It’s Gay Pride this weekend here in New York City so it’s only appropriate that this week’s trailer selection goes to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005). Based on Annie Proulx’s 1997 short story (which first appeared in The New Yorker and later capped 1999 collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize), the tentative love story of two cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) in the 1960s played against stereotypes and caused a sensation.
Producer and co-writer Diana Ossana and Pulitzer Prize-winner Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) fleshed out the spare story, adding the wives (Michelle Williams and Ann Hathaway). Director Ang Lee brings subtlety and sophistication to the story, eliciting top-notch performances all around. Rodrigo Pietro’s stunning cinematography (with Canada substituting for Montana) and Gustavo Santaolalla’s guitar-driven, Oscar-winning score add to the poignancy of the love story.
Santaolalla’s music makes a distinct impression, due to his duties as music producer, writer, and instrumentalist. In addition to composing the score, he co-wrote songs performed by Mary McBride, Jackie Green, Teddy Thompson, and Emmylou Harris.
Santaolalla began working on the score after reading the script and the short story. “Ninety-nine percent of the music…I wrote before the movie was shot.” He sent Lee some of his ideas after their original conversation. “He thought I was sending him stuff I had previously composed, and so he told [BROKEBACK producer] James Schamus, ‘What a pity we can’t use this, it would be perfect for our movie.’ And then James said, ‘But Gustavo did write this for us.'”
“(Lee and I) both had the idea for acoustic guitar and strings,” Santaolalla said. “I thought it would be great to have one more element.” That element was the pedal steel guitar. On the soundtrack, the instrument is played by Bob Bernstein, former Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at Universal Music Group, whose earlier gig as an in-demand country music sideman served him well on the score.
From its initial successes at the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto film festivals, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN rode a wave of critical and surprising audience attention. The fact that it won more critic awards for Best Picture than any other film of 2005 makes its Oscar loss to the execrable CRASH that much more perplexing and frustrating.
There’s no doubt that Santaolalla’s brief score rode in on the BROKEBACK stampede. His win has caused much carping on film score message boards, second only to another win the following year for BABEL. Whether or not Santaolalla deserved his Oscar is up for debate. Whether or not the music poignantly captured the characters’ loneliness, wide-open spaces, and “a love that will never grow old” is not.