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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Going for Brokeback

Why ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is an important film to the lgbt community

By Steve Charing

While the Hollywood film industry has been suffering at the gate for the past few years, it seems that controversial films—especially those with a significant advanced buzz to stoke interest—manage to succeed. Last year Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 did just that.

This year’s entry in the controversial genre, as you are probably well aware, is Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (R rating), which has been widely dubbed as the "gay cowboy movie" or "gay Western." How it will do at the box office is anybody’s guess. Even some gay columnists have scribed opposite viewpoints defining their predictions.

But if the huge crowds that turned out in the opening cities of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco are an indication, this could be a blockbuster.

To be sure, these three cities have massive lgbt populations; therefore, a movie depicting the love between two hunky men who happen to be cowboys (played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) would likely be an attraction. That type of plot is seldom seen from mainstream movie studios. They are mindful of well-funded and well-organized groups who are always at the ready to pounce and threaten boycotts and demonstrations so that only films that conform to their standards may be seen by the general public.

Some folks have suspected that this fear by movie houses to ward off religious conservative activism prevented an all-out distribution in December. Brokeback Mountain was distributed to limited markets in December to qualify for potential awards. The major distribution will take place next month with the Baltimore premiere scheduled for January 6 at the Charles Theater.

I had asked the general manager of the Charles, Buzz Cusack, if his theater had exclusive rights to the film in this area. "I wish we did have the exclusive rights," he said chuckling. "But the film’s distributors, not the movie houses, decide where the film is shown. Undoubtedly it will be released more broadly later on."

Apparently that is the strategy, which is most likely aimed at reaping maximum profits. According to Mike Lavers of GLAAD—Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, a media watchdog organization—the distributors of Brokeback Mountain were planning an incremental release all along.

How this film will play out in other markets and in red state territory remains to be seen. Neither the backlash, if it comes, nor even the lack of backlash will diminish the glow emanating out of Brokeback Mountain. Indeed, capturing awards form the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle, the reception it received at the Venice Film Festival and a gaggle of Golden Globe nominations already in hand surely will not hurt. Neither will the near-universal acclaim it is receiving by film critics.

The run-up to the general release of the movie has some extremist conservative groups like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association gritting their teeth as they try to develop a strategy to badmouth the movie that is destined to win several Oscars. Currently, the sickening Focus on the Family hate group has adopted a low profile scheme in the hope that their lack of involvement would make the movie disappear quietly into the sunset. They feel the more opposition they put forward, the more attention the film it will receive. They want it to go away and fail.

Keep dreaming.

Since the cost of production was around $12 million—a low budget by Hollywood standards—it will not need to fill up every seat in every house in every city to turn a profit.

Having seen the film at a media screening last month, I predict it will contend for key awards. Surely Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ledger)and Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams) nominations are within grasp.

It is not the best movie I have ever seen; it had some flaws like a slow beginning, slowness in the middle and a lack of clarity in spots. But it has an interesting plot adapted from the short story written by E. Annie Proulx and a surprising twist at the end. The strength of the film was the acting and the setting—you can almost smell and taste the gritty Wyoming in the 1960’s.

But I also believe the movie will be historic. It set aside established gay stereotypes in that two "macho" guys get entangled over a 20-year period—not over sex, but love. One can see how society’s pressures and a lack of options available to these two men forged their unorthodox relationship and the determined secrecy of their forbidden love. It is a heartbreaking and groundbreaking story.

Brokeback Mountain will produce enormous profits and capture a string of well-deserved awards, not to mention kudos to the studio and the theaters for the courage to defy the conservative bullies. And it will give wives reason to pause when their husbands alert them to an upcoming fishing trip.

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