The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Gay Bashing

So I followed this Oscar season closer than I have in many years. Particularly because of how poor the press treated the run up to the awards. It was this overdramatic love affair with presumptions, assumptions and the slaughtering of movies into small phrases: gay cowboy affair, race drama, gay crime drama, terrorism drama, etc. Now, overall, the films were moving but maybe I am getting a bit jaded, none of them popped out at me as something supremely transcendent. You are always looking for that film: that one that changes your life and everyone else around you. Brokeback was pretty close, but it had the incompleteness about it, an austere emptiness in the middle of the film that made me lose concentration until the slow and meticulous climax and the tearful denouement.

And as my rant could go longer, I will go right out and say it: the Academy turned out to be cowards. The best movie of the year did not win. The best was Brokeback, and not Crash.

Why would I like Brokeback so much? Well, aside from the way it kind of tickled me to see a film actually deal with real gay themes, the movie itself was the most powerful of the year. Succinct, direct, beautiful, and as an ode to society: disengaging and enveloping at the same time. It was the most complete cinematic experience I had this year. And for sometime, most of the world agreed.

So what is up with this come from behind business? In queer irony, it serves to exclaim how controversy brews in society: so much so that society actually goes as far as to stereotype a movie. As a film-goer I am immediately attracted to stories of desolation and loss; of longing and hope. The paradoxical formations that most movies form (under this paradigm) can be uplifting or at its worse: parody. But there was something fresh, interesting and almost chic about Brokeback. It certainly did not live up to my dream of it being a hot gay love affair, but what I got was something slower, a pace that grabs you.

I should say the one weakness you feel in the movie is that the leads are almost so strong in their roles; you forget that they are (apparently) supposed to love each other. Notwithstanding my own complaints: this film has grown on me since December when I saw it and almost snidely left the film disappointed. It has shown resilience and beauty. As commentators have tried to describe it (only to concede they have never seen the film) it has begun to strike a chord with me. How could they not see it!? It was one of the most engaging experiences I have had with a film, so much that I can still hauntingly see the images on the screen, in that packed theatre, and the gentle nudge that I gave Matt as I told him: “In almost bitter irony, I am happy I was allowed to see this movie with you right next to me.”


  • At 5:21 PM, Blogger The Gentle Cricket said…

    I was underwhelmed by Brokeback. It had hype of being so beautiful and touching, but it seemed very bland, in my opinion. There were certainly some interesting and touching moments, but they were weak, few, and far between.

    I was overjoyed that Crash won. After seeing it in December of 2004 I was mesmerized. I loved it, and told people that it had a strong chance at best picture. I felt that the characters, though some were over the top, were far easier to associate myself with. I could see my own personal shortcomings in almost ever character in the movie. Furthermore, Crash said more about our society than Brokeback, and in a much more eloquent way.

  • At 9:07 PM, Blogger Keith said…

    I have a problem with a film coming out in December 2004 winning the 2005 Oscar. I thought that would disqualify it.

    But I think that we have entered into the weird evaluations. So you tell me something about Crash, I am glad you can, I am glad you liked it, but this statement about saying something about society, they both said something (it is the goal of a movie to do so), however, this is not the only criteria through which a best picture should be evaluated. The best picture is a holistic determination. And in some more technical aspects, Crash had some drawbacks, just as Brokeback did. In the end both must be lauded as great films.

    I also think, and you may agree, that a film that overwhelming won the support of society (winning the GG, DAG, Critic Awards etc.) and loses not because of hype, but because of fear and controversy, represents a far more problematic issue for society. Brokeback may not have been your cup of tea, but partly this is a result of your personal prejudices: I am glad you could associate with characters in Crash, but once again this is not the only measure of a good film. And my preference to it signifies my own proclivities. But in this race, the one thing that was not affirmed if you will was the subtleties of Brokeback and the great filmmaking that was put into it. I truly enjoyed it, countless other people enjoyed it, and people did the same for Crash. But I suppose whether or not you wanted to root for Crash, you cannot escape the the thought that there was no affirmation of what was thought since the Venice Film Festival that this was a masterpiece of a film: poignant, slow, embracing, enveloping.

    And whereas I will wholeheartedly say that Crash was a great film, I am deeply confused why you refuse to say the same of Brokeback. It seems awfully black and white of a statement for you to make: well I could relate to one of the two films, which means its answer was simple.

    But in the end I feel that politics overtook the event. Look over the years at the number of times the Best Director did not win Oscar Best Picture: it is considered a great controversy. And this year was no exception. Be overjoyed with Crash winning, but at least stepping outside of your personal involvement, should we not condemn the results: the shameful controversy that erupted as people chose Crash as what has been often quoted as the 'safe choice' and upended what conventional wisdom labeled as the clear choice. Regardless of how you feel...that is the problem at hand.

