Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Thank Ya Kindly, Mr. Lee

On Saturday night, C took me to see the movie I never thought would be made in my lifetime: Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain.

When first heard about this project I had no intention of going to see it. Why?
  1. I considered Heath Ledger, as an actor, to be on par with Hilary Duff and the the Olsen twins.

  2. I had tried to read Annie Proulx's The Shipping News and threw it away–one of four times in my life I've found a book so unreadable I disposed of it. I couldn't imagine that she could write beautifully or accurately about gay men, let alone about gay cowboys.

  3. I cynically assumed that the film would be disembowled before release. And sure enough, rumors circulated that Lee was being told to cut the "gay content" out of a gay love story and keep the central relationship ambiguous.

  4. Synopses of the story all made it sound like a throwback to Hollywood's traditional treatment of gay relationships: an unhappy affair between two men, one of whom is not really gay, ending with death, pain, and alienation. No, thanks.
Then my friend John in Dallas, who knows from cowboys, sent me the link to the original story which can be read in the New Yorker's archives. I devoured it. Proulx pulled off a miracle - she fit an epic story into a short space, without ever seeming to stint on detail or cut corners.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast. When C suggested we go see the show, I decided to take the chance.

And how was it?
  1. The acting was outstanding. All of it. Heath Ledger, in particular, pulls off the sort of chameleon act I normally expect from Daniel Day Lewis. Raw, stunning.

  2. The screenplay (by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana) is brilliant. He expands the story without every messing up Proulx's narrative. A line from the story becomes a scene in the film. And (as you would expect from the guy who wrote Lonesome Dove) he gets the details right.

  3. The cinematography is breathtaking. I've seen all the Star Wars films now, and nothing Lucas and his thousands of oompa-loompas did with CGI compares to what this crew did with actual mountains and thousands of sheep. The town scenes and indoor shots are like frames by Walker Evans and Diane Arbus.

  4. The directing and editing are basically, and I do not use this word easily, perfect. The gay sex is there, sensitively shot. More importantly, the gay love is there, truthfully handled. Even Maurice, which aimed to be honest, ultimately fell short in this respect.

  5. And in spite of everything, the story has an ending that, if not conventionally happy, is ultimately uplifting and hopeful.
I expected to cry my eyes out. There was quite a bit of sobbing in the theater (which was sold out, for the fourth show in a row). But I didn't let go until that night, when we were home and the full force of it hit me. I'm still haunted by it.

If this sounds melodramatic, please consider that I've waited my whole life to see gay relationships handled on screen without being hampered by bad acting, low-budget production values, soft-porn styling, underlying homophobia, or compromise of any kind. As far as I'm concerned, the true gay experience has been absent from mainstream film...until now.

Ang Lee, you done good by us. And I'm much obliged.


Yvonne said...

I have been waiting to hear how the movie is from someone other than a critic or a yay-hoo on Yahoo...I wanted a real-life take on it. I read an interview w/Heath Ledger about the movie a couple days ago and it piqued my interest. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

well said,and thank you. i haven't seen it yet , now i know to take a hankie

marie in texas

June said...

I heard Ang Lee interviewed on NPR the other day. He said, yes, it was a love story, and love stories had been around for 2,000 years, but he wanted to give it a fresh look. I wasn't going to see the movie, but after hearing the interview, it's on my will-see list.

Annie said...

I've been dying to see this film because I've read so many positive reviews. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts as well.
Do you think reading the short story before seeing the film would take away from the experience?


doloreshaze said...

I saw it last night too! NOrah and I were thoroughly bowled over--almost couldn't speak for a good long while after.

The thing I loved about it was the spareness of the storytelling, and the lack of emotional release which is right in line with the lid that the characters in the film need to keep on their own emotions to survive. Ang Lee has such a sense for illuminating the silences between people, and the simple moment that don't need language.

I had a notion about Heath Ledger after seeing him in Dogtown, but was amazed by and Australian actor's ability to breathe life into qualities that seem so inherently American.

Also, I'm bothered by the way the press has been reducing the film to "the gay cowboy movie". The film's themes are much larger than that.

Rebekkah said...

