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.