In this paper, I will be discussing two movies that portray homosexuals and homosexuality in very different ways. The first movie is The Birdcage (1996), a comedy directed by Mike Nichols, and starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a pair of long-term gay lovers. The second movie is Brokeback Mountain (2005), a drama directed by Ang Lee, and starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as star-crossed gay lovers. A Movie Filled with Stereotypes
In The Birdcage (1996), the movie that I have chosen that I feel stereotypes homosexuals, all the typical gay stereotypes are there: the flamboyant physical gestures, the garish color scheme of the decor and the wardrobe, the hysterical emotional reactions, the drag queens, the cattiness, and even the lisps. In brief, Robin Williams plays Armand Goldman, a middle-aged gay man who is the owner of a gay cabaret in Miami. His live-in lover, Albert, played by Nathan Lane, is also the star of the cabaret show, a drag queen named Starina.
Armand has a 20-year-old son, Val, from a brief heterosexual relationship, and Val has been raised in Armand and Albert’s household. Val arrives home, declares that he’s engaged to the daughter of an extremely right-wing conservative U. S. senator, and that the senator and his wife are coming to dinner. Albert decides to dress in drag and pretend to be Armand’s wife. The garish decor and wardrobe, which might seem out of place if the setting were Wisconsin or Kansas, doesn’t seem quite as stereotypical as it might since the setting is South Beach in Miami.
The bright, neon colors are quite popular there, and although there is certainly an element of exaggeration, I don’t think these colors would be out of place in mainstream Miami. What is really interesting about this film is that even though it is filled with so many gay stereotypes, and even though it gets huge laughs playing to these stereotypes, it is really not a film that refuses to look deeper than the surface. The out-and-proud Armand and Albert are in a long-term, committed relationship, and we see how that relationship plays out.
Armand and Albert could be any two people in a relationship, although Armand is portrayed as pretty mainstream gay, minus most of the stereotypical characteristics, while Albert is loaded with these types of characteristics. In fact, he seems to be one, big overacting gay diva in every respect. He is always throwing fits, crying, accusing, locking himself in his room, and trying to lay guilt trips on Armand. I hate to say it, but not only does Lane portray Albert as the complete stereotype of a gay man, but he also portrays Albert as the complete stereotype of a straight woman who has PMS.
I think the stereotypes that are portrayed in this movie are just as popular as a set of misconceptions today as they were a decade ago. But on the other hand, the biggest stereotype, the one where people believe that all gay men sleep around with many, many partners, is not even addressed in this film because, as I said, it focuses primarily on a committed relationship between two middle-aged gay men. This, I feel, could be beneficial in showing the public in general that not all gay men jump from man to man.
On the other hand, the audience is going to see what it wants to see, and if they believe all the stereotypes going in, this film will probably reinforce their beliefs. But, at least, a gay comedy could get made at all. It doesn’t happen that often in Hollywood. But it seems that comedy makes everything more palatable to middle America. It removes them from the truth of the situation just enough so that they can be absorbed into the story and laugh. That has got to be a benefit, as it’s a start to seeing “gay people” as “just people. ” A Movie with Positive Images
Brokeback Mountain (2005), the movie I have chosen that I feel does not stereotype homosexuals, is about as far away from The Birdcage (1996) as you can get. It’s a romantic drama with a love story between two cowboys as its central theme. Ennis Del Mar, played by the late Heath Ledger, and Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, meet as young men on an isolated assignment herding sheep. Ennis is already married, but Jack is not yet married. The two surprise themselves by falling in love with each other, something that was greatly looked down on in the American West in 1963, where this film begins its story.
They keep their love a secret, or so they think, and meet when they can over the years. Jack marries for cover, Ennis grows even more distant from his wife, and eventually Jack meets a violent end after his homosexuality is discovered. In looking at the effect that the images in this film had or might have on mainstream, non-gay America, I’d say that the image of two virile cowboys falling so unexpectedly in love with each other was a positive one. So many of the stereotypes show gays as effeminate and unmanly.
But there was none of that in these two men. They were as strong and physically active as most men, and probably in better shape than most straight men, but the fact that they were both buff did nothing to add to the misconceptions that most gay men work out at the gym and are vain and body-oriented. Instead, their good physical forms were the results of hard manual labor. These non-stereotypical images are important to the focal point of the film, which is how the romantic relationship between these two men develops over the course of 20 years.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) was really the first big-budget Hollywood movie that took the risk to portray two non-flamboyant, non-stereotypical gay men in a romantic drama, where the gay romance was the theme of the movie. Whereas both men were closeted and married, and it appeared that Jack had other boyfriends while Ennis did not, we see how their love lasts and grows over the years. We see the longing and the yearning and the way they miss each other. Mainstream straight America sat up and thought, they’re just like us! That’s how I feel about my husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend.
