Brokeback Mountain panel at the Autry

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Recently the Cute Little Red Headed Girlfriend and I went to the Autry Center for the first of four programs on the history of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in the West. The first program in the Autry's OutWest series was a panel discussion revolving around the movie Brokeback Mountain, called "Whatever Happened to Ennis Del Mar?"

One shirt covers anotherIn addition to the panel discussion and reception, attendees were invited to view the shirts featured in the final moments of Brokeback Mountain, currently on temporary exhibit as part of the museum's extensive movie costume collection. You can see the shirts in the snapshot shown at left.

During the panel introduction, members of two groups in the crowded auditorium were asked to stand: representatives of the International Gay Rodeo Association and "the Brokies" (like Trekkies, but for Brokeback Mountain), who had flown in for the occasion. I knew the movie had a fan base, but I hadn't realized until that afternoon how ardent it was.

The panel discussion ranged over a variety of topics, including whether Brokeback Mountain could be considered a gay film or a Western, the movie's representation of male friendship and masculinity, and the film's reception in the U.S. Panelist Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio, read his original published review of the film as well as his scathing post-Oscars commentary on Brokeback Mountain losing Best Picture to the movie Crash.

As a Westerner myself, I have a longstanding personal interest in the history of the U.S. West. But I was also drawn the Autry Center's OutWest series because of some documentary footage on gay and lesbian elders that I saw many years ago that has stuck in my mind ever since. In first person interviews, gay and lesbians in their 80s and 90s discussed their lives on film. One of the men discussed his life as a cowboy, describing how he moved west to escape the heterosexual expectations placed on him by family and society.

Although he was seeking a life of solitude, once this man arrived in the West he realized there were others like him who had left home for similar reasons. When I heard this story, there was something startlingly obvious about it that struck me. I think part of what made Brokeback Mountain such a phenomena is that it brings to the surface this hidden yet in some ways plainly evident history of gays and lesbians seeking freedom in the West.

According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times about the Autry's OutWest series, the next program will focus on a female stagecoach driver who lived her life as a man.

2 Comments

That documentary footage sounds fascinating. Do you know if it's going to be made more widely available?

That stagecoach presentation looks interesting. Are you going? There's something almost romantic about people braving the outskirts of civilization to live free, even if the reality was often heartbreaking.

I don't understand why a distinction should be made as to whether Brokeback Mountain is a Western or a gay film. I'm making my way through a Spaghetti Western box set right now, and I'd find it difficult to choose one way or the other for some of the films.

Hi Stephen,
The footage was part of a personal project on gay and lesbian history. I saw it at a home party, and although I'm sure the finished film was intended to be part of gay and lesbian history archives, I'm not sure it was ever intended for distribution.

I'm going to try to attend the rest of the programs, yes. If anyone wants to meet me there, you just have to speak up!

There was actually a discussion of the Spaghetti Westerns in relation to genre and what constitutes a Western. Interesting that you should bring that up!