aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Catch the wave
WHAT if they held a culture war and no one fired a shot? That’s the compelling tale of “Brokeback Mountain.” Here is a heavily promoted American movie depicting two men having sex - the precise sex act that was still a crime in some states until the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws just two and a half years ago - but there is no controversy, no Fox News tar and feathering, no roar from the religious right. “Brokeback Mountain” has instead become the unlikely Oscar favorite, propelled by its bicoastal sweep of critics’ awards, by its unexpected dominance of the far less highfalutin Golden Globes and, perhaps most of all, by the lure of a gold rush. Last weekend it opened to the highest per-screen average of any movie this year.
Those screens were in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco - hardly national bellwethers. But I’ll rashly predict that the big Hollywood question posed on the front page of The Los Angeles Times after those stunning weekend grosses - “Can ‘Brokeback Mountain’ Move the Heartland?” - will be answered with a resounding yes. All the signs of a runaway phenomenon are present, from an instant parody on “Saturday Night Live” to the report that a multiplex in Plano, Tex., sold more advance tickets for the so-called “gay cowboy picture” than for “King Kong.” “The culture is finding us,” James Schamus, the “Brokeback Mountain” producer, told USA Today. “Grown-up movies have never had that kind of per-screen average. You only get those numbers when you’re vacuuming up enormous interest from all walks of life.”
In the packed theater where I caught “Brokeback Mountain,” the trailers included a National Guard recruitment spiel, and the audience was demographically all over the map. The culture is seeking out this movie not just because it is a powerful, four-hankie account of a doomed love affair and is beautifully acted by everyone, starting with the riveting Heath Ledger. The X factor is that the film delivers a story previously untold by A-list Hollywood. It’s a story America may be more than ready to hear a year after its president cynically flogged a legally superfluous (and unpassable) constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage for the sole purpose of whipping up the basest hostilities of his electoral base.
By coincidence, “Brokeback Mountain,” a movie that is all the more subversive for having no overt politics, is a rebuke and antidote to that sordid episode. Whether it proves a movie for the ages or as transient as “Love Story,” it is a landmark in the troubled history of America’s relationship to homosexuality. It brings something different to the pop culture marketplace at just the pivotal moment to catch a wave. [...]
Though “Brokeback Mountain” is not a western, it’s been directed by Ang Lee with the austerity and languorous gait of a John Ford epic. These aesthetics couldn’t be more country miles removed from “The Birdcage” or “Will & Grace.” The audience is forced to recognize that gay people were fixtures in the red state of Wyoming (and every other corner of the country, too) long before Matthew Shepard and Mary Cheney were born. Without a single polemical speech, this laconic film dramatizes homosexuality as an inherent and immutable identity, rather than some aberrant and elective “agenda” concocted by conspiratorial “elites” in Chelsea, the Castro and South Beach, as anti-gay proselytizers would have it. Ennis and Jack long for a life together, not for what gay baiters pejoratively label a “lifestyle.”
But in truth the audience doesn’t have to be coerced to get it. This is where the country has been steadily moving of late. “Brokeback Mountain,” a Hollywood product after all, is not leading a revolution but ratifying one, fleshing out - quite literally - what most Americans now believe. It’s not for nothing that the proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage vanished as soon as the election was over. Polls show that a large American majority support equal rights for gay couples as long as the unions aren’t labeled “marriage” - and given the current swift pace of change, that reservation, too, will probably fade in the next 5 to 10 years.
Doug gets in Monday; we’ll be seeing it together. I wish that it were playing in my hometown, because then we’d go see it with my nieces and nephews too.
Peanuts on crack!
[T]he world created by Charles M. Schulz hasn’t changed much since it first appeared in 1950, which makes the premise of the disposable parody “Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” so irresistible: what would happen to Charlie Brown and his friends if they grew up?
It’s 10 years later, and - prepare yourself - Snoopy has been put to sleep after killing Woodstock. Linus has become Van (Keith Nobbs), a stoner who smoked the burned remains of his security blanket. Pigpen has cleaned up into a violent jock (Ian Somerhalder, from “Lost"). Lucy, known only as Van’s sister (Eliza Dushku, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), is a lithium-addled pyromaniac who has slept with, believe it or not, Charlie Brown, or CB (Eddie Kaye Thomas), as he’s called, a popular kid with a mean streak…
This is the third incarnation of this black comedy (it opened at the 2004 New York International Fringe Festival), and the cutie-pie young actors in the new cast are the kind of marginal celebrities who make audiences wonder, “Isn’t he the guy who starred in ... ?”
For those still wondering, yes, Mr. Thomas was the kid with bowel issues in “American Pie.” He plays CB as an empty slate who goes along with the crowd. That might not be a problem if the part didn’t call for him to express some emotion. In an unexpected plot turn, CB falls in love with Beethoven (think Schroeder), the pianist who has been long abused by the popular kids. Just as in a real Hollywood teenager movie, the nerd is played by someone so handsome - Logan Marshall-Green (from “The OC") - that he must overdo his awkwardness, adding a pair of glasses to really prove the point.
I thoroughly enjoyed the young cast, including Thomas and Marshall-Green. The show is everything I miss from theater in New York.
UPDATE: I assumed they had to get copyright clearance to do this show. They did not. Read another bad review, though he liked performances the Times didn’t. Apparently the Fringe Festival original was much better. Much as I loved this one, I wish I’d seen it!
Movies in decline
I saw King Kong last night with my niece and her fiance. What’s the fuss? Bob Mondello likes the script, loves the movie and says you can shave only two minutes from the three hour film. I’d shave half of it.
Meanwhile, here’s an example of the increasingly regular article reporting that theaters are taking action to bring us back:
With evidence increasing that the American moviegoing habit is in decline, theater owners are undertaking a concerted campaign to bring it back.
The National Association of Theater Owners, the primary trade group for exhibitors, is pushing to improve the theatrical experience by addressing complaints about on-screen advertisements, cellphones in theaters and other disruptions, while planning a public relations campaign to promote going out to the movies.
Some exhibitors are hiring more ushers to ride herd on inconsiderate patrons and are thinking about banning children after a certain hour, to cut down on crying babies in the theater, said John Fithian, president of the trade group.
Shop or Stop:
GAY CONSUMERS ARE making a list and checking it twice… To assist consumers who want to spend their money with gay-friendly companies, the Human Rights Campaign published “Buying for Equality: A Guide to Companies and Products that Support Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Equality.”
The guide includes 22 categories and hundreds of products. Each company is rated from one to 100, and for visual clarity, the corporations are placed in green zones (80 and above), yellow zones (50 to 79) and red zones (49 and below)...The index is culled from a multi-page questionnaire sent to corporations containing questions on topics from domestic partner benefits to diversity training programs.
Here’s the full list.
My Highlights: Sears, yes (100, I’m still hoping the K-Mart (43!) in my town will make the switch). Target, yes (86). Wal-Mart, no (57). Best Buy, yes (100). Circuit City, no (43). FedEx and Amazon disappointing maybes. Heinz, no (29!). Alltel, my phone company, no (29!). Nissan, no (29). We all should know about Exxon - the merger took away benefits from Mobil’s gay workers - no (14).