Wednesday, March 15, 2006

BOOKS: Annie, Get Your Gun (Please)

I loved this article so much I read it three times. It's Annie Proulx's unapologetically pissed-off dressing-down of the Academy Awards, and you know what? Before you write this piece off as sour grapes, Annie beats you to the punch and says, "For those who call this little piece a Sour Grapes Rant, play it as it lays."

Because dude, this is Annie Proulx. She's seventy years old and she's tough as nails and she divides her time between Wyoming and NEWFOUNDLAND, fergodsake, and in the very first paragraph of her short story "Brokeback Mountain" she has a guy peeing in his sink. And I'm not saying she would clock you with her Pulitzer, but I bet she could if she wanted to. What I'm saying here is that this is Annie Proulx, and she sure as heck doesn't give a tumbleweed fart about your, or my, good opinion.

I'm glad we got that out of the way. Because my Annie Proulx love goes way back, and while I don't expect you to love her, too (though, hey, that'd be great!), the woman demands respect with a capital R.

Check this:
Everyone thanked their dear old mums, scout troop leaders, kids and consorts. More commercials, more quick wit, more clapping, beads of sweat, Stewart maybe wondering what evil star had lighted his way to this labour. Despite the technical expertise and flawlessly sleek set evocative of 1930s musicals, despite Dolly Parton whooping it up and Itzhak Perlman blending all the theme music into a single performance (he represented "culchah"), there was a kind of provincial flavour to the proceedings reminiscent of a small-town talent-show night. Clapping wildly for bad stuff enhances this. There came an atrocious act from Hustle and Flow, Three 6 Mafia's violent rendition of "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp", a favourite with the audience who knew what it knew and liked. This was a big winner, a bushel of the magic gold-coated gelded godlings going to the rap group.
As you may know, I didn't watch the Oscars, but man, now I sort of wish I had, if only so that I could have invested my mosquito-like shrilling with the resonant, sardonic detail of Proulx's commentary.

After reading this piece, I was inspired to get out my copy of Close Range and re-read "Brokeback Mountain," and I'm so glad I did. I still haven't seen the movie, but that's only because I have to wait for it to come out on DVD. The minute it does, though... I mean, dude, Jake Gyllenhaal making out with Heath Ledger? Sign me up for a lifetime subscription to THAT. Colour me superficial, but if enjoying watching pretty men get it on is wrong, I don't want to be right.

If you've got a hankering for more Proulx, you should check out her official site, which contains, among other thing,
her CV, a handful of her essays, and FAQs about "Brokeback," including, in answer to the question "How long did it take to write this story?" the following statement: "Roughly six months, about twice as long as it takes to write a novel." Ha!

(Thanks to Hissyfit for the link!)


Anonymous said...

So, the point of "Brokeback Mountain" is... attractive men kissing? Congratulations on missing the point.

Tammy said...

Awww. Dan, don't say I can't be facetious on my own blog... you're breaking my heart!

Seriously, I really was being facetious. (Well, mostly. Because like I said, pretty men making out!) I love the original story, which, outrageously, does not feature any good-looking men AT ALL, much less Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. It's a beautiful story, and it made me cry, and I have this feeling I'm going to embarrass myself while watching the movie.

C'mon... friends? If we haven't learned from Ennis and Jack that life is too short for distance and animosity, then we've all missed the point.

Anonymous said...

I love her too. She's a genius. I read "Brokeback Mountain" and wrote a critical analysis for one of my college English courses. I had to read the story three times before I could stop weeping and write about it with some objectivity. "At Close Range" is a compilation of stories connected by the geography of Wyoming and its hardscrabble characters. It scared me, creeped me out, made me think and broke my heart by turns. In short, it was everything an English major requires in a short story collection. By gosh, I think I'll read it again too!

John Paolozzi said...

I would like to point out that Doppelganger makes me watch "Dude Where's My Car" over and over again just so she can watch the boys make out.

Anonymous said...

I have a confession to make: I've been down on Annie Proulx ever since I read The Reader's Manifesto by B.R. Myers, in which he eviscerates her prose. But I love this article, and then I looked at her website and I loved that, too. I'm thinking it's time to get off the curmudgeon bandwagon and read a generous sample of her work.

Anonymous said...

And I love her as well. Lordy. Brokeback Mountain is a gorgeous movie on every level. I've got to read the short story now. Backwards, I know.

lisal said...

I'll admit that I haven't seen Brokeback yet, and also that I didn't hate Crash - apparantly that's a very unpopular opinion, but I did read that article and it made me want to not read anything of hers. She talks about being close-minded, well I find it pretty close-minded that the freaking author of the story thinks that only "her" movie should have won awards.

I get that Crash winning was a big upset, but is she just figuring out now that Hollywood is shallow and vain and superficial?

Anita said...


Don't feel bad. I saw both Crash and Brokeback Mountain and thought Crash was the more deserving movie on every level.

Don't get me wrong. Brokeback is a very well directed movie with gorgeous cinematography and excellent performances. But, at it's essence it is a story about unrequited love, and just because it is about the unrequited love of two men doesn't make it especially original.

