Gays on Film


Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain

As readers will have no doubt heard, three of the movies up for Best Film at this year’s Oscars starred gay or transsexual characters: Brokeback Mountain, Capote and Transamerica.

Predictably the Christian Right are freaking out, and people such as Fox TV’s Bill O’Reilly have said, ‘They’re not going to go see the gay cowboys in Montana. I’m sorry. They’re not going to do it. ‘

But Brokeback Mountain has, in fact, been playing to large audiences in Montana and everywhere else. The 85-year-old owner of a cinema in Missoula, Montana says: ‘It’s been super every night since we started showing it.’ And as gay Republican blogmeister Andrew Sullivan wrote in an article for Times Online that ‘some of the strongest audiences have been in Tulsa, Oklahoma; El Paso, Texas; Des Moines, Iowa; and Lubbock, Texas. Lubbock is the place George W Bush calls his spiritual home and may well be the site for his presidential library. Greenwich Village it ain’t.’

Bush himself even took a dig, in a speech made prior to his State of the Union address:

Lynne Cheney and Laura were out of town recently, so I called up Dick and said, ‘Why don’t we go to a movie?’ He said, ‘Great idea, let’s go to a cowboy movie.’ Yep, finally we went to see Brokeback Mountain. Let me tell you, whooo-eee! Dick sat through the movie, didn’t say a word. We came out. After a while he says: ‘Nice horses.’ I say ‘Yep.’ Then he becomes real quiet again and kind of serious. I knew something was on his mind. Finally he turned to me and said: ‘You don’t suppose the Lone Ranger and Tonto ‘

As my favourite blogger, Ms Fits, says: ‘That is some top quality humourosity right there, people.’

While it might make us more comfortable to blame the Right for any controversy this film is causing, frankly I think the discomfort is also much closer to home.

I can’t think of a film in recent times that has triggered more mashups (merging of soundtracks and images from disparate sources to make film trailer spoofs) than Brokeback Mountain. The Age film reviewer, Jim Schembri, summarised the range of jokes kicking around: Brokeback to the Future, Muppet Brokeback Mountain, Star Wars: Episode VII Brokeback Planet, Jurassic Park IV: Brokeback Island, Brokeback Mormons and finally, ‘Mel Brooks plans to reunite Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick from The Producers for his gay-themed musical If It Ain’t Brokeback, Don’t Fix It.’

I know it’s really important for the Left to have a sense of humour because John Birmingham, among others, has recently told us so. In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Birmingham quotes Right wing blogger Tim Blair:

Asked what’s behind the arrival and success of neo-Con comedy, Blair wonders whether the cultural Left has become complacent and limp because of the dominance of their views in the press and educational institutions. ‘Their responses to mockery are telling,’ says [Blair]. ‘They sometimes seem utterly puzzled that they might be figures of fun, which makes them look all the more out of touch.’

Actually, women like me you know, humourless, lesbian feminists have been figures of fun for decades and homophobia is the dominant position of the press. But, whatever. Let’s just assume, for a moment, that Left wingers like me are in some way intrinsically boring. I don’t really care. You know what? Some things aren’t that funny.

Thanks to Larry Wright

Schrembi wrote a negative review of Brokeback, which caused an outcry. He then wrote another piece in which he attacked those who attacked him. In his (very positive) review of Capote a couple of weeks later, he took the chance to give Brokeback yet another serve, arguing that Capote is ‘far more progressive’ than Brokeback because the latter film, ‘seeks to imbue prejudice with a sort of nostalgic glow, as though gay identity is defined by sexual politics and persecution rather than by love.’ Which sounds like a valid point, until you consider that men in Wyoming, and indeed in Sydney and San Francisco, are persecuted and beaten or murdered for being homosexual.

More trivially and ridiculously Heath Ledger had to go into what The Age described as ‘Oscar damage control’ after his recent appearance at the Screen Actors Guild Awards:

Ledger’s behaviour, with Hollywood’s A-List crowd sitting before him and a worldwide audience watching on TV, was odd. Some wondered if, as the Los Angeles Times described it, he was performing ‘some kind of gay spoof’ Ledger was giggling, his body was slumped and his left hand was on his hip in a ‘teacup’ position.

Ledger has since apologised for his nervousness: ‘I would be absolutely horrified if my stage fright was misinterpreted as a lack of respect for the film, the topic and for the amazing filmmakers.’ Apparently Ledger, having played a gay man, must now behave in a masculine fashion for the duration of his career, or people will wonder.

(More trivially again, I am writing this from a hotel in the United States that I chose because most of the other hotels in the area advertise as ‘Family Friendly,’ and as most gay people know, that can be code for ‘fuck off, and no, you can’t use the pool.’)

Homophopia is still well and truly entrenched across the political system, too. During the last election campaign Labor’s then legal affairs spokeswoman, Nicola Roxon, reiterated the Party’s position on gay marriage: that it supported the institution of marriage as a social and (for many) religious union between a man and a woman. She went on to state, to rousing applause, that she knew Australians would welcome this. Subtext: gay people are not citizens of this country.

The Australian Democrats gave their preferences to Family First, a Party affiliated with the Assemblies of God. During the same election campaign a Family First worker had to be disciplined for agreeing that the Party supported lesbians being burned to death. The ALP in Victoria also directed their preferences to Family First before the Greens.

I could go on, ad infinitum, because that’s what humorless people like me do but I’ve got to run. I’m off to the movies.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.