Brokeback Mountain sells tickets... and civil unions?

Curious George never meant so much. The owners of the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill probably didn’t have symbolic undertones in mind when they tacked up the blinding yellow poster for the spring 2006 film. On it, everyone’s favorite domesticated primate mimics the scrutinizing American people, fixing his binocular gaze on the denim-and-wide-brim-clad cowboys from Brokeback Mountain positioned across from him.

This poster is modeled after the last unfortunate love story to draw such fervor at the box office, Titanic, but Brokeback Mountain’s edgier scenes are likely to draw more gasps from your grandma than Leo DiCaprio tracing Kate Winslet’s nipple on a couch. The social resonance of Brokeback Mountain extends beyond James Cameron’s calling for a moment of silence as he accepted his second Oscar.

Shot for a fraction of a Narnia-scale budget and headlined by an actor best known for his breakthrough work in 10 Things I Hate About You, Brokeback Mountain might not have been forecasted to be this decade’s most socially charged film (like, say, Get Rich or Die Tryin’).

However, Ang Lee’s quiet story of two ranch hands who fall in love one summer at Brokeback Mountain has produced more than tear-dampened blouse sleeves and witless jokes involving the word “lasso.”

“Everybody loves it,” declared Manor Theater employee Jay Pearlstein. Pearlstein, a concession attendant at one of two Pittsburgh theaters to initially open the film, was shocked by the universal acclaim until he sat in on the film himself.

“It’s really about love,” Pearlstein said, reflecting the explanation producers have given to the film’s success.

Unfortunately, though, not everyone is pickin’ up this good vibration. Theater owners in Utah and West Virginia have refused to show the tale of star-crossed lovers (“Romeo and Julio,” according to some comic geniuses). Big surprise, you’re thinking, the lands of Salted Lakes and Mountaineers don’t want to see gay cowboys. I could have told you that after watching Dateline for a couple of minutes.

But reactions to the film have blended the red-state–blue-state coding into, well, purple.

Utah theater owner Larry Miller’s decision not to show the film has prompted the GLBT Community Center of Utah to issue a community call to action. Some citizens, explained Center Executive Director Valerie Larabee, wanted to “picket and be harsher.” Larabee stated that the organization is leading a campaign to “educate and give people options besides Larry Miller’s franchise.”

Brokeback’s success in smaller, less liberal cities such as Cincinnati and Milwaukee has torn the sails of those insisting the film is pure propaganda — an attempt to persuade the country-road rednecks to flirt, if you will, with the idea of gay marriage. A similar attack was launched on TV show Commander in Chief, with bloggers and pundits “exposing” its agenda to get Hillary into the White House.

Conservative writer David Kupelian calls the film the “rape of the Marlboro Man.” According to Kupelian, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal have transformed the iconic American hero — the cowboy — into another marketing tool. Only this time, they’re not selling exhalable shortcuts to death, they’re selling... CIVIL UNIONS!

“No, Mr. Ranger, no!”

Regardless of the political climate brewing over a couple of sheep herders, Pittsburghers are “flocking” to grab tickets. Weekday showings are selling to crowds of 50 or more at Manor, and I mean, who goes to see movies on Wednesday afternoons?

The Manor Theater’s owners manage the Cinemagic on Forward Avenue, too, where King Kong was also showing on two screens.

“King Kong bombed,” Pearlstein explained, “but all kinds of people are coming to see Brokeback Mountain.”

Hi-ho, silver.