Skip to main content

'Brokeback' Taboos in Big Sky Country

The new film Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee, stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Based on a short story by Annie Proulx, it describes the relationship between two young men in the West in the 1960s.


Other segments from the episode on December 9, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 9, 2005: Interview with Rudy Behlmer; Interview with Patti Smith; Review of the film "Brokeback mountain."


DATE December 9, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Rudy Behlmer discusses the making of "King Kong"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "King Kong")

GROSS: King Kong is once again inappropriately expressing his passion for a
beautiful woman. Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong" opens December 14th.
Today, we honor the original giant ape in the 1933 movie he started in.

(Soundbite from 1933 "King Kong")

Unidentified Man #1: Come on. I got him.

Mr. ROBERT ARMSTRONG: (As Carl Denham) He'll be out for hours. Send for the
ship for anchors, chains and tools.

Unidentified Man #1: What are you going to do?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: (As Carl Denham) Build a raft to float him to the ship. Why,
the whole world will pay to see this.

Unidentified Man #1: No chains will ever hold that.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: (As Carl Denham) We'll give him more than chains. He's
always been king of his world, but we'll teach him fear. We're millionaires,
boys. I'll share it with all of you. Why, in a few months it'll be up in
lights on Broadway: Kong, the eighth wonder of the world!

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: That was Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham, the producer who journeys to
Skull Island in the Indian Ocean to capture the giant ape and bring him to New
York to star in his nightclub spectacle.

The soundtrack of "King Kong," dialogue and music was released on CD in 1999.
That year, I spoke with film historian Rudy Behlmer who wrote the liner notes.
Behlmer's other books include "Inside Warner Bros." and "Behind the Scenes."

Here's the great opening title music from "King Kong" composed by Max Steiner.

(Soundbite of opening title music from "King Kong")

GROSS: Rudy Behlmer, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. RUDY BEHLMER (Film Historian): Thank you very much, Terry. (Sings
several notes from the opening title music from "King Kong")

GROSS: What...

Mr. BEHLMER: It doesn't sound as good when I do it as when Max Steiner did

GROSS: Well, he wrote it.

Mr. BEHLMER: Yeah.

GROSS: What would you say the importance of Max Steiner's score is for "King
Kong"? I love the score for this.

Mr. BEHLMER: It's a wonderful score. And of course, he was a pioneer,
certainly, in doing sound motion picture scores. But if you can imagine that
picture, if you turn the sound off when you're watching a cassette or seeing
it on television and you turn the sound off during the big sequences,
certainly in the jungle and on top of the Empire State Building and so forth,
and you realize how much the sound elements contribute to the success of that
film, not only the sound effects that Murray Spivack created out of roars and
grunts and groans and what have you that he manufactured, but also the
wonderful dramatic values that Max Steiner brought to it, because, you know,
at that time, when he was beginning to score that in late 1932, music
throughout in terms of an underscoring was not prevalent. It was shortly
after sound came in, and the emphasis was on dialogue. In fact, background
scoring was relatively sparse. But Max rose to the occasion, and fortunately
Merian C. Cooper was a staunch advocate, and so was David Selznick, who was
the executive producer at RKO Radio at the time, and they said, `Yes, we want
a full-blooded score.' And it certainly became that and, you know, he made
that thing work from a dramatic standpoint.

GROSS: I love the score, but I find something very amusing about it, which is
that although it's set on this island, Skull Island, the music is really very
European and nothing like what would have been heard in the region at that
time. And I'll play the scene in a moment, but you know, when they first get
to the island, when the American film crew first gets to the island and
they're watching this, you know, native ritual...


GROSS: ...the natives are chanting, `Kong! Kong! Kong!' And there's this,
like, march behind them as a kind of precursor of Kong's footsteps that will
be marching...


GROSS: ...toward his prey. And the march is a very European form, and the
brass instruments playing it are so European. And yet this defines a kind of,
you know, South Sea island or African kind of Hollywood sound.

Mr. BEHLMER: That's true. Well, of course, Max and everybody else associated
with this picture knew we were dealing with a fantasy here. It's a total
fantasy a more--as Cooper said, `A more illogical picture could never have
been thought up.' And it is illogical if you stop and examine it from that
standpoint. But the music--you know, they weren't saying, `Well, wait a
minute, we have to get something that's indigenous to this area. We have to
be authentic. We have to be like a documentary.' You know, it was full reign
of the imagination. And of course, Max composed in a full Wagnerian manner,
you know, with leitmotivs and with all kinds of percussive effects that could
be used, and he just went all out. And the aspect of credibility, you forget
about that because, once again, we're dealing in the world of fantasy, the
ultimate world of fantasy.

