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Thread: Brokeback Mountain

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    Brokeback Mountain

    Ang Lee: Brokeback Mountain

    Powerful adaptation with great acting is the year's best American film

    Review by Chris Knipp

    "Brokeback Mountain," published eight years ago, is one of E. Annie Proulx's most admired stories. Quietly, understatedly, it describes the tragic epic love affair of a cowboy and a ranch hand who lived in Wyoming and Texas in the Sixties and Seventies. It's very much about an American time and place where such a love cannot be spoken, barely even lived, but in this case is so intense it comes to dominate the two men's lives. These "two deuces, going nowhere" meet working one summer on the named mountain tending sheep. One cold night their latent sexual desire for each other grabs them while they're snuggling to keep warm in a tent. It doesn't stop there. In fact it never stops.

    After the job ends and they part, there's a huge longing that clings to both of them even though they don't see each other for four years and both get married. They wind up meeting every few months for twenty years, whenever they can, pretending to go on fishing trips.

    The dirt poor ranch hand, Ennis Del Mar-- the Heath Ledger character in the new Ang Lee film -- continually tries to deny the intense desire for the other man and fight it, but Jack Twist (the Jake Gyllenhaal character) nonetheless is the love of his life. If we learn nothing else we learn that. Ultimately the story hits you with a wallop of emotion that's all the more powerful because of all the self denial, the barren terrain, you might say, on which this one big bright flower of forbidden and denied love still insistently and powerfully and painfully grew.

    Annie Proulx's story touched me when I first read it. It spoke to something deep inside of me that I can't explain. I'm no cowboy. I didn't grow up in the rural West. But in some strange way it seemed my story. The repression, the hiding, the passion, the sadness, fit experiences of mine. I knew the feeling of hiding and not being able to talk about experiences that were more important to me than anything, while trying to feign conventional feelings and tastes. This is a story that gay men from other times and places have lived and that unfortunately many still live: the self denial, the repression, the fear of others' opinions and danger of being found out; the living of conventional "straight" lives that in the end don't really work and may even go very bad. Gay men who have lived this story know its sadness but also its hidden beauties and excitements. Much of Proulx's story isn't pretty, but it contains in it secrets of forbidden love you don't find many places.

    The movie has to add stuff, to flesh out the details of the men's lives when they're apart that you may not remember from the story, but it hits you with the same wallop. The screenplay Larry McMurtry (of The Last Picture Show) and Diana Ossana have written expands Proulx's dry, terse tale without changing its essential pain, though it's a tough job -- and a tribute to the writing -- that it doesn't, because Ang Lee has made things so pretty, and clear, that you have to look for moments when the original spareness comes back.

    It's in the way Heath Ledger talks. Ledger develops such a rich range of mumbles and coughs and grunts it's like a symphony built out of three notes. The movie has several performances in it that are peerless, but the standout is Heath Ledger, who has emerged in 2005 as the serious actor he wanted to be. Ledger's Ennis Del Mar is a wonderful character, tough, laconic, lonely, passionate, repressed. This performance of Ledger's alone is a joy, and it will endure.* Most every scene between Jack and Ennis evokes the tension and force of Proulx's tightlipped style.

    The story's original spareness is there in the way the men make love, or mix kissing and fighting. It's especially there too in the way the film's bookended: the opening sequence of Ennis and Jack waiting for the boss (Randy Quaid) to show up so they can get hired. They're standing wordless, seemingly for hours, hiding under their hats, but as Anthony Lane suggests, even then they're probably already falling in love. At the end when Ennis visits Jack's parents, this is one of the best places. Their spaces and their faces are as lean as Proulx's sentences. It might have been nice to feel more of that leanness in between, but the wives and families had to be fleshed out; that was part of the game the filmmakers took on.

