The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Monday, December 19, 2005


Is it even necessary to see Brokeback Mountain at this point? I was very excited to see it a month ago. My fandom of Ang Lee is rabid and absurd. "Ang Lee does gay cowboys," sounded as exciting as "Ang Lee does Austen," "Ang Lee does Rick Moody," "Ang Lee does Marvel," and "Ang Lee does Wire Fu." Any movie Ang Lee does seems to be another proof that Ang Lee can do any movie. The sheer badness that "Hulk" and "Ride With the Devil" had in common didn't seem to me to warrant criticism. It was more that the badness was a test of my faith. But I'm weary of Brokeback Mountain already. I'm weary of how it's a gay story, or not a gay story. Of how it's the right movie for gays of our age or not the right movie for gays of our age. I'm tired of hearing how short the actual sex scene is, of how everything in Brokeback Mountain was already in the air. I'm tired of debating whether Mickey Kaus is too into girls to like it. I'm tired of the silence of the mountain and the silence of Ennis. I'm tired of the hymn it sings to immortal love. It's the movie equivalent of reading a book without reading it

There's a story told from time to time about reading. I'm not sure of the name of the original character involved; it's one of those bits of bastard wit that get fathered on whoever has a reputation for comedy, the way half the funny lines ever composed are magically ascribed to Mark Twain, Yogi Berra, or Winston Churchill.
But in this story, a public figure--oh, all right, it's Pat Moynihan, maybe--is standing around at a cocktail party, filling in fellow guests on the details of the latest book everyone seems to be reading. And he stumbles over some plot turn, leading one skeptical listener to ask if he's actually read the book. "Not personally," he replies.
The joke here is in the truth. For people who follow books, there's an inexorable chain. Whenever a major new volume appears, it begins with the prepublication journals Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Michiko Kakutani chimes in with a snippy notice in the New York Times, and book editor Erich Eichman sweet-talks someone into writing 800 words for the Wall Street Journal.
Then the bloggers start linking to reviews in other newspapers--the Guardian and the Telegraph from England, the great book sections that Frank Wilson runs for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Carol Herman puts together for the Washington Times. The Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books, The Weekly Standard, the New Republic, and Books & Culture all come along with longer essays, and by the time you've worked your way through seven or eight of these reviews, you really have read the book. Just not personally.

As I say, I used to be excited about Brokeback. I liked the silence of Ennis and the silence of the mountain, especially. But when I actually see it, it will have effectively been the fourth I've seen it, having seen it -- just not personally -- the equivalent of three times .
The only thing that is keeping me interested is that I don't understand how Hollywood has broken so much ground with Brokeback. Didn't My Own Private Idaho break the ground that Brokeback currently treads? Wasn't Philadelphia also the first to do this? And wasn't Ang Lee beaten to this topic 12 years ago by Ang Lee? Isn't that what Hollywood told us at the time? Is every movie that Hollywood does about people of the same gender having sex breaking ground? I'm not saying that that is impossible. But I am also saying that Hollywood does have a tendency to get over excited about the tiny exhibits of its moral courage it can submit for the record, especially when moral courage will provoke free publicity in the form of enormous debate. The motion of the debate that Hollywood sets is usually laughably dull. In this case the motion seems to be "This house believes that straight people can and should enjoy this gay movie as much as gay people." Boring!