Brokeback Mountain is not a film crying out for a sequel. When one of the characters has died on screen, and the actor playing the other has died in real life, then it's best to leave well alone. So it does seem odd that Annie Proulx, the author of the story on which the film was based, should be saying that she has been bombarded with ideas from people wanting to change her story. That she says the ideas are "pornish" is perhaps not so odd. The bombardment has, of course, not happened just as a result of the story published in 1999, but because of the 2005 movie, and that is why I mention the film (starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger). It is the film rather than the original story which has inspired numerous fans to tell Ms Proulx how the pornish quotient could be increased.
She's fed up with it, and was quoted this week as saying: "There are countless people out there who think the story is open range to explore their fantasies and to correct what they see as an unbearably disappointing story. They constantly send ghastly manuscripts and pornish rewrites of the story to me, expecting me to reply with praise and applause for 'fixing' the story. They certainly don't get the message that if you can't fix it, you've got to stand it."
So what sort of story ideas, pornish and otherwise, have they been sending to Annie Proulx? The new Brokeback Mountain stories on fan sites seem to range from the almost poetic "With their eyes closed, they shared an intimate moment of united longing, pain and beauty that would take a place in eternity" to the far from poetic "Your eyes are like the stars. Your touch is like the sun" to the downright opaque "They painted beautiful, plunged creative. The kingfisher, silent, did not remove his belt".
And there's the one that seems to be sponsored by a clothing manufacturer: "Everything about Jack and his jeans disturbed and tormented Ennis that summer of '63 until all he could think of or see was blue."
One fan, whose own take on Proulx's short story runs to a mere 23 chapters, sums up his opus thus: "Ennis learns that Jack is still alive from Lureen. Finds him in a hovel off the banks of Rio Brave del Norte. He learns on his way that Jack was left blind." Ah. Looks as if there could be a sequel after all.
I suppose it's easy to be either amused or, if you are Annie Proulx, annoyed by Brokeback fans trying to "fix" her story. Whether she was more annoyed by the pornish elements or by the fact that they were trying to "fix" the story at all, it's hard to know. I suspect it was the fixing as much as the porn that offended her. But I think it is wrong to mock or berate the fixers.
Writing or even just wishing for a sequel or an alternative take on a work that one loves is a fairly natural desire. Robert Altman's brilliant 1992 film The Player, a satire on Hollywood, began with a series of film pitches at a studio. One of them was from a huckster urging a sequel to the sixties classic The Graduate, as the three stars, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross were all, then, still alive and working. Cinema audiences found this hilarious, but I thought it a terrific idea, and never understood why someone didn't go ahead and do it.
Wanting to keep a story alive is not an insult to its creator. It is a tribute. Annie Proulx has inspired these fans to want to keep her story alive. And while they would do much better, to use their creative urges to write their own stories with their own characters, they have been inspired by her to write. I think she should turn a blind eye to the pornish elements, and take it as a compliment that her story has fired so many imaginations.
Mad about the boy
David Eldridge's funny and touching play about school staffroom passions, Under the Blue Sky, is having far too short a run in the West End. I caught it this week, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but couldn't help having thoughts not entirely related to the play.
The exquisite actress Francesca Annis had to make several speeches about having a relationship with a much younger man. I did wonder how this felt for her, as for years, when she went out with Ralph Fiennes, she was subject to newspaper articles about having a relationship with a much younger man.
Another of the three actresses on stage, 29-year-old Lisa Dillon, is the partner in real life of the actor Patrick Stewart, 39 years older than she is. I'm not sure what she was thinking during those speeches. The third actress in the play, Catherine Tate, is not as far as I know involved in any age-gap issues.
There's the curse of an era fixated with celebrities' private lives. It can almost stop you concentrating on a smashing play.
It did all end in tears, obviously
Michael Kaiser, the American self-styled "turnaround king" who was in charge of the Royal Opera House during some of its most difficult days in the 1990s, has a book out this week giving his 10 "rules" for running a successful arts institution. He also details the traumas of his time at Covent Garden.
"I cried a lot," he says. "It was incredibly tense and my apartment was my only refuge."
He adds that "an entire cadre of newspaper reporters made a career of writing of the woes of the Opera House". He continues: "Many of them camped out in pubs across the street to make sure they heard the latest gossip."
Actually, Michael, the gossip wasn't in the pub, it was on the scaffolding. Some of us covering the ROH's troubles during that time used to talk to the builders, who were full of good info on how behind time and over budget the rebuild was.
So here, gratis, are rules 11 and 12. Don't cry. It's not the best leadership quality. And keep a closer eye on the builders.