'Brokeback' gets boot
SANDY - Carol Adams just wanted to watch a movie and have a burrito.
But Adams learned Friday the movie she wanted to see - the R-rated Western gay romance "Brokeback Mountain" - had been pulled from screens at the MegaPlex 17 at Jordan Commons.
Management at the MegaPlex 17 decided late Thursday afternoon not to open "Brokeback Mountain" on Friday as scheduled. Word of the decision arrived at area newspapers by e-mail at 5:39 p.m. Thursday, too late for Friday papers that still listed MegaPlex's screening times for the film.
"I even called in advance yesterday, and they said the first showing was at 12:45 p.m.," said Karen Tiblier, of Sandy, who went to Jordan Commons with a friend to catch a matinee of "Brokeback Mountain."
"I just had a feeling that they wouldn't show it here, and then I saw that it was and I was surprised," Tiblier said. "Now I'm being surprised again."
Adams, who moved to Sandy from Washington state more than a year ago, said "this is the first time I've been slapped in the face with what I believe to be closemindedness. . . . This movie has gotten stellar reviews, and it's already up for boatloads of awards. Not showing this film says bigotry and fear."
Neither theater management nor Jordan Commons' owner, auto magnate and Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, returned calls seeking comment. The only official explanation was a typed message posted at the MegaPlex ticket window: "There has been a change in booking and we will not be showing 'Brokeback Mountain.' We apologize for any inconvenience."
In an interview with KCPW-FM reporter Jonathan Brown, which was taped Thursday afternoon and aired Friday, Miller said booking a movie like "Brokeback Mountain" was a business decision.
"It's something that I have to let the market speak to some degree," Miller told Brown. "I don't think I'm qualified to be the community censor."
However, Brown said Friday that Miller was unaware of the storyline of "Brokeback Mountain" - about two Wyoming cowboys who maintain a hidden romance for two decades - until Brown described it to him Thursday, less than two hours before the schedule change was announced.
Other new movies with R-rated content - such as the marijuana-fueled comedy "Grandma's Boy" and the grisly horror movie "Hostel" - opened on schedule at the MegaPlex 17.
Officials for Focus Features, the movie's distributor, were incensed.
"Only hours prior to opening 'Brokeback Mountain,' [the theater management] reneged on their licensing agreement with Focus Features and refused to open the film today as scheduled," the company said in a statement. "Given the gigantic grosses already being posted in Salt Lake City for 'Brokeback Mountain,' this is their loss. We are thrilled that the film . . . is now being embraced by such a huge audience in Salt Lake City, regardless of the deplorable business practices of this one theater."
Mike Thompson, executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Utah, said, "It's disappointing that bias would prevent a beautiful and award-winning film such as 'Brokeback Mountain' from being made available to the residents of Utah."
The movie, starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, set box-office records for the Broadway Centre Cinemas when it opened Dec. 30. Tori Baker, executive director of the Salt Lake Film Society (the nonprofit group that runs the Broadway and Tower theaters), said "Brokeback Mountain" made $46,000 over the four-day New Year's weekend - placing the Broadway 10th nationwide for per-screen average.
Baker said Focus Features, the movie's distributor, "is falling off their chair about [the numbers]."
Focus Features has been releasing "Brokeback Mountain" slowly across the country, building up positive reviews to counter the marketing hurdle of selling a gay romance to middle America. But better-than-expected box office prompted Focus to speed up the national release, up to nearly 500 screens this weekend - including the Century 16 in South Salt Lake and the Cinemark 24 at Jordan Landing.
The Utah Film Critics Society named "Brokeback Mountain" the year's best movie, and also gave top honors to director Ang Lee. The movie has received similar honors from critics' groups nationwide, as well as seven Golden Globe nominations, four Screen Actors Guild nominations, and nominations for Directors Guild, Writers Guild and Producers Guild awards.
Adams, not wanting to cancel her weekly "Mom's day out," chose to watch a movie she has already seen, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." But she said the "Brokeback Mountain" incident may change her moveigoing habits.
"There are some new theaters around here and they show all the same movies," Adams said. "I may end up going there."