Mechtild (mechtild) wrote,

Losing gracefully: Brokeback fans not exempt....a moderate rant

As many of you know, I saw (and re-saw) and became a huge fan of the film Brokeback Mountain, by far my favourite since the LotR films, and, perhaps, one of my all-time favourites. I really, really think it's a beautiful work of cinematic storytelling art.

Naturally, I was thrilled when it kept picking up awards, and, like most of its fans, I hoped it would win the United State's most coveted film award, "Best Picture" at the Academy Awards.

When it won "Best Adapted Screenplay" and "Best Director" I held my breath, ready to burst into squees when Jack Nicholson said for Best Picture, "And the winner is ... Brokeback Mountain!" But he didn't. Amazingly, Nicholson gasped and said, "Crash!" It was amazing to the Crash crew, too, since they were going wild in the seating. A true upset. And, as I said previously, I was upset. Stunned, in fact. I spent the next hours and days moping around the boards and LJ's.

It was at the LJ of another BBM fan that I first read and discussed Kenneth Turan's scold of Hollywood voters for electing Crash over Brokeback. I didn't agree with everything he said, since I have always had a picture of Hollywood folk as extremely liberal except for the random Charlton Heston, but I knew that resistance to the specifically homosexual aspect of the portrayal was real. People I've talked to here, a middle-of-the-road part of the U.S. when it comes to sexual issues, who really liked the film, maybe even loved it, were made uncomfortable by the amorous scenes between the two men. Certainly, even otherwise very liberal viewers may have found it difficult to watch two men kissing, really kissing, like any heterosexual pair of lovers on the screen (not to mention the murkily-shot scene of their first rough, brusk encounter,which any viewer old enough to know can tell is supposed to be anal sex).

But, as I read more and more snippets, especially in articles written by more analytical writers, I modified my views as to why Crash won. I wrote to another fellow-fan, perhaps it wasn't so much that Academy voters rejected BBM, but that they simply wanted Crash more, for various reasons. Perhaps they really thought it was the better film (still unimaginable to me -- or to my husband -- I confess). Or, as some practical-minded analysts who focus on the business side of Hollywood suggested, it was because so many LA actors and other artists (the majority of Academy voters) were actually in Crash. The film had a very large cast, very dedicated to the project, and a big crew. Or they had worked with people who worked on Crash -- its cast, its director, its crew. Or they had family members and friends who had worked on the film, etc. Some writers suggested that LA residents had warmed to the film simply because it was about their own city, giving a gritty but hopelful view of that city, which had to be affecting to them in a personal way.

Anyway, since commenting in these LJ's, I have quieted down, partially because I feel I am over it, and partially because I haven't liked the tone of the protests and complaints. Although I loathe losing anything myself, I also hate letting it show. I'll whine to close friends in private, but in public I am all smiles.

I have always admired gracious losers, those who can step back and let the winners enjoy their moment of recognition without casting a shadow over the proceedings. A lot of Brokeback fans, it seems, have been so incensed and so emotional about the loss, they seem to have lost their manners along with the award. This has embarrassed me on the filmmaker's behalf, because it makes them look like sore losers, too. When I think of Ang Lee's moving and gracious acceptance speech at the Oscars when he received Best Director, I want to cringe. I hate to think the world will associate him and his film with the tongue-lashings being doled out by his film's wounded fans.

The other thing I haven't liked about the BBM fan backlash has been its political nature. Protests to the award going to Crash have not focussed on the matter of merit as much as the supposed internal attitudes of academy voters: their prejudices, their psycholodical inadequacies and lack of cultural enlightenment, etc. Making the attack a political one like this makes the film seem as though it's supposed to be an "issue film," which it isn't. Ang Lee and the creators did not make the film as a political statement. Most viewers who have loved it (raising my hand) have not seen it as one. We have loved it as a beautiful film -- powerful and true to the human condition. Period. To drag in the political stuff ("Academy voters are homophobes!"), even if it were true, serves to skew the public perception of the film and degrades its worth (in my opinion). It would have been far better to keep our mouths shut and restrict the licking of wounds to low-profile LJ's, blogs, and emails (in my opinion). At least until a decent interval had passed, we would have done better to allow the winner to be a winner. By dragging Crash's Best Picture Oscar through the mud, we have only dirtied ourselves. Worse, we have smirched our film.

