Last week I, like many others, was saddened to learn about the untimely death at 28 years of Heath Ledger, the brilliant and versatile Australian actor. Heath's death in his Manhattan apartment was a shock to all because he, unlike many other young celebrities, lived quietly under the publicity radar, concentrating on his acting and being a good father for his young daughter.
His death also got me thinking about the influence that a big film can have on movie goers. When I call a film "big" I'm not neccesarily talking about box office appeal and distribution. I'm remembering more precisely those films that stick with me. I care about the film's characters and their relationships with each other. I remember the script, the soundtrack, the setting. And, if I'm lucky, I change my mind about an issue or step out in a new direction as a result of seeing the film. Heath's portrayal of Ennis Del Mar, the introverted, maybe even numb, young cowboy in Brokeback Mountain was big for me--and many other people around the world.
It was in the winter of 2005 that I saw Brokeback Mountain for the first time. It was deeply affecting, a love story of two young cowboys--Ennis, the reserved and conflicted one who believed that in life whatever you were dealt you just had to "stand it" and Jack (played by Jake Gyllenhaal)the optimist who refused to be beaten down by reality. I could sense that others in the theater audience were moved, as I was, by the love story of two gay cowboys who came together at the wrong time and in the wrong place.
My long time friend, another middle-aged straight woman, saw the movie also. We then saw it three or four more times together. As the movie attracted more and more critical acclaim and fans, my friend became interested in a blog site that she found where people began by discussing the movie. That blog quickly evolved into a vehicle for the sharing of personal experiences--either by gay men and women or family members/friends who were dealing with the complexities of living with people they loved--or sometimes hated--who were gay.
The Brokeback Forum was created to serve as the sounding board for countless people who needed to tell their stories after seeing this movie. My friend, who has a background in educational technology, suggested to the forum founder, Dave Cullen, that these stories deserved to be published and she agreed to serve as the managing editor of the book project team. BEYOND BROKEBACK, The Impact of Film by Members of The Ultimate Brokeback Forum was published in spring 2007.
The moving thing about this book is the many ways that a film gave people the courage to make changes that would help them escape a marginalized existence and participate in all the normal pleasures of life--loving relationships with the right partner, friends, family , and work associates. Each chapter is a personal story of, as the title says, the impact of the film on that person's life. In some stories there is resolution, in others not. All are honest and true. I am glad to hear their stories. If you are interested in reading the book, it can be ordered on Amazon.com.
"Danic" is a 58 year old painter who lives with her husband in New York City. She writes about the scene in the movie where Ennis and Jack are goofing off with a lasso: "The metaphor of the lasso moves me because not only does it signify how Ennis became tangled up in Jack and that Jack roped him for life, but also because it means that, as a human beings and souls, we are all tangled up in each other, and The Maker will one day question why we did not love more." Heath as Ennis helped us to do just that.
- Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.