    The Ang Lee version, with its beautiful photography and surprising actors, brought out in this viewer a sense of cumulative awakening of all the repressed awarenesses the story had first aroused eight years back. I remain so shaken it's hard even to write about it objectively and seems ridiculous to try to find fault with something that seems so right as a filming of Annie Proulx's tale that it would be a personal betrayal for me not to consider it the American movie of the year. Brokeback Mountain may or may not be a great movie (it's already well on the way to becoming a celebrated one), but it's a great cinematic realization of an outstanding piece of writing. There's nobody in it who isn't good; you'd have to simply list the whole cast. Suffice it to say that Jake Gyllenhaal, who's had quite a good year in movies himself, is just right for the other main role: he has the sweetness, the strength, and the sincerity to balance Ledger's sad aching self repression.



    _______________

    *Stephen Holden in the New York Times: "Mr. Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-04-2015 at 01:47 AM.

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    There's plenty here to absorb from many points of view. Even the straightest man can identify with being trapped in a marriage of convenience when longing for someone else they truly love. Very nice review, Chris; heartfelt and sincere.

    I've been interested in this project since I first heard about it last year when it was still in production. But seeing Eng and Ledger on Charlie Rose revealed details they hadn't spoken of in other interviews. Eng was especially keen on building up a true relationship with the two actors, making them spend time with one another both on the set and off. From the moment they did their first dry read, the two men knew they would have to portray genuine moments of affection. Eng purposely did not shoot any sex scenes until the end, knowing by then Jake and Keith felt comfortable around the other. On the night before the [sex] shoot, Keith's girlfriend told him not to worry and to "get into the part." After that, he said he felt liberated, but that he still was not gay. An open affirmation for publicity purposes and male ego, I'm sure.

    Eng called this film his most personally satisfying film, and likened his previous directing job on "The Hulk" to 'building a space craft with hand tools.'

    I look forward to seeing the movie on its release this Friday. Whether straight or gay, this film represents a milestone in Hollywood where a love story between two men may just be nominated and win, Best Picture of the Year... maybe. It's up against a big ape and a communist.

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    Thanks for this contribution. I think Brokeback Mountain will have some advantages for awards because it is warm and emotionally intense, and some of the other contenders are good but pretty dry. Anyway I don't really care about that issue of the awards at this point so much; I just want people to see the movie. The Charlie Rose interview sounds good. Ledger said in another interview to Sarah Polley he hopes people see it, that "it's important." This goes ten steps beyond Demme's tame Philadelphia, which as somebody said recently is really a movie about a man who hates homosexuals (Denzel Washington's lawyer character

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    Director: Ang Lee
    Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal

    The official website
    see
    http://www.brokebackmountain.com/


    My thoughts ...
    -- Wow, it is one of those films that you go for the acting and cast! Heath is excellent, but so are Jake and the rest of the cast ... go for it! It is one of those films that you go to FEEL for the characters (as the plot is simple enough and not many events happen) ... so please have an open mind ... if you feel for the characters, you will think it is an excellent film; otherwise, you will wonder why the pace is so slow and what all the hype is all about ...
    -- I like the tagline "Love is the force of nature" ... well ... to me, it has a pun, their love are ignited by the force of nature (the external environment) as well as their own force of nature (their internal desire) ... excellent! Yet, their love are also bound by their external environment (time and place) as well as their own internal environment (feelings and emotions) ...
    -- Despite being an independent film, it looks great cinematographically! wow ...
    -- I also like the score and song ...


    What could be better ...
    -- Hmmm, the marketing ... frankly, it is not a gay cowboy film nor an old Western film ... cos it is much more than that ...


    Conclusion:
    -- Highly recommended ... but please go with an open mind ... cos it is so much more than just a story about two gay cowboys ...
    ;)

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    Interestingly, many reviewers forgot to mention that Ang Lee also had an earlier well known film about gays too ...

    * drum roll *

    The Wedding Banquet ...

