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Brokeback Mountain - Respect who you are

Fri 27 Jan 2006 In: Movies View at Wayback View at NDHA

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN Dir: Ang Lee USA, 2005, 35mm, 134 mins (Opening in NZ 9 February 2006) In the documentary The Celluloid Closet, gay actor and writer Harvey Fierstein talks about growing up watching mainstream Hollywood films, and how he had to 'translate' them in order to make them more relevant to him as a gay viewer. After all, in a celluloid world that made gays and lesbians completely invisible unless they were two-dimensional sissies or psychotic murderers, who up there could he identify with? Years of having to do this made him very sensitive to mainstream audience reactions when his own film, the very personal Torch Song Trilogy, was released in 1988. When confronted by people saying that his film wasn't really gay at all but a 'universal' story, he reacted sharply and quickly – no, he said firmly, it's gay. If you can find meaning in it that translates to you, then great. But it is GAY. The exact same "it's not gay" syndrome has been striking critics and publicists alike around the world for the gay cowboy epic Brokeback Mountain. Having now seen the film, this is perhaps understandable. It's full of quintessentially heterosexual experiences – the young boy whose father shows him the mangled body of an old man who was beaten to death and had his cock pulled off because he lived with another man; the two young men who fall deeply in love with one another but whose relationship can only exist in stolen moments over twenty years on "fishing trips" away from their wives because of their fear of the above; the relationship that's only ever referred to as a “friendship” by those not in the know, and in poisoned whispers by those that are. Yep, doesn't sound too gay to me. The only reason I can fathom that this picture is being sold as "not gay really" is so that heterosexual audiences can kid themselves that they haven't been moved by a gay story. Instead of focussing on the tragedy that the story of Brokeback Mountain has played itself out, in silence and without recognition, for centuries – we're instead treated to insulting debates about how "gay" our main characters Ennis and Jack really are, because they have wives and children, are masculine, and tell each other they're "not queer". Open your fucking eyes, people. Ennis and Jack don't maintain any significant relationships with women throughout the entire picture, which spans twenty-plus years. They are in love with each other, deeply and unequivocally. Unfortunately, their love is never even acknowledged let alone celebrated, and the "it's not gay" brigade might want to think on that the next time they attend a heterosexual wedding and listen to speechmakers wax lyrical about a boy and girl finding love, and the joining of two families. Jack wants nothing more than for this to happen. It never does. Where's Harvey when you need him? Make no mistake – this is a gay story. It ain't 'universal' at all. But if you're not gay and can find something within it that translates to your life, more power to you. If you find it upsets you, then you may just begin to understand what falling in love when you're gay can be like. Brokeback Mountain has no happy ending. For that, you need to look into the film's production notes, which contains an anecdote from Shane Madden, a gay rodeo rider and technical advisor on the film. "I'm happily married, to a guy," he says (presumably he lives in Canada, where the film was shot). "He means the world to me. I'm hoping the film can tell people: believe and respect who you are and not what everybody wants you to be." Chris Banks - 27th January 2006    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Friday, 27th January 2006 - 12:00pm

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