February 21, 2006

Brokeback Mountain Posts

The Best Actor Oscar Race: The frontrunners appear to be Philip Seymour Hoffman for portraying the world's gayest gay in "Capote " and Heath Ledger for portraying the world's straightest gay in "Brokeback Mountain." One of the oddities of contemporary movies is that only straight actors, like Hoffman and Ledger, or Tom Hanks in "Philadelphia" and William Hurt in "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (to cite two Best Actor winning roles), are allowed to play gays.

Joaquin Phoenix is likely the other main contender, for playing in "Walk the Line" Johnny Cash who, amazing as it may seem to Oscar voters, was not gay. (The other nominees are David Strathairn as the self-righteous Edward R. Murrow in "Good Night, and Good Luck" and Terrence Howard as an unbelievably soft, sodden pimp in "Hustle and Flow.")

Ledger is just about the only thing the drab, dreary "Brokeback Mountain" has going for it, but he and his deep, deep voice are most impressive. (He's also good doing a George Sanders impersonation in the silly but likable "Casanova.")

"Walk the Line" is a better movie than "Brokeback." For example, Reese Witherspoon is infinitely superior in "Walk" to Jake Gyllenhaal in "Brokeback," where he often looks like a member of a country music boy band for teenyboppers. At other times, Gyllenhaal looks like Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman wearing a cowboy hat. That he got a best Supporting Actor nomination for "Brokeback" is just a Culture War political gesture on the part of Hollywood. The only one of "Brokeback's" eight nominations that it actually deserves is Ledger's.

If you look at the top three love story movies on the American Film Institute's list -- "Casablanca," "Gone With the Wind," and "West Side Story" -- you'll notice a common denominator. There's a lot else going on besides the romance: WWII, the Civil War, and an ethnic gang war, respectively. But there's nothing else going on in "Brokeback." You learn next to nothing about sheepherding or ranch work or bull riding or the combine business. It's just two not very intelligent guys talking about their relationship. You don't learning anything about their jobs or anything else. It's a chick flick of the dullest kind.

Even the vaunted cinematography is weak. The camera gets pointed at a lot of potentially beautiful mountain scenery, but they must have lacked the budget to wait around for the sun to come out.

"Brokeback Mountain" works on two levels, both bogus. It's a heterosexual liberal's fantasy that homosexuals are just like heterosexuals except for sexual orientation. In reality, the odds that Gyllenhaal's character, who is of average to above-average masculinity, and Ledger's character, who is out at the far right edge of the masculinity bell curve with John Wayne, would both be homosexual is one in a million.

And it's a gay's fantasy that somewhere out there is an ultra-masculine cowboy who will fall head over heels in love with me and pine away for me his whole life. To be precise, it's that ultimate gay's fantasy, the same one as in "Kiss of the Spider Woman," where William Hurt's flouncy window-dresser seduces the ultra-macho Raul Julia: that you're so irresistible that you attract a Real Man who is only gay for you. It's a silly, silly movie, and I suspect the people making it deep down recognized that fact, so they made it slooooow and serious to cover up its essential campiness.

Unfortunately, the prosaic "Walk the Line" suffers from Phoenix lacking Cash's mythic resonance. Phoenix is a fine actor, but his voice isn't pitched low enough to play Johnny Cash. I'm sorry, but when the actor rumbles, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," it has to be be a thrilling moment, but Phoenix just doesn't have the pipes for it.

So, who should have played Johnny Cash? The man with the deep voice, Heath Ledger. He's much fairer than Cash, who often fooled people into believing he was part American Indian, but they can do more with makeup than they can with vocal timbre. Ledger doesn't look like Cash, although he has enough of his size to be satisfactory, but then Phoenix doesn't look much like Cash either.

I don't know if Ledger can sing, but it was pointless to have Phoenix sing Cash's songs in "Walk the Line" when he could have just lip-synced them like Jessica Lange did Patsy Cline's songs in the excellent biopic "Sweet Dreams." They must have insisted on Phoenix singing rather than lip-syncing because otherwise there would have been an obvious disconnect between his singing and speaking voices. But that just meant that the songs lack Cash's famous sound.

And, switching roles with Phoenix would have gotten Ledger out of "Brokeback."

A gay reader on Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain:" He writes:

As a gay man, I found your comment on "Brokeback Mountain" spot on.

The part about BbM being a heterosexual liberal's fantasy is absolutely true and it shows how very little they know about gay men.

[Just about everybody creatively involved with BbM is either a straight man -- director Ang Lee, screenwriter Larry McMurtry, and actors Heath Ledger and, presumably, Jake Gyllenhaal, or a woman: short story writer Annie Proulx and screenwriter Diana Ossana.]

The truth is, and I'm sure you know, that gay men do not have the same type of relationships as straight people. There is a significant number of gay men who have open relationships and as for the monogamous relationships, they quickly get boring and somebody ends up cheating (at a higher rate than in straight relationships) or they just do not last very long at all (something lasting longer than 15 years is a miracle).

Liberals cannot deal with this reality, so they invent Ledger as the ideal homosexual, one that does not cheat because he is so committed to his love for Gyllenhaal. Realistically, if Ledger's character was gay, he would have had other partners like Gyllenhaal.

