Brokeback on My Mind
To the Editor:
Andrew Holleran’s essay on Brokeback Mountain [March-April 2006 issue] is a wonderfully thorough examination of the impact of this great film on its gay audience. He has put into words many of the feelings and thoughts I have had about it. I too have sought to talk with friends about the film. Now I understand more clearly why it has such a grip on me. I identified with the age of the characters and even with the setting, if only because, like most American boys raised in the 1940’s and 50’s, I was subjected to so much cowboy imagery in movies and on TV. I can also understand why, to some younger gay viewers, the film seems dated.
One vital point Holleran makes is that the film’s power lies in giving seriousness and dignity to gay characters. Our contemporary culture, straight and gay, is so mired in escapist fantasy that many people cannot understand the seriousness of love or any strong emotion. (I recently attended a Brooklyn Academy of Music performance of Hedda Gabler where the audience laughed at her predicament!) The deprivation in Ennis’ life, so painfully evident in his final wrenching scene with Jack, is light years away from the commercially popular clichés of mass culture. Some straight friends won’t see the film because it is “too dark” or “too sad,” a commentary on the fallacies of the American dream. But the theme of forbidden, hopeless, or doomed love is a universal one. This film adds a tragedy of gay love to the many dramas of “what might have been” and of dreams lost.
I do not feel that Brokeback Mountain is too painful to watch more than once. The second and third time I saw the film it seemed to move faster and more seamlessly towards Ennis’ final revelation of loss. Each time I watch that most beautiful and moving scene of all, I appreciate anew bow priceless the gift of love is.
Robert J. DeFreitas, New York
To the Editor:
A friend sent me Andrew Holleran’s article, “The Magic Mountain,” his personal response to the film Brokeback Mountain. The allusion to Thomas Mann is not without significance, since the film has literary qualities above and beyond its source in Annie Proulx’s short story.
But as a film it is about another time for viewers living now and aging. The reference to two audiences waiting in line to see the film is important, since the movie can indeed serve to enlighten young, “cool” viewers and to revive regret in those who grew up in the 1960’s. I have seen it twice, once alone and once with someone forty years younger than I am. I was aware of the tragic dimension of Ennis’ life and note especially Holleran’s insights about the uniqueness of the two shepherds’ situation as “both best friends and lovers,” as well as his observation that Ennis was likely—I would say, surely—“gay only with Jack,” while Jack was “gay” in our current sense of the term.
As usual, Holleran has seen past what I would call the simplistic gay ethos. But he should have stayed one minute longer as the credits rolled to hear Rufus Wainwrights’s “The Maker Makes.” (He reports he was standing by then.). Ang Lee has left this for the end, I think, for those who really sat still, thoughtful and reflective, after the film. The lyrics of “The Maker Makes” say what this film is about: friendship, the lost world of relationships between two men, gay or straight, a type of relationship that Leslie Fiedler caught sight of fifty years ago in Love and Death in the American Novel, a theme to which American writers since Melville have been attuned. This, I believe, is what audiences, both the “cool” ones and those caught up in our personal nostalgia of lost promises and chances in love, have responded to in Brokeback Mountain. Imagine having one friend and only being allowed by life’s exigencies to see him for a long weekend once every year or two.
Miles Groth, Ph.D., New York
To the Editor:
I’m a 59-year-old male who’s been queer since the age of six (or earlier), and never guilty or apologetic about it. But Brokeback Mountain disturbed me a great deal, and I still haven’t fully recovered. The film’s influence is profound and disconcerting.
Though the film is superior to the short story in showing Jack’s repeated attempts to kiss a confused and reluctant Ennis, I was disappointed at the overall desexualizing of the story. In even a late version of the script (from Feb., 2003), we don’t see Ennis and Jack getting it on, an odd change from a writer who has never shied away from sex (e.g., The Last Picture Show). The film also elides a number of affectionate moments between the men.
One of the psychological weaknesses of the short story (offset in the film by showing Jack’s possibly unconscious sexual interest in Ennis right from the start) is the unanswered question of why a man who sees himself as “straight” would allow another man to mount him. Annie Proulx seemed to think that such activity was more-or-less common among solitary men and needed no explanation. So the point isn’t that Jack and Ennis engage in mutual anal sex, but that they fall in love. Or a continuing, intense lust. Most hetero love stories are, at least at the start, about physical attraction. Why should Jack and Ennis be any different?
“When was the last time you slept with a man who beat up bikers for talking dirty in front of his wife and daughters?” When I lived in New York in 1967, I was involved with a man named Lawrence David Chabot (who out-manlied John Wayne by a wide margin), a desperately unhappy Catholic homosexual who’d lost his job at ABC because, when a co-worker called his wife a whore, he’d pulled the handle off his camera dolly and beaten the man with it. So “the last time” for me would be 39 years. And Mr. Chabot is hardly the only queer man I’ve known who was either undetectably normal or unbelievably macho, neither pretending nor posturing. People like Ennis and Jack really do exist.