So I agree with you. I haven't read Annie Proulx's short story; perhaps her writing is what deserves a prize as opposed to the movie.

Crash is smart, provocative, and also has some excellent performances. It's also original and thoughtful.

A tough choice, but I think one that was correctly made by the Academy.

Anonymous said...

For those who haven't seen it, here's Crash in a nutshell.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Anita, you said that Brokeback was a movie about unrequited love. But Ennis and Jack do love each other, so their love is, if I'm not mistaken, requited.

I really liked Brokeback Mountain. I did not like Crash as much, because I felt like I was being deliberately tugged in different directions in the name of deep characterization. The movie was all, "Ooooh, Matt Dillan is SO RACIST, but then again he really LOVES HIS FATHER, and later he rescues a BLACK WOMAN FROM A BURNING CAR, do you understand already that OUR CHARACTERS ARE TOTALLY COMPLEX???"

But maybe that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Wayne. The entire time I watched Crash I could practically hear the director whispering in my ear "Isn't this film IMPORTANT and AMAZING. Racism is BAD, M'KAY?", which - I didn't really need that. Ten minutes after leaving the theatre, I stopped thinking about the film.

On the other hand, Brokeback Mountain really drew me in, and I found myself thinking about it at random times for weeks. Maybe it's because I'm gay, or maybe it's because I'm a sap, but I really connected with that story. I've never had to deal with the things that the characters in the film had to deal with, but I could still really understand the story that Ang Lee was trying to tell. I haven't actually read the short story yet (I hate buying books with movie covers, and I have had a lot of trouble locating a reasonably priced copy of the short story that doesn't have the movie poster slapped on it), but from what I understand it's just as amazing and powerful as the film was for me.

I wouldn't have begrudged any of the other "Best Picture" nominations a win (although I was hoping for Brokeback to take it), but I just don't understand why on earth anyone would think that Crash was worth honoring.

And I feel the same way about Best Song, by the way. Dolly Parton kicked ass up on that stage, and her song was relevant and powerful, and most of all, intelligible, which is more than I can say for the song that did win.

Tammy said...

Yay, Dan!

Adia said...

I find it interesting which demographics thought Crash was a piece of crap, and which thought Brokeback Mountain was the best piece of filmmaking from 2005.

Crash could be trite at times, yes. It was heavy-handed. But it was talking about something that a lot of people choose not to think about because they don't think it affects them. On the flip side, Brokeback Mountain fans felt snubbed because they felt that that movie dealt with things that were important to them. I like it when people cheer for their team, but when they publicly call the opposition "Trash - excuse me - Crash", I find that low and classless.

I'm not saying everyone should be saccharine sweet to each other all the time, but that was just nasty.

And she wouldn't even have gotten a statue anyway, so what the hell?

Sarah D. Bunting said...

I like Proulx's writing, but the Ballantyne blast...I felt embarrassed for her. She's outraged that Brokeback didn't win Best Picture, but then she turns around and snarks on the entire Academy Awards event as shallow and annoying...which we already knew, A, and B, if you don't buy into it, then...don't buy into it.

Wing was right on, I think; write this in your diary, or unload it on friends, but don't show us your ass by publishing it. I thought Brokeback should have won, too, but this is an institution that gave a statue to Marisa Tomei.

Tammy said...

I can sort of see the point that some of you make about Proulx's piece maybe being the kind of thing best shared amongst friends. And maybe Proulx regrets the publication of this piece now. But I have to say that I hope she doesn't, because much as, OF COURSE, everyone knows that Hollywood is superficial and all that, how often does someone famous just come out and SAY IT so baldly? And I have to confess that I'm really attached to my conception of Proulx as the kind of person who just doesn't give a rat's ass who likes her or not. There are so few well-known people who have this kind of attitude, I think we need to cherish the few who do. So long as they're not Bill O'Reilly, that is.

Andi said...

I'm reading Close Range as we speak, and so far I've loved every story. Proulx is a geeeenius, and I can't wait to read The Shipping News.

Anonymous said...

"I'm really attached to my conception of Proulx as the kind of person who just doesn't give a rat's ass who likes her or not."

Apparently, that's pretty accurate, according to a commenter over on Hissyfit, who described Proulx in person as kind of a dick (my paraphrase).

Dimestore Lipstick said...

From the piece: "There was one man in a kilt - there is always one at award ceremonies - perhaps a professional roving Scot hired to give colour to the otherwise monotone showing of clustered males."

For some reason, I just loved that.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I'm just now reading this, a bit late, but I had to tell you -- Annie Proulx came to little old Bend Oregon to speak at our little literary arts festival and I will always love her for that. She read a short story and it was so, so, so funny but also packed a punch. She's good at that. Also I will always love her for the line in Shipping News that (I'm paraphrasing) fish bones piled on the side of a plate look like the devil's fingernail clippings. AAAAh!! If only I could write that way! If I could only _think_ that way...

Anita said...

Dang, Wayne, you are right.

Ok, guess that makes my analysis of the situation pretty piss poor. No wonder I thought Crash was smart ...

I can't hang out at these intellectual blog (skulking back to my simplistic, dull one).

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