Notes from the world: A return to “Brokeback Mountain”
I don’t believe any of us covering the red carpet arrivals for the “Brokeback Mountain” premiere in Hollywood on Nov. 11, 2005, had a clue that we would truly be a part of history, helping launch a movie that would transform the lives of countless people around the world because of its profound capturing of the cost of the closet.
I had not yet seen the movie that I now hold as one of the most important ever made, conveying the deep, undeniable humanity of authentic love, as well as the justifications and costs of locking that love in the dark.
For the record, the late Heath Ledger was not at the premiere. He was in New York with Michelle Williams, who was in the last stages of her pregnancy.
I don’t recall that Anne Hathaway was in attendance either. You might find it interesting to note that the film achieved the sort of Triple Crown rarely seen in Hollywood — the author of the original story, the screenwriters and the director all agreed that what ended up on the screen is precisely what they had envisioned.
I’m not sure how “Brokeback Mountain” screenwriters Diana Ossana (“Johnson County War,” “Dead Man’s Walk”) —a producer on the film — and Pulitzer Prize winner Larry McMurtry (“Terms of Endearment,” “The Last Picture Show”) — an executive producer on the film — met the story’s author, Annie Proulx, but they did. Proulx trusted the duo and the rest his history. Many on Hollywood’s hot lists wanted to participate in the film.
“When we put it out into the world, five days later Gus Van Sant showed up at our door,” explained Ossana. About the continuing development process and the ultimate choice of Ang Lee to direct, Ossana explained that both “Brokeback Mountain” and Lee’s “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” have in common two very key elements — they are very intimate stories that take place on vast landscapes.
Was “Brokeback Mountain” an easy sell for the screenwriters? No. “A lot of people expressed trepidation about it,” explained Ossana. “When I first mentioned it to our representatives in 1997, they asked me what it was about and I told them and they said, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ And I said, ‘No. Read the story, and then you’ll see I’m not out of my mind.’ As soon as they read the story, they said, ‘Great. We should do this.’”
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx, when asked where she gets her ideas, explained “from a higher power, obviously. I have no idea. The stuff that I write is concerned with rural difficult situations and this is just another one.” Proulx initially wrote “how to” books to support herself and her three sons, and didn’t publish her first novel until 1992 when she was already in her early 50s. She went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for “The Shipping News.”
One reporter asked Proulx if she was happy with the film’s interpretation of “Brokeback Mountain.” “What the film is is not an interpretation,” Proulx said emphatically. “It is the story.” And perhaps it’s your story.
“… I have had hundreds of letters over the eight years since the story was written from men who said, ‘This is my story. You’ve told my life.’ From other men who have said, ‘This is why I left Wyoming.’ And most particularly moving from fathers who’ve said, ‘Now I know the hell my son went through.’”
Ang chimes in
“It’s a great piece of American literature,” Ang Lee said about Annie Proulx’s original short story, “Brokeback Mountain.”
“It’s only 30 pages long but it wrenched my guts. It’s very far away from me but it really touched me. I just love the story and I have to do it. I can’t put that out of my mind.”
Lee was very happy with his leading men, Jake and Heath. “Oh, they’re wonderful,” said Lee. “It’s scary to think how young and good they are. They’re totally pro.” Did the hunky stars have reservations about doing the love scenes? “No. They’re like, ‘tell me what to do to get into the movie,’” explained Lee. “They’re good actors. They want to do good roles.”
When I asked Ang Lee what he would to follow-up “Brokeback Mountain,” he said in a friendly manner, “Some movie — I’m brooding. I don’t make up my mind.”
Another reporter asked Ang if he was going to make another Chinese film, which I thought was a no-brainer. “Yes … I like to do them intermittently,” explained Ang. “Making Chinese films on my standard is a killer. It’s like making three American movies, so I like to do them intermittently so I won’t wear out that easily.”
So, I just had to ask Ang, “What do you think American filmmakers could learn from the world of international filmmaking?”
“Different type of film language,” responded Ang, “because we’re not so much guarded by big industry, the most successful and powerful industry. We don’t have that benefit, but we also don’t have the burden of making movie in certain ways, and appealing to certain moral codes. I think there is more freedom in doing what we want to do.”
