~ Detail from erotic drawing by Paul-Emile Becat (1885-1960)
1. HUGELY long LJ entry, but I think it is one of my better ones. This post is all intro. and has only partial BBM content. So, if you are opening this for the screencaps, this is not the post to see them in.
2. There is some adult content in the text (erotica, slash); also, an erotic illustration, NOT WORKSAFE: NC-17, het, nude erect member.
Brokeback Mountain ~ The Kiss Scenes.
Although the original purpose of these entries was to present the BBM screencaps, I find that the film and the scenes touch so many issues I’ve been mulling over for years (but especially recently), I am going to go ahead and get as many of these thoughts out there while they are in my mind.
Therefore, although some of this is not directly about BBM or its scenes, the entries will be inter-related and should be read in order. Or, you can just look at the pictures.
My Journey Towards Erotica and How My Attitudes Changed Towards Love Between Men, Preparing Me to Be Able to See and Appreciate Brokeback Mountain....
Back when I was hotly discussing this film in January and February, I wrote about how well the kiss scenes were made, I promised a Lovely Someone from another LJ that I would make screencaps of the kiss scenes from the film once the DVD had come out. I said I would post them in my LJ.
Well, the DVD came out, I made the caps, and here’s the introductory post....
It is ironic how well BBM’s kissing scenes worked for me. Not that I didn’t love the characters, I did -- deeply. But I didn’t *swoon* for them. I didn’t desire them. I admired the actors, but I didn’t desire them, either. But I did swoon for the kiss scenes (well, for the whole film). Watching those scenes I could enter into the characters' experience, to feel with and for them.
That I was able to love the characters was due to the greatness of the film, the acting, and the writing. That I was able to swoon for the kiss scenes was a result of fanfic.
As I have said elsewhere, had it not been for fanfic, I would not have been able to watch the kissing scenes the way I did: receptively and open-heartedly, able to feel for and with the characters as they stumbled and fell into sexually-expressed love. If not for my pre-exposure to men loving men in fanfic, I would have watched those scenes squirming the whole time. I would have admired the filmmaking, but I would barely have been able to keep from averting my eyes.
Excursus on coming this far, regarding the issue of same-sex love.
(Some of you have heard me say these things elsewhere, so you can skip this. I guess I just want to sort “go on record” in my own journal.)
The first stirrings of a taste for erotic stories.
How did I ever get to the place where I could warm to an on-screen kissing scene between men? Some of you have said in your journals that you have always found male/male scenarios exciting, long before fanfic. Not me.
Before my LotR fandom, I never had read any same-sex erotica. Except for a few times in high school, I never had read erotica, period. Oh, I loved to leaf through racy magazines and look at the pictures, enjoying the sense of “the forbidden,” even as it was a masochistic act, sighing wistfully at the perfect babes spread over the pages and thinking how poorly I compared.
I had looked at gay porn magazines, too, stashed under a housemate’s bed, but that had been more shocking than titillatiing. Because his porn showed men's genitals, of course I pored over every page. But what it gained in explicitness, it lost in atmosphere. The girlie magazine centerfolds were much more lushly presented, with flattering lighting and attractive settings, the woman gazing dark-eyed from the glossy pages with a, "Come here and do me, you handsome dog," look on her face. I was utterly mystified by one of my friend's books, a sort of photo-story that openend with two smiling men sailing a boat, naked but for their socks – the sex part came later, but why would they leave on their socks?
But when it came to visual erotica I’d look at anything. Growing up, in our home medical encyclopedia, the painting of the male showed him wearing a genital pouch for modesty. I had no idea what female genitals looked like. Pictures available then just showed the pubic mound, and I had never looked at myself. I was starved for explicit images.
Although I looked at all pornographic and erotic pictures with keen interest, sometimes making my ears burn, they rarely elicited real desire. They titillated, but they did not satisfy.