I think they were forced to make Gyllenhaal somewhat promiscuous or else the entire script would have been laughable (not that it isn't already). I don't find Gyllenhaal's character all that masculine in the film to tell you the truth or the real Gyllenhaal for that matter so I do not think the chances of him being gay, realistically speaking, would be as rare as you say. Would it be uncommon? Yes, but not terribly so.

Heath Ledger on the other hand is a complete joke. There is no way in hell a character as masculine as him would be gay. Every gay man has his "gay moments". There is no way Ledger's character would have any of those.

As for the gay fantasy, I think you missed one crucial point. It's a gay man's fantasy that he can TURN a masculine man gay and have him pine at him forever (and be monogamous of course!). Amateur gay porn sites boost their traffic tremendously among their gay audience by just adding "str8" to the titlebar. I think this is indicative of the self-loathing that can be found among many "str8 acting" gay men. They search for something they lack, hyper-masculinity and they also see something in straightness that they don't see in gayness: loyalty.

Since the masculine man is not a "real" gay but a "convert", they assume that he will be more loyal to them because they helped him "convert" and because he has not been exposed as much to the gay "culture". The obsession with straightness among gay men is made most explicit in Hollywood. Obviously there are many gay men who work in Hollywood, in front of the camera and behind it, and many remain closeted for various economic reasons. However, a friend of mine noticed that casting agents who were gay would not cast other gay actors based on the fact that "they liked musicals" (read: they were flaming off the set but not while acting)...

Also, "str8 acting" gays come out later in life than some of those who are more effeminate. Part of it is due to the obviousness of the more fey homosexuals but I do think some self-loathing comes into play. They do not like their masculinity to be in question until they reach a point where it becomes unbearable to "play straight". Effeminate homosexuals don't care that much about how "masculine" they appear. They have been tormented during childhood and they are used to the abuse by now so they do not have to put up as big of a front. That does not mean that they are not attracted to straight men. Many are. But they are more tolerant of dating an effeminate homosexual than their str8 acting counterparts.

Overall, I just wish liberals and homosexuals would just leave the politics behind for once and tell the truth. Homosexuals are generally nice people, they just have one major vice. Is it so wrong to admit it?

Is Brokeback Mountain "slash fiction" for women? An anthropologist reader points toward the book by evolutionary psychologists Catherine Salmon & Donald Symons called Warrior lovers: Erotic fiction, evolution, and female sexuality, and asks:

Reading your comments on Brokeback Mountain: I haven't seen it, but I wonder if you've run into the phenomenon of "slash" fiction (widely available on the web, mostly non-commercial, and sometimes in violation of copyright laws)? Slash involves taking male buddies from popular fiction -- Kirk/Spock, Holmes/Watson, Starsky/Hutch (hence the "slash") -- and writing stories in which, in the course of their adventures, they find out that they're more than just good friends, and wind up having graphic sex together.

"Slash" is about 100% written and read by women -- some lesbian but most straight. In fact it follows romance novel formulas very closely. One member of the buddy pair is more sensitive and feminine -- physically a man, emotionally a woman -- while the other is a conventional romance hero. With Kirk/Spock, it's Kirk who's the sensitive one and Spock who's the cold, emotionally distant hero who discovers his true feelings at the end. Part of the appeal is that the guys end up having sex not because they're gay, but because True Love conquers all.

Gay men aren't any more interested in "slash" than straight men are in Georgette Heyer. [Who?] The real parallel to "slash" among straight men is girl-on-girl pornography, where women combine ultra-feminine bodies with implausibly guy-like appetites for casual sex. Presumably these women inhabit the same male fantasy land where hot babes are interested in cool guy stuff, like martial arts and field-stripping automatic weapons, instead of boring girl stuff, like relationships and feelings (whatever those are).

Both slash and girl-girl porn tell us a lot (maybe more than we'd like to know) about the chasm between male and female sexuality. but, apart from the physical activities, they have nothing to do with real homosexuality. It's funny how many reviewers are so clueless about human sexuality they can't figure stuff like this out.

Another reader points out that a similar phenomenon exists in Japan, where it is called Yaoi.

This might explain why the whole movie seems to be taking place in some alternate universe.

If you're looking for a film set in what's recognizably our own space-time continuum, you could do a lot worse than the insightful romantic comedy "Something New" about an affluent black woman who, unable to find a black man of her class, reluctantly tries dating a white guy. Over the years, in response to my "Is Love Colorblind?" article, I've gotten hundreds of emails from well-educated black women just like the heroine. The "Something New" screenplay rings quite true.

A reader writes:

I think that more than anything else, what slash and girl-on-girl porn represent women and men (respectively) trying to dispel their anxieties about the opposite sex.

I think that most men are secretly (or openly) afraid that women don't like sex and only view it as a bargaining chip to get what they want out of males (companionship, emotional and physical support, or babies). Women are afraid that men only want them for sex and thus view emotional support of females mainly as a chore that they perform in order to get sex, or in order to have her give him children (in other ways, the same way men worry about women and sex).

Girl-on-girl porn "proves" that women want sex, because if they didn't, why would lesbians bother having sex with each other, instead of just cuddling all the time? Similarly, if gay men get all "girly" around each other and think about love, commitment, and relationships, then that "proves" that men are interested in such things - because if they were just ploys to get sex, gay men would have no reason to do these things amongst each other, because they can easily get sex from each other.

So heterohomophilia (a term I coined for heterosexual fascination with homosexuals of the opposite sex) is, I think, as much about dealing with insecurity as anything else.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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