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After Brokeback

After Brokeback


The upper west side of Manhattan is one of those demilitarized zones where you never expect to encounter any of the prejudices still prevalent in all those red states west of the Hudson River. So when my boyfriend and I went to Loews Lincoln Square at Broadway and 68th Street and ran into three teary-eyed friends exiting Brokeback Mountain, I naturally expressed my enthusiasm for the movie--out loud.

Then a middle-aged stranger darted out of the crowd. "What did you like?" he asked.

"Brokeback Mountain," I replied.

"Oh," he said. "I thought it was beautifully made. But I thought it was just a pile of crap. It's just homosexual propaganda."

"We're all gay," the five of us thundered back.

"Oh," he said, "I don't really believe in gay people!" Then he disappeared into the night.

This reminded me that even in Manhattan there are still plenty of people astonished (or repelled) by the notion of gay cowboys--yes, Virginia, even cowboys. And that seems to be what is most revolutionary about this gay-themed landmark--if these masculine archetypes of the American West can fall in love with each other, absolutely nothing is sacred anymore.

God knows it took us long enough to get here. It was 1971 when Peter Finch planted his lips firmly on Murray Head's mouth in Sunday Bloody Sunday--the very first big-screen gay kiss in a mainstream movie. When Cabaret came out a year later, it was even more satisfying when Michael York said, "Screw Fritz," Liza Minnelli said, "I do," and York responded, "So do I!" In 1975 we thought we were on a roll when Paul Newman optioned The Front Runner. But 30 years later those gay athletes still haven't made it to the big screen.

Hollywood will make anything as long as there is money to be made, and in a world where adolescent girls still make most of the movie-ticket-buying decisions, gay movies remain a hard sell. But if Brokeback does sweep the Oscars and stays strong at the box office, maybe more than one gay movie will get made every five years.

That's certainly the hope of producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who optioned Randy Shilts's The Mayor of Castro Street 15 years ago and now have out director Bryan Singer attached to the Harvey Milk biopic. "We believe, for the first time, this project is viable," Zadan told the Los Angeles Times. "We are getting nothing but enthusiasm from Warner Bros." But so far the film hasn't actually been green-lighted.

The one thing that hasn't changed in Hollywood is the need for straight actors to reassure fans that they're really straight. Although Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal both give superb performances as tortured gay men, Ledger went so far as to father a child with costar Michelle Williams--having agreed to appear in the movie only after he convinced director Ang Lee that the only gay cowboy he could play was the one who is the top.

And yet any doubt about the existence of Ledger's inner gay man is obliterated by his portrayal of a charming fop in Casanova. Even in Hollywood, it's possible for a male actor to reveal his feminine side--but only when playing history's most famous ladies' man.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Charles Kaiser