I first read Brokeback Mountain was it – only 11 pages long – was published in the New Yorker on October 13, 1997. It is one of the short stories in Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories. I love Annie Proulx – she can use a few words to paint a picture that speaks a thousand words and is a Pulitzer prize winning author. I had already read The Shipping News (1993) and Accordion Crimes (1996) but Brokeback Mountain just felled me.
When I heard that the Brokeback Mountain short story was going to be made into a movie, I wondered how they would manage to make 11 pages into a 2 hour movie. But they did. That screenplay was perfect. They didn’t add or leave anything out. The movie was extraordinary. You didn’t notice the gender of the characters, just the impossible love story. No matter what happened, it would not have ended happily. Partly because of the years in which it played out, partly because of the characters. I have never understood people being against love across gender, religion, age and race lines. Love is so hard to find as it is, that people should celebrate it in all its forms rather than trying to destroy it.
It remains my favourite love story and favourite movie of all time. And it still blows me away that such young actors did such a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life. I am so glad that Ledger and Gyllenhaal were, in their mid-twenties, prepared to sacrifice their careers to make such an important film. Hollywood is still very homophobic, sadly. I maintain that is why it lost the Best Film Oscar to Crash, and why neither Ledger nor Gyllenhaal received Oscars for their acting.
I am sorry that Heath Ledger was lost to the world and to his family so young. And Gyllenhaal remains largely underrated as an actor. If you watch October Sky (the movie of Rocket Boys), Moonlight Mile and Jarhead you realise that he is really good
Annie Proulx hates fan fiction but, despite that, about ten years ago, I thought I would try and give the story a happy ending. And that re-started my interest in fan fiction which had begun in 1993 or so when I used to monitor all the internet newsgroups for Africa and stumbled onto Star Trek slash fiction. It fascinated me then that most of it was written by women.
There is a lot of Brokeback Mountain fan fiction – people wanting to give the story a happy ending or wanting to continue the story somehow. There are prequels, sequels, whole alternate canon which started from particular points in the book. I decided to try. And I learned so much. How to develop characters and keep them interesting, how to cope with the pressure of writing regular updates, the reviews from thousands of readers, the deluge of email from people. You can just see yourself getting better day by day.
But this story is so perfect there is no way to improve, develop or give it a happy ending. If you stay true to the characters, nothing would change. If you change the characters to give them a happy ending then you are not true to them. The closest fan fiction to achieving that was Beans and Crazies, written by Montana Crows who stopped writing when she was called up for active duty in Afghanistan. This fan fiction is brilliant.
If you have not seen this movie I would really recommend you do so. There is a reason this is on every list of best films, best romances, best actors out there. I am not sure if it is worldwide but it is on Netflix in many countries.