The Fix

Conservatives said "Brokeback Mountain" would bomb in cowboy country. But in red-state Montana, gay cowboys are a big draw. Plus: Christians against Britney! Oprah duped Talese?

By Salon Staff
Published February 2, 2006 2:30PM (EST)

For months now, a chorus of televised talking heads has been predicting that the vast majority of Americans wouldn't stand -- let alone stand in line -- for "Brokeback Mountain." Bill O'Reilly, who memorably promised that red-staters would stay home, predicted, "They're not going to go see the gay cowboys in Montana. I'm sorry. They're not going to do it."

But "Brokeback Mountain" isn't just playing in red states like Montana; it has been doing quite well, even before it became the Oscar front-runner this week.

In Missoula, Mont., a town of just under 60,000, the film has been a big hit since it opened at the cavernous Wilma Theater on Jan. 6, grossing $33,006, cumulatively, in its first four weekends there. A representative for Focus Features calls the movie's performance in Missoula "amazing." And Bill Emerson, who manages the 85-year-old theater, confirms that "Brokeback's" draw has been "one of our best starts for a movie we've ever had."

Of course, Missoula is a college town that has long served as a haven for Montana's liberals, hippies and artists. But "Brokeback" isn't doing well only in Missoula. In Kalispell, a stronghold of conservatism in the northwest part of the state, the film opened last Friday and took in $3,656 at the box office its first weekend, a draw Focus says it's "very happy" with. In the equally conservative ski town of Whitefish, where the film also opened on Friday, it was the weekend's top draw, taking in $2,312 and beating out "Big Momma's House 2," "Nanny McPhee" and "Underworld," the top three national box-office draws. And a rep for the company calls the film's performance in Billings, a traditional community in central Montana, where it has taken in $26,065 since opening on Jan. 13, "absolutely phenomenal." "Brokeback" is also doing well in Great Falls and Bozeman, and last weekend opened at No. 1 in Helena.

"I don't know where [the pundits] got the idea that we wouldn't want to see this movie," said Donna Frief, a 59-year-old school secretary from Lolo, Mont., who went to see "Brokeback" in Missoula last week with her daughter and granddaughter. Frief said she "could have done without" some of the more explicit love scenes, but added, "I thought it was just a really beautiful love story. And so sad. It really helped me understand more about the feelings that [gay people] go through."

Judging from the outcomes of the two most recent presidential elections, Montana might look pretty homogenous and conservative. Statewide, Montanans voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush in 2000 and again in 2004, by margins of 19 and 20 percentage points, respectively, proving themselves to be considerably more enthusiastic about Bush than much of the rest of the country. But those same Montana voters summarily ousted the Republican Party from the governor's office and majority power in both chambers of the state Legislature in 2004. Today, all but one of the major posts in Montana state government are held by Democrats.

One of the first people to step up to the box-office window to see "Brokeback Mountain" when it opened last Friday at the Strand, an old single-screen movie house in Kalispell, was a gray-haired man who would identify himself only as Fishbah.

"What the hell, a couple cowboys? They've got the choice of sheep, cows and cowboys -- which would you choose?" he mused.

The Blue Moon is a sprawling cowboy bar on a rural highway between Whitefish and Columbia Falls. One wall of the barroom is taken up by a glass display case containing two stuffed Kodiak bears and one polar bear, frozen in attack poses. A house band jangles through a series of country hits onstage, while men and women in Stetsons and crisp jeans swing-dance on the wooden dance floor.

Eight men and one woman sat quietly around a poker table. As I sat down, a waitress walked up and placed a single red rose on a chair near the dealer. A man at the far end of the table noticed it and picked it up. A grin flashed across his face, and he handed it to the man next to him.

"This is for you," said the man with the rose.

"Hey, isn't that cute -- it's like that 'Brokeback Mountain,'" interjected another man sitting at the table, who laughed heartily at his own joke. "That shit, what's up with the gay cowboy?" The others at the table grinned and shook their heads.

"Anybody planning to see the movie?" I ventured. One guy glanced up from his cards. Another guy shrugged, not committing either way.