This was not so with printed erotica. In high school I was able to rush through what were then scandalously erotic stories from previous eras, found, no doubt, tucked under a stack of lingerie in the drawers of friend’s parents -- Fanny Hill, A Man and His Maid. Under my own mother’s lingerie I found and read the copy of I Was a Call House Madame, which she had been loaned by a friend. To this day she does not know of her daughter's snoopings. It was not what I’d call erotica, but it did make me think about owning and operating a ritzy whore house when I grew up. If I had to have sex with a man, why not get rich doing it instead of having to be a cook and maid and nanny like my mother? At twelve I still had no idea what love could do to a woman's attitude. But, at twelve, in my tract-house bedroom, I relished the fantasy of traipsing around drawing rooms papered in flocked red velvet with satin divans and Tiffany lamps, wearing silk negligees and those high heels with the pom-poms on the insteps that thirties actresses wore in old films. Isn't it funny that once I grew up, I preferred jeans and sweats, flannel night gowns and men's old T-shirts?
What I found from my forbidden reading, though, was that reading erotica, rather than looking at it, was really involving. Of the few we got our hands on, I especially liked Fanny Hill, with its explicit but witty and romantic sex.
Although I only stumbled last week upon a gallery of erotic drawings and watercolours by early twentieth-century French artist Paul-Emile Becat, I thought this illustration he did for Fanny Hill strongly conveyed qualities that appealed to me in the book’s erotica. It is explicit, but still conveys a sense of the tenderness and intimacy of the sort of sexual passion that can connect two people. It isn't just a picture of two people engaging in sex (or shortly about to), it is a picture of lovers.
The lighting is great, too.
~ An illustration by Paul-Emile Becat for “Fanny Hill”:
Perhaps I would have indulged my budding taste for reading erotica back then, but it wasn’t available the way it is today at the click of a keypad. In those days it meant walking into a dubious shop and publicly browsing the bins or shelves of “naughty books.” What if someone saw me? Then the selection would have to be carried to the front to be paid for. Whenever I imagined such a scenario, I felt the eyes of the cashier trained on me with pity and contempt. “Poor cow, making do with sex in books.”
So the only erotic stories I read when I was young were the few banned novels that got passed around from friend to giggling friend, dog-eared and stained from potato chips, until some parent found out and blew the whistle, confiscating the book and forbidding us from further association.
Decades passed, but still I did not read erotica. Even though as a grown-up I lived in cities where purchasing racy books could be done virtually anonymously, I didn’t do it. I suppose I didn’t care about it as much once I was an adult. I was looking for real-life erotica.
I discover fanfic.
Years later, married, with a nearly-grown child, I entered the era of my LotR obsession, sparked by the films. I fell in love with the films and Frodo and then I discovered fanfic. I soon began to look for fic with erotic content, hungry for stories that showed Frodo in love. How else could one enjoy the charms of a fictional person? I passionately longed to see what Frodo might be like as lover. I hungered and thirsted to see him in action. With good lighting.
I discover erotic fanfic; my reaction to slash.
I looked hotly for what I learned was called “het.” Prior to LotR fanfic, I would have merely called "het", “erotica.” In my search I found little het, but quickly stumbled upon “slash” -- of which there was plenty. The first slash stories I happened to read were two highly-recommended pieces of very graphic Frodo-and-Sam fic. I wasn’t ready to read them. There is no denying that I was extremely titillated, but titillated the way visual porn titillated me: I experienced the stories from an emotional distance. I could not identify with the characters or their behaviours. Frodo and Sam in the fics seemed so foreign to me... Sam, blushing and gaping open-mouthed like a swooning girl, and Frodo –- so shockingly smooth in his manner! so knowing! -- like an accomplished seducer of blushing, swooning girls (conveniently open-mouthed). The stories raised my temperature, but it was like watching sex acts between characters I no longer knew, strangers. I felt like a voyeur.
But it was more than that. To be honest, I was put off by the fact that the sex was happening between two males. Was I a rabid conservative? Not about most things, but my private attitude towards homosexuality was quite ambivalent, no matter how faithfully I voted the liberal side of the ballot. Confronted with a graphically depicted male/male sex scene, no matter how titillated I was, I felt very uncomfortable. It didn’t matter how many warm friendships with gay men I had had in my theatre days, I just didn’t want to see what men did with men in bed.
