‘Brokeback’ and Utah:

I am delighted by the comedy of errors surrounding “Brokeback Mountain” and the Jordan Commons theater in Sandy, Utah.

As locals know, Jordan Commons is owned by Larry Miller, a car-dealership tycoon who also owns the Utah Jazz. A devoted Mormon, he has also financed production of some LDS-themed films such as “The Work and the Glory” and “States of Grace.”

Well, “Brokeback Mountain” was scheduled to open at Jordan Commons this past Friday. It was already playing to record-setting crowds at the Broadway Centre in downtown Salt Lake City (Sandy is a suburb 20 minutes south), and was set to open in two other area theaters on Friday, too.

On Thursday, Miller was being interviewed by KCPW-FM reporter Jonathan Brown, who brought up the imminent showing of “Brokeback Mountain.” I haven’t heard the interview, which aired on the NPR affiliate Friday, but I gather from Miller’s quoted response that Brown was expressing surprise that Jordan Commons, which has occasionally shied away from controversial movies, was showing it.

Miller said, “It’s something that I have to let the market speak to some degree…. I don’t think I’m qualified to be the community censor.”

But here’s the thing: Turns out Miller didn’t actually know what “Brokeback Mountain” was about until Brown told him.

Two hours after the interview was conducted, Jordan Commons told the local papers to pull “Brokeback Mountain” from its Friday ads, because they weren’t going to show it after all.

Now, if Jordan Commons doesn’t want to show “Brokeback Mountain,” that’s fine. Theaters are entitled to show or not show whatever films they want, and they’re not beholden to anyone to explain or justify their actions. We went through this two years ago, when nobody in Salt Lake wanted to show the gay missionary drama “Latter Days.” (The Broadway Centre eventually did show it.) Whatever your reasons — political, social, moral, financial — if you own the theater, you can drop a film.

Of course, you should probably do the dropping sometime BEFORE it’s too late, not after. In Miller’s case, it was too late to change the ads in Friday’s paper, and patrons showed up at Jordan Commons on Friday expecting to see the movie.

But here’s the funny part: Larry Miller, who owns not just Jordan Commons but the Gateway Megaplex downtown, DIDN’T KNOW what “Brokeback Mountain” was about?! What kind of bubble do you live in to not have heard AT LEAST the basic two-word summary that everyone uses to describe the film? (It’s the “gay cowboy” movie.) Even your everyday citizens have surely heard about the film, but this guy — who OWNS MOVIE THEATERS — hasn’t? I think that’s hilarious.

Naturally, Utah’s Eagle Forum was quick to applaud the decision. The Eagle Forum is run locally by Gayle Ruzicka, an ultra-conservative activist who wields enormous influence over Utah politicians despite holding no elected office. She speaks quickly and harshly against anything that cannot be squeezed into her very narrow, very black-and-white, very religious worldview. (Being religious is not a problem, of course. But expecting everyone around you to follow the same rules is.) She’s so conservative — and so outspoken about it — that even some of the conservative Mormons around her say, “Dang, she’s really conservative.”

One of the better examples of her hyperbole and fear-mongering was during the 2002 Winter Olympics, when she spoke out against the Salt Lake Organizing Committee’s having condoms available to athletes, free for the asking, at the Olympic Village health center. “Where are the athletes … getting their sex partners?” she asked. “Are they bringing their own with them … or are they going out on the streets of Salt Lake City looking for our sons and daughters? Are we giving them permission to do this with the distribution of condoms?!?!?!?!??!?!??!?!” [extra hysterical punctuation added; see this column for more background])

Anyway, here’s what Gayle said about the decision not to show “Brokeback Mountain” at Jordan Commons:

“I think it sets an example for all the people in Utah and, like I said before, he’s my new hero…. It’s such a terrible show, and it is such a horrible message. I just think (pulling it) tells the young people especially that maybe there is something wrong with this show.”

Some points:

POINT NO. 1: It’s not a “show,” Gayle, it’s a movie. Shows are on TV or in live theatrical or concert venues. If it’s been filmed and is now being projected on a screen, it’s a movie.

POINT NO. 2: How do you know it’s such a terrible movie, Gayle? Have you seen it? I would bet money that you have not. I suspect you’re relying on your legions of flying monkeys to report back to you on its content — “It has men in love with each other!” — and that’s as far as you went. You can dislike a film’s message, as gleaned from outside sources, but don’t call a movie “terrible” unless you’ve actually seen it.

POINT NO. 3: If you HAVE seen it, shame on you. It’s rated R.

POINT NO. 4: Gayle, you hypocritical gargoyle, do you know what movies DID open at Jordan Commons on Friday? “Grandma’s Boy” and “Hostel.” If we’re talking just about content, and not dealing with matters of artistic or entertainment merit, both films are far more graphic and potentially damaging to the community than “Brokeback Mountain.” Unlike “Brokeback Mountain,” which has one brief, fully clothed sex scene between two men and a few brief scenes of heterosexual married sex later on, “Grandma’s Boy” and “Hostel” feature wall-to-wall profanity, sexual vulgarity, nudity, very graphic illicit sexual activity, and rampant drug use. On top of that, “Hostel” also has gruesome, horrific violence and gore.

And that’s just the onscreen content! If we get into the ideas or “themes” of the films, it’s much more disturbing. We have premarital sex being encouraged, promiscuous young people being lionized, drug use being championed, and sadistic torturers of human beings being granted a free pass.

But don’t worry, Gayle! “Grandma’s Boy” and “Hostel” may be depraved, degrading and salacious — but at least don’t have any implications of adult men being in love with each other! So they’re totally fine, and Larry Miller can still be your new hero even though he’s showing them. I wonder, though. If pulling “Brokeback Mountain” tells young people that there’s something wrong with the movie, does NOT pulling “Hostel” or “Grandma’s Boy” tell young people that there’s NOT something wrong with them? If one move is a condemnation, then the other, logically, has to be an endorsement.

(By the way, last weekend the Broadway Centre’s box office for “Brokeback Mountain” was 12th-highest among the 300-plus theaters that were showing it. I’m sure the folks at the Broadway are happy to have Jordan Commons cancel it, because it means more audiences for them.)

The Salt Lake Tribune
Deseret Morning News