Monday, March 06, 2006

Why Brokeback matters

Brokeback Mountain didn't win the Best Picture Oscar, and only came away with three of the eight for which it was nominated. Various bloggers have lamented the fact that the two main characters were played by straight actors, and that even the gay aspect of the film has been played down. Seriously, next time a Brokeback trailer comes on TV, just try to tell me that you could come away from that with an understanding of what the movie was about. (The online trailers seem to be less ambiguous.)

It bears asking, then, what two out, gay actors in Hollywood would be better to play Jake and Ennis? Chad Allen was probably off filming End of the Spear. Ian McKellan is too old for the part. Rupert Everett is too tall and too British. To be blunt, Nathan Lane or Harvey Fierstein really wouldn't be right for the part. Sean Hayes still won't talk. There just aren't many butch gay actors, and none with the decent name recognition that Ledger and Gyllenhaal bring with them.

Even though Brokeback didn't win Best Picture, it's probably the movie with the most buzz circling it. Yes, all the late night comedy show Brokeback-ing jokes probably didn't hurt. But there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?

Anyway, the biggest reason I think this movie is quite important, even in this day and age, is that I suspect there's a lot of Brokebacking going on. J.L King's book On the Down Low and stint on Oprah opened a whole can of worms about married, otherwise-"straight" men having sex with other men, then returning to their wives. If nothing else, Jim West's recent excapades have shown that the closet is alive and well even to this day. Dan Savage took West to task for being a very anti-gay Republican while still having sex with men in secret. The hypocrisy is, of course, reprehensible, but the closetedness is understandable. We don't yet live in an accepting, loving world and coming out is still an emotionally difficult and sometimes even physically dangerous act.

Dan Savage said in a New York Times editorial: (emphasis mine)

[Playing straight is] precisely what Jack and Ennis attempt to do in Brokeback Mountain... These gay cowboys try, as best they can, to quit one another. They marry women, start families. But their wives are crushed when they realize their husbands don't, and can't, ever really love them. "Brokeback Mountain" makes clear that it would have been better for all concerned if Jack and Ennis had lived in a world where they could simply be together...

If they don't think Chad Allen can play straight convincingly for 108 minutes, do they honestly imagine that gay men who aren't actors can play straight for a lifetime? And if anyone reading this believes that gay men can actually become ex-gay men, I have just one question for you: Would you want your daughter to marry one?

Brokeback ends in the early 1980s, I think. Before AIDS, really. Before Matthew Shepard. Before that then-scandalous and now-ho-hum thirtysomething episode. Before anyone in rural Wyoming had ever heard of Stonewall, probably. Before Will and Grace, certainly.

I can't help but wonder how many real Jake and Ennis-es there have been. I wonder how many there still are now. And to any disapproving straight people that somehow find your way to my little blog, I must ask you: Would you want your daughter to marry one?


Anonymous said...

You know... as a straight guy who expects to sometime (maybe) have a daughter, I have to say that I have no objections to a woman sharing her husband with another man, with two crucial caveats.

1) That it be up-front and discussed openly between the married couple -before- anything happens outside of the marriage.

2) That proper health and safety measures are taken to ensure that there is no (or at least minimal) chance of disease spreading.

Vogue said...

I agree that the prevalence of the situation apparently presented in Brokeback, is greater than we imagine.

I don't know that I agree that the actors chosen for the lead roles were out of necessity. While there aren't many out gay hollywood actors that are well known, I'm sure there are plenty who are not well known. While this may make it more difficult for a movie to receive attention, it is not impossible. Perhaps Heath and Jake did a fantastic job, I do not know as I have not and, most likely, will not see the movie.

My personal bias, I suppose, is that the older I get the more I see how Hollywood and, thusly, the world conspires to convince me I'm inadequate. I will never look like either of them. While the argument seems to be "do you want to see fat and/or ugly people on screen", this attitude carries over to daily living in part because of these types of decisions and attitudes.

We're presented with a fantasy that everyone wants and few will get. I'd hate to feel as if someone settled for me because they'd really rather be with someone who looks like Heath or Jake. This doesn't even go into the realm of having a more difficult time finding a mate, among other things, because one doesn't look like them. I only use them specfically because they are the subject here. There are plenty of others whom we, as the general population, can and are compared to.

I think more "average" looking and lesser known actors could've conveyed the emotion and story just as well, for what it's worth.

Narc said...

You are a very open-minded man, Mr. Anonymous. I haven't seen the movie yet, so I'm just pontificating blindly (but when has that ever stopped me?). It's been said that Brokeback is really a movie about the closet, and not about gay cowboys. It's about two men who's primary emotional attachment is between themselves, and not to their wives (although I think Jake and his wife might get back together at the end, I'm not sure, and I don't want to be spoiled). I think that's qualitatively different from getting a piece of (hairy) ass on the side now and then for fun. I certainly can't disagree with you on point #2, though.

I disagree about lesser-known actors, to some extent. Having the big names involved means that the movie is going to get more attention, especially in the mainstream (i.e. straight) press. Latter Days is a small gay movie with a nearly-unknown director and actors. It grossed about $800 thousand in 2005, just around the break-even mark, if that. Brokeback has grossed $165 million. I really don't think there would be straight audiences flocking to see this movie if it didn't have Ledger and Gyllenhaal.

I guess we can wait until next month and see how Adam & Steve does. My prediction is that it will play to gay audiences and small art houses only, and will quickly be forgotten about until it hits the "Sundance Channel" shelf at Blockbuster.

I'll agree that Hollywood reflects an unrealistic picture of what we are supposed to look like. I'm not sure it's entirely Hollywood's fault, though; it wasn't a movie executive that invented the idea of the troll. On the other hand, you have to give Ledger some props for actually refusing to bulk up for the role to look more manly and cowboyesque. He thought a thinner look would be more realistic for the poor, farmhand, working man part.