  • At 9:38 AM, Blogger Brian said…

    I haven't seen either of these movies yet (haven't seen many movies at all recently), but I do just want to point out, Keith, that it is difficult to make the broad claim that the Academy backed down due to "fear and controversy." The voting process is far from monolithic. A diverse group of individuals watches the movies, be it at home or in the theater, then votes from the comfort of their home. Obviously, a lot of them felt that something broader than Academy pressure was moving them toward Crash.

    The question then is, is Hollywood really ready for films like Brokeback to be in the mainstream? Or did crash win for a different reason than fear and controversy about Brokeback?

  • At 9:46 AM, Blogger Brian said…

    From Slate's Mickey Kaus:

    "If the problem is really that Academy members let their fears win out over their better judgment--which I don't buy--isn't it more likely that the fears were not the Academy members own unspoken homophobic fears but fears of what their audience would think if they gave first prize to Brokeback? ... Fear of the audience--specifically, fear that the mainstream American audience will conclude you are a bunch of out-of-touch coastal liberal elitists--may in fact be the most pervasive fear in all of media. It's what makes the newsweeklies so clumsy, for example. ("Gee, they like American Idol. ... We must do a cover on American Idol.") It may have been what killed Brokeback's chance. But it's hardly an "unspoken" fear these days, is it?"

  • At 12:13 PM, Blogger Ben A. Johnson said…

    While I agree that it was shocking Brokeback didn't win (largely because of the hype surrounding it and Ang Lee's best director win) and I also agree that there was some political considerations being made with it's choice, I think it's problematic to dismiss criticisms of the movie based on "personal prejudices." I too did not think that Brokeback was a great film. As a gay male I am able to make this criticism that many heterosexuals cannot without being branded homophobic to some degree. For all its hype, Brokeback wasn't a new story. It's one that I've seen countless times before. The only thing that made it "brave" and "great" was that it got a lot of press surrounding it.

    And of course, the problem with Brokeback is that it would have been a political decision to win and a political decision for it to lose. There's no way around it.

    Brian: You should rent Crash. I suppose you should see Brokeback in order to remain culturally literate, but don't expect it to be as great as the hype.

  • At 2:23 PM, Blogger Keith said…

    I understand all that is said. But as an awards follower the normal patterns of award shows makes the victory by Crash come not as a affirmation of the truth, but as an awkward denial of what was to this point conventional wisdom. And far from what anyone has noted: I do not think this movie was overly hyped; I think it also was set back considerably by commentary and by the predominant consideration (as some commentaries have noted, see David Carr in the Times) that people pushed for something they could relate to: something they presumed to be mainstream.

    Rarely does this happen, not to say it should not happen.

    I think Brokeback provides a degree of energy I haven't seen in a film since the English Patient. And as some have belied Brokeback with the thought that it is a movie they have seen before: Crash, if we are going in that direction, is a mesmerizing film, but something I have seen before. As others have commented: it is in many ways a tempered version of Guillermo Arriaga's scripts and Alejandro Inarritu's direction for the movies Amores perros and 21 Grams.

    Of course you've seen it before: as the old saying goes: every story is the derivation of the same four original stories. It is how they tell it that makes it worth visiting. Although perhaps you have seen a film like Brokeback, I have not seen a film like this; and the story by Annie Proulx is in my mind unbelievable.

    And its clear preference was shared across the board...the reason it did not win, however, is the product of suspicion that makes you wonder: why?

    A lot of commentaries have said the academy is far more conservative than the Hollywood Foreign Press or the Directors Guild, etc., and this is a plausible reason. But whatever reason it is...the shock is created by the dissonance between the rest and the Oscars. A dissonance that critics and Oscars award followers take with great skepticism and wonder. And with the universal chorus: something weird happened behind the scenes.

  • At 9:07 PM, Blogger The Gentle Cricket said…

    You're right, Keith. Looking back at my original post I did seem to give Brokeback a fairly negative review. For clarity's sake, I did like the movie, though not to nearly the same degree as the hype surrounding it.

    "[A] film that overwhelming won the support of society" could also very well describe Crash. It did well at the box office, and also won the oscar for best original screenplay, the BAFTA for supporting actress and screenplay, and the BFCA for ensemble cast (best-picture equivalent) and writing. And, aside from professional awards, it has won the praises of my friends far more than Brokeback.

    "I think Brokeback provides a degree of energy I haven't seen in a film since the English Patient"
    For me, I could say the same of Crash. Furthermore, Crash was able to manipulate my emotions (hope, fear, anxiety, grief etc...) so well throughout the movie. You could say I was enveloped. From highs to lows. I didn't get that with Brokeback.

    Lastly, despite all our debate here on which is the best picture of the year, I will say that my favorite movie of the year was The Chumscrubber. Certainly not a "best picture" sort of movie, but I thought it was incredibly good (in the realm of Donnie Darko).


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