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Brokeback praised and accepted across the board

by Amy Kingsley

By the time John Johnson bought his movie ticket, worked his way through the lobby crowds and found an empty seat, the feature Brokeback Mountain was running about 15 minutes behind schedule.

He could wait. In fact, he was used to it. Johnson, president of Alternative Resources of the Triad, had already waited a lifetime to see a major motion picture undertake the portrayal of homosexual relationships. Another 15 minutes was no big deal.

Johnson and about a dozen of his friends weren’t the only ones eager to see the Ang Lee picture. Film fans, gays, lesbians and heterosexuals from as far away as Virginia made the trek to Greensboro to see the movie when it opened Jan. 6 at the Carousel Cinema on Battleground Avenue.

‘“The first couple of weeks we had an almost overwhelming response,’” said Tim Davis, a manager at the movie theater.

Greensboro was one of the first cities in the Southeast to land the film, according to Johnson. Although it originally opened only at the Carousel, the Carmike 18 on Koger Boulevard has recently added a screening.

Brokeback Mountain has grossed more than $42 million since its December release. That pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions earned by big-budget blockbusters like King Kong and the Chronicles of Narnia. But the film is faring well against most other competitors, especially given its relatively modest $14 million budget.

But dollars indicate only a part of the impact the film has had. In a meeting room inside the Biltmore Hotel, which Johnson runs, members of Greensboro’s gay-straight alliance met Jan. 24 to discuss their opinions of the film.

‘“I thought the film did a very good job of depicting just how painful straight people can make it for gay people who have to act like people they aren’t,’” said Chris Cannon.

Both characters marry women and maintain their relationship through infrequent fishing trips. Nonetheless, members of the group cheered the depiction of a deep emotional connection between ranch hands Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist.

‘“I thought that it was just an emotional story,’” Cannon said. ‘“It was refreshing seeing a homosexual couple have the same connection that most heterosexual couples have in a romance.’”

The movie has already had an effect in the gay community. Some people struggling with their sexuality have seen the movie and come out of the closet. It has also reminded those who live openly as gays and lesbians why some people in conservative areas must remain closeted.

‘“I could identify with the whole hiding thing,’” Jonathan Lucas said. ‘“When I got out of the closet it was so liberating. To see the characters do that their whole adult lives really brought up some unpleasant feelings.’”

Their praise for the movie extends beyond its portrayal of gay characters. Out of Johnson’s 13-member group, only one disliked the movie. Others praised the direction, cinematography and acting.

Judges of the 2006 Golden Globe Awards agreed and recognized the film four times, including best drama and best director for Lee. Conservative critics have dismissed the film as a product of Hollywood liberalism that is out-of-touch with the majority of Americans. Despite the complaints, protesters have stayed away.

Davis reported that no complaints have been lodged against the Carousel, and that few patrons have walked out of Brokeback Mountain or requested their money back.

‘“At one particular point in the movie I turned around just to see what the reaction was,’” Johnson said. ‘“But nobody walked out or looked disgusted.’”

‘“I was hoping there would be protesters,’” Lucas said. ‘“I had dressed up for it. I was hoping that I would have to push through the crowds.’”

On the question of whether the film would have a wider social or political impact, the participants expressed ambivalence. More than a dozen states have adopted a ban on gay marriage since Massachusetts legalized same-sex unions in 2003, which indicates resistance to acceptance of those relationships.

‘“I just can’t imagine it right now,’” Johnson said. ‘“But it may just add to things that are already happening.’”

One thing that is happening is a dramatic increase in hits to Alternative Resources of the Triad’s website since they moved Brokeback Mountain screening information to the homepage. Johnson reported almost 32,000 hits by late January.

Those who saw the movie said audiences represented a wide cross-section of society. Karen Atkins sat next to a 70-year-old man when she went to see Brokeback Mountain. Cannon’s mom, who he described as very conservative, enjoyed the movie, as did Lucas’ straight coworkers.

The popularity of the film, even in a small southern city like Greensboro, encourages Johnson, Atkins and the others that same-sex relationships might someday populate feature films with increasing frequency and decreasing fanfare.

‘“I see it all as a positive,’” Atkins said. ‘“Just go with your friends and have a good time. That’s how it should be.’”

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