But that changed. And it happened quickly when it happened. I have confided this story to some of you, but I want to enter it in the record, so to speak.
Early on in my fanfic immersion I had started reading Willow-wode’s heavily recommended RoP: The Hall. I soon became engrossed. I loved Willow’s Buckland setting, her vivid sense of place and mood. I loved her melodramatic plot. But especially I loved her charismatic, troubled teen-aged Frodo. Although he was nothing like “my” Frodo, her Frodo not only irritated but enthralled me. (That his appearance was described as looking just like film-Frodo's didn't hurt, either.) What made me so enthralled with him, I saw later, was how strongly I identified with him. In him I saw my old teen self, a kid who lived too much in her imagination. Like her Frodo I was secretly intense, anxious, terribly narcissistic, and dying for some lover, real or imaginary, to come and take me away from my world -- and from myself. Alas, none came. But Willow did not leave RoP Frodo to pine. Ah, RoP Mac, Deliverer of teens who yearn and burn! Where were you when I was young?
So what happened was this: I had become so emotionally invested in Willow’s Frodo character, where he led I was bound to follow. In for a penny, in for a pound. So, on that fateful afternoon when Mac joined Frodo in the tub in Brandy Hall's bath house, I was there with him. And I wasn’t getting out.
Starting from that scene of awkward but impassioned sexual initiation, RoP’s Mac and Frodo led me to see what sex between male lovers could be -- because I could identify with them. The experience totally changed my gut-attitude towards gay sex in real life, not just my head-attitude.
Why I would not call myself a “slasher”.
Because some of you are self-identified “slashers,” I think I should make clear that I am not. A slasher, that is. I am not into male/male pairings, as such. I am into pairings starring Frodo. It is Frodo whom I am “into”. I guess you could say I am a “Frodo-er.” Whether his partner in a fic is male or female, what I am want to read are stories portraying Frodo, Frodo in love. I look for highly-rated stories because I love erotica, too. But I only pant for erotica starring Frodo, who is, for me, Eros made flesh through the magic of words.
That is why, while I can appreciate deeply a convincing love story featuring other male/male pairings, and while I can swoon for the beauty and reality of their love scenes (the BBM scenes would fall in this category, or Scribendi’s and Annmarwalk’s lovely Theodred/Boromir fics), male/male fic as such doesn’t attract me.
The same would be true of me for het. Like most people I watch films with het love stories, and I read fiction with het relationships depicted in them. But, when it comes to erotica, what really turns me on isn’t the act, but the person, and the person who turns me on is Frodo.
It is because of fanfic that I am able to appreciate a male/male love scene, on the page or on the screen.
After the Academy Awards, some of us were muttering and arguing about what might have spoiled the film’s win for “Best Picture.” ‘Discomfort with or active loathing of the film’s homosexual content among Academy voters,’ came up a lot.
That was an issue, more so than I had at first allowed. In an LJ entry about the loss I quoted a good article, and copied and pasted a remark Ernest Borgnine made to a post-awards interviewer asking him his opinion of Brokeback Mountain. He responded, "I didn't see it and I don't care to see it. I know they say it's a good picture but I don't care to see it. If John Wayne were alive, he'd be rolling over in his grave."
It is my bet that Borgnine (a fine actor who won the award fifty years prior for Marty) spoke up for many who were too embarrassed (or nervous) about appearing anti-gay.
But, as I wrote to my LJ discussion partners, I myself might have felt that same way, even if I would have had the manners/timidity not to express it, had I not been “softened up” first, by being exposed to slash fanfic. I might not have been able to bring myself to go and see the film -- much less sit through its kissing scenes.
It is men portrayed as loving each other, not having sex with each other, that is the most difficult for readers to accept.
"The kissing scenes? The kissing scenes are no different from any kissing scenes," one replied. "What about the first tent scene? It was damned dark, but anyone could tell they were supposed to be having anal sex. That had to be pretty shocking to viewers."
