Mark Steyn is Right about "Brokeback Mountain"

Thanks to Peter Chattaway for alerting me to this review of Brokeback Mountain by Mark Steyn, which sums up why this big screen emperor has no clothes.

Caution: One obscenity included.

I like Ms Proulx’s books not because of the characters or the plots but because she’s spent much of her life roaming the same turf I have — Vermont, Quebec, Newfoundland — and she’s got a tremendous ability to capture the essence of the land, and in particular the way a harsh land shapes the character of its people. She began writing fiction in the Seventies, for Gray’s Sporting Journal, which wanted hunting stories about men called Zack, and she co-founded a local newspaper in my part of the world called Behind The Times (“All The News That’s Kept Till Now”), and in both she did a better job than most liberal progressive artsy types do of accepting country folk as they are. “I lean toward realism, not myth,” she says.

But when you take a short story and make a movie of it realism turns all mythic. For a start, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar become two rising male stars — Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. You get a big orchestral score and tag lines on the posters (“Love Is A Force Of Nature”) and, though the western literary tradition is not just Zane Grey and Bret Harte but also Willa Cather, when you put your fellows up on screen in cowboy hats on horses against the big sky of Wyoming, it looks far more explicitly like a gay take on the manliest of Hollywood genres: Queer Eye For The Straight-Shootin’ Guy.
[ snip ]

And from that point on the film settles down into not so much a “gay western” but a gay version of Same Time Next Year: the kids get older, the Sixties become the Seventies, Ennis divorces, Jack grows a moustache, but they still go up the hill thrice a year for “a couple of high-altitude fucks”, as he puts it. Which, to be honest, is a better summation of their relationship than “Love Is A Force Of Nature”.

In fact, across two-and-a-quarter hours, there’s not a lot of evidence of “love”, as opposed to a much-needed sexual release. For its urban audiences, Brokeback is a new wrinkle on one of the oldest gay fantasies: the masculine man who likes sex with men. So it’s a gay love story with ungaylike protagonists — Straight Eye For The Queer Guy. In the distaff answer to lezzie porn for het men, for the gals it’s a gabby chick flick with uncommunicative tough guys.

But by the end of a bleak portrait of failed lonely lives, with one of the lads cheating on the other with ranch-managers and Mexican rent-boys, you’re not even sure how gay-friendly the thing is: are the men bad uninterested parents because society’s forced them to live a lie or because they’re the sad self-destructive prisoners of their sexual appetites? And, if it’s such a “bold” “courageous” “ground-breaking” film, isn’t it a little ridiculous that a gay male love story has Miss Richards and Miss Hathaway both baring their breasts with straight abandon while Messrs Ledger and Gyllenhaal’s penises remain discreetly tucked away? Instinctively, Ang Lee seems to understand that even this film’s audience wants to keep some things closeted.

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  • Sadie

    Well, just thinkin’ about it…I guess I certainly would have to invoke someone else’s sacrifice if the only one I’d ever made was to stand up and make a darn fool of myself amidst a theatre full of people in the process of soul searching. But Jeffrey, dear, I must teach you the difference between “self-righteous” and “delusional.” Wait a minute. Is there a difference? Anyway, …

    I have just crawled out from underneath my desk where I’ve been hiding since volcano “Don’t Come Knocking” erupted on March 23rd. Ashes everywhere. Mr. Derrickson, Jeffrey and Mr. Paddon, I am so glad that you have agreed to disagree, albeit quite vigorously. Mr. Derrickson, I do think it was thoughtful of you to remove your posts, but I don’t think you should’ve done. I missed them and I gather they were quite remarkable in an “Adam Sandler” sort of way. (uh, oh) Mr. Paddon, I am so happy to welcome you back to Jeffrey’s blog; please don’t stay away. We all have tempers and think we know everything, okay? I guess a positive way of saying it is that some of us have convictions. They could be dead wrong, but still they’re our “p-r-r-re-cious” until we are intelligently or humiliatingly convinced otherwise. Believe me, you can stand right up under Jeffrey’s window and not even one grey cell will ever fall from it. However, some of us are still searching for what we will accept as truth. Sure, someone may adopt an ideology if it is well-presented. But what I really want is not for people to adopt mine; I want them to reach their own conclusions and ripen them into mature convictions. We cannot afford to be wishy-washy in this day and time. We may change our beliefs as we grow but we must believe something at all times.

    Some reviewers experience a movie in its totality and then share that experience with the rest of us. Some see movies and report certain bits and pieces to those who—at least for the time being—rely on this information to make choices. I would say that quite a few of the folks who blog here want to know Jesus more intimately, long to know how He sees and learn to love the way He loves. Jeffrey has this desire as does Scott and, I think, Mr. Paddon. That’s where the Bible comes in; we want God’s worldview, not Ted Baehr’s or anyone else’s. Therefore, let’s leave Mr. Ted Baehr to his particular purpose. What was it Gandalf said? “Even Gollum may have something yet to do.”

    Back to the Quest, fellows. Make folks think and experience for themselves. While we sure can’t have folk like David Bowie and Mr. Paddon thinking that God is an American, we sure don’t want our sensible patrons—such as Mr. Paddon—yelling out that “[we’re] the Nazi.”

    Okay, Jeffrey. You can have your blog back.

    (Scotty, I’ll talk to you about the “eat my shorts” comment when you get home. I know I taught you better than that!)