Saturday, 31 December 2005

Up on THAT Mountain

For the past few months the blogsphere has been a-buzz with an incredible hype which had been building up more or less all year. Last night I succombed to the hype and found myself one of the first people in the UK to see the already award winning film, Brokeback Mountain.

Brokeback Mountain - poster

I am, of course, not the only one not to resist the hype. Comparatively (it is only showing in a limited number of cinemas in the US), the film is one of the best sellers of the year, even beating block busters like King Kong and the promoters have had to accelerate the pace of the release, such is the demand. All the critics love the film and it is typed for the Oscars. The far right is obviously up in arms. The cinema was packed something quite unusually I would imagine for a 4.45pm screening on a Friday afternoon. From what I could tell, the audience was fairly mixed; lots of gay guys (including the ubiquitous Chorus member!) but also straight couples.

The film is based on Annie Proulx's short story by the same name originally published in the New Yorker in 1997. The making of the film has been a long (about 7 years, I think) and complicated process with directors and actors dropping out repeatedly and film industry magnates predicted it would be the end of the career of the two promising leads. All of this, of course because of the gay content of the film which tells the story of two ranch hands who meet one summer on the eponymous Brokeback Mountain while herding sheep and would fall in love with each other. We then follow them for a good twenty years as they try to grapple with this love and social pressures; having families and meeting only a few days each year.

The question of course is: does the film live up to the hype? According to a friend of mine, who could not resist anymore than I could, it does; and I tend to agree with him on the whole. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal - wallpaperThe filmography (and the landscapes) is beautiful, the actors very good and Annie Proulx' story is fantastic. The film has this slow moving epic quality Oscar winners have (I heard someone say after the screening that at the beginning they were worried it would be boring). At the end of the film (during the credits actually), I was reduced to a blubbering mass of weeping nonsense. My only problem with the film is, I think, the fact that we do not get a very good sense of the passing of time, either during the two cowboys' first summer together or during the next twenty odd years.

Most of the hype attached to the film, in addition to its filmic qualities, has to do with the fact that almost for the first time, a main stream film has gay storyline. This of course is not of the liking of the right wingers in the US who are so scared by the success of the film that they are actually speaking out against it (something they don't normally do; they apparently usually prefer to remain silent against films they do not approve of). The slight problem is that, when you go and see the film, the fact that the protagonist have gay sex is not quite relevant. Note that I do not say that they are gay or homosexual. Only one of the the characters (Jack Twist, played by Gyllenhaal) could I think be considered to be homosexual (certainly not gay) in that he actively seeks other same sex encounters whereas the other character (Ennis Del Mar played by Ledger) is clearly not interested in other men. There are a couple of scenes of gay sex in the film but there is just as much straight sex, all of it very tasteful and demure.

This is not a gay love story in the way that Beautiful Thing or Maurice are. Althgugh the film depicts the divastating consequences of social homophobia on the life of those involved, it is before anything else a story of swarted love which will resonate with both gay and straight audiences. It is interesting to notice that not of the principal parties in the making of the film (director, leads, writer) are gay; as if a certain of amount of distance unattainable by someone too deeply involved in the story was required to highlight the universality of a love story between too men.

There is I think little doubt now that this low budget film (only $14M) will be big mainstream success, which would only be made bigger if its promises of Oscar nominations and awards are fulfilled. The gay coyboys filmThis in turn is likely to have a huge impact on the perception of gay people in society at large. Not only will the story get unprecedented exposure to mainstream audiences for a story with gay characters, these audiences will empathise with these characters and realise that there is perhaps after all not that much difference between us all. Just like the introduction of civil partnerships in the UK, simply from the fact that people will now have to talk about them (interestingly often referring to them as "gay weddings") on a practical and matter of fact fashion, will make the thing become common and will eventually bring larger acceptance of gay relationships and people.

Another possible advantage arising from a true mainstream success of the film would be that producers will, as they do, jump on the bandwagon and we could be on the threshold of a new cinematographic era where films with gay storylines become quite common on our screens; furthering the level of habituation and acceptance even more. Of course, the downside to this is that not all of these copycats will be of the quality of Brokeback Mountain. Then again, very few films are.

The film is to be released officially in this country on 06/01/06.
Official website.
Read the short story online.
This is the story as originally published in the New Yorker. It was reworked slighlty by the author for book publication.

You can read other posts of mine on the film here and here.

A few more pictures:

Ready to dive Tender moment in the mountains Ang Lee, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal Ang Lee and his Venice Film Festival Golden Lion

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