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brokeback mountain (ang lee, 2005)

I remember the first time I saw two men kissing in a movie ... it was probably the first time I saw two men kissing anywhere, to be honest. The movie was Sunday, Bloody Sunday, which I loved very much at the time. When Peter Finch and Murray Head kissed, there was an audible gasp from the audience (I saw the film in the Midwest).

Thirty-four years later, we sat behind a group of teenaged girls for a showing of Brokeback Mountain, and while you'd think in 2005, most teenagers have seen men kissing, maybe not. For the first time Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal kiss, the girls were all "ohmigod!" At least two of them proceeded to take out their cell phones to take photos of the movie screen. (In fairness, it should be noted that they also seemed surprised when Anne Hathaway took off her top.)

Brokeback Mountain elicits a lot of expectations. Depending on how you prepare yourself for watching it, those expectations will or won't be fulfilled. If you read the original short story, I imagine you'd like this film, which apparently does a good job of turning the story into a movie. If you are looking for a "gay cowboy movie," I suspect you'll be a bit disappointed ... there are gay people and cowboys, but it's not really about gay cowboys. If you're looking for a romance, you should be very happy.

My point is that your expectations will seriously affect your take on the film. What I wanted from the movie was groundbreaking sex ... and I wouldn't mind seeing a Western, either. But as a Western, this ain't exactly Red River with sheep instead of cattle, and as for the groundbreaking sex ... well, the film deserves credit for actually showing men kissing, and even fucking, but for someone who watched all five seasons of Queer As Folk, this stuff is pretty damn tame.

Maybe that's all for the best, because it forces me to examine the film as a film, rather than as a depositor of expectations. Except I think this is a flawed film.

It's hard to write original material when someone out there is already saying what you think, and when it comes to movies, I often find myself in agreement with the Salon tandem of Stephanie Zacharek and Charles Taylor, to such an extent that at times I should skip blogging and just link to their review. Zacharek's take on Brokeback Mountain is pretty much my take, although I think I liked it more than she did. The earliest parts of the film are the best, or at least, they play well because they come early in the picture, before I started thinking "damn, this movie is kinda long." As the young cowboys (and "boy" is accurate, they're pretty young) herd sheep and eat beans amidst beautiful scenery, we have a chance to watch their relationship spark. It's what happens after they come down from the mountain that I found less interesting. I can't point to any particular scene and say it's poorly done ... they're all at least adequate and often something more (I was especially taken with a scene where Heath Ledger's character visits his lover's parents). I just didn't find the accumulative experience to be all that ... I don't think I learned enough about the characters once they left the mountain to warrant a running time of 2 hours and 14 minutes (admittedly, I am a crankpuss about movie length). Whatever my expectations, they didn't include the reality of the movie, which is that it turns into a gay version of Same Time, Next Year, as the characters return to Brokeback every once in awhile, get older, meet at the mountain again, get older still, and meet at the mountain yet again. Eventually I lost interest ... I wanted the movie to be over. And that's too bad, because it wasn't a bad movie, and it seemed like it might even be a very good movie, but if you're looking at your watch every ten minutes, something ain't working.

Brokeback Mountain is an admirable, if tiny, step forward for mainstream presentation of gay material. There is much to like about the movie. And I'm glad I went when I did ... I wanted to help push the early box office, because I want to see more and better gay-themed mainstream movies. But ultimately, I was a bit disappointed.


Christopher Rose

Hi Steven,

I followed the link trail to here from your Tony Peluso piece on BlogCritics, I guess you saw that already. I'm the new comments editor there by the way. I do like your stuff here and could see some of it cross-postable if you wanted...

Either way, you're doing good work.


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