GROSS: Well, one of the things I love about the score is that Max Steiner did
go all out. He obviously wasn't thinking to himself, `Oh, it's a stupid movie
about this giant ape that tries to take over New York.' I mean, he really got
into it.

Mr. BEHLMER: Well, that was one of the things about Steiner. He had the
ability to get with the movie, whatever the movie. And of course, his range
was incredible. He did "Gone With the Wind" later for David Selznick. He did
"The Big Sleep," you know, which is totally different once again. And he did
"Little Women" back at RKO in 1933 shortly after he finished "King Kong." Now
you talk about a quantum leap. And he did a very quaint, charming period
score for "Little Women." I'm sure Louisa May Alcott would have been

But here, you know, he got into it completely. And, of course, one of the
major things is the willing suspension of disbelief, both from the people who
were working on it and certainly the audience. You have to have that or it
doesn't work. And everybody involved, certainly Merian C. Cooper, who by all
odds, you know, was the creator of this thing, and, you know, you get people
all riled up and by the time Steiner got it, you know, he got all riled up.
And this--he knew this was an opportunity to really come on.

GROSS: Well, let's hear that scene where the film crew is observing this
native ritual where the natives are chanting, `Kong!'

(Soundbite of "King Kong")

Unidentified Woman #1: What do you suppose has happened?

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, they're up to some of their evil tricks. But don't
go rushing out to see.

Unidentified Woman #1: All right. But isn't it exciting?

Unidentified Man #2: Sure. I wish we'd left you on the ship.

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, I'm so glad you didn't.

Unidentified Man #2: Wait. Easy now.

Unidentified Man #3: Wait'll I see what goes on.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: Holy mackerel, what a show. Hey, skipper, come here and
get a load of this. You ever see anything like it before in your life?

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Pure musical delirium. I really love it.

Mr. BEHLMER: And frenzy. Frenzy and delirium.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BEHLMER: I think that would be a good team.

GROSS: And that's from the soundtrack of "King Kong," which has just been
released on CD. My guest Rudy Behlmer wrote the liner notes for it.

Well, the other memorable sounds in "King Kong" include, of course, Fay Wray's
screams and the roar of Kong himself. Let's start with Fay Wray's screams.
You know, in the movie, the Carl Denham character, the character who wants to,
like, wrangle Kong and bring him back for a nightclub act, he says to the Fay
Wray character--he's kind of like teaching her how to scream. He says, `OK,
pretend you're screaming for your life,' which, of course, she later has to
do. Do you know what kind of advice Fay Wray was given about how she should

Mr. BEHLMER: Well, the interesting thing is that, of course, if she had done
as much screaming when they were shooting this film as it appears to be, she
would have been hoarse on the fourth day of shooting. Most of her screams
were post-recorded after the picture finished shooting. They took her into a
sound booth, and she did wild screams. And they used those screams, so
fortunately she had one major screaming session which, once again, was after
the film finished shooting.

GROSS: And of course, "King Kong" has a very memorable roar. What do you
know about how that was achieved?

Mr. BEHLMER: Well, a remarkable man by the name of Murray Spivack, who was
the head of the sound department at RKO Radio Pictures at the time, he was
confronted with this film, you know, and thought, `What can I do? It can't
sound like some animal. It has to be a distinctive sound.' So he went out
and he recorded the roar of a lion and the roar of a tiger, and he was playing
things at different speeds and playing them backwards and then combining them.
And then even for some of Kong's grunts and things, he recorded himself doing
(makes grunting noises) in a little megaphone type deal. So the sound is a
kind of a combination of many things. It sounds like a roar, but it's not a
roar that you can identify, which, of course, is what he wanted to do. But by
alter the speeds of the recordings and taking two different animals and
overlapping them, of course, you can do all kinds of things.

GROSS: Well, why don't we hear a nice scene with plenty of screams and roars.
And this is, I believe, the first time we actually see Kong. Fay Wray is tied
at the stake during another one of these ceremonies. And this scene starts
with the chief, played by Noble Johnson.

(Soundbite of "King Kong")

Mr. NOBLE JOHNSON: (As Chief) (Foreign language spoken) Kong! (Foreign
language spoken) Kong! (Foreign language spoken) Kong!

