1) COMMENTARY So no matter what happens March 5th, "Brokeback" has already won.
2) Newspapers Republish Muhammad Caricatures -- finally, standing up to religious perverts
By Erik Lundegaard
Updated: 10:35 a.m. ET Jan. 31, 2006
I first saw a trailer for "Brokeback Mountain" during an opening
night showing of "The Constant Gardener" at the Lagoon Theater in
self-consciously liberal Minneapolis. There were titters from the
crowd (possibly from the line "I wish I knew how to quit you!"), and
afterward my friend Laurion leaned over and said, "Gay cowboys: I've
never seen it before and it's already a cliché." I thought, "Well, so
much for that. If it can't win over this crowd it can't win over
That was in September.
A few months later my friend Jim in Seattle asked me
about "Brokeback." Jim's a movie buff, always intrigued by the Oscar
candidates, but he said he wasn't interested in "Brokeback." He
couldn't articulate why. My sister's husband, Eric, in Detroit,
another movie buff, was similarly uninterested. I had assumed both
Jim and Eric within "Brokeback's" demographic: liberal city-dwellers
with gay friends. I thought, "Well, so much for that. If it can't win
over these guys it can't win over anyone."
That was in November.
As I write this it's nearly February and while many people are still
tittering - "I wish I knew how to quit you" gags, movie poster
parodies, Pres. Bush's press conference - the film is the furthest
thing from a joke. "Brokeback" has been chosen the best picture of
the year by The Golden Globes, The Producers Guild of America, Boston
Film Critics, Broadcast Film Critics, L.A. Film Critics, N.Y. Film
Critics and (big surprise) San Francisco Film Critics. It's got nine
BAFTA (British Academy Award) nominations, and the Directors Guild of
America tapped "Brokeback's" Ang Lee as best director. What should be
its biggest awards rival, "Munich," has largely been forgotten (zero
BAFTA nominations, for example), leaving only smaller films
like "Capote" and "Good Night and Good Luck" as competition. A win at
the Academy Awards on March 5th already feels like a fait accompli.
More startling than its critical reception, it's selling. Focus
Features played the numbers game correctly. When "Brokeback" showed
in only five theaters they talked up its huge per-screen-average of
over $100,000. When it opened wider and its per-screen-average dipped
to normal levels (less than $10,000), they talked up its weekly and
overall take. It debuted December 9th at no. 15 and hasn't dropped
lower since. It was no. 8 the following week and then 14, 13, 8, 9,
and 5. Early estimates for this weekend place it sixth, with an
overall gross of $50 million. Where are the other best picture
contenders? None are in the top 10, and none except "Walk the Line"
and (just barely) "Crash" have grossed as much as "Brokeback." No,
not even Spielberg's flick. Think about that for a minute.
All of this in a country that annually passes laws outlawing gay
marriage or denying "special rights" (or what the rest of the
civilized world calls "rights") to gay people.
What the hell happened?
The short answer
Here's the short answer. "Brokeback Mountain" is a spare, powerful
film about star-crossed lovers.
We love our love stories. The only love stories we love more are the
ones where the lovers are kept apart by forces beyond their control,
such as family ("Romeo and Juliet"), class ("Titanic"), or war ("The
English Patient"). Anticipation is better than consummation -
particularly in drama. Keep the lovers apart! Tease us! Frustrate us!
There's nothing more boring than happy loving couples - in drama or
But how to keep the lovers apart? That's the question for dramatists
everywhere. "Brokeback" offers a new take on an old subject. It's the
ultimate forbidden love - because part of the population is ready to
kill you for acting on it.
Thus the question that everyone was asking before the movie's
release - Is "Brokeback" too much for middle America? - turned out to
be the wrong question. The real question was: Is "Brokeback" too much
for middle-American women? It's women who drive these types of
stories, after all. They had to twist their boyfriends' arms just to
see "Titanic" - and that one offered a topless Kate
Winslet. "Brokeback" offers us topless women, too, but in sadder
circumstances, and with that still-squeamish-for-straight-men front
story. No amount of arm-twisting, it seems, can get many of these
guys to head up Brokeback Mountain. But women are so broad-minded, or
so in need of a love story, that they'll go even when their gender
isn't part of the equation.
All of the awards haven't hurt either. "Brokeback's" got so much buzz
it's vibrating, and women have never shied away from things that
The personal answer
I have to admit that "Brokeback" didn't look particularly appealing
to me from that September trailer. A hopeless, doomed romance. Yay. I
also admit to some straight-guy trepidation - but of the general
rather than the Larry David "it might make me gay" variety. If the
number of times I got screwed over by women in my youth didn't lead
me to consider an alternative, there's nothing Heath Ledger can do
But when I finally saw "Brokeback" I found it nearly perfect. It's
more than a love story; it's really about loneliness, which is a more
universal emotion anyway. Some of us haven't been in love; some of us
don't believe in love. Everyone's been lonely.
It's ambiguous enough to argue about endlessly. Heath Ledger's Ennis
del Mar feels like the man in the film - in the one sex scene, he
gives rather than receives - and he's taciturn and bottled-up in the
way of men. He talks with his fists, and sometimes he talks too much,
but he's gentle with women and never has a harsh word for his
daughters. One could argue he's what we want the American man to be.
As Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times, "I don't know a single
straight woman who hasn't been involved with a man as emotionally
thwarted as Ennis, the man who can't tell you how he feels because he
may not honestly know." Exactly. Tease us! Frustrate us!
But Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist actually outmans Ennis. Jack won't
be circumscribed by society. He stands up to his father-in-law, he
stands up to his father, he stands up. He tries to live his dreams.
Forget everyone else. Forget Ennis, too. If Ennis won't have the
ranch with Jack, Jack will just have it with someone else.
Ennis isn't strong like that. He's so scared of who he is he begins
to disappear within himself. An early shot shows him leaning against
the boss-man's trailer, head down, cowboy hat covering his face. It's
cowboy cool a la James Dean. Throughout the film Ennis keeps that
cowboy hat covering his face but with each frame it becomes more
tragic - a man too scared to be seen. Don't look at my face because
you might see who I am. He gives himself a smaller and smaller spot
on which to live his increasingly shrunken life. The movie begins
with youth and wide-open vistas and ends in middle-age in a tiny
trailer. The one scene that broke my heart is wholly ordinary: Ennis,
alone in a cafeteria booth, head down, picking at a piece of pie.
He's alone, and will remain alone, no matter how many waitresses try
to drag his ass onto the dance floor.
This is why the movie is striking a chord with the non-gay community.
Ennis resonates because he reminds us of some part of us. Life has
such possibilities, and from lack of courage or weariness or outright
fear we allow it to shrink us into this small, sad space doing this
small, sad thing. Don't look at my face because you might see who I
am. The film does what it's supposed to do. It's specific but it's
A coupla straight guys sitting around talking
As for my friends Laurion, Eric and Jim? They've all changed their
minds. Everyone's talking about "Brokeback" and they want to be part
of that conversation. Laurion hasn't seen it yet but will. Eric
thought it good if slightly overrated. Jim thought it one of the best
movies of the year.
So no matter what happens March 5th, "Brokeback" has already won.
Erik Lundegaard can be reached at: elundegaard@...
Jay comment ---
Finally, some in Europe are standing up to religious weirdoes who think theirs is the only path to God.
Makes no difference which theological mythology we are talking about -- Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, whatever -- their religion is our problem. Can you imagine, here in the 21st Century, religion (mythology) still has us by the balls. And they're holding on tightly. Ouch.
Newspapers Republish Muhammad Caricatures
By ANGELA CHARLTON, Associated Press Writer
February 01, 2006
French and German newspapers on Wednesday republished caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that have riled the Muslim world, saying democratic freedoms include the "right to blasphemy."
The front page of the daily France Soir carried the headline "Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God" along with a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian gods floating on a cloud. Inside, the paper reran the drawings.
"The appearance of the 12 drawings in the Danish press provoked emotions in the Muslim world because the representation of Allah and his prophet is forbidden. But because no religious dogma can impose itself on a democratic and secular society, France Soir is publishing the incriminating caricatures," the paper said.
Germany's Die Welt daily printed one of the drawings on its front page, arguing that a "right to blasphemy" was anchored in democratic freedoms. The Berliner Zeitung daily also printed two of the caricatures as part of its coverage of the controversy.
The Danish daily Jyllands-Posten originally published the cartoons in September after asking artists to depict Islam's prophet to challenge what it perceived was self-censorship among artists dealing with Islamic issues. A Norwegian newspaper reprinted the images this month.
The depictions include an image of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, and another portraying him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle. Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry.
Angered by the drawings, masked Palestinian gunmen briefly took over a European Union office in Gaza on Monday. Syria called for the offenders to be punished. Danish goods were swept from shelves in many countries, and Saudi Arabia and Libya recalled their ambassadors to Denmark.
The Jyllands-Posten - which received a bomb threat over the drawings - has apologized for hurting Muslims' feelings but not for publishing the cartoons. Its editor said Wednesday, however, that he would not have printed the drawings had he foreseen the consequences.
Carsten Juste also said the international furor amounted to a victory for opponents of free expression.
"Those who have won are dictatorships in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia, where they cut criminals' hands and give women no rights," Juste told The Associated Press. "The dark dictatorships have won."
Demonstrations and condemnations across the Muslim world continued.
The Supreme Council of Moroccan religious leaders denounced the drawings on Wednesday.
"Muslim beliefs cannot tolerate such an attack, however small it may be," the statement said.
In Turkey, dozens of protesters from a small Islamic party staged a demonstration in front of the Danish Embassy. About 200 riot police watched the crowd from the Felicity Party, which laid a black wreath and a book about Muhammad's life at the gates of the embassy building.
Despite the show of solidarity among Europe's newspaper editors, not all Europeans appreciated the drawings.
Norway's deputy state secretary for foreign affairs, Raymond Johansen, said they encourage distrust between people of different faiths.
"I can understand that Muslims find the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in the Norwegian weekly ... to be offensive. This is unfortunate and regrettable," Johansen said on a visit to Beirut.
There was also anger in France, which has Western Europe's largest Muslim community with an estimated 5 million people.
Mohammed Bechari, president of the National Federation of the Muslims of France, said his group would start legal proceedings against France Soir because of "these pictures that have disturbed us, and that are still hurting the feelings of 1.2 billion Muslims."
French government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope struck a neutral tone, saying France is "a country that is attached to the principle of secularism, and this freedom clearly should be exercised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for the beliefs of everyone."
France Soir, which is owned by an Egyptian magnate, has been struggling to stay afloat and bring in readers in recent years.
French theologian Sohaib Bencheikh spoke out against the pictures in a column in France Soir accompanying them Wednesday.
"One must find the borders between freedom of expression and freedom to protect the sacred," he wrote. "Unfortunately, the West has lost its sense of the sacred."
Associated Press reporter Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report from Copenhagen, Denmark.
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