"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

If it ain't Brokeback, don't fix it

The box-office buzz recently has been all over Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee’s powerful tale of two sensitive sheep herders who struggle to repress their "forbidden" feelings for each other amid a culture that encourages macho stereotypes. While the movie has drawn critical raves from reviewers, has been nominated for several Golden Globe awards, and is widely being suggested as Oscar material, it's also not surprisingly been the subject of backlash from right-leaning and Christian traditionalists who object to the portrayal of the gay relationship as anything other than a sinful abomination. Cinema mogul and Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller refused at the last minute to show the film at his Megaplex 17 theatres in Salt Lake City, although it can still be seen at other venues in the Mormon-dominated town. Elsewhere, conservative feminist, talk-show host and Fox News reporter Tammy Bruce writes:
"Hollywood honchos continue to wring their hands over why you've stopped going to the movies. They blame ticket prices and DVD availability. They had better start considering the fact that filmmakers are so disconnected, so nihilistic, that the hopelessness and hostility they feel toward the world now permeates their work. Americans will no longer go see movies which are nothing more than the manifestation of the backwash of malignant narcissists… Not only will we not go see films which insult us, we refuse to support an existential worldview... So you can take your gay sheepherder, noble communist supporting reporters, big-business is evil, Americans are hopelessly and inherently corrupt and violent and unfaithful movies and go to Cannes where at least the Parisian set will love you."
Nevertheless, the film is being generally well-received by the public, despite the "shocking" scenes of man-on-man love that reportedly have caused nervous seat-squirming on the part of some heterosexual male moviegoers. Novelist Meghan Daum points out that the sensitivity portrayed by "Brokeback’s" protagonists is quite appealing to women, making the film, at its core, a chick-flick:
"It's curious to see how the Jack/Ennis model of ideal manhood has come about just as metrosexuality - that marketing campaign for hair gel disguised as a social trend - is on the wane. A few years ago, men were being encouraged to access their inner woman by wearing turtlenecks and filling their apartments with 'Queer Eye'-sanctioned Pier 1 furniture. As profitable as this may have been for cable-TV channels and the grooming-product industry, the result was a bumper crop of disturbingly aromatic men whose idea of expressing their feelings was to buy throw pillows.

'Brokeback' represents a welcome backlash to that faux male sensitivity. Instead of merely acquiring the trappings of kinder, gentler manhood, Jack and Ennis actually walk the walk. The sight of Jake Gyllenhaal crying in his truck as he drives away from Ennis (who retreats to an alley and vomits in tortured despair) is enough to make even the bitterest woman swoon. That moment, like so many in the film, feels like an epiphany not because of the gay context but because for once someone other than the woman is crying. Traditionally, women have done the heavy emotional lifting. We're the ones who scream and probe and force conversations about the relationship while the man stews in confusion as to whether he's feeling vulnerable or just hungry for a steak."
In an effort to change public perception of the film away from "that gay cowboy movie", the film's producers have just released a new promotional poster seeking to shift focus from the two men to their relationship with their families. Note the original poster (left), and the updated version on the right:


While the poster does seem to be something of an attempt to "de-gayify" the movie, the spread is currently only in "for your consideration" release, intended more for members of the Academy than for the general public.

Anyway, whether despite or because of all the controversy, Brokeback Mountain is one of the most talked-about films of the year. Given Hollywood’s proclivity for taking a winning concept and beating it to death with sequels and cheap ripoffs, I think it’s inevitable that before long we'll be seeing other movies that attempt to capitalize on the film’s critical success. Repressed yet sensitive wanna-be screenwriter that I am, allow me to suggest a few possibilities:
  • Brokeback Wigwam: Set in the Old West, Running Bear and Singing With Antelopes are two sensitive Indian braves who find a special camaraderie with each other after long nights on the plains together hunting buffalo. They take squaws back home in an attempt to deny their feelings and placate the tribal elders, but it soon becomes obvious that these relationships are a sham. Audiences thrill to the emotional scene when Running Bear’s wife, Kissing Beaver (played by Cher), unexpectedly enters the teepee to find the men in a passionate clench, and tearfully realizes that their papoose (Little Bear, played by McCaulay Culkin) was conceived not in love but out of obligation. Singing With Antelopes (played by Glen Campbell, right) is forced to leave the tribe in shame, and after wandering the prairie for years, opens a casino in Oklahoma where he eventually dies a lonely and bitter old man.
  • Brokeback Platform: A portrayal of the lives of two sensitive Louisiana roustabouts, Jack "Boots" Jackson and Ennis "Tug" Thibideaux, who find themselves away from their home and families for long and lonely 21-day shifts on an offshore oil rig. The men discover feelings for each other during long talks on moonlight nights overlooking the tranquil Gulf of Mexico, and over sumptuous chicken-fried steak dinners in the galley, all set to the constant, sensual throbbing of the drilling machinery. The setting affords ample opportunity for homoerotic metaphor, including references to "tool pushers", "mud pumpers", "pipe twisters", "blowout preventers", and "gushers".
  • Brokeback Speedway: Combining the public’s newfound affection for gay themes with the popularity of professional stock car racing, "Speedway" is a tale of two sensitive NASCAR drivers who must struggle for balance between their respect for each other and their rivalry on the track. One fateful night in "the pit", engines get revved up (so to speak); a friendship crosses the line and lives are forever changed. The film offers a perfect vehicle for advertisers who usually pitch Budweiser and Miller Lite at NASCAR fans to expand their markets by promoting White Zinfindel and Absolut Vodka instead.
  • Brokeback Smackdown: The dramatic portrayal of a friendship between two macho but sensitive wrestlers on the WWF circuit that takes a turn for... Ah, forget it, that one will never fly.
Hollywood producers take note: if you like any of these ideas, please submit scripts for approval and/or royalty checks to the email address in my profile. See you at the movies!

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