January 9, 2006

It's All There In The Text

Heath Ledger loves that shirt
Last week Cinecultist received in the mail at work a copy of Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain in a stand alone short story version. This was a nice surprise because we've always enjoyed Proulx's writing but hadn't read the story before we saw Ang Lee's film version a few weeks and we've been hearing from various friends that it's a wonderful story.

It's a quick read, so CC gobbled it up like some small, tasty snack on Sunday evening. Like when we used to read novelizations of films (i.e. books written after the movie as a tie-in product) in junior high school, Proulx's story was very faithfully adapted by Lee and so there's the pleasure in the reading seeing the movie spool out in your mind's eye. The story, like the film, spans many years of this relationship between Ennis (played by Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and so the style of writing skips through time lightly, only touching down to sketch in a brief dialogue or incident. Sometimes when you read the source material for a film, it can be easy to lapse into the assumption that the text is always the richer or more complex version than the film. However in this case, it seems that Lee's movie actually has the time to elaborate on scenes or characters only eluded to in Proulx's text, creating a deeper understanding of these two characters.

Which is not to say that Proulx doesn't hit it out of the park in certain turns of phrase, such as this passage below where Ennis visit's Jack's childhood home after Jack's death and discovers a momento of their time on Brokeback together.

The shirt seemed heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeves carefully worked down inside Jack's sleeves. It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack's own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one. He pressed his face into the fabric and breathed in slowly through his mouth and nose, hoping for the faintest smoke and mountain sage and salty sweet stink of Jack but there was no real scent, only the memory of it, the imagined power of Brokeback Mountain of which nothing was left but what he held in his hands.

If you're one of those straight dudes or somebody else not easily prone to spending $10 bucks to see two sheepherders fall in love and thus haven't seen Brokeback Mountain yet or read Proulx's story, CC urges you to fix this soon. Both instances are storytelling at their finest.

Posted by karen at January 9, 2006 9:11 AM