I hope it will blow over soon. I hope general audiences (who are potential audiences of the film on DVD) will not remember Brokeback Mountain first and foremost as "that gay movie," which they can instantly dismiss. The film that all those gay-rights folks had the big snit about when it didn't win.

Again, just my opinion.


Anyway. Here's the article that prompted this post. Roger Ebert shows that Kenneth Turan isn't the only one who can issue a public scolding. It was in the entertainment section of the paper this morning.

Now, I am no big Roger Ebert fan; we often disagree about films regularly. (Heck, I don't think he gave RotK four stars!) But I don't disrespect him and don't think he has any sort of anti-gay, anti-Ang Lee axe to grind, either. When he says he thought Crash was better, I don't assume he is lying, deluded or a closet anti-gay reactionary. I am assuming he is sincere. I still don't agree with his assessment of the film, but it gave me an awful pang to see this public dressing-down. Especially when I think of Ang Lee and the other people who made this film reading it. I am hoping they will see the ungracious behaviour of their film's supporters for what it actually was: wounded love striking out....

~ Mechtild

Posted on Thu, Mar. 09, 2006

'Crash' a 'safe harbor' for liberals? Hardly

One of the mysteries of the 2006 Oscar season is the virulence with which lovers of "Brokeback Mountain" savaged "Crash." When the film about racism actually won the Oscar for best picture, there was no grace in their response. As someone who felt "Brokeback" was a great film but "Crash" a greater one, I would have been pleased if either had won.

But here is Ken Turan in the Los Angeles Times, writing on the morning after: "So for people who were discomfited by 'Brokeback Mountain' but wanted to be able to look themselves in the mirror and feel like they were good, productive liberals, 'Crash' provided the perfect safe harbor. They could vote for it in good conscience, vote for it and feel they had made a progressive move, vote for it and not feel that there was any stain on their liberal credentials for shunning what 'Brokeback' had to offer. And that's exactly what they did."

And Nikki Finke, in the LA Weekly: "Way back on January 17th, I decided to nominate the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Bunch of Hypocrites. That's because I felt this year's dirty little Oscar secret was the anecdotal evidence pouring in to me about hetero members of the Academy of Motions Picture Arts and Sciences being unwilling to screen 'Brokeback Mountain.' For a community that takes pride in progressive values, it seemed shameful to me that Hollywood's homophobia could be on a par with Pat Robertson's."

What is intriguing about these writers and other critics is that they never mention the other three best picture nominees: "Capote," "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Munich." Their silence on these films reveals their agenda: They wanted "Brokeback Mountain" to win, saw "Crash" as the spoiler, and attacked "Crash." If "Munich" had been the spoiler, they might have focused on it. When they said those who voted for "Crash" were homophobes who were using a liberal movie to mask their hatred of homosexuals, they might have said the same thing about "Munich."

This seems simply wrong. Consider Finke's "anecdotal evidence" that puts Hollywood's homophobia on a par with Pat Robertson's. PAT ROBERTSON? This is certainly the most extreme statement she could make on the subject, but can it be true? How many anecdotes add up to evidence?

My impression, also based on anecdotal evidence, is that the usual number of academy voters saw the usual number of academy nominees, and voted for the ones they admired the most. In a year without "Brokeback Mountain," Finke, Turan and many others might have admired "Crash." It is not a "safe harbor," but a film that takes the discussion of racism in America in a direction it has not gone before in the movies, directing attention at those who congratulate themselves on not being racist, including liberals and/or minority group members. It is a movie of raw confrontation about the complexity of our motives.
It is noticeable how many writers on "Hollywood's homophobia" were able to sidestep "Capote," which was a hard subject to miss, being right there on the same list of best picture nominees. Were "Brokeback's" supporters homophobic in championing the cowboys over what Jon Stewart called the "effete New York intellectual"?

