17 January 2006

Storm brewing over the mountain

Brokeback Mountain, that is. Don’t worry, you won’t read any spoilers in this posting (unless you don’t know that it’s a gay cowboy movie, in which case you should have stopped reading already…oops, sorry about that).

In my humble film critiquing opinion - and I only got a B in my college Intro to Film class, but then again, that was partly because in the final I discussed how Apocalypse Now drew on the themes of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, while my hippie-dippy 1960s throwback professor thought it was just all about how bad the Vietnam War was, but I don’t hold grudges, nope, not me…where was I? Oh right, my humble opinion – this was an outstanding film with a compelling storyline about a frustrated, bittersweet romance, absolutely gorgeous cinematography, and several top-notch acting performances. I’ve always been a fan of Ang Lee’s work, and if you’re not familiar with his oeuvre, you should definitely check him out.

What’s been remarkable about the public reaction to Brokeback Mountain is the relative lack of protests it’s engendered, at least to this point. The studio’s strategy was to start with a limited, bi-coastal release, figuring that audiences in NY and LA would be the most receptive to the film’s themes. As the release spread across the country, it was still limited to certain theatres with more gay-friendly demographics (e.g., if you lived way out in the suburbs, you might have to drive into town a bit to find it). After last night’s Golden Globes where it won four awards (including Best Picture – Drama and Best Director), making it a front-runner for the Academy Awards, it will probably start getting more widespread screenings. This has all been a very intentional strategy on the part of the studio, Focus Features (owned by NBC Universal), to warm up the public receptivity to the film’s potentially controversial themes.

But the studio hasn’t been the only one with a strategy. As I noted, there have been relatively few protests about this film – no calls to boycott NBC, not many picket lines outside of theatres (although some theatres have, no doubt, avoided protests simply by declining the film). This is due in large part to the fact that the conservative Christian machine has told its followers to leave the film alone. In short, their strategy to date has been “ignore it and hope it goes away”. However, now that it has major Oscar momentum, it will be much harder to ignore. I expect that the religious ultra-conservatives will now shift into high gear to do battle against what they perceive to be an abomination, namely, the normalizing and mainstreaming of homosexuality in American society.

Mind you, I think the religious ultra-conservatives have every right to hold homophobic opinions – this is America, where every person has the right of free speech, and hopefully free thought as well. They can have churches where gay folks aren’t allowed, and that’s their prerogative. (How they could ever recruit enough choir directors and tenors is beyond me, but that’s another matter.) Where they cross the line is when they seek to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. As my high school history teacher liked to say, “My rights cease to exist when I trample on your rights.” You don’t want to see a movie about a love story that happens to be about two gay cowboys? Do what I do when it comes to horror movies, or teenage romances, or anything with Paris Hilton in it – don’t buy a ticket!

What motivates these religious ultra-conservatives, I think, is fear. Fear of the unknown, or fear of something different, or simply fear of the Other. There’s Jungian analysis that could be done there, as well as lots of discussions about gay marriage, but I’ll have to leave all that for a subsequent posting. For now, if you haven’t seen Brokeback yet, I would urge you to give it a shot. And for that matter, I would be remiss if I didn’t also urge you to go see Syriana, another of my favorites from this year. As George Clooney described it last night, it’s not intended to be a critique of the current Administration, but rather a critique of 60 years of failed Middle East policies. A caveat: there are some pretty intense scenes of violence and torture in Syriana (and some disquieting ones in Brokeback also), but I didn’t consider them to be gratuitous. If you’re looking for somewhat more gratuitous violence, you can borrow my tape of the 24 premiere…

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