…life on the synaptic firing range

Location: Los Angeles, United States

Bent but unbroken Southern California native seeks understanding, companionship, and resonance along and off the beaten path. Teresa plays well with others and makes every effort to perform to her potential. Usually. *processed in a facility that processes nuts and nut products

Friday, March 10, 2006

jack dumps rose for ennis

On my way to work Tuesday morning I passed a western wear store with a message board out front that said, “Them ain’t cowboys; they’s sheepherders.” And no, this isn’t going to be an entry about grammar. I understand the shop’s owners were being ironic and intentionally down-home, and despite my partner’s accusations to the contrary, I really have little interest in copyediting the world.

That this particular store jumped on the Brokeback-bashing bandwagon is surprising not only because of its geography, located in bluest blue Los Angeles within spitting distance of three film and television studios, but because the store gets a lot of queer traffic. It’s situated just one block from the only country-western gay bar in Los Angeles—with line dancing, two-stepping, and even a certain brand of homosexual chivalry—and it’s the go-to outfitter for the gay rodeo. Even my partner and I laid up a few provisions at the joint before we went to a dude ranch many years ago, and damn if our unflinchingly helpful salesman wasn’t as gay as Randy Jones (you know, the cowboy from the Village People).

Not that a store has to pander to its clientele. Nor do people have to pass a “Brokeback Mountain” litmus test to prove they’re not homophobes—any more than folks have to love “Crash” to escape being labeled racists. Disliking “Good Night, and Good Luck,” however, might mean you’re a Bushie.

I’ve spent at least some of this past week wondering why I’m so disappointed “Brokeback” didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, both for its merits as a well-crafted, well-told story and for the importance of the story itself. This is certainly not the first time I’ve felt the Academy’s grand prize may have been, er, misappropriated: 1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption” losing to “Forrest Gump” seemed unconscionable to me, and, hindsight being 20/20, cinefiles likely feel a deep sense of injustice over 1941’s “How Green Was My Valley” besting a field that included “Citizen Kane.”

But life goes on for us riffraff who merely attend films. We can cop attitudes that our opinions are somehow more right than the opinions of the voting members of the Academy, but it seems silly to give the enterprise more power than that—to be hung up on a film winning or not winning an award voted on by people who may as well live on Jupiter for all we have in common. Nevertheless, toward the end of the Academy Awards telecast, when “Brokeback” had lost more awards than it had won, I began to despair for it, and I guess a little bit for myself as well.

First thing’s first, the film utterly destroyed me emotionally. During the last 15 minutes or so I cried like a little girl whose best friend had just moved away. I guess I identified a little with Ennis’s self-denial and shame, and with his better-late-than-never realization that he had let everything but his own desires govern his life.

But it was more than that. After seeing it I left the theater feeling that something extraordinary had happened. My partner and I had sat in a full theater at a suburban mall cineplex with mostly straight people who had paid money—American dollars!—to watch a big-budget film showcasing homosexual love, and no one giggled or heckled or booed or ewwwed. In that moment I could see a not-so-distant future when same-sex relationships aren’t aberrant or gross, when arguing over whether Ennis and Jack are “real” cowboys is totally beside the point, when my partner and I are just another couple—and I have to tell you it was pretty cool.

Of course, in the not-so-pleasant present the Republican Party uses populist disgust over my “lifestyle” as a wedge issue, and Gyllenhaal and Ledger answer more questions about what it was like to kiss a guy than about the film they kissed in. The actors’ heterosexuality is asserted in every interview, and for goodness sake, don’t forget that Ledger got Michelle Williams pregnant during the shoot!

We take it for granted that gays can play straights without freaking out: I don’t think Jodie Foster has ever been asked whether on-screen kisses with Richard Gere or Mel Gibson were difficult for her or put her career in jeopardy. (Personally speaking, there aren’t enough acting coaches in the world to make me comfortable kissing Gibson. Gere I could probably wrap my lips around, just for giggles.)

Growing up, I took movie love scenes as convenient breaks to use the restroom or buy some Red Vines. I saw “Grease” just as many times as my friends did, but for me it was all about Kenickie fixing up his car and whether that wiseacre Rizzo would ever let down her defenses and accept Sandy. When my friends all started talking about and dating boys, I thought they were just trying to fit in. I was sure that they would secretly rather spend time with me, just as I far preferred hanging out with them to going out with my “boyfriend.” Nevertheless, I thought the known lesbians in my high school were gross. I remember laughing along when some punks threw half-eaten burritos at them.

I wouldn’t come out to myself until years later, at 25, when I could handle it—sort of. I still shuddered at the idea of watching two women or two men kissing, but somehow I had come to accept the idea that it might not be so revolting to make out with a girl myself. When I road-tested my theory several months later it felt more right than kissing any of my boyfriends ever had.

I didn’t take the love scenes in “Brokeback Mountain” as exit cues. Nor have I left the theater during blue moments in any of the other gay and lesbian films I’ve seen. They represent cultural revolution to me, and evolution of self, and missing them would be as anticlimactic as leaving “High Noon” before the gunfight.

Hollywood knows there’s nothing like a love story to make just about any narrative that much more compelling. What is the sinking of the Titanic without the drama of Jack and Rose? (A better movie!) Given that male-female romance remains the decisive standard, I figure I choke down about a hundred Jacks and Roses for every Jack and Ennis out there. And during the love scenes between all those Jacks and all those Roses I’m still like as not to take my potty breaks. It’s not that I’m offended by the idea of heterosexual love—after all, some of my best friends are straight. But watching men and women kiss and copulate, well, it's just so damned boring.


Blogger treecup said...

Girl-girl kiss, boy-boy kiss, girl-boy kiss, I don't care. If it is tah-wooo love, I am rapt. Unless I know someone is going to die (as in Titanic and Brokeback); then I don'wanna see it.

9:52 PM  
Blogger sporksforall said...

What's great about the Oscars is how often they get it wrong, in my opinion. Think about 1990--there's not a film nominated that does a thing for me (Dances with Wolves won, so I guess I'm ok given my Mary McDonell thing). You pointed out Gump (one of the most annoying movies ever). In addition to Shawshank, Pulp Fiction also lost that year. In fact, since 1990, my picks only won three times (Unforgiven, American Beauty, and Chicago). But, I agree that Brokeback carried more "weight" in its losss than it should have.

10:36 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home