"There are a lot of people who see movies who do not read," Proulx says. "It used to be that writing and architecture were the main carriers, permanent carriers, of culture and civilization. Now you have to add film to that list, because film is the vehicle of cultural transmission of our time. It would be insane to say otherwise, to say that the book is still the thing. It isn't."
Perhaps true. But for many of Proulx's most ardent fans, the story is the thing. Take Michael Silverblatt, the radio host of KCRW's "Bookworm" program, who says that this kind of literary genius is "uncapturable" by film. Silverblatt remembers reading "Brokeback Mountain" in the New Yorker and the sensation of being surprised in stages: "Here's a story that was taking place outdoors, which is unusual enough in the New Yorker. And it's a western, another rarity. And creeping up on me is the feeling: These cowboys are falling in love!" (The story was recently posted on the New Yorker website at www.newyorker.com/archive/content/articles/051212fr_archive01.)
Since Proulx was in town for the film's premier, Silverblatt arranged to moderate a question-and-answer session with Proulx after a screening of the film at the ArcLight. "The story \o7let\f7 me cry and the movie \o7made\f7 me cry," he told the audience. "I feel there is a sadness ladled on in the movie."
Proulx replied: "I think it's good for us to feel the emotion that the film engenders, whatever its source."
"The story began in 1963," said a woman from the audience. "Do you think things are better now, in terms of attitudes?"
"I wish," Proulx said. "But one year after the story was published, Matthew Shepard was killed less than 30 miles from where I live. I was called to be on the jury for one of the killers."
The tough-guy Western mythology undergirding our national identity should be questioned, Proulx says, and she hopes that her story -- and now this movie -- will spur that kind of dialogue.
Which already seems to be happening. Bill Handley, an associate professor of English at USC, was in the audience at ArcLight, and plans to put together a book of essays on the story and the film.
"It's a groundbreaking story, worthy of close attention," he says. "The essays will focus on a whole range of questions on sexuality, landscape, authenticity, and labor in the West. Who knows what the response to this film is going to be, and what that will tell us about the culture."