No, he thought, they got him with the tire iron.

Back from a 2 week trip to Toronto and Miami. While I was away a young guy living on my street was stabbed to death walking home one night. There is a heart-breaking tree half-way down the road, bound up with flowers and messages. It make me cold and sad each time I walk past it.

As with everything, it gets woven into a tissue of other thoughts and impressions. My thoughts about America. My thoughts about Canada. Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park. Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. New loves. Sudden deaths.

Bret Easton Ellis is a genius.

Despite the vituperation poured on American Psycho when it was published in 1991, he is without doubt the most significant American writer of the last 20 years. American Psycho is a horrifying masterpiece underpinned by a horrified morality. It’s Swift on steroids. Lulling the reader into the same nitrogen-chilled detached irony that spawns the monstrous Patrick Bateman. It’s studded with hideously beautiful poetry. Glamorama, which came out 7 years later, was more lose around the seams (a quality I enjoy) but no less brilliant. Now comes Lunar Park.

I’d say it wasn’t as great as the last 2 books. It strikes me as a companion piece. But it’s brilliant nonetheless. In vintage Ellis style it’s an unthinkable hybrid: part memoir, part Steven King. It splits out of its own seams by constantly referring to “Bret Easton Ellis” as a real person, even as you suspect that the ‘biography’ you’re being fed is not quite accurate. Even checking the facts on the Internet leads you to several bogus site Ellis has had constructed to continue the fiction of the book. The eerie web movie that features in the book is even viewable on the lunarpark.com website.

It’s a bundle of incommensurate shards which splinter under the polished surface of his prose and provoke the reader considerably. It’s too well written to be a joke. Its themes of fathers and sons and memory and trauma are too heady to be reduced to cynical ashes. Although, it’s a page-long meditation on ashes over water that closes the book so memorably. As Ellis says somewhere in the book, the one thing he can do is write a great ending.

Brokeback Mountain. It was interesting seeing the movie in the US where it seems to have unleashed a powerful underswell of liberality under the conservative crust represented by Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Despite all the hysterical right-wing screeching about a “gay plot” in Hollywood, most people I met loved the movie because it’s a great movie. People just seemed to ignore the screeching and watch the film.

It’s a heartbreaking love story. And having just read the Proulx short story, I like the movie more and more. Proulx is delightfully unsentimental about her characters. They realize the sad fixity of the society they live where if you can’t fix it you just have to stand it. No frills. In the book, Ennis’ quality of “one who worked with livestock” makes him simply acquainted with the “blood, milk and baby shit” of life.

But I do differ from those who see this as a breakthrough gay movie. It’s wonderful that a movie with 2 gay characters so handsomely performed can sweep up so many Golden Globes and (presumably) Oscars, but please don’t tell me how comforting it is to see gay men portrayed as “normal”. The humans in this film are tragic not normal. Their love is stymied. The end up dead or alone. These are not positive attributes of gay life and it’s a masochistic gay man that claims these tragic figures as role models.

This is not to belittle the breath-taking beauty and sadness of the film. I swoon just seeing Jake Gyllenhall – let alone seeing him in love and broken-hearted. But I’m alarmed by the number of emails I get from men claiming the film as an emotional template for their lives. Othello is a great play but not a good way to conduct your love life.

27 Comments

  1. John

    January 22, 2006 at 7:46 pm

    Exactly. Whatever one’s critical opinion, viewing the film as an ill-fated romance or tragedy is much more appropriate than claiming it is the next great step in GLBT history.

  2. sam

    January 22, 2006 at 11:20 pm

    I could not agree more. But so many gay men still live lives of great masochism, just look at the meth ‘epidemic.’

  3. Mark

    January 23, 2006 at 2:15 am

    The humans in this film may not be “normal” but their emotions are.
    Most of the time, gays in mainstream film are nothing more than comic relief or satisfy the general public’s sterotypical view of gays. I for one could identify with so many emotions thoughout the flick. But, yes, it is very tragic, especially for all the female characters who are in hopeless situations.

