The Brokeback
Mountain effect

The Brokeback
            Mountain effect

West Hollywood,
Calif., resident Doug Eichler strolled into Regal
Cinemas’ Avenue 13 multiplex the day after Christmas,
keen to see the film his friends and neighbors
(including this writer) had been raving
about—the so-called gay cowboy flick Brokeback
Mountain.
Visiting his in-laws for the holidays,
Eichler had no reason to think it would be difficult
to find a seat: The Avenue 13 is in Rolling Hills Estates, a
posh bedroom community on the Palos Verdes peninsula 20-odd
miles south and a world away from the liberal gay
enclave of West Hollywood. Voters here in 2004 favored
George W. Bush by 15 percentage points.

And yet when
Eichler walked into a large stadium-style theater showing
Brokeback, it was absolutely packed. Eichler saw
families, older married women and men, groups of
teenage girls, and straight high schoolers on dates.
He saw precisely one gay male couple. And he saw that
the only seats left were literally in the front row. As
Eichler settled in for the trailers, he
couldn’t help but wonder if these people had any
idea what they were about to see.

He needn’t
have worried. There were no groans, no inappropriate
titters, no popcorn thrown at the screen. The audience
watched ranch hands Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and
Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) fall in love while
herding sheep in the Wyoming mountains in 1963—and
then furtively continue their romance over 20 years
while marrying women and building separate
families—with rapt attention. Well, save for one
moment. When Ennis and Jack engaged in their first
sexual encounter in a pup tent on a cold Wyoming
night, a teenager sitting directly behind Eichler turned to
his girlfriend and whispered, “Oh, man, he’s
getting it in the butt.” His date immediately
shushed him: “Shut up! It’s art.”

As the film
concluded and the credits began to roll, the audience even
broke into applause.

Never before has
a gay-themed film been as written about, reviewed,
lauded, awarded, discussed, dissected, parodied, and hyped
as Brokeback Mountain, so it’s easy to
forget amid this din that the film is deeply moving
millions nationwide one theater and one screen at a
time, communities sitting together in the dark and
emotionally connecting with this story. And not just
where one would expect. A theater manager in Mason
City, Iowa, reported receiving a petition asking him to
bring the film to his screens (he was planning to
anyway). The AMC Southroads 20 in Tulsa, Okla.,
received thank-you calls after it started screening
Brokeback on January 6; there was so much demand, in
fact, the theater had to add a screen for the first
few showings. Newspapers from Columbus, Ohio, to
Tallahassee, Fla., to small-town Joplin, Mo., have all
run stories essentially saying the same thing: Good news,
folks, Brokeback Mountain is coming to town!

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