Brokeback Mountain

The Movie

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Venice's Golden Lion
Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain", a tale of homosexual love in the wilds of Wyoming, won Venice's top award, the Golden Lion, on September 10, 2005. Lee describes "Brokeback Mountain" as a story of love against adversity.

Lee, however, insisted the gender of his protagonists is immaterial.

"When it comes to love, there is no difference for me between the love I have for my wife and the love a man has for another man."

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Mining 'Brokeback Mountain'
At the outset, Focus executives wanted to keep "Brokeback" from becoming a target in the culture wars, which could have overtaken their marketing message -- that it's a romance, not a "gay cowboy movie." Focus did market the film to the gay community but hasn't used it to push the cause of gay rights. "We will never turn the release of the film into a political circus act -- ever," says David Brooks, the studio's president of marketing.

Brokeback on the Down Low
Amidst all the analysis by the press and self-congratulations of the Hollywood community surrounding the release of the ground-breaking film “Brokeback Mountain,” one thing has been completely missed about the movie’s two male leads—they’re on the down low.

Cowboys, Just Like in the Movie
Yet there has always lurked a suspicion that the fastidious Eastern dude of Owen Wister's "The Virginian" harbored stronger than proper feelings for his rough Western compadres, and that the Red River crowd may have gotten up to more than yarning by the campfire whenever Joanne Dru was not around. The light Ang Lee allows into the bunkhouse closet may shock those who like their Marlboro Men straight.

Brokeback Mountain
"Brokeback Mountain" could tell its story and not necessarily be a great movie. It could be a melodrama. It could be a "gay cowboy movie." But the filmmakers have focused so intently and with such feeling on Jack and Ennis that the movie is as observant as work by Bergman. Strange but true: The more specific a film is, the more universal, because the more it understands individual characters, the more it applies to everyone. I can imagine someone weeping at this film, identifying with it, because he always wanted to stay in the Marines, or be an artist or a cabinetmaker.

Finding his range
Two people who thought Ledger was better than the films he'd been in were novelist Larry McMurtry and his writing partner, Diana Ossana, who adapted Annie Proulx's short story "Brokeback Mountain" seven years ago and had been shopping it around. They believe one of the obstacles to getting the film made was talent agents' unwillingness to let their clients play either of the two leads, thinking it would ruin their careers.

Blazing Saddles
Hysteria can only help: From the opening scene of semiconscious cruising to the final scene of ultimate bereavement, Lee's accomplishment is to make this saga a universal romance. Brokeback Mountain is the most straightforward love story—and in some ways the straightest—to come out of Hollywood, at least since Titanic. (Several websites offer the posters for comparison..)

The Scripting News
"I started thinking what it might be like to grow up in the '40s, '50s, and '60s if you were a gay kid," Proulx continues. "Wyoming is a homophobic place. For a young guy to wonder about his sexuality, when he's been indoctrinated with homophobia from day one, is an anguished struggle, and that's what the story is about."

West of Eden
This film is inflected to instill something akin to high moral dudgeon. Its depiction of ordinary Americans trapped in loveless marriages and dead-end jobs, its laconic naturalism, and the . . . well, natural way its two male protagonists find themselves, one drunken night on the mountain, riding bareback in a sleeping bag, build an industrial-strength case for breaking the mold, following your heart, and Daring To Be Different.

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Brokeback Mountain
Screen Daily
by Lee Marshall in Venice
September 5, 2005

No newly-arrived Martian would ever guess that the same person had directed Sense & Sensibility, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Hulk. The most impressive thing about Ang Lee's creative take on the multiple personality syndrome is the way that each successive experiment feels like the work of a pro that has been mining that genre for years.

Take Brokeback Mountain: the director's most complete and accomplished film to date comes across as the late masterpiece of an auteur dedicated to chronicling the demise of the American Dream.

A moving, measured, humane love story – and only incidentally a gay one – Brokeback Mountain derives its considerable emotional charge from its eye for details, from its laconic dialogue, from its careful dosing of small but devastating revelations, and from the bravura performances elicited by Lee from his cast – including a revelatory Heath Ledger.

Brokeback Mountain, which plays Toronto after it screening in competition at Venice, demands a certain patience and attention from its audience. But star appeal and Oscar murmurings should propel the film to the top of the indie box-office tables both at home and abroad, while upbeat critical word should draw the attention of more mainstream audiences. The film opens in the US on Dec 9 and in the UK on Dec 26.

The film is a surefire bet for a roster of Oscar nominations, which in addition to nods in one or both of the Best Film and Best Director slots are likely to include Best Actor for Ledger, Adapted Screenplay for Ossana and McMurtry's sensitive adaptation of Anne Proulx's short story, Art Direction for Judy Becker's painstakingly researched evocation of the sad provincial underbelly of America in the 1960s and 1970s, and Cinematography for Rodrigo Prieto's still-photo take on the American West, which turns even the shabby interiors into impersonal landscapes, indifferent to their human inhabitants.

