Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

After various failed attempts, Megan and I finally managed to see Brokeback Mountain (or Zkrocená hora, as even the subtitled version is generally called here). It's a little hard to know what to say about a film that has already been so much discussed, especially since the conversation Megan and I would have enjoyed having about it had to be rather brief since she and Kelly were meeting at 11:00 at that favorite of all meeting places, the Hlavní nádraží. (I will leave their subsequent adventures to the imagination, as who knows what will happen to them between now and Saturday.)
But something ought to be said about the film, although I would really have preferred to read the story so that I could compare the two. However, I haven't seen any volumes of Annie Proulx around Prague, so I suppose that whatever was in stock was bought long ago. Anyhow, the film was moving and well acted, the scenery was stunning, and the music contributed nicely to the mood without being overstated. At times my reactions were somewhat tangential; during the rodeo scenes I am afraid my mind went to Delmas Howe's entertaining paintings of Greek gods showing up nude at the rodeo. I am not sure that this was quite what the director was thinking of.
I also couldn't help thinking how much better a film this is than its perfectly fine predecessor, Making Love (1982), and also than the long-ago but more similar Song of the Loon (1970). Making Love was a mainstream movie about a marriage interrupted by the husband's affair with another man, and while my friends and I recognized it as groundbreaking, as cinema it's just another competent movie. One commentator observes, "Yes, it is a rather routine romance; except for the gender-switch, there isn't much here that is new or unusual. Yet, oddly, this is exactly what makes this film so appealing. Homosexuality is not seen as a problem except where it coincidentally creates one; the love triangle is handled in almost exactly the same way it would be if the husband had an affair with a woman." (Read more of his opinion here, and another important perspective here.) I agree with his point, but Making Love didn't have enough personality. As for Song of the Loon, which was the not-so-impressive film version of the classic novel of the same name (written by my friend Cesar's father and recently reprinted, so go buy a copy right now), the story is also set in the American West (and the Brokeback Mountain character of Ennis Del Mar bears some resemblance to and is played by an actor who looks rather like Song of the Loon's Ephraim MacIver). But Song of the Loon is a largely idyllic pastoral romance inspired by Spanish literature, while Brokeback Mountain deals with the ways in which people get stuck in complicated situations and try, not very successfully, to lead workable lives.
I suppose this is where my take on the story will be rather different from most people's. Certainly, it's about two young cowboys who fall in love and find that they can't or don't dare to make a life together in rural Wyoming during the 1960s and 1970s. Certainly, this is an important landmark in the history of gay cinema, especially at a time when gay marriage and domestic partnership (the latter recently passed in the Czech Republic) are major political topics. But in a larger sense, it's about people (the cowboys and the women in their lives) who because of their historical and sociological positions believe that they have few options, and that some of the imaginable options are not sufficiently possible to pursue. There's little belief in the possibility of change or happiness, and it certainly never occurs to the men that they could be open with their wives and find some mutually workable compromise. After all, while Ennis loves Jack, it isn't as though he doesn't also, early on, love Alma. Ultimately, everyone loses, although the latter part of the movie takes place at a time when the men could have made a life together in some other part of the country.
While people all over the world, in all cultures and time periods, run into things their societies don't want to accept in them, I suspect there is always something deeply familiar and dreadfully melancholy about love denied.
Anyhow, you can also read Chris' account of seeing the film again in Prague. It's always fun to run across something by someone I know, and he tells it well.

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Anonymous bikerbar said...

I haven't seen Zkrocena hora yet, but I did read the story some five years ago. And it is really one of the best short stories I have ever read. I'm going to try to go see the film this weekend. I suggested it to my girlfriend but she made a face ....

Considering the fact that Czechs do highlight sexual difference quite strongly, it is surprising that they passed laws for domestic partnerships. Klaus is rumoured to be bisexual, yet he wanted to strike down the law.

You do know the kissing statue at Hlavni Nadrazi don't you?

Last night I saw Spalovac Mrtvol at Citarna Unijazz and there was a very open young gay male couple there practically making out the whole film .. and though everyone noticed they didn't cause any outrage or indignation. Its an attitude here of "live and let live" - will Prague be the next San Francisco .. I doubt it, but it is relatively open I think ..

April 14, 2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

By all means see if you can get your girlfriend to go. It's simply a good movie, not a polemic (although a strong argument for social change).

Actually I don't know the kissing statue. It will have to be part of my next foray over to investigate the train station nightlife. Or day-life, as I suppose I might get a better photo that way. Or is this that statue in the park with the illegible graffiti about Klaus? I can't say I ever looked very closely at it so I am unsure what it is. (Very bad sign in an art historian.)

April 14, 2006 6:13 PM  
Anonymous Megan said...

I know the statue, and happenend to take a picture of it a few days ago (as Karla mentioned, I spend a lot of time in Hlavni Nadrazi, and was surprised at it's grafitti and was wondering how long it'd been there...) I'll post the snapshot later, where perhaps someone with better Czech skills, not to mention sharper vision, can translate.

April 16, 2006 1:50 PM  
Blogger morskyjezek said...

What are the rumors about Klaus? I'm zvědavý.

April 17, 2006 1:12 AM  

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