My wife and I took a vacation in Maui last week. We stayed at Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club. It was just going to be a week on the beach – Ka’anapali beach, to be exact.

That’s why we booked the vacation as fall was setting in last year, after we hadn’t made it to any beaches in the summer – we went to Manhattan to catch The Pillowman, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Doubt in June, and Washington DC in September to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday, instead. United’s frequent flyer club sent us an offer that looked almost too good to be true – less than half what you’d typically pay per night for a 5-night stay. So I said to myself what I usually say to her after we’ve discussed the latest travel deal she’s found online, “book ‘em Dano.” And after the months had finally rolled around we went, even though, given my recently extracted tooth, we weren’t in the best mood for travel – but not so bad to warrant paying a rebooking fee.

Also as bad luck would have it the Oscars were on the first night of our stay, a special double episode of 24 the night after, and the end of Project Runway the final night of our stay. We watched all but the last, Bravo not being available on the Marriott’s system – though we fell asleep for most of the Oscars, since we’d gotten up at 3am to make our 6am flight, and in Hawaii they show them tape delayed during prime time, not live in the middle of the afternoon as we’d hoped.

So neither of us actually saw Jack Nicholson announce Crash was Best Picture, until it was replayed on the Today Show the next morning. We went to bed disappointed, not because we’d missed Nicholson but because Crash – Grand Canyon with a fatal dose of bogus racist discourse that you can’t imagine anyone today saying, together with an equally unbelievable scene of shocking sexual violence, thrown in for good measure, inventing controversy for controversy’s sake, instead of discovering some real ones to depict – had won over the much better Brokeback Mountain – and also because Reese Witherspoon had won for her similarly unbelievable, personality-plus depiction of June Carter Cash, over the much more accomplished – though also somewhat perky, appropriately to her character – performance Keira Knightly had given in Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet.

As for Brokeback, we saw it the day after Christmas and were suitably impressed – though the Friday before Easter would have suited its subject more. It wasn’t a great movie – Cassablanca will remain my favorite romantic picture – but it hit most of the bases, even if the pacing was slow, and the overall effect was just way too sad. My wife was saying “I wish I could quit you” to me for weeks – to which I’d always replay, “If you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it,” in our best Wyoming accents. And the Canadian scenery was spectacular, and enough like Wyoming to remind us of the drives to Medicine Bow mountain we used to take during the year I taught Shakespeare and Renaissance literature as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University in Laramie – my last posting before I gave up on an academic career.

Matthew Shepard happened 7 years later in 1998 – the year after Annie Proulx’s story appeared in the New Yorker, making it seem prophetic. Alas, the one part of the movie that didn’t ring true is the scene where Ang Lee takes this reputation literally, and makes Ennis’s passing conjecture that maybe Jack’s death wasn’t an accident – “No, he thought, they got him with the tire iron” – into a too vividly realized replay of a scene very much like Shepard’s murder. We looked the passage up the next day to confirm our suspicions – the one place where Brokeback itself goes overboard into the sensationalistic territory Crash wallows in throughout. It also distracts from reasonances the understatement in the story must originally have had, pre-Shepard: Ennis justifying his choice not to settle down with Jack through this conjecture, conflating present-day Texas with the Wyoming of his father, who made him look at a murdered gay rancher’s body when he was a boy – the very scene that convinced him he could never come out. And the wish fulfillment involved in making this into something other than an automobile-related accident – just as Ennis must have wished throughout his life that his parents hadn’t left him an orphan through a car crash of their own, driving “off the only curve on Dead Horse Road.” Sometimes tragedy just doesn’t make sense; if you can’t fix it, you gotta stand it.

But then it’s no longer tragic, just really, really sad – passionate youth realizing its ultimate destiny in played out, rueful middle age, the misfortune of playing it safe.

(to be continued)

Posted Saturday, March 18th, 2006 under Uncategorized.

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