Composer Gustavo Santolalla, another close associate of Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, provides a spare score that caresses the action, sentimentally but mostly effectively, with Cooder-like guitar breaks.

Given the assured result, it's difficult to understand why the project spent over seven years in development hell before Focus Features took it on: could it really be because a drama about two cowboys in love is still considered a delicate subject for a major studio?

Paradoxically, it is the lack of overt man-on-man action that makes Brokeback Mountain so magnificently subversive: not since Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together has the fact that this love story happens to be between two men been so tangential to a film's emotional interests or impact.

Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) meet one summer on Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming, hired by local ranch boss Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) to protect his sheep from wolf and coyote attacks in their remote upland pasture.

Jack is the fiery one, the impulsive Texan Rodeo rider who is as surprised by his emotions as Ennis but far more open to their consequences. It's Ennis, though, who is the really memorable character: tough but shy, taciturn, unable to open up or really express his emotions.

But it's the details that make the writing so spot-on: the way a playful tussle between the two men, after their sexual bonding, turns to a fist-fight as Ennis attempts to slug it out with a part of himself that he is afraid of; the wound-up excitement in the body and face of Ennis on the day he waits – at home, in the company of a wife (Williams) he loves – for Jack's first visit after a four-year absence.

Rhythmically, the film takes its cue from the slow rhythms of life around these parts: the passing of the seasons, harvest and planting, the time to take the herds up the mountain and the time to bring them down. One is reminded, at times, of Terence Malick's Days Of Heaven – another nature-soaked film which takes its time, and forces the audience to do the same.

And yet it rarely drags, or seems too long, as there is drama embedded in the apparently inconsequential dialogue, and the way that so much is unsaid, and touches of wry social humour: the increasingly fluffy, dyed hairstyles of Jack's wife Lureen (Hathaway), the dogged way an ineffectual electric carving knife, as advertised on TV, whirrs away as a token of bourgeois normalcy when everything is so far from normal, or comfortable, or even bearable.

Brokeback Mountain Wows at Festivals
By Sarah Warn
September 5, 2005

According to the first reviews of the long-anticipated gay cowboy movie Brokeback Mountain, which made its debut at the Venice International Film festival and the Telluride Film Festival this weekend, the film more than lives up to its hype.

"An achingly sad tale of two damaged souls" says Daily Variety, "this ostensible gay Western is marked by a heightened degree of sensitivity and tact, as well as by an outstanding performance from Heath Ledger."

Reuters's Ray Bennett writes in his review of the film, "Anne Proulx's 1997 short story in the New Yorker has been masterfully expanded by screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana to provide director Lee with his best movie since Sense and Sensibility in 1995."

A Telluride festival-goer gave the film a big thumbs up on an IndieWIRE blog, commenting that "many people (gay, straight, male, female) seem so moved by this poignant love story."

Ledger's performance in the film is being particularly heralded. Australian newspaper The Sun-Herald said "Heath Ledger's role as a gay cowboy has stunned critics at the Venice Film Festival, with the Australian actor being tipped for a major award." The reporter went on to say, "The emotional force of the gay love story in Brokeback Mountain was so strong that critics, including Australia's Margaret Pomeranz, were shell-shocked after the Venice screening of the film, which also stars Jake Gyllenhaal."

Those involved with making the film had much to say at the Venice festival on Friday. While Gyllenhaal and Ledger have previously taken a "so what?" attitude to the film's homosexuality, they did acknowledge a bit of discomfort at the love scenes. “I was really lucky that my character was uncomfortable with it and knew it too," Ledger told reporters, "so I could use my own level of discomfort, because it was new and strange for me, and that worked for me."

Gyllenhaal commented, “I just knew that the theme of sexuality would be secondary and that the primary theme would be that of love ... the real idea of love, not cliche. I knew Ang would protect us."

The film's universal themes was repeatedly touched on. "I just wanted to make a love story," Lee told reporters. "What's important is that the material touches me at a gut level and I connect with it." Producer James Shamus said, "We are using the codes and conventions of romance that have always applied to straight people very unapologetically. We don't care if anyone is upset about it."

So far, it looks like audiences are indeed responding to Brokeback's universal themes. This is no small accomplishment given that there hasn't been a gay romance played by such prominent male actors since, well, ever. Let alone a gay western. "What was difficult was pulling down people's preconceptions of the American West," acknowledged Lee at the festival, "preconceptions that were created by movies."

For all the descriptions of Brokeback Mountain as a "gay cowboy movie," however, the film is actually more difficult to categorize than that, which adds to its appeal. As a New York Times article on Ang Lee and Brokeback Mountain notes, "Part of the story's power is the way the men's need for each other slips the bonds of definition, of categories. That's what makes it feel so elemental. You recognize the truth and the mystery of their experience."

You can glimpse the truth and mystery yourself when Brokeback Mountain opens in limited released on December 9th, 2005, and in wider release in January 2006.

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Hollywood Reporter
By Ray Bennett
September 2, 2005

VENICE, Italy - Everything you ever imagined about the characters of John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in "Red River" or Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott in "Ride the High Country" is revealed candidly in Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain," an epic Western about forbidden love.