(Soundbite of gong; chant; whimper; gong; growling; musical notes and

Ms. FAY WRAY: (Screams)

(Soundbite of growling; music)

GROSS: Now "King Kong" is really filled with a lot of bondage imagery, you
know, Fay Wray in flimsy chiffony dresses and lingerie...


GROSS: ...tied at the stake on the island or pulled out of her bed by Kong's
giant arm in New York. Do you think that Cooper was intentionally playing to
a kind of low-level bondage S&M kind of thing?

Mr. BEHLMER: I don't think so. I think that he just thought this would be
great material. You know, I don't think he ever gave thought to that sort of
thing. He obviously wanted to use a woman, and he had not used a woman,
really, in his documentaries. But he did want to use--and he did like Fay
Wray. He had used her in "Four Feathers," the Cooper-Schoedsack production of
'29, and he used her in "The Most Dangerous Game," which is a wonderful short
story by Richard Connell that he was producing concurrently with "King Kong"
at RKO. She was in that, and she was running around in the same jungle
that--she'd be shooting in the jungle during the day for "The Most Dangerous
Game" and at night with Cooper for "King Kong." And for "King Kong," he
wanted her in a blond wig--she was actually a brunette, which she appears to
be in "The Most Dangerous Game." But he thought that the "Beauty and the
Beast" bit, that the beauty should be a blonde. So she wore a blond wig. And
he was great friends with her and admired her, and they remained friends over
the years.

GROSS: Well, Rudy Behlmer, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BEHLMER: Well, Terry, it's been my pleasure. And remember that big guy.
(Sings notes from music from "King Kong")


Film historian Rudy Behlmer.

Coming up, we talk about the creator of "King Kong" with his biographer. This

(Soundbite of "King Kong")

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Mark Cotta Vaz discusses his book "Living Dangerously:
The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong"

Today we're paying tribute to the original "King Kong." The character of Carl
Denham, the adventurer, filmmaker and promoter who brings Kong to New York,
bears some resemblance to the creator of the film. C. Merian Cooper was an
adventurer and documentary filmmaker who traveled through Africa and made
documentaries in Persia, which is now Iran, and Siam, which is now Thailand.
That work led him to the mythical idea of King Kong.

Denham is a fascinating behind-the-scenes Hollywood figure. He was also the
production head of RKO, which helped team Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers,
produced several now-classic John Ford Westerns, including "The Searchers" and
"She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," and was instrumental in the development of
Cinerama. C. Merian Cooper's story is told in a new biography called "Living
Dangerously." I spoke with the author, Mark Cotta Vaz earlier this year.

Would you describe the original idea for "King Kong" that Cooper had?

Mr. MARK COTTA VAZ (Author, "Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C.
Cooper, Creator of King Kong"): Well, the original idea for "King Kong" sort
of evolved. The original idea was--it was almost like--if you could imagine
two movie explorers getting the--or movie expedition guys sitting around and
telling the ultimate tall tale, that's kind of how "King Kong" began.

Cooper was in New York in the late 1920s and early '30s, pursuing interests in
commercial aviation. So he had sort of left Hollywood, but he seemed
entranced with telling this story about this gorilla. And he had this friend
of his, W. Douglas Burden, and Burden had made this great expedition to the
Komodo Island, where the famous dragons of Komodo, so-called, exist, these
primordial-looking creatures. And Cooper always had this fantasy of doing a
movie where he would film a live gorilla seemingly in conflict with a live
Komodo dragon. But--so they wanted to do this dramatic, you know, lost-world
idea of a lost island and these creatures battling each other. But as the
idea evolved, it became much more romantic, and he started realizing, `I'm not
going to be able to do this with live animals.'

GROSS: So he decided against using, like, the real animals and ended up going
with stop-motion animation. He knew he didn't want a guy in an ape suit. Why
was he so sure that that would be the wrong thing?

Mr. VAZ: Well, because a guy in an ape suit looks phony. You can tell it's a
guy in an ape suit, and that's the way it was done. And Cooper was always
this bombastic showman, bigger and better. He wanted to bring the world
through his moving pictures spectacle. And he wanted to say, `How can I make
this dream, this'--what he would call this giant terror gorilla--`how can I
make something so romantic, so fantastic, so nightmarish come true?' And it
turned out that stop-motion animation was the best way to do that.

GROSS: Now the Empire State Building nearly didn't make it into "King Kong."
Why not?

