The Wages of John Pernia
Before photography and film were invented and constructed the “Wild West”, the famous explorer Meriwether Lewis, whose travels made the westwards expansion of the still young USA possible, died under mysterious circumstances. The present-day narrator of this film, a distant descendant, portrays him as the tragic hero of a speculative gay love story. The potential lover, Meriwether’s “Louisiana Creole” servant John Pernia, is historically documented. But the archive material, which favoured the white folklore of the so-called age of pioneers, lays no trail to this romance.
Ben Young wilds the early Western imagery and queers the nationalist historiography from the perspective of people who are missing in the tales of glory and whose originally free space was occupied by the settler movement and its subsequent legend formation. He uses associative montage and gossip to rehabilitate John and Meriwether, the undocumented romantic couple, as the real pioneers. And they have a score to settle with the U.S.