Of Gay Cowboys and Heart-Broken Geishas
I WATCHED Brokeback Mountain and Memoirs of a Geisha this past weekend on my trip down to London. Apart from being in shock at having to pay £9.50 to watch a film at the cinema, and the fact that Odeon theatre in Kensington had tiny screens, I was elated to watch both of them.
You see where I usually live, Saudi Arabia, there are no public cinemas and thus everyone is reduced to watching movies on smallish television screens. Sometimes the quality is excellent if you buy an original DVD, sometimes it sucks if you can’t wait for it to be released on original DVD and go for the pirated version, which more often than not has been filmed off the screen of a cinema and is thus blighted with less than clear picture, fuzzy sound and the backs of people’s heads who were actually watching the film in the theatre.
With all the hype that I had been hearing about Brokeback, I of course was dying to see the film. And the film didn’t disappoint with its story of two ranch hands, Jake Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger, falling in love when they work together on a Wyoming ranch herding sheep in the mid-1960s. (The movie was actually shot in Canada, and the scenery is beautiful.) Jake is the more progressive of the two, repeatedly badgering Heath to live together and be happy, instead of marrying women and having children with them. Naturally, since the beginning of the movie is all pre-Stonewall riots, the two do get married to two different women, Jake in Texas, Heath in Wyoming, and they start families.
Several years go by with no contact, and then Jake sends Heath a postcard informing him that he will be passing through town and can they meet up. Heath of course says “yes!” faster than his poor wife can say “adultery”, and this is the beginning of a regular ritual of going on alleged “fishing trips” sans their wives, but which are in actuality “high-altitude fucks” as Jake says near the end of the film.
I won’t say anymore about what happens so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but suffice it to say that I did get teary-eyed near the end of the movie. My friend Michael was upset with the ending, saying that the film just fed into the stereotype that all gay men are ultimately unhappy and end up leading fucked up lives. He would have preferred that they rode off happily into a Western sunset, but I think that would have been slightly impossible (though not entirely so) due to the era that it was set-in and the community that both Jake and Heath were from. The truth remains that many sectors of American society, especially in western, rural areas, remain deeply homophobic and unaccepting of same-sex love.
DON’T always listen to what film critics say about movies, is my advice of the week after having seen Memoirs of a Geisha. Most of the reviews that I had read before seeing the film had panned it, criticizing it for every sin under the sun from not having elaborate enough kimonos, to the geishas sporting too much face powder, to casting non-Japanese actors, such as Ziyi Zhang and Michelle Yeoh, in the leading roles.
The director Rob Marshall, of Pretty Woman fame, insists that the film is just inspired by the Memoirs of a Geisha novel by Arthur Golden, and was not meant to be a 100% historically accurate picture of Japan around World War II. And I fully agree with him. I read the book and loved it, and the film faithfully recreates all of the scenes in the book. Zhang is excellent as Sayuri, Gong Li does an incredible rendition of Hatsumomo’s bitchiness and Yeoh is touching as the very kind Mameha.
Although I didn’t really like the message of the film, which seemed to say that redemption for a prostitute is only to be found in the arms of a rich, older patron, (something that critics have pointed out to be a reoccuring theme in Marshall’s films) one cannot pan the film for recounting the story of one geisha that must have been the similar story of countless other geishas in Japan.
If you haven’t seen either film yet, rush out and watch them now! You won’t regret it and you will have spent five hours of your life enjoying yourself.