Mr. VAZ: Yeah, the thing about "King Kong" is that it was--now Cooper claimed
he never saw the movie "The Lost World." But for those that remember the Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle story and the movies that were made that were inspired by
that book, there is this whole scenario of a beast from a lost world being
brought to civilization. In the case of "The Lost World" movie, it's London.
So there was actually this threat of illegal action, you know, because the
idea is if you bring King Kong to New York, well, that's very similar to the
whole scenario of "The Lost World," prehistoric beast coming to civilization.

So at one point, they weren't going to use the scene. But what happened is
they ended up essentially buying the rights to "The Lost World." Cooper
always claimed "The Lost World" had nothing to do with "King Kong," but for
whatever reason, the legal guys basically squared it all away, because if they
hadn't, "King Kong" would have ended on Skull Island, where it began.

GROSS: Cooper fought in World War I. He fought again in World War II and
then became a staunch anti-Communist. He supported Joe McCarthy. How did
that affect the movies he made after the war?

Mr. VAZ: Yeah, the whole--he was a virulent anti-Communist, and he really had
this--you know, I mean, going back to being in these Moscow prison camps. He
had been shot down when he was helping the Poles fight the invading
Bolsheviks, and he had been captured, and he endured, like, the hell of the
prison camps. And he had this great escape, and so he always claimed that he
knew firsthand and experienced the early Communist brainwashing capability and
psychological warfare. And he always took the Communists at their word that
they were bent on world domination.

And Cooper felt to counter that, he had to do a new type of American
propaganda. So he had formed a company before the war that was reactivated
after the war with John Ford, the great director, called Argosy Pictures. And
they--all the John Wayne movies they did, the "Cavalry" pictures that Cooper
is--doesn't get credit. You know, John Ford directed them, but Cooper
produced those. It's, like, the "Cavalry" trilogy and the...

GROSS: So the "Fort Apache," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon."

Mr. VAZ: All those movies were meant to sort of, like, lift up the idea of
the American military corps and to kind of, you know, be an inspirational
message. But his crowning thing was Cinerama. He got involved with Lowell
Thomas in doing that great, you know, movie "This is Cinerama" and pioneering
this whole new medium of the big screen, which ended up opening up all the big
screens in America and in the world. We forget that the old movie screens
used to more like little box-shaped. The screens went wide after Cinerama,
you know.

But there's this great "America the Beautiful" scene in Cinerama where there's
a plane with a Cinerama camera that flew across the country, taking pictures
of this great land and, you know, it's done to the music of "The Star-Spangled
Banner," what--"America the Beautiful," rather. And Cooper just meant that as
his love poem to America, and he just wanted to extol the virtues of this

GROSS: Mark Cotta Vaz is the author of "Living Dangerously: The Adventures
of Merian C. Cooper. Our interview was recorded over the summer. I'm Terry
Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "King Kong")


GROSS: Coming up, the godmother of punk, Patti Smith. There's a new 30th
anniversary edition of her first album "Horses." And David Edelstein reviews
the new film "Brokeback Mountain," based on a story by Annie Proulx about two
cowboys who find love with each other.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Patti Smith talks about her poetry and music

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Patti Smith is considered the godmother of punk. In the '70s, she created a
hybrid of poetry and rock and developed a high-energy performance style that
was sometimes aggressive, sometimes ecstatic. Her first album, "Horses,"
which was released in 1975, has just been reissued in the 30th anniversary
double-CD package that also includes a concert version of songs from the album
recorded in June 2000 and June 1975 in London.

In 1980 Smith left the music scene to raise a family with her husband,
musician Fred Smith. Outside of an album they collaborated on in 1988, she
kept out of the public eye until 1996, which was about two years after her
husband died of heart failure. I spoke with her that year after the release
of her CD "Gone Again." Let's start with a track from the new reissue of

(Soundbite of "Horses")

Ms. PATTI SMITH (Musician): I was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea.
From the other end (audio fades) rhythm was generating. Now the boy was
sliding up the hallway. He merged perfectly with the hallway. He merged
perfectly with the mirror in the hallway. The boy looked at Johnny. Johnny
wanted to run, but the movie kept moving as planned. The boy took Johnny. He
pushed him against the locker. He drove it in, he drove it home, he drove it
deep in Johnny. The boy took the kid. Johnny's on his knees, started
crashing his head against the locker, started crashing his head against the
locker, started laughing at ...(unintelligible) when suddenly Johnny gets the
feelin' he's being surrounded by horses, horses, horses, horses. Comin' in in
all directions, white, shinin', silver, with their nose in flames he saw
horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses, horses.
(Unintelligible) pony, like phoney maroni. Do you know how to twist? Babe,
it goes like this. It goes like this. And the mashed potato.