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    Yes, Wedding Banquet should be mentioned, but only to note how different this is and how much deeper it goes into gay experience. I guess it's more germane than The Hulk, but only just. I hope Filmwurld viewers don't have to be asked to keep open minds because they already do that. It is true that whether the story touches you very much personally, as it does me, or hardly at all, it is worth watching for the strength of the two main performances, as well as many other good ones. Yes maybe the plot is "simple enough" but it carries considerable emotional complexity. I am not sure whether or not the movie was "marketed" as a "gay cowboy film," or whether it simply is typed as that. But it is a film about gay cowboys, as far as I can see, so there's nothing wrong with that, and other reviewers have stressed that it is "just" a love story and actually a pretty "straight" one. cinemabon pointed out that you don't have to be gay to relate to loving somebody you're not able to be with. Marketing can't be too complicated. Some were turned off totally by the trailers, others were turned on by them. You can't control that. The "marketing" that I have seen didn't distort the nature of the movie, but it's bound to turn off some people. That's inevitable.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-18-2005 at 10:07 PM.

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    Sentiment in Hollywood is growing strong. The Los Angeles Times entertainment reporter Patrick Goldstein writes today that industry insiders are picking "Brokeback Mountain" to win Best Picture this year. Current odds place the film higher than Speilberg's Munich and Jackson's King Kong or Walk the Line (biopic of Johnny Cash). Several critics have lambasted Speilberg, including Variety's Todd McCarthy for the handling of Munich's release. Ang Lee is well liked in Los Angeles and seems the odds on favorite, along with Best Actor favorite Heath Ledger. Look for Mountain to take Pix, Director, Actor and screenwriting.

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    That would be amazing, for gay people like Denzel Washington winning the Best Actor Oscar was for African Americans. It's not for me to compare it with anything else; I simply find it the most moving and emotionally valid. I am waiting to see Munich. Spielberg can be masterful and the topic interest me, I am eager to see how he deals with it. Otherwise, Walk the Line is a nice biopic, but not as powerful as Brokeback. You know my opinion of King Kong. Jackson got justly rewarded already for a much more significant body of work on LOTR. I simply don't share the high opinion of A History of Violence that some have. My Best Foreign list is another whole list.

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    Random Thoughts About Brokeback Mountain

    *Seems to me, when you boil it down to its basic purpose, that Brokeback Mountain aims to put that knot-on-your-throat_that physical manifestation of deep empathy, that sign indicating you share the heartbreak experienced by characters who are decent and good. My knot came well into the movie, perhaps because I hadn't read Annie Proulx's story. As a result of its linear chronology, the full realization of the principals' romance remains a possibility until the last chapter, which creates a sort of suspense. I wonder how the film would affect me if the filmmakers had at least given a hint of the extent of the tragedy at the beginning and flashed back. I think I would have liked to watch the whole thing with that delicious knot making my breathing shallow.

    *What's novel about Brokeback Mountain is inherent to the premise of Proulx's story: the juxtaposition of same-sex romance with western milieu. The story casts a spell on all those notions we've developed for decades about "the West" and the people who tamed it. It opened doors inside my mind about the nature of the relationship between cowboys in some classic westerns that I love.

    *Brokeback Mountain may be called a "gay-interest" film or "gay romance" but it's certainly not "queer cinema" (the heterosexual grizzly man in Herzog's doc IS queer but not Jack and certainly not Ennis). I'm contemplating the notion that this will help Brokeback Mountain gain wide mainstream acceptance, including awards. A comment from a conservative, apparently a Christian, on IMdb leads me to believe that the film may help develop more open-minded attitudes about homosexuality in our society.

    *What's truly old-fashioned about Brokeback Mountain is the filmmaking. As far as the visual approach to it, the film could have been made 60 years ago. It's a capable, solid film in every aspect of its production. I don't think the film looks any different because Ang Lee directed than it would had it been made by any of a large pool of competent current directors. The big surprise for me was that Brokeback Mountain was lensed by Rodrigo Prieto (DP for Amores Perros, Frida, 25th Hour,etc.) because there isn't any trace of his style to be found here.

