"For a movie about gay cowboys, there were an awful lot of boobs."
Okay, seriously, even I have a hard time writing that with a straight face given the existence of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Just pretend that when I say "...in a time, and a place..." I'm not referring to, "right here, and right now."
In any case, Brokeback Mountain is a remarkable movie that deserves high praise for its dramatic presentation of male homosexuality which, to date, has largely remained a subject for either comedies or niche movies about homosexuality in the context of AIDS. So, it's nice to see gay men being treated as something other than comic relief or AIDS vectors. I'm not, however, here to discuss this new day for homosexual cinema. I fully intend to write a post discussing the actual message of Brokeback Mountain at a later date, but for the moment I want to return to the boobs.
Okay, people, I want to be frank here: there are a lot of boobs in this movie. I don't mean that it's on the same scale as, say, Showgirls, which had so many boobs in it that, by the end of the film, you had become totally desensitized to them. I mean, Showgirls was so mammary-encrusted that by the time the final scenes came around, you were really just hoping that Elizabeth Berkeley and friends would keep their damned shirts on and get some acting lessons. But I digress... It isn't that Brokeback Mountain has more boobs, in terms of total screen time than most other movies, but rather that there's very little, if any, narrative need for it.
Despite the fact that it cannot compare to some other films in terms of sheer quantity of breasts, Brokeback Mountain does manage to deprive both of its "leading ladies" of their shirts at one point or another. For those of you who are curious, I'm referring to Michelle Williams of Dawson's Creek fame, and Anne Hathaway who, in the same style as her former co-star Julie Andrews, seems to be trying to shed her tame kids' movie image. For those of you who are still more curious, here are the boobs.*
So, the question seems natural: why, in a movie about homosexual cowboys, do both female-leads end up topless? I mean, it isn't like it's a French movie, or anything. Moreover why, in a movie about homosexual cowboys, do we have relatively little male nudity? I mean, there are some up-close butt-shots of Jake Gyllenhaal and some longer-ranged versions of the same for Heath Ledger but, really, that's it. Considering that the dark territory of male full-frontal nudity was pioneered years ago by Kevin Bacon (Seriously. Shower scene in Wild Things.) there seems little reason not to include it here, where it would have been vastly more appropriate. This is particularly so given that the recent movie A History of Violence included a rather pointless bit of full-frontal nudity from Maria Bello. So, obviously, Brokeback Mountain would not truly have been breaking new ground.
Okay, in order to satisfy my Sainted Girlfriend's obsessive need to be precise, there is, perhaps, some long-range semi-frontal nudity from either Gyllenhaal or Ledger. I can't vouch for this, but she has been rather insistent that there was some, for lack of a better term, "dangling" during a swimming scene.
So, the question remains, why the women and not the men in a movie about gay cowboys? The answer, I suspect, is quite simple: because it was a movie about gay cowboys.
You see, our hopes and dreams to the contrary, there remains quite a bit of homophobia in these United States and, in order to make the movie a success, the producers had to do something to counter it. Now, if you get an allegedly-heterosexual man into a theatre to watch something like this, you have to be conscious of the fact that he knows he's watching a movie about gay cowboys. Moreover, he knows his asshole friends are going to heckle him about it later. So, what do you do to assuage his vulnerable male ego? Why, you toss some boobs in! Then, when his friends pester him, he can respond with, "Hey! I got to see some nice boobies, and my girlfriend thinks I'm a more sensitive guy because of it!" You can see how this logic would be appealing to the studio. Likewise, I suspect that more male nudity was not included so as to not push our poor male viewers too far, too fast. So, in an ironic twist, a movie whose very existence shows how much progress U.S. society has made in terms of gay acceptance, simultaneously demonstrates how far we have left to go.
Of course, there is another sad note about gender relations in here that I alluded to earlier. Specifically that Anne Hathaway may have gone topless in the first place as part of an effort to shed her clean "family image" and be taken more seriously as an actress. Yet, a willingness to go topless really has nothing to do with acting ability- as Claire Danes demonstrates in the recent Shopgirl. I daresay there are a number of actors who have gone topless and yet have demonstrated quite amply that they can't act their way our of a wet paper bag. So, this association between nudity and female acting ability is itself an indictment of the state of gender relations in the U.S. Here, however, we're at least not alone as media from other cultures sometimes shows a similar fixation on the imagined relationship between boobs and talent. For an example, take a look at the Japanese film Perfect Blue, which in many ways seems to take the stand that developing a sexual side ruins the potential for an actress' career- exactly the opposite of the U.S. case.
Is Brokeback Mountain a good movie? Well, I'll say that it is, yes, though you'll have to wait to hear my full thoughts on it. But, however good it is, there's a great deal in it as subtext that reminds us all how much has yet to be done before a person's gender is truly irrelevant to their treatment in life.
So what else is new?
And, in the meantime, I had an excuse to write largely about breasts. I know it still isn't a discussion of my celebrity-lusts (To date TDEC and Slag have been handling things in that regard) but, hey, it was good enough for me.
*Ha. Made you look.