Wow. Your review of the movie (and your reactions to it) brought tears to my eyes. I can't wait to see it.

marie in texas said...

what were those other books by the way?
i couldn't finish that geisha book, but the movie looks wonderful from the previews

Cynthia said...

Mixed feeling here--I agree that it is beautiful, it depicts homosexual love instead of just sex, and Heath was excellent. Still, I was a bit bugged by the quantity of straight sex in what was billed as a gay love story. Did we (the audience) really need to see the boobs? It felt out of place. Yet, I was in a horrible, stressed place when I saw the movie, so I could be way off the mark. No doubt, it is about damn time--

Lanea said...

I'm so glad to hear it's well done. I was worried too.

Andy's Crafts said...

That looks good to see, I was hoping it was in that way. Men gay love is never easy for mainstream society to accept.

Anonymous said...

Read an interview with Proulx in this morning's paper. She says Brokeback took her a long time to write, because she had to make sure she, an "elderly female," got inside their heads right, and she knew it would be a stretch; rural life, at least, she knew well. And then when she watched the movie--she said those two got inside the characters better than she had, and that they got it just right. She then watched people coming out of the theater talking, discussing, being compassionate and empathetic, and said that was what she had most hoped for. More understanding of one another in the world. More acceptance. THAT made her feel that what she'd done was a success.


Jon said...

Oh fine. Now I have to go see it for myself. You're no fun, no fun at all. Harumph!


marcia said...

I'm going to say this only because I don't think it takes away from the movie at all: There's an interview with Ang Lee in Below the Line (an industry rag) and he says the tech guys did quite a bit of CGI, but they did it to fill out the picture, to complete its intention, not to add flash and dazzle. It was a low-budget movie, and the judicious use of CGI allowed them to make it not look low-budget.

Marilyn said...

Somehow I knew that with Larry McMurtry co-writing the screenplay, it would be wonderful. Lonesome Dove is perhaps one of the best made-for-TV movies ever, along with Middlemarch.

I couldn't read The Shipping News either.

This has been on my must-see list, along with Pride and Prejudice. I loved the book Memoirs of a Geisha but the movie? I'll wait for the DVD.

MarQ1 said...

That's for the well-written review. I agree completely, and I see Jon finally caved and will see the movie.

Sean said...

Beautifully described, my friend. It's as if you reached into my feelings and "knew" how the film touched me and how it made me feel...

David said...


David said...

And I'm not going to post all the baking I'll be doing. If you really want to know, you'll give me an email address.

Celtic Knitter said...

I've avoided seeing the movie because I thought it would be like every other gay love story movie I've seen. They get to be repetitive. Perhaps I will go and see it now.

OutfoxedKnitting said...

Suddenly, Brokeback Mountain is on everyone's lips. I do believe I'll check it out. One thing your wrote in your review was that you previously weren't too fond of Ledger.

Now, I'm a big fan of Ledger -- I don't care what anyones says, 10 Things I Hate About You was pretty good for a Shakespeare modernization -- but did you ever see Monster's Ball (Halle Barry, Billy Bob Thorton)? One of Ledger's scenes in that movie stole my breath with its rawness.

I'd recommend a viewing.

Helen said...

Wonderful comments; thank you. Could you post the link to the short story in the New Yorker archives? I've tried searching their site with no luck.

greg said...

I saw the movie last night after reading Franklin's comments. Not sure I liked it, but didn't dislike it either. Thoughtfully done certainly, and certainly a message of lives lived in denial are tragic losses to everyone involved particularly the women who fall for gay guys. I actually liked The Shipping News so perhaps I'm just knitting from a different ball of yarn.

Cathy said...

Well, finally a review I can trust. Like June, I wasn't going to see the movie but now it's on my list.

Sarah said...

I don't know if you pick up comments on old posts, but I'm reading through your back catalogue (always the mark of a good blog :), and checked to see if anyone had mentioned the first Ang Lee movie I saw which is The Wedding Banquet. It also has a gay relationship which is central to the plot. It's very different in tone, but I thought it was charming and touched with that spark that makes his movies exeptional - if you haven't seen Sense & Sensibility (and I can't imagine that you haven't), then do, it is wonderful.

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