greedy California horse-breeding family. A critic for Shadow and Act writes, “The close shots of the horse’s legs dipping between the cattle was dizzying but also fascinating in its rhythm and coordination. Before this film, I’d known nothing about cutting horses and black people’s particular role in this financially viable sport.”