No, I said, they might have been a little shocked, but that would be all.
Like me, a lot of viewers would have seen films with male rape scenes in them. Prison movies, movies about men forced to live in close proximity. No, it was the kissing that would have caused the squirming. The anal sex in BBM was quick and harsh and instinctive, as if done for sheer sexual release.
Their kissing was different. Whether the tentative tent kiss, or the impassioned stairs kiss, the kissing they did required intimacy. It required vulnerability. It required the two men – and the audience watching them – to really open themselves to the possibility of male/male love. Love, not just sex. Everyone seemed to be able to understand a level of sexual frustration that could drive two men together sexually, whether they were men in a prison camp, in a barracks, or on the top of a Wyoming mountain. It was “love” that was the hurdle a viewer had to get over.
Those discussions took place back in January and February, but, since then I have done a lot of interesting reading.
What I read has tended to support what I had intuited back then. It was the element of love between the men, shown in real, engaged kissing, that would most affront and challenge the sensibilities of viewers, not the sex act.
Supporting excerpts for this line of reasoning....
In a book about the treatment of homosexuality in films from the 80’s (Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, Vito Russo, 1987 rev. ed.), one of Vito Russo's messages was that men presented as simply loving each other was the biggest taboo there was.
It wasn't the case that gay and lesbian characters weren't being portrayed, they weren't being portrayed having satisfying (or any) love relationships. In feature films, faggots could dish and swish or gnash their teeth in The Boys in the Band (1970), but their love lives had to be truncated and miserable. A high-minded student priest might once have had a gay love affair, but he had since given that up (Mass Appeal, 1984). A gay man could live but die singly (Philadelpia, 1993). Gay men could prance and preen as the effeminate "sissies" of earlier film eras, or as the mincing queens of later films, whether amusing or pathetic, but, again, singly. In the area of actual depicted sex, a student could be gang-banged in a gym shower. Tim Robbins could be forced to submit in The Shawshank Redemption, 1994 (although, to be fair, the film made a point of showing the perps as straight men using others for forced sex). Serial killers could rape and kill cruising men. Joe Buck could be gang-raped by roughs in Midnight Cowboy (1969). But, reciprocal, tender, erotic love? That was almost impossible to see depicted on screen.
Here’s a telling quote from Mexican director Jaime Humberto Hermosillo. I thought it spoke directly to what I had noticed about the “squirm” I knew I would feel at the kissing scenes, but not the sex scene in Brokeback Mountain.
Hermosillo, Russo explains, in talking about his 1986 film Dona Herlinda and her Son, tells how he hopes to challenge his audiences in a way filmmakers rarely attempted in Mexico (the bold-faced emphases are mine):
“A previous film I did, Deceitful Appearances,” says the director, “was a very shocking piece about a hermaphrodite who marries another man and takes the masculine role. It upset audiences but at the same time it was easy for them to rationalize it because they saw it as extraordinary – something which could never happen in their lives. With Dona Herlinda the audience is not safe from believing that this could actually happen to them. The only homosexuals portrayed on Mexican screens are flamboyant effeminate characters from whom the audience can be distanced because such portrayals cater to their prejudices. In my film it’s just two handsome men who love each other. This doesn’t happen in Mexican films. One of the actors I hired told me he couldn’t do the role because his father hates homosexuals. ‘He would understand if I were drunk and fucked with a boy,’ he told me, ‘but to be tender with another man … impossible.’”
The shrinking from real male/male love, and real kiss scenes, is not new; that was written twenty years ago.
