WEIRDLAND: Cowboys of Free Love

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cowboys of Free Love

"When straight actors take on gay roles, we can expect to encounter showbiz gossip intended to convey the heterosexual bona fides of any actor cast in a gay role. [...]

The pattern remains unbroken today on the slopes of “Brokeback Mountain.” Publicity about the “gay cowboy” movie has enforced all the rules of this game: The actors’ heterosexual credentials are much rehearsed, and their method-acting skills admired. In an early account of the film, while it was still in pre-production, quoted a Hollywood executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity: “Realistically, let’s talk about the giggle factor. I mean, it is a story about gay cowboys! That is the most daring thing you can do.”

Still, as Salon’s Rebecca Traister put it, “If the I’s do get dotted on Gyllenhaal and Ledger’s contracts, it’s worth noting that both will run less of a risk of being ‘taken for gay’ than many of their colleagues; [...]

As it happens, the account in Salon and Us Weekly needs to be updated, because as anyone paying even the slightest attention will know, Ledger and supporting star Michelle Williams, who plays his wife Alma, became romantically involved during the shooting and have recently had a baby.

Their straight cred firmly in place, Ledger and Gyllenhaal can face the inevitable barrage of questions about what it’s like to kiss another man. After all, this is an important demonstration of the acting skills that might win an Oscar. As Guardian critic Philip Hensher put it: “the actors in these films are always at pains to stress the incredible trauma involved in having to pretend to kiss a person of the same sex in front of cameras. To be fair, this is always a subject that unhealthily obsesses interviewers, but actors’ responses are often highly amusing. Jake Gyllenhaal has said: ‘Heath and I were both saying, “Let’s get the love scenes over as fast as we can—all right, cool. Let’s get to the important stuff."

Sometimes the actors evade the dangerous implications of their roles—that their acting might be too real—by trying to widen, or cloud, the lens. In a cover-story interview in the gay-oriented style magazine Details, Gyllenhaal stresses the universality of “Brokeback’s” story: “My character could have been played by a woman and it would have made just as much sense.” Apparently not having read any of the promotional material on the film, the actor says that he doesn’t believe Ennis and Jack are gay: “I approached the story believing that these are actually straight guys who fall in love,” he says. “That’s how I related to the material. These are two straight guys who develop this love, this bond. Love binds you, and you see these guys pulling and pulling and tugging and trying to figure out what they want, and what they will allow themselves to have.”

Ledger played the same card in an interview in Time magazine. “I don’t think Ennis could be labeled as gay. Without Jack Twist, I don’t know that he ever would have come out,” Ledger tells the magazine. “I think the whole point was that it was two souls that fell in love with each other.”

“Brokeback Mountain” producer James Schamus told one reporter that he was not worried about audiences who were troubled by the love story and sex scenes between men. “If you have a problem with the subject matter, that’s your problem, not mine,” Schamus said. “It would be great if you got over your problem, but I’m not sitting here trying to figure out how to help you with it.” But he also knows how important it is that the story be defined as universal. “Once people saw the film, they understood that it was a film about a kind of epic greatness that can exist in anyone, anywhere, no matter who they are, no matter what their sexual orientation or class or historical circumstances.”


gr77 said...

interesting article.thanks for posting

penny lane said...

Perhaps we should bear in mind that Jake and Heath finished the filming of BBM more than a year before it was finally shown in Venice in September 2005.
Both of them have stated in interviews that it took them several months to get away from a feeling of emptiness and loneliness that making this film left them with.
I actually think that by the time the movie got in the theatres both Jake and Heath had moved on.
The incessant questions about what it was like to kiss a man, not to mention the incessant jokes about the movie, probably made them edgy at times when answering those types of questions.
They made a beautiful movie that deeply touched thousands of people. Ang introduced a lot of us to Jake and Heath, something he certainly deserves our thanks for. But Jake and Heath owe us - or for that matter 'the gay community' nothing. They do not need to answer questions on their sexuality; it really is none of our business. I think BBM has iconic scenes and deserves most of the accolades that have been heaped upon it, but I also think that it has been over-analyzed and that some people have taken the obsession too far. Jack and Ennis are fictional characters brought to life by Jake and Heath who are both actors.

Simon Agent 002 said...

TruthDig? Now your visiting one of my newest haunts...
The editor, Robert Scheer used to be the editor of the Los Angeles Times.
He was dismissed after refusing to put into effect the staff cutbacks wanted by managment.
So a year ago he started this website, which I found from Gore Vidal searches.

Funny thing was, I remember Barbra Streisand, publicly canceling her subscription to the LA Times....after his ouster.
She wrote a lengthy editorial in protest...
Now I understand what the furror was over.
Guess where Mr. 81 year old, wheelchair bound Vidal is right now?
Bless his hell rasier soul he's in Cuba!...and making public statements that we should end the 40 yr embargo!

penny lane said...

Robert Scheer has been around for a long, long time Simon and yes, I remember he was fired from the LA Times. I seem to remember he was the last journalist to talk to Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in LA before he went down to the ballroom of that hotel to give, what would turn out to be, his last speech.
Scheer also writes for The Nation regularly.
So Gore Vidal is in Cuba, is he? Who is he meeting there? I am no fan of Castro's but yes, that embargo has lasted way too long.

Simon Agent 002 said...

Penny, Your more aware of what's going on here then I am!...
(hangs head in shame)

Excerpts (see below) from Cuban News Agency:

"The American writer arrived in Havana last Saturday at the invitation of the Cuban Culture Ministry and will stay here until Thursday."

"The delegation's agenda includes encounters with the island's authorities, and an exchange with Cuban writers at the Casa de Las Americas cultural" institution. Gore is expected to give a key lecture at the University of Havana's Aula Magna.

Here,is another report that has more remarks from Gore on arrival.

I'm no fan of Castro either, but I agree it's wise to end the embargo.

penny lane said...

Thanks for the links Simon. Will read them more carefully later this evening. It sounds like it should be an interesting visit and perhaps we'll be reading more about it later from Vidal himself.
And I will certainly be reading Vidal's autobiography that came out recently, sometime in the new year.

Simon Agent 002 said...

I'm keeping my eyes open, for a transcript or audio of his speech to University of Aula Magna.
If it becomes available on the internet, I'll post it on the JW board.

penny lane said...

BBM one year later: