TORONTO—Even before news arrived that BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN won the Golden Lion in Venice, Ang Lee’s epic love story was the talk of Toronto. Conveniently described as a “gay western,” it was more aptly characterized by one festival programmer as the “gay Gone With the Wind.” Will America give a damn? The western has always been the most romantically homosocial of modes, and the true cowboy love between tight-lipped Heath Ledger and doe-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal precipitates the not-so-latent theme of early-’70s oaters like The Wild Rovers and The Hired Hand. Some 40 minutes too long, Brokeback Mountain is pumped with lyrical Marlboro-man imagery. But perhaps that inflation is necessary. The movie earns its pathos through Ledger’s performance, but the closet has never seemed more cruelly constricted than in comparison to the wide-open spaces of what Americans call “God’s country.”
Although Brokeback Mountain is a landmark, its tale of undying passion will be no one’s idea of obsessive personal filmmaking. Still, Toronto offers something for everyone, and the screens were alive with the sound of auteurs crashing. “I hear that TAKESHIS’ is Kitano’s Nutty Professor,” one colleague hazarded hopefully. The movie is self-conscious enough to make your teeth ache, but Takeshi Kitano playing sad clown and Mr. Tough Guy lacks the liberating force of Jerry Lewis’s Dean Martin impersonation. For all its doubling, Takeshis’ is oppressively solipsistic; Kitano’s attempt to reconcile his various personae is a structuralist editing exercise—the same riffs repeated over and over to no particular end.
For empty pretense, however, nothing equaled Matthew Barney’s latest show-window psychodrama, DRAWING RESTRAINTS 9, a relatively short subject at 140 minutes. The art world emperor and his consort, Bj rent a Japanese whaling ship for a honeymoon cruise, checking out the hot tubs and modeling their new clothes amid giant hunks of fudge-like ambergris. More seriously ridiculous—which is to say less sanctimonious in its pretensions and far superior in its mannerisms—the Quay brothers’ THE PIANO TUNER OF EARTHQUAKES stages a toy theater opera in the fussiest studio-concocted Spain since The Devil Is a Woman.
The most spectacular example of kamikaze auteurism, however, was Terry Gilliam’s almost unwatchable, not altogether unadmirable, and certainly unreleasable TIDELAND. Making exactly the movie he wanted, Gilliam presents an American Gothic Alice in Wonderland in which little Alice is the logorrheic offspring of two flaming junkies (Jennifer Tilly’s Courtney Love–like slattern and Jeff Bridges’s flatulent Captain Pissgums) and Wonderland is a pair of derelict Midwestern farmhouses seemingly furnished by Wisconsin cannibal Ed Gein. The creatures include a collection of doll heads and Brendan Fletcher’s drooling Forrest Gump parody. Increasingly grotesque in its intimations of pedophilia, the movie ends with a comic train wreck, literally. It will become legend.
Indeed, I raced from Tideland to Abel Ferrara’s MARY, where, before the screening, a distraught Gilliam fan held forth on his hero’s “cinematic suicide.” Hey, as the movie director in Mary tells his God- besotten star (Juliette Binoche) when she refuses to leave the movie location, “Fucking go to Jerusalem.” Though a mere 83 minutes, Mary is its own double bill—a response to The Passion of the Christ in which the director (and star!) of a Jesus film (Matthew Modine) called This Is My Blood is a fantastic amalgam of Mel Gibson and Ferrara himself. Everyone in this jagged construction—which incorporates all manner of newsreel footage—is perched on the edge of hysteria. Speaking for confused filmmakers everywhere, Ferrara’s alter ego winds up barricaded in a projection booth, unclear whether his movie is a terrorist threat to society or vice versa. That’s some premiere, the ultimate festival fantasy.