Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The love that really dares not speak its name

Caryn James has a funny little article about the hysterical laughter that greets the trailer for Brokeback Mountain. (She also provides links to the trailer.)

There are lots of possible reasons for the comic effect. There might be snickering at the love story between the men played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. There might be snorting at a story that comes off as sappy in the trailer — so romanticized that the preview ends with a shot of fireworks exploding behind one of the men. There is no doubt, though, that plenty of laughs come when the audience hears Mr. Gyllenhaal’s emotion-wracked voice say, “I wish I knew how to quit you!” The line barely works in the film; in the preview, it’s a howler — evidence of the dangers of wrenching dialogue out of context.
She also unwittingly touches on something that is, to me, a subtext of all the discussions about the movie: sheep. Thus, in describing the trailer's task, she has this to say:
Still, this trailer has a tough job to do, and it carries it off pretty well. It has to say that this is a gay cowboy movie without a voice saying, “It’s a gay cowboy movie,” and scaring off part of the audience. The preview eases its way in with scenes of the men riding and herding sheep. (They’re cowboys!) Then comes a glimpse of the men coming toward one another for a kiss in a pup tent. (OK, they’re gay cowboys!)
It's that "herding sheep" line that gets to me. I'm not a huge Woody Allen fan, but I've always thought that one of the funniest moments in film is the sheep romance in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask. Do you remember that bit? It's where Gene Wilder falls madly in love with a sheep and for reasons I don't remember after 25+ years, ends up alone in a gutter, drinking cheap wine. And I can't help thinking that, if it hadn't been for each other, poor Jake and Heath might have had to turn to those equally poor sheep. Perhaps that sheep romance -- the love the really dares not baaaa its name -- is the next movie coming down the pike. I'm only half joking, you know. Take Peter Singer, the amazingly controversial "ethicist" -- a term I use advisedly. (I blogged about him here.) He started his career as pretty much the founder of the modern animal rights movement, only to have the movement turn against him when he said bestiality was fine, as long as the beast consented. His former followers were outraged, feeling that a cow was really never in a position to consent, so that it would always be rape. (And no, I'm not making all of this up.) So you see, Brokeback Mountain could have been a lot more interesting and controversial, if it had tackled the really hard issues of a man, his sheep, the world that seeks to separate them, and whether sheep can actually engage in consensual sex with humans. I'm savoring a moment here trying to imagine the trailer to that film and the corresponding audience response. UPDATE: Thanks to the gals at the Independent Women's Forum, I got the link to this great Saturday Night Live spoof of the trailer. I'm not an SNL fan, but this is a hoot.