Nearly 15 years ago, nearly all I could think about was a movie about two cowboys who fell in love. After avoiding it all this time, I may be obsessing on it all over again.
Brokeback Mountain, I just can’t quit you.
In 2015, I was consumed with just the idea of Brokeback Mountain, much less the actuality of it. I was in a semblance of a relationship that I could at the time that I could at least imagine was half as tragic as the story of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. I read Annie Proulx’s short story, furtively, in the aisles at Hastings. Though I certainly had no qualms about buying and reading queer literature (this was well beyond the time that I drove from my home in Pampa monthly to buy copies of gay newsmagazine The Advocate in Amarillo), there was something dangerous about Brokeback, for whatever dumb reason.
I knew a movie adaptation (from Ang Lee, whose work was already a favorite) was coming out, though that was well before I knew it was actually coming to Amarillo. And did I actually think it was coming to Amarillo? Hell no. Looking back, this is probably the movie that taught me how to find out what’s opening — knowing that the new listings generally come out Tuesday nights, knowing who to call at our multiplexes to see what was expected in the next few weeks.
I haven’t seen Brokeback in 15 years, not since seeing it at the Amarillo Star 14 with my dear friends Tom and Candace. We were all looking forward to it — Tom and I more so, probably, naturally. We watched the credits roll and sat there as long as possible, snuffling, devastated. Dinner at BL Bistro, I recall. Not much talking, just a lot of “Shit, that was good.”
More than a dozen years later, I was in a somewhat better place, professionally speaking: I actually got a screener link to watch Call Me By Your Name a few weeks before it opened here, and I wasn’t over-identifying with a piece of fiction (yay, me). But again, this was a movie I was obsessed with well before it actually screened here, and again, it was an adaptation of a sensational book (this one by André Aciman), only this time I actually bought it and read it . Now, maybe because CMBYN wasn’t as overwhelmingly tragic as Brokeback (melancholy and bittersweet as hell, yes, but not as tragic), I’ve actually watched it a several times — hell, probably eight or nine times (and once or twice since) by the time it won an Oscar for adapted screenplay (and was robbed for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Song). (For the record, I’d have given it Best Picture, Best Director [Luca Guadagnino], Best Actor [Timothee Chalamet], Best Supporting Actor [Armie Hammer] and Best Use of a Stone Fruit [That lucky peach].)
Now, I had actually bought a DVD of Brokeback, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch it again until, honestly, last night, and only after a fortifying dose of vodka. As I recall, my friend Saul watched it a dozen or more times in that first year or so, between its theatrical release and its home-video debut — similar to my fixation on CMBYN, but stronger. Much stronger. I envied him — so, so much.
Looking back, I was consumed with Brokeback because I had convinced myself that I was Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), in love with my own Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger), who wouldn’t see what a good thing he had until it was too late. True or not, watching the film again this weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still made me a sobbing wreck even though I’ve moved on from that relationship.
Since it had been some 15 years since I sucked it up and watched Brokeback again, I wondered where it might still rank in my ever-evolving list of favorite films. CMBYN is firmly planted there, easily in the Top 5 because I think I can be at least a little objective about it. I realize now that Brokeback is going to be one of those films that I’ll never be objective about (see also: Steel Magnolias, The Wizard of Oz).
Now, honestly, once you’ve seen these films at least once, there’s a little bit of “get it on already” to them both. I suppose that’s a fringe benefit of living in 2020, not in the ’60s (as in Brokeback) or the ’80s (CMBYN). Yet I know there are still queers — hell, there’s still lots of folks — in similar situations because that’s ever the nature of love. But the delayed consummation of the love stories in both films, be it ever so devoutly to be wished, is still breathtakingly powerful.
I don’t think it’ll take me another 15 years to revisit Brokeback. To be honest, I ordered a Blu-ray copy while watching my old DVD — because, if you’ve seen it, you know there are a few scenes that deserve to be seen in HD. And I’ve finally grown beyond fixating over what might have been, but there’s still a frisson in considering the unobtainable, right?
Up next: Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria and Hedwig and the Angry Inch