Anne Proulx's 1997 short story in the New Yorker has been masterfully expanded by screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana to provide director Lee with his best movie since "Sense and Sensibility" in 1995.

Featuring scenes filmed in the fabulous Canadian Rockies of Alberta and boasting a fine cast topped by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, "Brokeback Mountain" will appeal to moviegoers who enjoy grand filmmaking and poignant love stories, whether gay, hetero or otherwise.

The film, which screened in competition at the Venice International Film Festival, follows two men, Ennis Del Mar (Ledger) and Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal), and their love for each other that in the hide-bound and traditional world of the American West they must keep hidden, fearful not only of scandal but also for their lives.

Ennis and Jack meet in 1963 when they each show up looking for a summer's work herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain, Wyoming, on land owned by no-nonsense rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid). In order to keep his herd safe, Aguirre is happy to break regulations by requiring one of his men to roam high in the mountains, sleeping rough with no fire, while the other maintains a base camp with a one-man tent throughout the summer and into the fall.

There's nothing romantic about herding huge numbers of four-legged beasts left to range far and wide, and cowboys pretty much have cornered whatever romance there is in rugged outdoor animal husbandry. Riding herd on sheep guaranteed a horseman a hard time in old Westerns, but Ennis and Jack make the most of it, even if their diet is mostly beans.

They don't talk much, but Ennis speaks of being raised by his brother and sister after their parents died in a car crash, and of a woman named Alma he plans to marry. Jack tells of stern parents and working the Texas rodeo circuit. The scenery is breathtakingly gorgeous but their days are hard, with bears and coyotes threatening, and the biting mountain cold, and the two men soon come to rely on each other totally.

One night, Ennis decides to sleep by the fire rather than head off to his lonely post, but in the wee small hours, with the fire dead, he's freezing. Jack yells at him to join him in his tent. A simple human gesture in sleep prompts a frantic coupling that in the cold light of morning each man is quick to dismiss.

The summer ends, and as time goes by Ennis marries Alma (Michelle Williams) and Jack weds Lureen (Anne Hathaway), and they each have kids. The men's shared passion keeps its fire, however, and their affection and need for each other grows. Over the years, they contrive to spend time together back on Brokeback Mountain. Always there is the threat of exposure and the fear it breeds.

Pulitzer Prize-winner McMurtry ("Lonesome Dove") and his recent writing partner Ossana use a large canvas for what is really an intimate story. They develop the secondary characters with great insight and compassion. The women in the lives of Ennis and Jack are given full attention, and the acting, especially by Williams, Hathaway and Kate Mara, as Ennis' daughter Alma at age 19, is deeply affecting.

The fine details of the West are as precise as you would expect from a McMurtry piece, and Lee's adroitness with the excellent cast is on full display, particularly in the brave and moving performances of Ledger and Gyllenhaal.

The dusty towns of Wyoming and Texas are contrasted with the spectacular Canadian Rockies, splendidly filmed by Rodrigo Prieto, and the film benefits enormously from composer Gustavo Santaolalla's melodic and plangent score.

Toronto International Film Festival
By Noah Cowan
September 4, 2005

Destined to be recognized as one of the greatest love stories ever put to film, Brokeback Mountain represents a new and lofty level of achievement for acclaimed director Ang Lee, talented young actors Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal and a powerhouse trio of writers.

Brokeback Mountain is based on Annie Proulx's much-lauded short story, originally published in "The New Yorker" in 1997 and adapted by acclaimed novelists Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. This literary pedigree gives the film a rare precision and economy of gesture that make its devastating emotional moments rich and resonant.

In 1963, two young, poor-as-dirt cowboys, Jack Twist (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Ledger), are hired to tend cattle on top of Brokeback Mountain, Wyoming's most picturesque grazing slope. Suspicious of one another at first, they become fast friends. Increasingly rebellious in their isolated universe, their friendship takes on a dangerous, revolutionary tone. Soon comes a frank and powerful sexual encounter that blossoms into a dreamlike, heart-pounding romance.

But the summer ends and their inevitable parting leaves them pained and yearning. Ennis marries his long-time sweetheart and settles down to a life of poverty and screaming kids in Wyoming, while Jack joins the rodeo and eventually makes his fortune with the burgeoning Sun Belt business of his Texan father-in-law. When Jack finally contacts Ennis, sending a postcard to say that he is coming through Wyoming for business, they embark on a painful lifelong relationship fraught with forbidden desire.

Brokeback Mountain can be read many ways: as a chronicle of shifting attitudes towards sexuality, as the representative moment when the Old West became the New West or even as a complex marriage between Douglas Sirk and Red River. But it is ultimately and fundamentally a film about love of the most evocative kind - impossible, lustful, all-consuming, passionate love, born in a place of overwhelming beauty at a time of great innocence and hope. I challenge anyone to remain unmoved as society's mores and the inexorable vagaries of the world slowly undermine this love.

Brokeback Mountain Official Site