  4. Eric

    January 23, 2006 at 4:00 am

    I thought the movie, whilst brilliant directed and acted, still lacked somewhat in
    emotional resonance for me. While the character’s stories are indeed tragic, they
    don’t really accurate reflect gay life, my life – nor the lives of my friends. I saw it
    as sad in the way that Idgie and Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes were somewhat
    tragic.
    In fact, I believe that if one can see that movie as opening up America’s conciousness
    to Lesbian Chic when it came out, perhaps this will be one more station in our
    journey to tolerance in that particularly backward part of the world.

  5. Eric

    January 23, 2006 at 4:01 am

    By the way, I’d love to hear your thoughts about Canada and Toronto…
    Having grown up here and lived here most of, not quite all, my adult life; I’d love to
    hear your impressions of our city…

  6. ksquare

    January 23, 2006 at 4:56 am

    You’re so frighteningly well adjusted that I sometimes wonder if you’re ral…

    But yes, I agree with your comments on Brokeback Mountain.

  7. Lee

    January 23, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Thank God. I am so sick of everyone billing brokeback mountain as such a revelation and an all round cureall for public opinion on homosexuality. It IS a good film, and certainly brought a tar to my eye once or twice, but homosexuality certainly isn’t the lynchpin of the story, and could easily be replaced by another socially unaccepted item. Its a good film, its NOT the cure for homophobia – the press should settle down a bit.

    Also I am adamant that Heath Ledger only opened his mouth (barely) during the sex scenes. The rest of it was hilarious mumbling.

    Oh and well done on Glamorama. It was immmensely enjoyable to read, even though I was horribly confised by the end which led to a second reading. If you haven’t done so already, I have to recommend ‘Invisible Monsters’ by Chuck Palahniuk. I knew I was onto a good thing with lines like:

    “And this . . . ,” Brandy’s big ring-beaded hand curls up to touch Brandy’s torpedo breasts.

    “This . . . ,” Brandy’s hand curls up to touch pearls at her throat.

    “This . . . ,” the enormous hand lifts to touch the billowing piles of auburn hair.

    “And this . . . ,” the hand touches thick moist lips.

    “This,” Brandy says, “is the Princess Brandy Alexander.”

    Ace blog anyway, have a link 🙂

  8. Chris Paisano

    January 23, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    Yup, yup and yup!

    A great movie with great acting and fantasic scenery.
    I never thought much of Heath Ledger but his portrayal
    made me give him great respect.

    Although two obsevations:
    What happen to the rest of the elk they shot? Believe me,
    there should have been more meat on their rack.

    And two, why didn’t they put their meat high with the rest
    of their food to protect it from bears, too?

    Besides that, great film. Thoughts from a Navajo.

    Best wishes,

    Peace & Postivity! Enjoy the Journey…

  9. Elizer

    January 23, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    Bret Easton Ellis is definitely a genius. His sadistically twisted characters are a joy to read. His stories are painfully intriguing. The movies, based on his novels, are visually appealing but have not done his true work justice. Well, I enjoyed American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction. Yet, I still prefer the books. By the way, love the collage, Alistair!

    Elizer, San Francisco

  10. Wes

    January 23, 2006 at 10:05 pm

    To be quite honst, I do think that Brokeback Mtn. is a breakthrough movie, from a Hollywood business perspective b/c how often do you see a movie that’s centered on the lives and love of two gay men being portrayed by well-known movie stars. I’m actually glad to see that there seems to be less “professional gay-bashing” in the entertainment industry b/c there is now a lot more people in the entertainment industry who are willing to explore and produce these types of movies. And I think all of this is due to the fact the gay lifestyle is being accepted more and more. Granted, that this isn’t a general consensus of the whole world population–we still have A LOT of work ahead of us to gain more acceptance.

    I live in New York City, so being accepted as a gay guy isn’t much of a challenge for me, but I do feel like I could relate to the emotions being portrayed by those characters in the movie. We all want love in our lives, and the sense of connection with another person. But we also have obligations, social stigmas, or even other personal goals that deter us from having to choose love as the utmost ultimate goal in our lives. A lot of people, in general, and not just people of gay/lesbian/transgender background experience this. We’d like to think that we are different, but what if we are just like everyone else in this world?

  11. Wes

    January 23, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    BTW, I love these pictures you took. What kind of cameras do you use?