-- Joe Nickell

Morning Briefing:
Talese sideswiped by Oprah? For those of you wondering why fictional memoirist James Frey's publisher, Nan Talese, agreed to appear on "Oprah" last Thursday, the answer is simple: According to the Observer, Talese had no idea the show would be a feeding frenzy on herself or her author. "I was asked to go onto a program that was going to have James on it, and then I was going to be joined by Frank Rich and Richard Cohen to talk about 'Truth in America.' That was the program," she explained. (In case you just descended to Earth from Mars, this is what actually happened.) Talese added that she had been reluctant to appear on the show in the first place, and agreed only after Frey -- who owes his success, and subsequent disgrace, to Oprah Winfrey -- insisted. Nonetheless, Talese said Frey was "reeling" after the show on the flight back to New York. (N.Y. Observer)

-- Joe DiMento

Jesus no fan of Britney? Wednesday's announcement that Britney Spears would be appearing on an upcoming episode of "Will & Grace" wasn't met with applause at the conservative Christian group American Family Association. Spears' character will apparently be a Christian TV host with a cooking segment called "Cruci-fixins." The AFA sees it as an attempt by NBC to "mock the Crucifixion of Christ," and "to further denigrate Christianity, it says, NBC chose to air the show the night before Good Friday." The group has now started a phone and e-mail campaign to get the episode dropped. (American Family Association via Perez Hilton, E! Online)

Brad and Angelina Malibu-bound? Angelina Jolie has accepted an offer in the sale of her Buckinghamshire mansion, and she and Brad Pitt have been meeting with architects in Berlin who will be building a new house for them in Los Angeles, likely in Malibu. (3AM Girls)

But will there be the pantyless interrogation scene? She may be 47, but Sharon Stone hasn't lost any of her basic instincts when it comes to on-screen steaminess. The 13 years in the making "Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction" has made it to the ratings stage, and a few of Stone's scenes have had to be cut down to avoid an NC-17 rating. Still, the movie's producers don't want you to think it has turned into family-friendly fare. "It is a hard R," a Sony spokesman promises Rush & Molloy. "It's a graphic psychological thriller. The official MPAA designation is, 'Strong sexuality, nudity, violence, language and some drug content.'" Stone apparently refused to use a body double for an orgy scene. (Rush & Molloy)

Boy George appeared briefly in court in Manhattan on Wednesday, just long enough for his lawyer to argue that he needed to have more time to prepare a case for the singer's drug possession charges. (Associated Press) ... On the off chance you have trouble differentiating between best-actress Oscar nominees Keira Knightley and Dame Judi Dench, the BBC has put together a handy comparison chart. (BBC News) ... CBS is going to begin selling individual episodes of "Survivor" as downloads via its own Web site starting today. (Broadcasting & Cable) ... Pete Doherty, you know you're a hated man when even the New York Times is laying in to you: "If he appeared to enroll in the 'Live Fast/Die Young' school of rock perfected by people like Sid Vicious and Kurt Cobain, Mr. Doherty failed to devote enough effort to the part where, before you go off the rails, you produce a respectable amount of great music." (N.Y. Times) ... The original painting of Charlotte's vagina from "Sex and the City" is back up for sale on eBay, if this poorly spelled listing ("Charlette") is to be believed. (eBay via Hollywood Rag) ... A&E's original movie "Flight 93," a factual retelling of the United flight that crashed in a field after passengers fought back against the terrorists hijacking it on 9/11, became the highest-rated show in the network's 22-year history when it aired on Monday. (Reuters) ... Ballerina and actress Moira Shearer, who became a star with 1948's "Red Shoes," died in Oxford, England, on Wednesday. She was 80. (Hollywood Reporter)

Turn on:
The season premiere of Season 12 for "Survivor" (CBS, 8 p.m. EST), and this time the show is headed back to Panama. Also, Oprah Winfrey will be on "The Late Show With David Letterman" (CBS, 11:30 p.m. EST).

-- Scott Lamb

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