I belong to Interlake Mountain Men, a black-powder/mountain-man club. I’ve told only a few buckskinners (all but one outside the club) that I’m queer. But after our July rendezvous, I’m going to tell them all I like the fellers and ask them to help me find some sweet li’l geezer to settle down with. I’ve never thought of myself as a coward (I was chairman of the “Student Homophile League” in college), but it was Brokeback Mountain that gave me the impetus to do this.
Author Replies to Geltmaker’s Letter
What is perhaps most disheartening about Ty Geltmaker’s response [May-June 06] to my critique of the idea that Walt Whitman struggled with his self-identity as a gay man is Geltmaker’s refusal to engage seriously with the terms of my argument. Rather than present historical evidence to the contrary, he takes a gratuitous and defensive swipe at English Studies—as if historians of his ilk are the only ones authorized to speak on such matters—offers an extremely glib reading of the relationship between fascism and homoeroticism, and repeats a simplistic, allegedly self-evident account of the complicated and sometimes contradictory relationship of institutions such as the church and the state to the question of how homosexuality came historically to “speak on its own behalf.” Even the most casual reader of Michel Foucault will recognize that Geltmaker has apparently either forgotten or misunderstood one of the French theorist’s most basic contributions to our knowledge of the history of sexuality: that power does not simply say “no” to pre-existing identity categories but rather plays a role in their historical emergence and proliferation.
Clearly, no one is obligated to agree with Foucault. But to respond to a critique with simplistic assertions to the contrary is hardly a way to advance intelligent discussion about a topic that clearly matters to many queers. The Gay & Lesbian Review is unique in that it has sought consistently to bridge the gap between work in Queer/GLBT Studies (both inside and outside the university) and a larger GLBT community. Given the general state of public debate today, we can only hope it continues this worthwhile project and resists the anti-intellectualism of the commercial media, queer and straight.
John Champagne, Erie, PA
A New York Riot before the Black Cat
To the Editor:
I was interested to read the article in the March-April issue on the Black Cat riots in Los Angeles. While the action certainly didn’t qualify as a riot, the gay response in New York City to the closing of all the city’s gay bars during the winter of 1959–60 should certainly be included in the public protest department of gay history.
As the bars were closed, gay men took to the streets, not in protest, but as a substitute for the rather unsavory, Mafia-run bars that had been closed down. Gays on the East Side cruised the east sidewalk of Third Avenue between 50th and 60th Streets by the hundreds, probably by the thousands, on weekends. Gays in Greenwich Village cruised on the west sidewalk of Greenwich Avenue between 6th and 7th Avenues. This spectacular nightly parade of gay men gave the city administration good reason to have second thoughts, and gay bars slowly began to reappear, never to be shut down again and no longer Mafia controlled.
The claim of Julius’s bar on West 10th Street to be the city’s oldest gay bar is vitiated by the fact that during the purge one could only gain entry to Julius’s if one was accompanied be a member of the opposite sex!
Andrew Trimingham, Paget, Bermuda
To The Editor,
I believe David Hockney puts to rest the idea of “gay art” as opposed to “the artist who is gay.” As he does so eloquently: “Love is the only serious subject.”
As a co-owner with my lover of an art gallery on Cape Cod for eighteen years, we dealt with artists who were straight, gay, androgynous, and asexual. In all cases, however, they were first of all artists, and for us the only criterion was, are they good artists or not? I believe a good artist is one who has a unique vision and the talent to express it. Having enjoyed David Hockney’s “Portraits” show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, I would agree that much of his subject matter is gay (current and former lovers), but the treatment is of “loved” human beings observed and recorded over many years. More importantly, these portraits are of humankind itself, as we age, change, and stay the same. Isn’t that the true essence of art and life itself?
Jim Hinkle, Cummaquid, MA
A Typo to Remember
To the Editor:
Gosh, but to refer to vandalizing San Francisco Library books as “a wonton [sic]act of destruction” (in the May-June 06 issue) seems to stereotype the minority group of Chinese-Americans. Or anyhow imply Gilt by Association. This gauche gaffe might actually land you down the Slippery Sloap into the soup—of course, the “Hot & Pour [sik][sic]Soup! How un-Fortune-ate a Cookie, that slanted slur which could Stir the Fry thus….
Brian Kevin Beck, Wisconsin
Due to an editing error, a word in Jim Nawrocki’s poem, “From Cole St.,” was changed in the May-June 06 issue. Here is the first stanza in its entirety, with “tributes” replacing “tribunes”:
At your front door all that week
new flowers, notes, a photo of you alone,
each morning I passed there I’d see
the tributes spread to you across the stone.