  12. Jetboy747

    January 23, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    Your Othello analogy is just brilliant.

    The movie was filmed around where I live in Canada.
    Made me want to go to the mountains.

  13. Marc

    January 24, 2006 at 4:03 am

    I agree that “Brokeback” is not a breakthrough. A real breakthrough was the episode of “Cash in the Attic” I recently got to see on BBC America where you had a gay couple–raising money for their carpeting and being affectionate and as zaney as any other “cashee”. My husband and I were moved by that and saddened by the prospect of a life we might very well have endured had we not been foolishly wiser than Ennis.

  14. rebel

    January 24, 2006 at 6:33 am

    I just stumbled across your blog, thank you for sharing.
    It was however, your photographs that caught my eye.
    The moments you choose to give eternity to are striking
    and bold.Although beauty is ever present,it makes me wonder
    where your center is.If you could only see the world as
    black and white,what would your images be? I am a writer
    and photographer,so I’m musing aloud, thinking- as I postpone
    the next chapter of the Epic Summer Read.Thanks again.

  15. Geoffrey

    January 24, 2006 at 6:42 am

    Alistair, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts about “Brokeback Mountain.” It is so true what you said about the film. It is not groundbreaking; it is simply sad. Show me a movie where a gay couple is not stereotyped, and I’ll show you a breakthrough film.

  16. RickB

    January 24, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    I completely disagree. It’s a film, and it’s a story, and
    as such it has never claimed to be realism. However what it
    does do is take a fairly standard Hollywood film pretext,
    that of a tragic love story, and play out the drama with
    two gay male protagonists, which has never been done in a
    mainstream way before. There are plenty of “heterosexual”
    films where the couples are steroetyped into straight gender
    roles but the point about Brokeback Mountain is that gay men
    haven’t even been given that priviledge in the mainstream before.
    Besides, it’s far from stereotyped, as they are in what is
    essentially a very straight situation doing “straight” jobs.
    The point about people using it as a template for their own
    emotional lives I think is missing the point somewhat.
    It’s the other way round – people have been through similar things
    and it’s reassuring to see it up there being explained so eloquently
    to an audience that includes straight people. It’s the comfort
    of recognition. Also, the film’s didactic value lies in the fact
    that it’s showing people how horribly things can go wrong if
    homosexuality is not accepted – not just for the gay men themselves
    but also for the people around them.
    I think that people find this relates to their emotional lives is
    far from alarming – it’s becase almost every aspect of the
    emotional journey one goes on as a gay man is covered. From the
    first kiss, denial,
    self-acceptance, the reactions of others, parents, falling in
    love with someone who goes on to have a heterosexual relationship,
    the difficulties of trying to set up home together and whether
    or not it’s possible to ape a straight home life. There’s so much
    in there, and it’s all so well scripted and subtely referred to
    Despite the stylised, Hollywoodised setting it’s all acutely
    relevant, and as a result, comforting.
    I doubt anyone has ever used Othello as an emotional template
    for their own lives but it’s highly likely that they’ve
    recognised elements of it, taken advice from it, and related to
    the emotional highs and lows of excellent drama.
    But whatever purpose it is that tragic love stories fill in our
    lives, I think it’s truly breakthrough that the world is
    finally embracing a mainstream one, (if you’ll pardon the
    tautology). And maybe, on a lighter note, Hollywood might
    start applying homosexuality to its more frivolous genres.
    (hands up who wants to be the first gay James Bond!)

  17. Valerie

    January 24, 2006 at 3:54 pm

    I don’t have anything to say at this time. I haven’t seen
    the movie yet though I intend to. I’ll reserve comment till
    then.
    Gay, staight, whatever, people should just be who they are.

  18. marc

    January 31, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    i love that you enjoyed brokeback mountain,is quite a special movie and i hope they make a sweep
    at the oscars.
    p.s heath ledger is the hottie

  19. George Vye

    February 1, 2006 at 4:50 am

    Although I was crying my eyes out at the end, it finally reminded me of the 1950’s gay novels where the gay man had to end up dead, by poetically walking into the sea, or whatever. I’m sure we are a bit more accepted by many in the red states, but I neither want or care about their acceptance. As long as one of the men is dead, everything is ok. Nonsence.

