Two thumbs down: Gay cowboy movie gets poor reception

“Brokeback Mountain,” a story about two cowboys who fall in love, had a poor showing in Clovis despite good reviews and Academy Awards nominations. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

There are many in this town of roughly 35,000 who have built a life around agriculture. It is an industry that still dominates the economy. Tractors are sold on the same strip as sedans. Rodeos are celebrated annual events.
Wide-brimmed hats, belts with shiny buckles and leather boots are daily attire, and have been for generations.

For some area residents, the film about two cowboys who fall deeply in love is an affront on values steeped in tradition and a mockery of a cherished way of life. Despite its critical and box office success, they refuse to see “Brokeback Mountain.”

“There is no way I would see it,” said Buck Angeley, a Texico resident who rides bucking horses bareback in local rodeos. Ironically, it is a past time similar to Brokeback’s gay Jack Twist, who ekes a living riding bulls on a rodeo circuit in the west.

Angeley, 24, is uncomfortable addressing the idea of homosexuality among cowboys.

“It is probably something that happens. But it is taboo, something that is left unsaid,” said Angeley, his hands dug inside his jean pockets and the brim of his cowboy hat casting a shadow over his blue eyes.

“Brokeback Mountain” arrived in Clovis on Friday at the Hilltop Twin Theatre. It has grossed $1,400 since it premiered, according to Hilltop employee Stewart Neff. Even for a small theater, that’s a low figure, Neff said, especially for a film that has already pocketed a Golden Globe, leads in a number of Academy Award nominations, and is predicted to nab the Oscar for best picture.

The revenue slump is deserved, according to some.
Darla Rhodes, co-owner of Joe’s Boot Shop and Country Junction, makes a living selling Western garb. Her shop has a selection of more than 16,000 boots and 10,000 hats, according to Rhodes.

“It’s (the film) a slap in the face to our way of life and the Western industry,” she said. “(The film) promotes homosexuality. They are trying to convince us that it’s natural and it’s OK and it’s just a matter of choice. But it’s not.”

Bob Anderson is a 58-year-old Watrous rancher. He is also personally insulted by the big screen portrayal of gay cowboys.

“It goes against the morals of cowboys. We don’t believe in same-sex marriage. We believe in abstaining from sex until marriage, and just being honest,” Anderson said.

Unknowingly, Anderson unearths an issue that lies at the very heart of the film — the weight such codes of conduct can have on individual lives.

But just because some individuals are not ready to hear a story, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told, said Joy Wolenski, moments before she entered the Hilltop theater to see “Brokeback Mountain.”

Films that dare to tell such stories can be powerful agents of social change, she said. And a change is needed, in her opinion. Anti-homosexual sentiments harm real people and real lives every day, Wolenski said.

“Constant exposure to any group reduces prejudice of that group. For instance, racial prejudice is highest in areas where the fewest blacks live,” said Wolenski, who would have supported “Brokeback” even if it premeired “100 years ago,” but was pleasantly surprised to see the film arrive in the area.

“I love that “Brokeback Mountain” is in Clovis. Yeah, Clovis,” Wolenski said.