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The Ultimate Brokeback Guide
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN: The new film from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee. An epic love story set against the sweeping vistas of Wyoming and Texas, Brokeback Mountain tells the story of two young men – a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy – who meet in the summer of 1963, and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection, one whose complications, joys and tragedies provide a testament to the endurance and power of love. (synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx first published the short story “Brokeback Mountain” in a 1997 issue of The New Yorker (which until recently had the entire story available online). In book form, she included the story her collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Now, a movie-tie-in version, containing just Brokeback Mountain (stretched to 64 pages), is available at Amazon and A Different Light. You can also purchase the audio edition, read by Campbell Scott, at Audible.com and through iTunes (also available in the UK).
I’ve included my favorite passages from the short story below.
Shortly after “Brokeback Mountain” appeared in the The New Yorker, screenwriters Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry were so moved by Proulx’s haunting short story that they optioned the screenplay rights from Proulx—with their own money (a first for them).
Three months later, McMurtry and Ossana had adapted the story and began the long process of seeing it come to life on film.
It took the screenwriters seven long and often frustrating years before their script came to life. Much longer than McMurtry and Ossana ever imagined. Interest in Brokeback Mountain ran high throughout the industry. Ironically, it was a lack of commitment that left the project without a home for so long.
James Schamus, still with Good Machine at the time, was shopping the screenplay looking for a studio willing to mount Brokeback Mountain. He showed it to Ang Lee, then wrapping up his duties on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Lee was moved to tears by the story, but already moving on to his next project.
Two years later, Lee asked Schamus, now with Focus Features, whatever happened to Brokeback Mountain, a story that Lee was never able to put out of his mind. Soon after, the production was underway.
This is the opening passage from Annie Proulx’s book-version of the “Brokeback Mountain.” It did not appear in The New Yorker version:
Ennis Del Mar wakes before five, wind rocking the trailer, hissing in around the aluminum door and window frames. The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft. He gets up, scratching the grey wedge of belly and pubic hair, shuffles to the gas burner, pours leftover coffee in a chipped enamel pan; the flame swathes it in blue. He turns on the tap and urinates in the sink, pulls on his shirt and jeans, his worn boots, stamping the heels against the floor to get them full on. The wind booms down the curved length of the trailer and under its roaring passage he can hear the scratching of fine gravel and sand. It could be bad on the highway with the horse trailer. He has to be packed and away from the place that morning. Again the ranch is on the market and they've shipped out the last of the horses, paid everybody off the day before, the owner saying, "Give em to the real estate shark, I'm out a here," dropping the keys in Ennis's hand. He might have to stay with his married daughter until he picks up another job, yet he is suffused with a sense of pleasure because Jack Twist was in his dream.
The stale coffee is boiling up but he catches it before it goes over the side, pours it into a stained cup and blows on the black liquid, lets a panel of the dream slide forward. If he does not force his attention on it, it might stoke the day, rewarm that old, cold time on the mountain when they owned the world and nothing seemed wrong. The wind strikes the trailer like a load of dirt coming off a dump truck, eases, dies, leaves a temporary silence.
This is (part of) my favorite scene from the book. This scene plays just as well in the film, but believe it or not, there are two there that topped it for me.
The day was hot and clear in the morning, but by noon the clouds had pushed up out of the west rolling a little sultry air before them. Ennis, wearing his best shirt, white with wide black stripes, didn't know what time Jack would get there and so had taken the day off, paced back and forth, looking down into a street pale with dust. Alma was saying something about taking his friend to the Knife & Fork for supper instead of cooking it was so hot, if they could get a baby-sitter, but Ennis said more likely he'd just go out with Jack and get drunk. Jack was not a restaurant type, he said, thinking of the dirty spoons sticking out of the cans of cold beans balanced on the log.
Late in the afternoon, thunder growling, that same old green pickup rolled in and he saw Jack get out of the truck, beat-up Resistol tilted back. A hot jolt scalded Ennis and he was out on the landing pulling the door closed behind him. Jack took the stairs two and two. They seized each other by the shoulders, hugged mightily, squeezing the breath out of each other, saying, son of a bitch, son of a bitch, then, and easily as the right key turns the lock tumblers, their mouths came together, and hard, Jack's big teeth bringing blood, his hat falling to the floor, stubble rasping, wet saliva welling, and the door opening and Alma looking out for a few seconds at Ennis's straining shoulders and shutting the door again and still they clinched, pressing chest and groin and thigh and leg together, treading on each other's toes until they pulled apart to breathe and Ennis, not big on endearments, said what he said to his horses and daughters, little darlin.
The door opened again a few inches and Alma stood in the narrow light.
What could he say? "Alma, this is Jack Twist, Jack, my wife Alma." His chest was heaving. He could smell Jack -- the intensely familiar odor of cigarettes, musky sweat and a faint sweetness like grass, and with it the rushing cold of the mountain. "Alma," he said, "Jack and me ain't seen each other in four years." As if it were a reason. He was glad the light was dim on the landing but did not turn away from her.
"Sure enough," said Alma in a low voice. She had seen what she had seen. Behind her in the room lightning lit the window like a white sheet waving and the baby cried.
And the final line in “Brokeback Mountain” (it won’t spoil anything; it’s in the movie trailer):
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