WHAT if they held a culture war and no one fired a shot? That's the compelling tale of "Brokeback Mountain." Here is a heavily promoted American movie depicting two men having sex - the precise sex act that was still a crime in some states until the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws just two and a half years ago - but there is no controversy, no Fox News tar and feathering, no roar from the religious right. "Brokeback Mountain" has instead become the unlikely Oscar favorite, propelled by its bicoastal sweep of critics' awards, by its unexpected dominance of the far less highfalutin Golden Globes and, perhaps most of all, by the lure of a gold rush. Last weekend it opened to the highest per-screen average of any movie this year.
Those screens were in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco - hardly national bellwethers. But I'll rashly predict that the big Hollywood question posed on the front page of The Los Angeles Times after those stunning weekend grosses - "Can 'Brokeback Mountain' Move the Heartland?" - will be answered with a resounding yes. All the signs of a runaway phenomenon are present, from an instant parody on "Saturday Night Live" to the report that a multiplex in Plano, Tex., sold more advance tickets for the so-called "gay cowboy picture" than for "King Kong." "The culture is finding us," James Schamus, the "Brokeback Mountain" producer, told USA Today. "Grown-up movies have never had that kind of per-screen average. You only get those numbers when you're vacuuming up enormous interest from all walks of life."
By coincidence, "Brokeback Mountain," a movie that is all the more subversive for having no overt politics, is a rebuke and antidote to that sordid episode. Whether it proves a movie for the ages or as transient as "Love Story," it is a landmark in the troubled history of America's relationship to homosexuality. It brings something different to the pop culture marketplace at just the pivotal moment to catch a wave.
Read the full column here.
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