Of course not. "Brokeback Mountain" was simply a better movie than "Capote." And "Crash" was better than "Brokeback Mountain," although they were both among the best films of the year. That is a matter of opinion. But I was not "discomfited" by "Brokeback Mountain." Read my original review. I chose "Crash" as the best film of the year not because it promoted one agenda and not another, but because it was a better film.

The nature of the attacks on "Crash" by the supporters of "Brokeback Mountain" seem to proceed from the other position: "Brokeback" is better not only because of its artistry but because of its subject matter, and those who disagree hate homosexuals. Its supporters could vote for it in good conscience, vote for it and feel they had made a progressive move, vote for it and not feel that there was any stain on their liberal credentials for shunning what "Crash" had to offer.


For those who haven't seen it, and for my own files, here is the news article that caused the broo-ha ha, appearing right after the Academy Awards:

Breaking no ground
Why 'Crash' won, why 'Brokeback' lost and how the academy chose to play it safe.

By Kenneth Turan, LA Times Staff Writer
March 5, 2006

Sometimes you win by losing, and nothing has proved what a powerful, taboo-breaking, necessary film "Brokeback Mountain" was more than its loss Sunday night to "Crash" in the Oscar best picture category.

Despite all the magazine covers it graced, despite all the red-state theaters it made good money in, despite (or maybe because of) all the jokes late-night talk show hosts made about it, you could not take the pulse of the industry without realizing that this film made a number of people distinctly uncomfortable.

More than any other of the nominated films, "Brokeback Mountain" was the one people told me they really didn't feel like seeing, didn't really get, didn't understand the fuss over. Did I really like it, they wanted to know. Yes, I really did.

In the privacy of the voting booth, as many political candidates who've led in polls only to lose elections have found out, people are free to act out the unspoken fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or, likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed "Brokeback Mountain."

For Hollywood, as a whole laundry list of people announced from the podium Sunday night and a lengthy montage of clips tried to emphasize, is a liberal place, a place that prides itself on its progressive agenda. If this were a year when voters had no other palatable options, they might have taken a deep breath and voted for "Brokeback." This year, however, "Crash" was poised to be the spoiler.

I do not for one minute question the sincerity and integrity of the people who made "Crash," and I do not question their commitment to wanting a more equal society. But I do question the film they've made. It may be true, as producer Cathy Schulman said in accepting the Oscar for best picture, that this was "one of the most breathtaking and stunning maverick years in American history," but "Crash" is not an example of that.

I don't care how much trouble "Crash" had getting financing or getting people on board, the reality of this film, the reason it won the best picture Oscar, is that it is, at its core, a standard Hollywood movie, as manipulative and unrealistic as the day is long. And something more.

For "Crash's" biggest asset is its ability to give people a carload of those standard Hollywood satisfactions but make them think they are seeing something groundbreaking and daring. It is, in some ways, a feel-good film about racism, a film you could see and feel like a better person, a film that could make you believe that you had done your moral duty and examined your soul when in fact you were just getting your buttons pushed and your preconceptions reconfirmed.

So for people who were discomfited by "Brokeback Mountain" but wanted to be able to look themselves in the mirror and feel like they were good, productive liberals, "Crash" provided the perfect safe harbor. They could vote for it in good conscience, vote for it and feel they had made a progressive move, vote for it and not feel that there was any stain on their liberal credentials for shunning what "Brokeback" had to offer. And that's exactly what they did.

"Brokeback," it is worth noting, was in some ways the tamest of the discomforting films available to Oscar voters in various categories. Steven Spielberg's "Munich"; the Palestinian Territories' "Paradise Now," one of the best foreign language nominees; and the documentary nominee "Darwin's Nightmare" offered scenarios that truly shook up people's normal ways of seeing the world. None of them won a thing.

Hollywood, of course, is under no obligation to be a progressive force in the world. It is in the business of entertainment, in the business of making the most dollars it can. Yes, on Oscar night, it likes to pat itself on the back for the good it does in the world, but as Sunday night's ceremony proved, it is easier to congratulate yourself for a job well done in the past than actually do that job in the present.

~ Mechtild

Brokeback Mountain Links Page HERE

Tags: brokeback mountain, film

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