Brokeback Mountain

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(HOST) The Academy Awards are this weekend and the movie Brokeback Mountain has received eight nominations, but commentator John Scagliotti thinks that the film’s story is seriously flawed.

(SCAGLIOTTI) I’ve always enjoyed the moment in a dinner conversation when someone mentions an Ang Lee movie, and I can say, “You know, Ang Lee was my soundman at NYU.” The line always gets a big laugh at my expense. After all he is at the pinnacle of Hollywood with Brokeback Mountain and I’m still the struggling documentary filmmaker living in the foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

In 1982 at New York University’s film program we weren’t close buddies but I did feel an intense bond with Ang. I was an openly gay man and he a Chinese foreigner in the mostly straight white male environment that was the norm at the time at any premiere American film school. We knew we were different from the others.

So I was surprised, two decades later, in seeing Ang make a movie premised on a cliche stereotype that I thought Hollywood had dropped many years ago.

I know Annie Proulx, on whose short story Ang’s film is based, thinks she has captured a reality in her hero’s death, but what she has tapped more powerfully are fantasies of impossible love. In the real world of the rural West in the 1970’s, thousands of homosexuals didn’t stick around and pine over the impossible. Though some did for a variety of reasons, a great number moved to urban gay centers like the Castro in San Francisco. But that would upend the romantic convention in Brokeback, so Proulx, and the screenwriters after her, relied on what has been a running joke in the gay community since Lillian Helman in the 1930’s killed off Martha Dobie on Broadway in her play The Children’s Hour. How is it that killing a homosexual to solve a dramatic problem is again seen as a positive sign of acceptance by so many movie critics?

But what is most missing from this Hollywood fable are the stories of thousands of gay people who stayed or moved back to rural America and began the struggle to make their communities a safer place to live. That exciting story is being told in many other movies made mostly by gay people that you won’t hear about at the Academy Awards. Many of those films are seen at the more than one hundred and seventy-five gay and lesbian film festivals now taking place in cities and rural towns across America. Here in Vermont, the Catamount Theater in St. Johnsbury will be hosting a gay film festival this May. A film of mine will be included. I’m also involved with a group organizing the first film festival dedicated to the positive changes taking place for gay people in rural America. That event is scheduled for June in Brattleboro, and it’s a festival that’s not meant to exclude anyone.

So maybe those stories are not the stuff of Brokeback’s drama but nevertheless our presence here is a real indication of how far we have come in making Vermont a safer place for gay people.

I’m John Scagliotti of Guilford.

John Scagliotti is the creator of the public television series “In the Life” and the Emmy Award-winning producer of the documentary “Before Stonewall.”

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