Although the passages below were written about films from the '70's and '80's, it doesn't seem as though things have changed that much. The responses described below could have happened today. If audiences now don't actually stop the show, after the Academy Awards, I wondered if it was a matter of having learned to keep all that feeling out of sight. Having read these things I marvel all the more at what Ang Lee managed to achieve, portraying honestly and compassionately the love scenes in Brokeback Mountain:
There is no mainstream motion picture in which two men do anything more sexual than kiss each other, and even that simple act is still approached with trepidation by filmmakers and greeted with cries of outrage from audiences and critics alike. When John Schlesinger was about to shoot the kiss between Peter Finch and Murray Head in Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971) [a great film, by the way] the cameraman turned to Schlesinger and said, “John, is this really necessary?” The nervous reaction is not confined to motion pictures. According to Richard Thomas, his kissing Jeff Daniels in the first act of Lanford Wilson’s Fifth of July on Broadway (1980) drew such a loud comment from audiences that several times during the run he was forced to bring down the curtain and begin the play again.
In Sidney Lumet’s Deathtrap (1982), neither Christopher Reeve nor Michael Caine plays his character stereotypically gay, partially because their sexual orientation is a key element in the surprise ending. Yet choosing to have their love affair revealed through a passionate kissing scene that was not in the original play must have been a calculated error. “The sight of Michael Caine kissing Christopher Reeve,” wrote Peter Ackroyd in the Spectator, “is enough to make the most jaded of us sit upright in our seats.”
The reaction of audiences was more violent. (...) “I heard that a preview audience in Denver booed the kiss,” says Christopher Reeve, “and that was reported in the Time magazine, thus ruining the plot for millions of people. We later referred to it as ‘the ten million dollar kiss’ as an estimate of lost ticket revenue.” As for playing gay characters, Reeve simply says, “I think the problem is with other people. I’ve been used to straights playing gays and vice versa all my life so it seems pretty ordinary to me. People aren’t freaked out by homosexual characters on stage on the screen if they emerge as compelling, real people that the audience can identify with on other levels.”
I emphasized the last of the quote from Christopher Reeve because it seems that he was incorrect. "Compelling, real people," people that "the audience can identify with," may be the ones that are the greatest challenge to watch. Audiences could watch the young protagonist of Midnight Express (1978), cornered and raped by guards, but they squirmed and protested watching “regular” men kiss, perhaps most of all because they seemed like them, and kissed like them.
Even more recently I read a wonderful memoir by a gay writer, Paul Monette. Monette was born in 1945 (d. 1995), roughly when Jack and Ennis would have been born. Raised by less than well-off parents in Lawrence, Massachussetts, he was a bright student who was given a scholarship to a pretigious prep school in his town. Another scholarship sent him to Yale. In his memoir, Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story (1992), he tells candidly, funnily, brilliantly, angrily, and movingly of his life in the closet and how he finally emerged from it.
Here is a passage I found pertinent to what I have been talking about. He is recounting how he played sex games growing up, with whom he played them, and the “rules” of those games.
The animal hunger was the same I felt with Kite [his first sexual play friend, when he was 9 ½] except for one thing. I wanted to kiss Richie. I never came close to verbalizing that, let alone acting on it, because I understood that all romance was forbidden. We could dick around as much as we liked, but a kiss would have bordered on love. And yet I was aware of feeling tender as well as carnal. I would summon up Richie’s face in my mind when I wasn’t with him. (…)
To this day I think he was queer too, and our sessions together never required a smokescreen of pretending we were getting ready to put it to women. But Richie kept me at a distance all the same, no intimacy of any sort, substituting instead a comrade’s heartiness. I’d arrive at his house, and we’d get right down to it, no preliminaries. I guess I was learning the difference between a boyfriend and a “fuck buddy,” thought the latter term wouldn’t come into vogue for another twenty years. Half my generation of gay men would go after that kind only, willing to try almost anything once – but no kissing.
As I will try to point out next time, the film of BBM departed from the short story on which it was based in just this area. What Monette described doing with his little friend was very like what Proulx described her 19-year-old protagonists doing that summer up on Brokeback. They were true sons of their era.
But the film version of BBM made what I now see is the radical jump of letting the boys who were "fuck buddies," like Monette and his friend Richie, become lovers -- the lovers they might have wanted to be, under the hearty bluff, lovers who would dare to kiss face-to-face.
Next post:appropriate quotes from the short story, more discussion (but not so long!), and the first of the screencaps, probably in three installments.
Brokeback Mountain Links Page HERE