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Broken Back: The Culture Schlub succumbs to the pressures of pop culture and sees Brokeback Mountain

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer


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Oh Culture Schlub…Why won’t you watch us?

As I discussed in an earlier article , I made the decision long ago not to see Brokeback Mountain, even as the entire country rose up as one to hail it as one of the best movies of the year. I contended then (as now) that my reasons for not seeing it were not tied to any latent homophobia, but rather were linked at first to my relative dislike for Westerns and Romances, and later to my antipathy for people telling me what I “HAVE” to do. In other words, ignorance is not bliss; it takes conviction.

However, defiance is no match for a determined wife.

She missed her chance to see Brokeback Mountain with her friends when it first came out, and believed with each new person’s accolade of it that she was missing something iconic and huge. Thus, she began to wear away at my resolve.

Her final victory was just a scant week ago. After a hard week at work, we had plans to relax on the couch with some popcorn and some Pay-Per-View.  After checking out the “free” options over at HBO, we went over to New Releases, and there it was, right along with The New World and Memoirs of a Geisha. Now I don’t know if it was the incessant needling, the months of societal prodding, or the fact that she was never going to acquiesce to any of MY choices, but not only was Brokeback Mountain by far the least undesirable of the three (sorry James!), but I actually realized that I was not entirely uninterested in it! Who knew?

So, after nearly a year of fighting it for various reasons (that, despite my best intentions, STILL framed me as a backwoods gay-basher), I finally saw the movie that became the cultural touchstone of 2005, and sparked raging debates all across the country.

And I hate to say it, but I found it incredibly underwhelming.

I am aware that the subject matter of the film has never been directly handled by Hollywood before, and I can certainly respect that some of the images were truly beautiful (a shot that jumps out at me as being exceptionally great started in the tent with Jack, tilted up to focus on Ennis opening the tent, and then showed us both the horse in the foreground, AND the mountain in the background. Amazing shot.) But my first reaction when it ended was “So?” Perhaps I should break this down with a list:

THINGS I LIKED ABOUT BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

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So wait…Dawson preferred Michelle Williams to Katie Holmes? Maybe HE should go to Brokeback Mountain!

 

1. The Acting – Heath Ledger really was as good as advertised, and Michelle Williams did a kickass job as his frumpy wife (In fact, trying to pretend that she was incredibly hot probably really hindered her career, as everyone kept thinking there was something wrong with her performances. By removing the shackles of trying to live up to the billing of the girl that would make a “straight” Dawson overlook a (pre-crazy) Katie Holmes has freed her to live up to her artistic potential.) Jake Gyllenhaal does a good job as well, though I’m still nursing a huge grudge at him for the reference made in season 2 of Entourage to the two studio chicks fighting about which of them got to sleep with him at the Telluride film festival, and knowing how true it must be.

2. The Directing – As I stated earlier, Ang Lee made some great choices with his camera, as well as his manipulation of his actors. He created some memorable moments, and painted the story in colors and landscapes that fit the appropriate moods. There is a reason why the one place that the two characters are happy is beautiful and majestic, while every other location is either incredibly drab, or insufferably stifling.

3. The Tits – Okay, I’m joking here, but let’s face it, Anne Hathaway has progressed a LONG way from the Princess Diaries…

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

1. The “Controversy” – After all the ink that was spilled about this movie, and all of the preparations that were made for the inevitable anti-gay backlash that it was going to cause, I could not believe how downright…tame…the movie ended up being. To me, it seemed as though the messages it was trying to communicate were:

    A. Homosexuality was frowned upon in the sixties.
    B. Homosexuality was frowned upon in the west.

Now can anyone honestly say either of these two assertions are in ANY WAY controversial? Of course not. There may be a tacit point to be made about how little progress has been made between the sixties and today, but it was not made plain in the film, and thus you have to LOOK for it, if it’s going to be there.

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As you can see, this woman possesses all the talent in the world.

 

2. The Story – If you take away the inherent controversy that surrounded the premise and execution of Brokeback Mountain, the resultant film (to me at least) was dull and pointless. Again, this is just the opinion of the Culture Schlub, but I was always taught that the question “Why should I care” should always be applied to something you create. If you have a good answer, then the product is worth sharing. In this case, the filmmakers have created a watered-down and one-dimensional love story between two ultimately unlikable characters (paying attention to your daughter once does not make a man a good father, and standing up to a bullish father-in-law once does not make up for a lifetime of spinelessness), and the only answer I could find to “Why should I care?” is that they were gay. That, to me, is insulting. If I cared about them as people, I would have rooted for them no matter WHO or WHAT they wanted to love. But in this case, I was only rooting for the end.

So I guess I’m going to leave this essay with some questions: Does anyone else out there agree with me? Did Brokeback Mountain fail to live up to the expectations heaped on it by everyone around you? If so, why?

Alternately, if I’m wrong, why? What moved you so much about this movie? Did it live up to the hype? Should it have been Best Picture?

As always, I might not know anything, but at least I’m willing to learn!

Discuss this article on the forum!  

Author: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

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