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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Brokeback Chattering

Posted by on December 18 at 15:24 PM

I saw Brokeback Mountain in a packed screening at the Harvard Exit last night, and I will say something Sean Nelson will likely mock me for forever: If you don’t cry at this movie, you don’t have a heart. Tears welled at the heart-stopping shots of clouds (okay, I’m a dork) at the beginning and pretty much didn’t let up.

Meanwhile, the “gay cowboy” repudiations and anxious universalizing that I weighed in on in this issue of the Stranger continue unabated:

Here’s Roger Ebert:

“Brokeback Mountain” has been described as “a gay cowboy movie,” which is a cruel simplification. It is the story of a time and place where two men are forced to deny the only great passion either one will ever feel. Their tragedy is universal.

More affectionate than cruel, but of course it’s a simplification. What two-word summary of a movie isn’t?

A critic for the Willamette Week in Portland:

[C]alling Brokeback Mountain a gay western is misleading and wrong. In the most traditional definitions, this is neither a western nor a gay film. And if people can see past the hyperbole and whatever controversy may surround it, they will see Brokeback Mountain for what it is: a brilliant love story that promises to be among the most revolutionary films in years.

Blah, blah. What is the “traditional definition” of a gay film, anyway? And what’s this obsession with traditional definitions? Do I smell “defense of marriage/Christmas/insert besieged institution and/or film genre here”?

Frank Rich in the New York Times (can’t link because of the subscriber wall):

Though “Brokeback Mountain” is not a western, it’s been directed by Ang Lee with the austerity and languorous gait of a John Ford epic.

Err, okay.

And Dave Kehr, the New York Times DVD critic (and my new nemesis, it appears), on his blog:

Drawn out and relentlessly mournful, Ang Lee’s “gay western,” which opens this Friday full of Oscar hopes, is not particularly gay nor really a western at least, not in the sense that it engages the deep structure of America’s most self-reflective genre.

Well, maybe not my nemesis. At least Kehr spared a clause to back up his claim. Now, what is that “deep structure” exactly? As far as I’m concerned, a movie that freshly interprets the tired Western theme of man struggling against society and engages the iconography of the Old West fits those requirements fine.

However, one such “gay cowboy” repudiation wasn’t knee-jerk or particularly anxious. In today’s New York Times, Manohla Dargis has an extended take on masculinity in Brokeback Mountain, and it’s one of the best analysis pieces she’s done to date. Dargis does make the following claim, which I might be expected to deplore: “That ‘Brokeback Mountain’ quickly and jokingly became known as ‘the gay cowboy movie’ speaks to the unease surrounding the film’s subject, but it also reflects an unfamiliarity with both the West and the western.” But unlike the above reviewers, she gets around to exploring her definitions, and it’s a great read. From her discussion, it seems that she technically would prefer the movie to be called the “gay post-Western about wannabe cowboys.” Which is cool with me.

Here are the very last two things I have to say on the subject: Hollywood hasn’t been making Westerns for several decades; any new attempt at the genre is obviously going to be fundamentally different. As for the cowboys not being cowboys: Okay, Ennis is a ranch hand and Jack is a would-be rodeo cowboy. But please, they’re not shepherds! That was a summer gig.

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God, I can't believe Annie is pretending to have a heart!


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