It may surprise you to know that the composer for the soundtrack of “Brokeback Mountain” previously appeared on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the Top 25 Latinos to watch. They were right, as he went on to win multiple Academy Awards. I asked Gustavo Santaolalla if he feels any added pressure as being identified as a Latino role model.
“I tend to take the words ‘role model’ or some other words that have been attached to myself like ‘the guru of Latin Rock’ … I take it with a sense of humor,” explained Gustavo. “I’m always been, I think, kind of the same person — hopefully evolved with age. I think whatever is happening, I feel it as the fruits of many years of hard work, so I don’t take it that seriously and I don’t feel the pressure. I always have felt my own pressure of trying to do the work the best that I can.”
During the red carpet interview, I had not yet seen “Brokeback Mountain,” so I asked the proverbial stupid “gay cowboy” question (after seeing the film, referring to it as a gay cowboy movie is one of the most shallow, uniformed things you can say). “Tell me about composing for this particular film,” I asked. “Was the subject matter of gay cowboys of particular interest to you?”
“What interested me was obviously,” explained Gustavo, “the story — the way the story was told, you know, and the fact that really it didn’t resound to me as a, you know, gay cowboy movie like it has been characterized it, but more as a really love story in which, on the contrary, genders really become second thing, you know what I mean? Here the most important thing is the relationship of these two souls that at certain point in life met, connect in a spiritual way and also in a physical way, but at the end of the move, you really come to the conclusion that this movie is really about a love story, an impossible love, and how sometimes society can’t deal with that—from the outside of the world to even their own side.”
Did Gustavo think that this movie would change people’s views?
“I certainly hope so,” he said. “I think we are more and more in a world where we have to be thankful that there’s more and more people that realize the importance of diversity, that we are all different, you know—and that we have different tastes, inclinations, but at the end of the day we’re all very, very similar. We’re all very different, but we’re all very similar. We all have feelings and connect to people and relate to people in an emotional way and in a physical way, and I hope you know this movie it helps people understand more that, and understand that really those feelings that makes us human are beyond gender.”
In a red carpet interview there are often several reporters speaking with a single star at one time. My interview with Jake Gyllenhaal was en masse, and one reporter asked the star what message he wanted audiences to take away from “Brokeback Mountain.”
“If that were my job, then I would be the director of the movie,” said Gyllenhaal. “I just showed up to work every day. What do I want people to take away from it? I hope that they walk in with an idea, and they leave with a different one.”
They will and I did. I walked in believing Gyllenhaal was a pretty boy creation of the Hollywood star machine. I walked out embracing him as a great actor and a brave soul, although he initially turned the movie down—not because of homophobia, but because of the two-dimensional sound of a movie that is said to be about “two gay cowboys.”
“… They said, ‘uh, we have this gay cowboy script.’ And I said, ‘absolutely not. I don’t want to have anything to do with it.’ And when I learned Ang Lee was going to direct it…and the kind of passion he approaches all of his projects with, I immediately wanted to do it. And I knew that it would be about so much more than the simplification that people can kind of throw out there and laugh at…”
“You know, that’s only a suit that I think both Heath and I have been told we’ve donned later,” Gyllenhaal said when I asked him how he felt about the fact that his character in “Brokeback Mountain” would be a significant role model for gay youth. “It’s flattering you know. I think that it’s important that whatever somebody is, however they are, that they be accepted.”
One reporter said to Jake, “In a recent interview you said it was a compliment to be called bisexual, so you’re fine with playing gay and playing bi and all that?”
“What I think I meant to say with that,” explained Jake, “I think that this movie in particular is about kind of trying to shatter the sense of duality or this idea of, you know, an idea of good and bad or black and white. It works within a gray area and I think that you know, sexually, I think people consider bisexuality that kind of gray area and so, I just would like — yea, whatever. It’s a very interesting place. I’m flattered to be called anything, even if it’s somebody coming up to the street and being like, ‘f**k you,’ you know, because if it bothers people or if people like it, that’s what I’m in the business of doing.”
Okay, now would someone please translate Jake’s answer for me?
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