“Why the f#$! did you dumbasses decide to see this film in the first place?”
…was the question I silently mouthed over and over and over again, until it attained the intensity of a hymn. This was at a Brokeback Mountain screening and it was directed at two girls sitting a couple of rows behind me, who kept up an unremitting flow of Idiot Talk throughout the film. They began exactly thirty seconds after the title sequence.
“Mujhe cowboy films achi nahin lagti,” says one of the creatures thoughtfully.
“Mujhe bhi nahin.”
(Noisy munching of popcorn occurs.)
I don’t know if this happens in movie theatres all over the world but it’s a common phenomenon in Delhi’s multiplexes: most people (at least the ones who decide to sit near me) never seem to have any clue about the film they’ve just paid hundreds of rupees to watch. (I’m not talking about plot specifics, just basic stuff like genre and broad tone.) Now you could argue that this approach has its virtues – maybe the whole idea is to not know: to enter PVR’s rich pageant blindfolded; to gleefully accept whatever surprises are flung their way. But the problem is, none of these people ever seems to be surprised in a good way. The adventure usually ends with sobbing conservative middle-class parents fleeing the hall with their teenage daughter who’s been despoiled for life by the unexpectedly graphic sex scene (a European film festival was on and no one warned them!). Or with a pot-bellied cretin who snored through two-and-a-half hours of Amistad standing up and loudly informing the entire hall that “movies were made for entertainment, not to show slavery and torture.” Or a girl squealing “You told me it wasn’t going to be science fiction!” at her boyfriend as they exit Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
The biggest irritants are the ones who stay for the whole film. Certain people, I’ve learnt, have the gift of a secret pathway that directly connects their eyes with their mouth, bypassing whatever small fragments of brain reside above those other organs. Their eyes see something --> send signal straight to mouth --> which promptly speaks out loud. Such people live among us. They nest in movie theatres.
Sample of comments from Brokeback screening:
Long shot of Jack and Ennis leading hundreds of sheep up Brokeback Mountain.
First shot of a sheepdog.
Jack and Ennis light a bonfire.
“They’re making a bonfire.”
Jack invites a shivering Ennis into his tent.
“He’s also going to sleep in the tent.”
Intimacy commences between Jack and Ennis; belts are hurriedly unbuckled, jeans loosened, but then censor board steps in and there’s a jerky cut.
I figured the two girls had been struck dumb (by this point, I knew they had no idea about the film’s gay theme and that it would come as a large surprise to them). But the truth was more charming. It turned out they simply hadn’t understood what had happened; it wasn’t until 5 minutes later, when the first kissing scene between the two men occurred, that a collective gasp went up. Shortly afterwards, the comments resumed:
Ennis and his bride-to-be in church, saying their vows.
“They’re getting married.”
Jack shows up sporting a moustache.
“He has a moustache now.”
And so on. Remember those tests we had to give as four-year-olds for school admission, where the examiner would point at things and we would identify items or colours? On the evidence of the observations they made through the movie, these girls would not have been welcomed into kindergarten at the school I went to.
Quick notes on the film: I loved it, despite all the white noise. Many people complain that it’s slow but I thought the pacing was just right – Ang Lee’s movies (I’m thinking of The Ice Storm in particular, and even Sense and Sensibility, which I didn’t like all that much) tend to be languid and drawn-out in a way I find very appealing. If you get involved with the story of Jack and Ennis, as I did, you can appreciate that Brokeback Mountain is more about the tension of unexpressed emotions than it is about the conventional forward movement of a plot. There’s a lot going on under the surface, and if you’re attuned to it you won’t think the film is slow-paced at all. (Similar movies that come to mind are The Remains of the Day, Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout and Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence – all films about repressed love/repression, a subject that seems to demand a very specific kind of moviemaking.)
I’m not reviewing Brokeback here, but I have to say it’s a pity that a faux-revisionist attitude towards the film has already developed in some quarters (faux-revisionism usually takes at least a few years). It’s almost become fashionable to say that there’s nothing so special about this movie after all; that people have made a big deal about it only because it’s a gay love story. I don’t want to second-guess motives (it’s possible of course that some people genuinely didn’t think it was very good), but I get the feeling that some Indian “reviewers” have jumped onto this bandwagon, emboldened perhaps by the (completely irrelevant) fact that Brokeback missed the best picture Oscar.
I’ve read some observations like this one: “Substitute the gay love story with a heterosexual one, and this becomes just another unremarkable picture-postcard movie.” I don’t get that at all. You simply can’t make an isolated substitution like that, while keeping everything else unchanged. The emotional power of this story derives from the context – two people trying to deal with the fact that the most important relationship in their lives is a forbidden one. That edge wouldn’t have existed if this had been a heterosexual romance; in that case, the focus would have had to be elsewhere. Annie Proulx wouldn’t have written the story (in this form) in the first place.
Anyway, highly recommended and all that. Also, full-length reviews by Roger Ebert here, and by Falstaff here.