Sunday, July 20, 2008

Brokeback Rant

Does anybody remember March 2006?  That spring, I was living in Brownwood with my wife, working for a family lawyer, and spending most of my weekends hanging out with our best friends there, who happened to be from Wyoming.  In the fall of 2005, the movie Brokeback Mountain, with Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, and Michelle Williams came out and caused a lot of controversy.  (Mostly, I think because we were all trying to figure out whether we'd cheat on Anne Hathaway with Heath Ledger.)  Then in March 2006, Crash won the Oscar for Best Picture, and the author of Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx, got so upset that she wrote a scathing critique in the Los Angeles Times the New York Times U.S.A. Today Newsweek U.S. News & World Report London's Guardian of the "conservative heffalump academy voters" who chose Crash for Best Picture instead of the movie based on her short story.*  At that time, I had seen neither movie, and didn't really have any intent to see either.  I find that "Best Picture" is generally a euphemism for "Least Fun Picture."

But last fall, I watched Crash with my wife and loved it.  (Then again, I'm a sucker for anything that's about race relations.)  Then tonight, Brokeback Mountain came on Bravo, so we watched it.  And I have to say: I agree with the conservative heffalumps living in Los Angeles.  Crash, while maybe not the best movie ever, was just a better movie than Brokeback Mountain.  Before you close this window and call me a homophobe, listen to my complaints.

1.  No Development of the Relationship.  I expected more buildup toward the relationship between Jack and Ennis.  Instead, one night, Ennis gets drunk, forgets to go back out to the sheep, and sleeps inside the one-man tent because it's cold.  While in the tent, Jack reaches around and grabs Ennis's hand and--boom--you have a twenty-year-long relationship.  Even James Bond has to work harder to get laid.  Since we're talking about two cowboys in 1960s Wyoming, I expected a lot more buildup, a lot more desperation.  In Crash, the central aspect of the film was the intersection of all these lives, and the movie painstakingly establishes those intersections in every scene.  The relationship in Brokeback Mountain just didn't get developed enough.  In fact, most of my complaints center on the relationship.

2.  Unrealistically Sexual Relationship.  Apparently, Jack and Ennis's relationship, though it lasted 20 years, was mostly about sex.  When Jack comes back to Wyoming to see Ennis four years after their first tryst, the very first thing they do is kiss passionately.  In what becomes a boring pattern, Ennis didn't really introduce Jack and Alma.  The two cowboys couldn't even be around each other in mixed company for fear of jumping each other's bones and revealing the true nature of their relationship.  We've all known men and women who hid sexual relationships for years.  Are they less passionate than Jack and Ennis?  At any rate, the physical aspect of their relationship clearly was key.  If anything, the movie furthered the stereotype that homosexual relationships are only about sex and not about enjoying each other's company and learning to navigate life's tricky river together.

3.  Too many plot lines and conflicts that never got resolved.  Did Jack's wife ever figure it out?  What happened after he stood up to her dad?  Why did he cheat on her with another rancher's wife?  Why not with the rancher, who was clearly making a play at him?  How come only Ennis's older daughter ever came to see him?  Why did Ennis take his own shirt back at the end?  And what does Ennis swear to Jack?

4.  Movie with a Message.  I HATE movies that are made because the people who make them only want to make a point or convey a message.  Especially when they want to convey a controversial message.  ("Look at me--I'm so controversial!")  Crash is like that, but it's saved from being hated because I like stuff that deals with race relations.  Example #2:  I liked The Kingdom;  I hated Syriana.  If your movie happens to convey a point, that's fine.  Just don't make the whole project about telling me something.  I felt like the idea was to make heterosexuals see that homosexuals are "just like you."  Eh.  Didn't quite work for me.  Rent did a much better job.

That's it.  Thanks for reading my rant.  If you got this far, email me and I'll give you a coupon for half off my legal services after I pass the bar.




*For those of you who wonder why I struck out all those American newspapers: I found it very cowardly and generally un-admirable that Proulx wrote her report in the Guardian.  If you have a problem with something in America, don't complain to people in Paris London about it.  I'm all about free speech, but I dislike people who complain just to complain.


Justin said...

If loving "Syriana" is wrong, then goodness knows I don't want to be right.

Good work here, though.

P.S. I hate to say it, but I think the Rangers' impossible dream is dying in front of our eyes with this abysmal performance in the Twin Cities.

Anonymous said...

I think in some ways "Brokeback" is the "Catch-22" of its day (except...for the fact...that it totally isn't). What I mean by that is, Catch-22 built its fame on being OMG SO CONTROVERSIAL. "Look at me! I'm taking all the ideas you had about what X group was like and I am spitting on them! Spitting! Are you offended yet? How about now? How about NOW?" C-22 is famous because it was one of the first novels to make American soldiers in WWII not only the bad guys, but pretty disgusting. When you actually read the novel, it's not that good (I think, at least). If it hadn't been so offensive, there would have been a few people who liked it, just like there are a few people who will like anything, but it wouldn't still be SO FAMOUS AND IMPORTANT today.

I think Brokeback has kind of the same...problem? Issue? Everyone knows about it because GAY COWBOYS OMG. The actual quality of the film--the storytelling, the acting, the character development, all the things that make good movies good--is secondary, almost unimportant, because it was SO V.V. CONTROVERSIAL. It's not that great of a movie, everything else aside, I don't think. It only Matters and is Famous because it succeeded in offending the 98% of the country that does not, in fact, vote on the Academy Awards. If it had been about a regular affair instead of a homosexual one, probably people would have been "eh, whatever" and moved on.

And I agree, if you want to make people understand something, doing it in a way that makes them feel engaged rather than hit over the head with I HAVE A MESSAGE LET ME SHOW YOU IT is always better. I loved Rent. I loved Crash (even though I probably wouldn't watch it again, because woah, intense). I could not escape from Brokeback Mountain fast enough.

Jeremy Masten said...

Justin--Did you see Vicente's gem today? I hated him last season, but this season . . . if only he could pitch every day. By the way, did you notice how they got rid of Sydney Ponson? Didn't I call it? Now let's see how long Vicente stays with us . . . I'm crossing my fingers that he'll stick around, but you just can't trust that Jon Daniels kid.

Ladybird--I feel the need to clarify that I was talking about the Broadway show Rent. The movie's not bad, but I hate introducing people to the show through the movie. Ironically, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend were offended by Rent.