99 Problems but a Bitch Aint One: Vol. 2

In doing research for this little series I’ve come across a lot of lists of LGBT films. And close to the top of every list is Brokeback Mountain, or what we here at Dear Jesus call “The Gay Cowboy Movie.” I like Brokeback Mountain. It’s visually beautiful, it’s a beautiful story, starring beautiful people. And it came at a time when people seemed to be ready for it and in a form people would accept. The film is an epic love story, told in traditional Hollywood (heterosexual) ways, and that made it palatable to ambivalent audiences.

But I was more impressed with Ang Lee’s latest effort: Taking Woodstock.

As a film, Brokeback Mountain is miles ahead of Taking Woodstock, which seems clumsy by comparison. But Taking Woodstock presents homosexuality in a much more subtle and, ultimately, effective way. Because did you even know that Taking Woodstock had gay characters? That’s the point.

Just like heterosexuality comes to us who play for that team as pretty much a given, Elliot (Demetri Martin) shows slight confusion but acceptance when he expresses his sexuality for the first time. Likewise, his dad sees him kissing on some dude and is a little disappointed but, like many parents of LGBT kids, he isn’t that surprised. And then it isn’t an issue anymore. The film doesn’t dwell on his sexuality as the biggest conflict of the film, but moves on and lets another plot develop. Being gay is just an aspect of Eliot’s character, among many others.

Liev Schreiber as Vilma is also a pretty amazing representation. He plays a transgendered man not-quite-passing as a woman bodyguard. Once again, her appearance and sexuality is called into question for just a moment, and then melts into the background as just another part of her personality. Other elements like her compassion and bad assness is much more central to the plot than the fact that she’s wearing a dress.

Taking Woodstock is kind of rough. Parts of it are so poorly put together that it’s hard to sit through. But I recommend seeing it just to see what can be done in a film when homosexuality is not the central theme.

3 Comments

Filed under 99 Problems but a Bitch Aint One, Whitney

3 responses to “99 Problems but a Bitch Aint One: Vol. 2

  1. Haha I feel like I’m commenting seconds after you posted this so I hope I’m not coming on too strong, BUT: God you are so correct. I love that the characters’ sexuality was one aspect of the film, but not at all the focus. So many movies with gay characters make that the central issue of their stories, and that’s ok, but it’s nice to deal with it in more realistic terms where it is just one of many things about someone, not his/her defining feature.

    I found Taking Woodstock really enjoyable, though by no means great. It helps that Demetri Martin is so darned likable.

    • Definitely. He’s such a little cutie. And I like that he’s such an everyman…that’s pretty unusual for a film with LGBT themes, too. They either get someone so frail and flimsy, or a hunk like Heath Ledger. I mean, that’s not always the case, but it certainly comes up more than I would like.

  2. Todd Puglisi

    “Brokeback” is a Gay movie for Straight people. Not that I have much of a problem with that-hey,it MADE MONEY(important in Hollywoodland,no?)
    and won acclaim and awards,perhaps bringing a few people who THOUGHT they were liberal closer to that actual place of acceptance.
    The problem that I had was that it actually told an old story that should have died back in the 60’s and 70’s-the gay couple destined to either meet with violent end or left to live out their lives alone and unhappy
    (this film covers both quite….nicely).I suppose this ground was covered for the umpteenth time simply BECAUSE it took place during the 60’s and 70’s, but as anyone who’s read “The Celluloid Closet” might agree,this approach to a “Gay” love story has grown O- so-decades-old that it fades
    to dust on repeated viewings. A good flick(pretty cinematography,good performances) but a tired formula. B-
    toddword.

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