    *Adapting Proulx's story was a no-brainer. What makes the resulting picture truly special is the outstanding performance by Heath Ledger. He's the reason I'll be watching Brokeback Mountain again in the future.

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    To Oscar:

    A comment from a conservative, apparently a Christian, on IMdb leads me to believe that the film may help develop more open-minded attitudes about homosexuality in our society.
    That would be nice, and I think it's what a lot of gay people are expecting and hoping for in welcoming this film. I'd like to know more about that without wading through every Imdb comment -- there are many. In fact, due to this movie's mainstream appeal plus gay interest, the blog content, etc. lavished on it has been huge.

    The lack of Queer Cinema edge in Brokeback means that young gay hip urban males will tend to find it lacking, and don't care if it has a positive effect such as you refer to. I consider this a lack of perspective, but "mainstream" is a bad word for some -- who may complain about being marginalized while at the same time counting themselves out of society in general by choice. The contradiction may not even be seen . As I've said lots before, when "mainstream" and "good" come together -- which I don't consider to be oxymoronic -- that in my view is cause for rejoicing.

    I'm not sure Ang Lee has shown a very clearcut personality, so your saying this movie hasn't a particular stamp of his work is hard to interpret. He's done Chinese (gay) social comedy, martial arts, East Coast suburban Seventies angst, The Hulk -- where is the common thread, other than the fact that he is capable of good work, but can also disappoint? Are you sure you're not being seduced by the mainstream (Ebert/Roeper et al.) reviewers' strategy of repeating over and over that this is "just a love story," when scenes in it show you it damn well isn't straight; they want to co-opt it and thereby neutralize its potentially radical effect.

    I can't tell from this whether or not you have read the story now, but your remarks prompt me to stress that my response to the movie can't be separated from the fact that I read the story earlier, as i said in my review, and was deeply impressed by it. I can't possibly imagine what it would be like to see the movie without having read Proulx's story, but I don't think that a disadvantage, just a fact. I think the story is a very fine piece of work and I am not alone, obviously. As you say, making it into a film is "no brainer". But then, making a movie of Patricia Nell Warren's novel The Front Runner from `1976 was a "no brainer," but although Paul Newman bought the rights to it, it never came to be. So I don't know what the "no brainer" is. If you're saying it had to happen that ignores the fact that it very well might not have. The majority of people who see this movie will not have read the story so I don't know what their experience is. But as far as I'm concerned they're at the disadvantage,, not the person who's read the book or story. Likewise with the new Pride and Prejudice. Not knowing the book doesn't give you more license to praise the movie, it just means you don't know what you're talking about.

    When I first read the story, while intensely relating to it, I also thought that it might be considered anti-gay, because it presents gay life (once again) in such a sad light. Now I can see that in representing in a vivid and intense light a tragedy of gay experience, it can bring home to the mainstream the predicament of gays forced to live in a closed straight world.

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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Are you sure you're not being seduced by the mainstream (Ebert/Roeper et al.) reviewers' strategy of repeating over and over that this is "just a love story," when scenes in it show you it damn well isn't straight;

    I'm baffled and a bit annoyed by this. What prompts you to ask ME that question? "Just a love story" is not my line, not even remotely. Maybe you'll find someone who takes that angle so you can raise the issue with him/her. It's a "gay romance" and the story is so good that adapting it is a "no-brainer". And "what's truly old-fashioned is the filmmaking" (the crafting of images to tell the story, which has nothing to do with whether is "just a love story" or something else).

    The majority of people who see this movie will not have read the story so I don't know what their experience is. But as far as I'm concerned they're at the disadvantage, not the person who's read the book or story.

    I was simply wondering what it would feel like to watch it with the knowledge of the tragedy within me from the beginning. I liked getting that knot in my throat. I think it would have been there throughout had I walked in knowing how the story turns out.

