23 January 2008
Part 2 in our Struck Down In Their Prime double-header.
I gotta say, I never thought much of River Phoenix. I didn't dislike him so much as he just kinda bugged me. Every time I saw him, it was like he was the same character over and over again. Or worse, no character, just River. Little Corey Carrier did a better job of channeling Harrison Ford in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles than River did in Last Crusade. He wasn't convincing as a young Indy - he was just River playing Indy.
But I watch The Thing Called Love and I can see what everyone was talking about. Not in retrospect: I'm not watching Stand by Me or Jimmy Reardon now and going, "Oh, yeah, I get it, he was brilliant!" No, he still annoys me in pretty much everything else.
But this movie, I don't know. I wish he could have done more.
Not that the movie itself is even brilliant - there are plot holes, dropped story lines, and that inconclusive ending to consider - but for some reason, because it's Peter Bogdanovich, maybe, you just kind of let all that go and focus on the rest.
And the rest is well worth it.
It's hard to revisit films like this one. This is a film -- like Dogfight, like Stand By Me -- that has been so significant in my life, for so long, that going back to it is sort of like jumping in a time machine to head back to 1993, when you were 14, and every little thing seemed just so big. So bizarre, too, that I should re-watch this the day before I receive an email from my old best friend, Shelley, who adored River Phoenix right along with me. Back then, we actually named each other after River, using his nickname and middle name as our names. His death left a mark on our lives, and it's something I still struggle with. I'm not even going to try to explain what the whole thing meant to us and for us. I don't know if I've ever really even sat down to organise those thoughts. I just stopped watching River's movies. I've seen Stand By Me once or twice since, and have yet to watch Dogfight. This was my second viewing of The Thing Called Love since 1993.
I love it as much as I ever did. It's just beautiful. It speaks to the little lost girl in me then as much as it does now. The impact it had on me growing up remains, in terms of my interests and the sort of person I want to be. Admittedly, I've spent more time in as Linda-Lou, when I know I should be strong like Miranda. Still, between the two hasn't served me too badly in my life. I enjoy the film's wandering spirit. I love its focus on loyalty. I love its poetry. It remains one of my favourite films.
Watching River was difficult. I was happy to hear Steve found his performance so good. I'm not sure his performance here is my favourite. I get a weird sense he's just not into it. I prefer to watch him in other films, though I love hearing him sing here. It is still a sad fucking tragedy that he died.
Brokeback Mountain was nothing less than heartbreaking.
But I'll get to that in a minute. Have you heard about this?
A Kansas-based Baptist church - the Westboro Baptist Church, or WBC - says that Heath Ledger is "now in hell" because he played a "gay cowboy".
“WBC will picket this pervert’s funeral in religious protest,” the group said in a statement on its website.
“God hates the sordid, tacky bucket of slime seasoned with vomit known as Brokeback Mountain – and He hates all persons having anything to whatsoever to do with it."
"Seasoned with vomit." Seasoned! The laddie fancies himself a poet. What a little fucking Ezra Pound you are.
And "God hates". I thought "God is Love". You're sending out mixed messages, fellas. But this is exactly the same confused bullshit arguments I've come to expect from all y'all. Consistency is a very important factor in life; Thank you, religion, for always being a jerk.
“He got on that big screen with a big, fat message: God is a liar and it’s OK to be gay.”
Well, you got it half-right, but the first part should read "God is a lie".
Fucking Baptists, man. My mom got me tangled up with these kooks back when I was fifteen - well into my atheism, by the way - because she signed my baby brother up to go to their church and I had to accompany him. (How much faith did she have in these guys if she had to send a chaperone, you know?) Dig this: the preacher and one of his pals, trying to get their hooks in me, would come to my house every Saturday to make sure I was coming to church on Sunday. That's like stalking, innit? They used to bring Xeroxed lyrics from songs by Alice Cooper, Heart, and John Denver (!), laden with propaganda about how they were all minions of Satan. During one of these visits the preacher spied my Stephen King calendar on the wall (April 1986, "Children of the Corn") and I had to explain the artwork and the story to him. He goes, no shit, "Stephen King... is that a rock group?"
One track fucking mind, these guys.
How far need one's head be jammed up one's ass for Stephen King to fly under one's radar - pardon the mixed metaphor - in 19 fucking 86?
Know your enemies, guys, jeez.
But that's, whatever, you know. It'll pass. It's a shame they have to picket a guy's memorial service instead of, you know, the theatre playing the movie, but there's more shock value in picketing a dead guy, so points to the WBC for that.
Anyway, the movie: Anyone who's actually seen it knows that the term "gay cowboy movie" truly does it a disservice. Gay or straight, if you've ever loved and lost and felt the pain of your heart cradled gently in loving hands and then squeezed violently between them, you know what I'm talking about.
Gotta say it -- not as great as I was expecting. But then we are watching this two years after its intial release, so years of hype has built up. It's probably not like it was ever going to live up. It tried damn hard, though.
My problem was with certain saccharine moments that took me right out of the picture. I hated the "I don't know how to quit you" bit, and I also hated the discussion Ennis had with Jack's wife about "going up to Brokeback Moutain". Something really cheesy in all that. But I'm not one for overdone romance. Still, the story was good, the performances were excellent, and the heartbreak endured by the characters certainly penetrated. I was especially enthralled with Michelle Williams. What an amazing bit of work that was. And, as we watched this in memory of Heath Ledger, I took notice of his work, and it was excellent, too. Another tragic loss. Weirdly, this is the second movie I've watched in the past few months with Jake Gyllenhaal, and man is he growing on me. He was great.
I will say, though, that Steve and I both took issue with how quickly Ennis succumbed to Jack. it appeared that Jack had a thing for Ennis early on, but for Ennis's early reciprocation seemed underdeveloped to us. I had no sense he really thought about Jack's physical proposal until he was in the tent. From that point, though, the relationship became more real, better developed, and the eventual separation was shattering.
So, it didn't live up to the hype, but it was a great movie nonetheless.