  20. Brian

    February 1, 2006 at 3:48 pm

    I think the reason Brokeback has resonated so strongly in
    America is that we finally have a good film about gay men
    that doesn’t portray us as comic relief. (The Birdcage,
    anyone?)

    Yes, there’s death, which harkens back to an old attitude
    that as long as the story ends in death, everything will
    be Ok. But whats happening over the past few weeks is that
    many straight people are going to see the movie and
    realizing that this story is a tragedy. They understand
    that living in fear in the closet is damaging to everyone
    involved.

    My mother had that reaction when she saw it. I was
    enormously proud that she got it.

    Now we need that great gay film that draws huge crowds
    and everyone ends up alive and happy at the end.

  21. David

    February 6, 2006 at 9:13 am

    Alistair,
    I agree that while “Brokeback Mountain” is an excellent
    film (I have seen it four times, no less) it should not be
    considered a revelatory film in so far as gay male
    relationships go. I think the acting-done by all four
    primary players, and not just the guys-was outstanding, but
    to use Jack and Innis’ realtionship as a template is self-
    destructive at best.
    I particularly loved the way the chaos and strife of their
    home lives contrasted with the peace and contentment of the
    time they had together in the bucolic mountains. I found
    it interesting also that the one truly tender moment that
    Innis showed toward Jack was in the flashback where Jack
    was falling asleep on his feet. I do know however, what
    Jack meant when he said “I wish I knew how to get you out
    of me”. Haven’t we all had an infatuation that caused us
    pain, yet we just couldn’t let go of him?
    Thanks for your entertaining work on CITA, Alistair, and
    thanks also for this website and the dialogue that occurs
    on it. Most of all, thanks for all the great photos of
    your unbearably handsome and cute face!
    Namaste,
    David

  22. Bob

    February 10, 2006 at 12:46 am

    Not to diminish the Brokeback Mountain debate, ( I agree with alot of what you said) but you entirely skipped mentioning your visit to Miami. I assume you were doing the South Beach thing with the other beautiful people like yourself. Did you get out into the Everglades?

  23. fredric

    March 11, 2006 at 4:31 am

    at last… someone who says what i was thinking. thanks, alistair for articulating what’s been on my mind. now that the brouhaha here in america has evolved from thoughts on the film to how many oscars it didn’t win, it will be interesting to see what points of view surface in the upcoming weeks. thanks again for sharing your point of view. i agree 100%.

  24. Trinh

    March 21, 2006 at 4:48 am

    Hm..all of this talk about Brokeback…while it’s a wonderful movie and generated much debate in the world, has anyone seen Trans America? In my opinion, that’s a better movie.

  25. Edgar

    March 25, 2006 at 3:02 am

    Regardless of what anyone has to say about this movie, it fully represents the raw emotion that most American men have experienced in one way or the other over the years. This movie took me back 26 years when I and my life-partner were officers in the Air Force and how we had to hide our feelings for each other. I remember the dread I felt when I would have to leave him in bed to sleep alone while I went off to night shift duty or on a temporary duty assignment, not being able to share with anyone the loss I felt by being separated from the one I loved. I believe Ang Lee captured the numerous, real emotions I lived through. I agree with Alistair that this is not a good role model for gays but that wasn’t the jist of the movie or the short story. The jist is that just a few years ago, a young gay man from Montana was murdered and left hanging to die in the wilderness because he was gay. And what about “don’t ask, don’t tell?” We haven’t come very far in the U.S. have we?

  26. Robin

    March 26, 2006 at 6:46 am

    Holy good christ… the stabbing mentioned at the beginning of this entry
    happened very near where my best friends in London live, in Clifford Gardens
    (Bathurst Gardens becomes Clifford Gardens as one heads east toward Kensal
    Rise). It’s a street I’ve walked down countless times when visiting them, and
    in my NYC street-smart smugness never gave a second thought to any notions
    of being unsafe there. Truly heartbreaking. What a waste…

  27. Valerie

    June 21, 2006 at 9:26 pm

    Well I’ve just seen Brokeback. Heath Ledger was great. He
    really created Ennis. It truly was a movie about human spirit

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