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    Revolutionnaries often write very conventional, straightforward prose. The better to get their points across. The content is often what makes a thing radical. I may appear to misinterpret your words. I know you said it is a gay love story. But when you say the filmmaking is conventional, you are undermining the radical content.

    Why does everybody harp on the fact that this movie is "conventional" ? That's all I'm asking. Aren't most movies "conventional" in style? Otherwise people couldn't foillow them.

    As for lumps in throats, I am not the type to start crying during the opening credits. I never understand why knowing how a story turns out is supposed to "spoil" a movie--or, in your view this time, make you start feeling sad during the early parts. In fact my friend Helen who saw Brokeback Mountain with me, found the movie less affecting than the story.

    Even if you didn't read the story I should think you'd sense that a cowboy and a ranch hand in Wyoming having a secret romance were headed toward tragedy or at least bad trouble.

    But I don't buy the idea that in a movie it's somehow better to be surprised by the content or the plot.

    "When ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise"? But the whole experience of a movie, book, etc. is enhanced the morre we know about it, including reading the story Brokeback comes from before you see the movie.

    However, my friend Helen found it less moving than that story. Having read the story earlier somehow may have weakend the effect.

    So, there's no accounting for taste, and there's no accounting for lumps.

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    I lived and worked in Hollywood in 1976 when The Front Runner was on every coffee table of every house in town. Then they made that awful film with Muriel Hemmingway (Personal Best) which bombed. The same story twist with a far different ending and involvement. I don't mean to digress from your discussion with Oscar, but when you mentioned that story I had an absolute flashback! The whole town gasped when Newman declared he wanted to play the part. Then he went Oscar hunting instead, probably advised playing a gay part would hurt his career. Well, I say let's get the story resurrected. I read the book and cried. Great drama.

    As to Brokeback Mountain, its wide release did not include Raleigh. I've watched all the clips and read all the reviews, but won't be seeing the film anytime soon. I feel the same way Heath Ledger must have felt when he described his stone-faced acting style for this film on Charlie Rose. "I figured [my character] could say more with a look than with many words. So that's the way I played it."

    I'm very upset with the distribution system right now. You should see my face.

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    Originally posted by cinemabon
    As to Brokeback Mountain, its wide release did not include Raleigh. I've watched all the clips and read all the reviews, but won't be seeing the film anytime soon.
    Brokeback Mountain is not on wide release yet. It's currently playing at 69 theatres, according to industry reports. (I don't know if by "theatres" they mean "screens" as the Regal SoBe, where I watched it, is showing it on three screens simultaneously). Anyway, the film broke per-screen records during its opening weekend. Universal has moved up the date for wide release to Jan 6th, when the film will be playing at close to 400 theatres nationwide. I would hope that includes Raleigh.

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    I lived and worked in Hollywood in 1976 when The Front Runner was on every coffee table of every house in town. Then they made that awful film with Muriel Hemmingway (Personal Best) which bombed.


    Gee, that is frustrating, though I don’t personally think of Personal Best as that awful film with Muriel Hemingway that bombed; I think of it as one of the savviest movies about track and field ever made. That was the time of the “running craze,” which I was kind of a part of, and hence they had Kenny Moore as an advisor, a real runner.

    As for The Front Runner, it is like Brokeback Mountain the story, something by a straight woman that seems uncannily, and it that case in much more detail, accurate about gay experience. A straight woman friend of mine read it recently at my urging and pronounced it a damn good read. It's really a page-turner, and, well, amazing and exciting and a good weepy, and it should make a great movie. But you have to have the right people to make it; in the wrong hands it could be another awful film that bombs..

    I am sure Oscar's right about the release plans for Brokeback. It has done intensely well in a very limited release, which I'd have to say has turned out to be a good strategy. In SF it is also on three screens; I dare say Miami has a strong gay population. I imagine they mean theaters not screens in the count, but I don't really know.

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