Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A confession, a mea culpa, and a regret

My reaction to the loss of Brokeback Mountain to the pedantic, unsubtle Crash has been surprising, to say the least. So surprising that I had to go back and read my initial response, as well as a few post drafts that never made it to the actual blog, about the film.

Fact is, I had a pretty visceral reaction to the movieBrokeback Mountain initially, and it colored my viewpoint. Wrongly and unfairly, I might add. But great films are supposed to hit you hard without the use of cheap tricks or seemingly even trying. And so, after the bad feelings and sadness it dredged up subsided, I came to accept that it would beat Capote - a movie I could love intellectually and admire, also one of personal resonance, but one that didn't cause pain.

This, from Kenneth Turan's review, explains:

Yet, as the film is at pains to insist, it is a lonely passion that has no place in their world. Theirs is a bond unlike anything either man has known before: not because it's a same-sex relationship but because of the strength of the feelings involved. Their closeness perplexes, confounds and confuses Ennis and Jack; it's something they can neither explain nor control.

In retrospect, it's easy to see why Brokeback Mountain had so much working against it. To depict something so gutwrenchingly personal, profound and viscerally affecting - well, it certainly doesn't come off as the feel good movie of the year.

Such things are hard to come to grips with if you've never visited that particular neighborhood, and perhaps harder still if you actually have. Regardless of one's sexuality, it's a painful reminder that love, no matter how singularly intense and deep, doesn't always win in the end. And that it often leaves scars.

That, and my love for Capote notwithstanding, I knew Brokeback had earned its place in classic cinema. Like anyone whose first love was books or film, it's impossible to objectively deny greatness when you witness it. Even if there's no sugar around to help it go down easier. Even if the dialogue isn't always pitch-perfect.

By all ways film - and more importantly, art - can possibly be measured (and there are some who say it cannot at all, but we still have certain markers we look for and we continue to try) Brokeback Mountain had Oscar written all over it. Not pretentiously, or in an affected manner, but just the opposite.

The film never exposed any overt designs on Oscar, or wore its heart on its sleeve. That alone set it apart from many of the past Best Picture winners, some of them quite grovelling pieces of Oscar bait.

So, I accepted that I had personal issues with the film because it dredged up seemingly forgotten pain, but that it rightfully earned a final and greatest accolade. And that the Academy would actually be returning to a place of sanity, finally reestablishing its own claim as a the preeminent judge of film artistry and excellence.

But I was wrong. And now I am disillusioned. Regardless of what one attributes Crash's win to, the only person claiming it was a better film, or even artistically worthy, is Roger Ebert. He has to. He's the only one who foisted it upon America as remotely worthy of winning.

I'm not just disillusioned with the Academy and how much commerce and marketing has overtaken more noble considerations, or the fact that the least worthy of Oscar nominated films by any measurable standard was awarded top honors because of human failing and foible. Yes, that's true. In thinking that most of the time, they "got it right" and even when they didn't it was possible to see some logic I was either being naive or giving too much credit.

Still, with movies like Titanic, Rocky, Forrest Gump, one could argue that they permeated our culture in an immediate and undeniable way. That they were, rightly or wrongly, beloved phenomenons for moviegoers everywhere. This year, Brokeback Mountain also earns this tag, along with being artistically worthy.

I'm also disillusioned with the thought that our society really is- as a whole, or even in part- enlightened to the point of truly embracing people regardless of their sexuality or race. Even if we're amongst the group that champions such thoughts.

Crash is a film that hammers this message home: we're all racist in one way or another. Ironically, the fact it undeservingly was heralded as the best film of 2005 actually serves to illustrate that point with more subtlety and finesse than the entirety of Haggis' film.

But finally, I'm disillusioned with myself for not being objective from the start, and letting my personal feelings interfere -- for becoming cynical about real love, for being gutless enough to throw away a movie because it exists as a painful reminder of the heartbreak that comes when you lose or throw away something unique and beautiful with both hands.

How ironic.
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