Sunday, February 12, 2006

Movie Report: Brokeback Mountain

I first read the short story, "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx when it appeared in The New Yorker in 1999 and thought it was a good story. Today, I went to see what all the hullabaloo about the movie was about and think it is a good movie. It is not a great movie that will live as a classic, in my opinion, because it depends too heavily on the novelty of a mainstream movie about two gay men whose love is doomed. In 40 years, the idea that a love story between two gay cowboys is a great movie because of its subject matter will seem as dated as the idea 40 years ago that "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," was a great movie because of its interracial subject matter.

I am a fan of many of the people involved in making this movie. Annie Proulx, who won the Pulitizer Prize and the National Book Award in 1993 for "The Shipping News" is one of my favorite authors. Her personal story would make a movie more interesting to me personally than "Brokeback Mountain." According to the bio on her web site she went through three marriages before giving up and deciding that she was not well-suited for marriage. In 1975 (at age 40) she started freelance journalism and lived in "considerable poverty" in a shack in Vermont, for several years. Although she had several short stories published in Esquire, her first book didn't appear until 1988 (when she was 53.) Of course her career took off with "The Shipping News," which was also made into a movie, and "Accordian Crimes." She must be rich now with two successful books that have been made into movies. So, maybe there is hope yet for us aging wannebe writers but I really don't want to go live in "considerable poverty" to get my writing ticket.

Larry McMurtry, who shares screenplay writing credits for the movie, is another one of my favorite authors. Although probably best known for "The Lonesome Dove" book and television series, the McMurtry book that I liked the best was his 1999 novel, "Duane's Depressed." Finally, Ang Lee, director of "Brokeback Mountain" is a well respected director for movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "The Ice Storm," and "The Hulk." I was not a big fan of "Crouching Tiger" and "The Ice Storm" and didn't see "The Hulk." Lee has a local connection, being a graduate of our local university.

The scenery in "Brokeback Mountain" is beautiful; the music (other than Willie Nelson's song at the end) is annoying in its repetitive little tune and the acting is average. The main problem is the plot can't stand up to the weight of all the publicity and expectations that has been placed upon it. Again, I am not knocking the story, it was a good short story, but no one was touting the short story as Pulitizer Prize winning. I reread the short story again (my best Christmas present this year was a DVD collection of every New Yorker magazine from its beginning to 2005) before going to see the movie. Surprisingly, the movie stays very true to the original Proulx story. In the website I cited earlier, Proulx says this may be the closest any movie has ever come to being like the story upon which it was based. I wouldn't argue against that point, although several small scenes were added.

I thought the gay sex scenes might bother me more than they did. I was prepared to be grossed out but the short story's sex scenes were more explicit than the movie's. Like some of my friends who saw the movie, I did not think the sex scenes were a major part of the movie, and they were "tastefully" done, or at least as "tasteful" as such scenes can be done.

I would recommend seeing the movie because it is better than average, and one needs to be aware of what the hoopla in our culture is about. I gave it four stars, which is what I have given all of the movies I have seen so far this year. Under my rating system three stars is average, so either I have hit an above-average run of movies or my standards are slipping.


Patry Francis said...

I loved the short story, too--and I'm not one of the legions who ALWAYS love Annie Proulx. Really do want to get out and see the film.

rdl said...

It is better than average, and one needs to be aware of what the hoopla in our culture is about.
Nice review, I guess I should see the movie so I can see what all the hoopla is about.

PG said...

A fair review. We are both likely to be dead in 40 years or I would take you to task about saying it will not be a classic. (And the fact that you can remember the title, the subject matter, and probably some of the cast of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" may indicate that it, too, has survived.) The one fault of your review is failure to recognize the acting of Heath Ledger. It is quite remarkable.

pgspringer said...

Two other reasons not to compare Brokeback Mountain to Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

1. GWCTD is an issue movie. BBM is a love story. (Only hype has turned it into an issue movie. The movie itself is not.)

2. GWCTD was made as a contemporary movie in its day. Like fish in water, it could not reflect upon its times and, thus, in retrospect dates. BBM was made as a period piece. It reflects on a time already fixed in the past and will not date as history in the same way.

Amishlaw said...

pg, the nice thing about making predictions in the far off future is I can't be embarassed when I turn out to be wrong. If Cheney doesn't resign and the war on Iraq turns out to be just what was needed to bring peace to the Middle East, someone is sure to remind me of how wrong I was.

pgspringer (are you related to pg?) I don't know what criteria you use to say that Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was an issue movie and Brokeback Mountain is just a love story. The differences are not obvious to me. Nor do I understand your comment that BBM was made as a period piece and reflects on a time already fixed in the past. A gay love story may not be a novelty in the New York circles from which you get your cultural cues, but it is not accepted in the vast land between the coasts, and it seems to me the secrecy and deception that are depicted in the movie are still necessities of living for many gay people in places like Texas and Colorado (and not just those places.) In 1967 when Guess Who's Coming to Dinner was made, interracial couples were likewise not novelties in the large northern cities, but could still get someone killed in the south. You and I both know an interracial couple who until fairly recently would not travel together in the deep South.

pgspringer said...

Of course, you can look back at Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and view it as a snapshot of opinions and attitudes in 1967. In that way, it serves a purpose at how odd things were.

You can't do that with Brokeback Mountain. It already has a 40 year distance from its story. It was made with awareness of its time; GWCTD was not made with that awareness, so it dates badly and looks queer.

Philadelphia is a movie, an agenda movie, that dated badly and almost immediately .

Know what movie is going to date? I predict Crash.

Amishlaw said...

pgspringer, technically, Brokeback Mountain takes place over about a 20 year period, which ends around 20 years ago. I will concede your argument that it is not an agenda or issue movie, if you are able to name some gay people who do not think it is a fantastic movie. I think the fact that gays identify so closely with the movie shows that it is not just a love story about two people who happen to be gay but an issue-oriented movie. That doesn't bother me; I think it is a good movie, it just isn't great. It does not deserve the Oscar for Best Picture. That should go to Crash.