Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Saw it

Katherine, Davyde and I (alas, no Sam) saw The Gay Cowboy Movie. And liked it. More or less. My comments:

1) Jake Gyllenhaal makes a more convincing UChicago math grad student than cowboy.
2) Heath Ledger is not so much my taste. I think I actually preferred Gyllenhaal with Gwyneth Paltrow. Alas.
3) Indeed, this movie is Yossi and Jagger II: Lost in the Wild West.

About that last bit: Jose, who says most of what needs to be said about these two movies, mentions the line "ze lo fucking seret amerikai," which is sort of a theme in "Yossi and Jagger"--at the end of the movie, when "the pretty one" aka Jagger is about to die on the battlefield, and Yossi finally declares his love, Jagger confirms that in fact his experience is just like an American movie, after all. And, I would add, the point being, from the viewers' perspective, that while Yossi and Jagger the characters may feel greater depths of emotion than even, say, Steven Spielberg would be capable of summoning, "Yossi and Jagger" the movie is the least American thing ever. Low-budget without feeling artsy, about ordinary Israeli soldiers doing ordinary things, with homosexuality but no overt raciness or politics, there's really no reason that a movie of it's kind would be made in America. And yet, here it is. It doesn't matter if "Yossi and Jagger"'s kmoh seret americai, now, thanks to Ang Lee, it's been turned into one.

And so, where "Yossi and Jagger" was subtle, with neither good guys nor bad, "Brokeback Mountain" is over the top. Yossi struggles with his own homosexuality not because of any overt homophobia in his army unit--in fact, there's little indication anyone would mind--but because he's young, confused, weak, conservative, whatever, and--and this would be an issue even if he were involved with a woman--because his leadership role forces him to maintain a certain stoicism and distance. Part of what makes "Yossi and Jagger" so interesting is that societal homophobia is never really seen, just Yossi's denial. So there's some implicit societal homophobia--why else does Yossi mind people knowing he's gay?--but it's his internal conflict that matters.

Ennis, on the other hand, witnessed the lynching of a gay man when he was a little boy, and, as if that weren't enough, attends a church that, as churches often do, frowns on "sin." You are to believe that, had he lived in a more open society, his attitude towards Jack's suggestion that they run off together would have been more positive. Society's to blame, and all that.

Then, there's that final family scene, in which the dead pretty-boy's parents greet the still-living less-pretty (though Ohad Knoller's still awful pretty) one. Conveniently, Jack's mother knows, as apparently only a mother can know, about her son's relationship, and despite living in the backwoods at a time well before "Will and Grace," not only understands but is fully accepting of her son-in-law-in-retrospect. How does she know, and why is she so understanding? Because it adds a certain tear-jerk element to the film. Jagger's oblivious though distraught mother, who believes unquestioningly that her son had a girlfriend when this (false, of course) information is brought to her attention, is far more believable. More importantly, there's never any sense of how she, as a character, would react if she knew that her son had had a boyfriend. Again, Yossi's fear presumably says something about society in general, but where his own cowardice or personality or devotion to his role in the army end and societal homophobia begins is never articulated. This intentional (I'm guessing) lack of clarity is, aside from the many gorgeous actors and, I suppose, actresses, what makes "Yossi and Jagger" so special. That, and the fact that the snow/bunny scene is far more tender and beautiful than anything in "Brokeback Mountain."

Finally, what does it mean that this movie has, it seems, been made twice? Are "gay movies" now just "movies," and thus bound to repeat themselves, year after year, the way that "straight" romantic dramas have been for so many years? Perhaps, but I second Jose in asking a) that the pretty one not have to die, and b) that Jack and Jagger, in gay-tragedy heaven, make a movie of this genre in which both uh, live.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wonder why so many people feel compelled to compare Brokeback Mountain to their own favorite movie about The Gays that didn't have all that violent homophobia. A. Rickey thought it suffered in comparison to The Wedding Banquet, which is a contemporary comedy set in NYC; and you're finding it less good than a contemporary Israeli film.

Those movies have been made. This was a movie set in a time and place and circumstance where a hate crime against an openly gay couple was not going to be greeted with candlelight vigils. Brokeback Mountain doesn't have any bad guys presented in the foreground, nor are Jack and Ennis "good guys." Both pull unknowing women into their dilemma and fail to make very good husbands or fathers. (Considering Jack's promiscuity, killing him off with the tire iron instead of AIDS was kind of a relief from what might have been a predictable ending.)

The main things I disliked about the movie were Heath Ledger's marble mouth, and dis-ambiguating Jack's death. In the short story, it's never entirely clear if it was the tire iron, and even within Ennis's head, he's unsure until he goes to see Jack's family and the dad mentions that Jack had changed from talking about Ennis to some new guy.