CINEMA: by Len Phillips (reviewer)News Weekly
Brokeback Mountain - a case of sour grapes
, April 1, 2006
discusses what four recent films - Brokeback Mountain
, The Producers
, Family Stone
- reveal about our contemporary culture.It is not often you get to read a review of a movie by someone who has purposely not gone to see it. But Brokeback Mountain is just such a movie, and as often as I have tried to see it - three times now - I have fallen at the last hurdle and seen something else.
I am apparently not alone in not wanting to see this film, the most talked-about of the year. Even with all the publicity it has enjoyed, it has not been the universal box office success its producers had expected.
Interestingly, the actual attendances for this film have not been released in the customary fashion. The production some day of Brokeback Mountain 2
will be a true indicator of whether this is a once-off venture or a path-breaking enterprise into territory that mainstream filmmaking has hitherto avoided.
Annie Proulx, who wrote the story from which the film was made, penned an article - a complete "sour grapes rant", as she herself put it - attacking the Hollywood establishment for giving the Academy Award for Best Picture to Crash
. She complained:
"The people connected with Brokeback Mountain, including me, hoped that, having been nominated for eight Academy awards, it would get Best Picture as it had at the funny, lively Independent Spirit awards the day before. (If you are looking for smart judging based on merit, skip the Academy Awards next year and pay attention to the Independent Spirit choices.)
"We should have known conservative heffalump Academy voters would have rather different ideas of what was stirring contemporary culture. Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good.
"And rumour has it that Lions Gate Films inundated the Academy voters with DVD copies of Trash
- excuse me - Crash
, a few weeks before the ballot deadline.
"Next year we can look to the awards for controversial themes on the punishment of adulterers with a branding iron in the shape of the letter A, runaway slaves, and the debate over free silver."
Not that homosexuality has been avoided by the movie industry. Over the past few months I have seen two other films in which some of the plot development revolved around gay men. But, in both of them, homosexuality was only part of the plot, not its entire storyline.The Producers
is a movie of a stage musical that was itself based on an earlier 1960s movie. Its creaky 40-year old story shows up in lots of ways but probably no more than in the scene where the two producers of the title - whose aim is to engineer a Broadway flop as a way to scam their backers - talk to the director they have in mind who, given the story, is supposed to be the worst director imaginable.
We meet this director dressed in drag and, when we are introduced to the rest of his own production crew, each is more camp than the one before.
It was, I must confess, difficult to remember a time when I would have considered such a scene funny. Do we still find raging queens hilarious, and do we any longer find sending them up on screen appropriate? For me, it was a reminder of a time long, long ago. Even the Gay Mardi Gras has begun to pall.
The more serious movie was The Family Stone
, an unexpectedly good film. It revolves around a very gauche Sarah Jessica Parker, who is being brought home for Christmas by her fiancé. She is even more than usually nervous, a very unusual trait in someone supposed to be a poised, high-flying New York corporate financier, but let that go.
Amongst the many family members she meets is the gay brother of her betrothed and the brother's partner. This leads to the climactic moment of the film when, as they are sitting around having a Christmas-eve dinner, Diane Keaton says that she always wanted to have a gay son - a statement presented, as I saw it, as an example of a mother's love for her child.Afflicted
The SJP character, however, then says that surely that cannot be true, since being gay is such a bad card to have been dealt by life, given the social attitudes of the rest of our culture. No mother could possibly want a child to be afflicted in this way.
SJP is then forced to flee the house, and the entire direction of the plot changes in surprising ways because of this dinner table conversation. But the fact is that this kind of discussion is seldom found in any movie, and was all the more surprising for that.
Which takes me back to Crash
, the Academy Awards Best Picture, and a worthy winner indeed. When it came out, it received one poor review after another, but I kept urging everyone I knew to see it.
The storyline is strong, which is always an excellent feature; but what really caught my attention was its being the first film I can recall in which affirmative action is given a bad press.
We are shown the very undesirable consequences of people being promoted into jobs they cannot do or having contracts awarded because of the colour of the contractor's skin.
You do sometimes wonder whether, beneath it all, even Hollywood is beginning to realise that the left liberalism it promotes has few answers to the problems our society must actually deal with. If so, it's none too soon.