We could relate to them and what they were going through. I think this reaction was a product of the times. Homosexuality is a lot more out in the open now and middle America is a lot more socially tolerant now than they were even ten years ago. The Comparison In spite of the fact that Brokeback Mountain (2005) was made in 2005, it is set in a time period from 1963 to 1983. So what we see in Brokeback Mountain (2005) is how attitudes and social expectations used to be when America was a much more closed-off society than it is now.
We actually get to see what led up to the change in American values by the time of The Birdcage (1996), which is set in 1996. Another difference in the setting is that Brokeback Mountain (2005) is set in the American West, supposedly representing middle American values, whereas The Birdcage (1996) is set in South Beach Miami, known more for it’s nightlife than for it’s middle-class values. A kind of “anything goes” feeling pervades this setting. In South Beach, a gay man can be as safely “out” as it is probably possible to be in the United States.
In the American West, four decades ago, there were few places that it was safe to be known as homosexual. An image is created of fear and intolerance and keeping your true self hidden. In Brokeback Mountain (2005), director Ang Lee created images that were evocative and memorable. The beauty itself of Brokeback Mountain, where the two men fell in love, was all lush and green and charming vistas. Yet, when the men separated and spent long periods apart, the landscape was dry, dusty, run down and baron.
It seemed that this love had just happened to them and that they had no control over it in spite of the strong yearning to be together. In The Birdcage (1996), director Mike Nichols, on the other hand, told a story that was all about a kind of false world created by his two main characters. The settings were primarily indoors, often garish with colors and styles left over from the 1980’s, and literally, audibly loud. It was a world based on illusion, but the illusion was created by the two gay men and it was on their own terms.
I think one product of the times in which these films were made was the number of graphic love scenes that were included. Even 13 years ago when The Birdcage (1996) was made, it was very rare to show two men kissing in a mainstream Hollywood movie. But ten years later, Brokeback Mountain (2005) showed not just two men kissing, but two men in love, making love. Times have changed and what we are willing to accept up on the screen has changed with it. However, this may not be just a product of the times, but also a product of the type of film that was being made.
In 1996, no one expected two gay middle-aged men to make out or to make love in a comedy, but come 2005, love scenes in a romantic drama were considered normal, although pushing the envelope quite a bit when the protagonists were both males. Conclusion When I saw Brokeback Mountain (2005), I have to admit that I was enchanted, fascinated and a little bit put off. The scenery and cinematography were typical, breathtaking Ang Lee, and the story was so beautifully done, unlike anything that had been done before. But this film also went a lot farther than I was comfortable with in terms of showing physical contact between two gay men.
They showed a lot of kissing and love making, and when they showed Ennis spitting on his fingers, I about lost it. I guess I consider myself a socially-tolerant prude: I don’t mind what people do as long as I don’t have to watch it in graphic detail. In The Birdcage (1996), I thought Robin Williams did an excellent job of portraying a gay man without all the usual stereotypical characteristics to fall back on. It could not have been an easy task, especially for someone who can overact anyone under the table, but Williams found a nice middle ground in portraying a man who was clearly gay but also clearly not a stereotype.
However, there was one character who was purely a stereotype played for laughs all the way: the butler named Agador, played by Hank Azaria. I have to admit that I thought this character, small though his role was, was the funniest part of the movie. He took just about every gay stereotype out there and exaggerated it as much as humanly possible, and he pretty much stole the show doing it, too. In addition, I was glad that we didn’t have to watch two middle-aged men kissing and making love. That would have been too much for me. I guess there really is something to playing it for laughs and making the audience comfortable.
You really don’t want to put the audience too far out of their comfort zone or they will just simply reject the whole premise, or the whole film, in other words. As you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, I believe that motion pictures can help break through to increased social tolerance by easing the medicine down gently. References Nichols, M. , Machlis, N. , Imperato, M. , and Danon, M. (Producers), & Nichols, M. (Director). (1996) The Birdcage [Motion picture]. USA: United Artists. Schamus, J. , McMurtry, L. , and Ossana, D. (Producers), & Lee, A. (Director). (2005) Brokeback Mountain [Motion picture]. USA: Focus Features.
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