GROSS: Now you wrote for several years before actually performing in a rock
and roll kind of setting and performing with music. When you started putting
the two together, did you have any idea that you could sing? Had you used
your voice that way before?

Ms. SMITH: No, not really. I mean, I used to daydream when I was a kid
about being an opera singer. I loved Maria Callas, and my mother's a really
nice singer, and she, you know, she had sort of like a '30s style jazz voice.
She--and my father had a nice voice. But I never thought about singing. I
think I sang in the school choir or something, but I didn't really excel or
have any gift. But what I did have, I think, always was a--I've always for
some reason been comfortable talking in front of people or performing in front
of people, and I guess I got a lot of guts. But I never really had that great
a voice. I think it's basically guts.

GROSS: Well, speaking of guts, when you first started reading, you've said
that you were reading, you know, early on, often in bars that weren't places
you'd be likely to hear a poet.

Ms. SMITH: No, they weren't.

GROSS: What kind of places did you read in before you started...

Ms. SMITH: Wherever I...

GROSS: music?

Ms. SMITH: Wherever I could--you know, I wasn't really accepted in the poet
clique. I didn't have a lot of respect for poets, and I thought most of the
poets, you know, in--you know, the more academic way of breaking into the
poetry circle wasn't interesting to me. I didn't really relate to them, and I
thought most of the poetry readings I went to were boring, and it just wasn't
my scene. So I started pursuing different venues to perform my poetry. I
just read anywhere that anybody would take me, usually for free, just to get
the experience or for $5 or $10. And sometimes I'd be the opening act's
opening act. And so I'd play, like, in a bar that had, like, a little rock
band and some little blues band and I'd go on before the blues band and, you
know, nobody was interested in what I had to say. You know, they weren't
interested in hearing poetry or--you know, they wanted to hear music, and they
were half drunk or whatever. But I just--I figured if I had--they told me I
had 15 minutes or 20 minutes on that little stage, that was my stage and I was
going to fight for it. So I usually spent, if I had 20 minutes, 14 minutes
arguing that I had the right to be there.

GROSS: Arguing with the audience?

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, and then finishing with "Piss Factory," and which usually I
did such a strong reading of it that it would take 'em off-guard and they'd
kind of like it, and then I was gone. But...

GROSS: What was the arguing with them like?

Ms. SMITH: Like sparring, you know, like, they, I can't--you know, like,
`Get a job. Go in the kitchen where you belong.' And, you know, I'd--I
always--I was really good at sparring. I really loved Johnny Carson, and I
really studied his whole monologue thing and the way Johnny Carson would go
back and forth with the audience, and that was actually more in my mind of
what I wanted to do, sort of be like Johnny Carson.

GROSS: Let me play the first track of your first LP, and this is "Gloria."
What made you decide to rework this song?

Ms. SMITH: Well, truthfully, it was, in the beginning, it was just Lenny and
I, and then we brought in a piano player, who was Richard Sohl. He was quite
young, quite gifted. He was actually a classical piano player, but he had a
great sense of rhythm. So it was just the three of us, a guitar, piano and I,
and we did very simple songs because the configuration was so simple. And we
just chose songs that were basically three chords so I could improvise over
them, because I didn't want to just, like, do songs.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. SMITH: You know, I didn't want to do, like, lame approximations of
songs. So what I--what we did is...

GROSS: Patti Smith covers the hits.

Ms. SMITH: We did what we called field work.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. SMITH: You know, so we'd pick songs that had basically three chords that
I could, like--and just sort of use them as a springboard. I didn't really
have any interest in covering "Gloria," but it had three chords, and I liked
the rhythm and we just sort of used it for our own design, the same as "Land
of a Thousand Dances." "Land of a Thousand Dances" became really like a
battleground for all kinds of adolescent excursions, and so that's why we
picked songs like that. Our--I remember I had to write--I wrote the ad copy
for our first album, and the ad copy I wrote for "Horses" was three chords
merged with the power of the word.

GROSS: That's great, yeah.

Ms. SMITH: That was our philosophy.

(Soundbite of "Gloria")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) Oh, she looks so fine. And I got
this crazy feelin' ...(unintelligible). You just knockin' at my door. You
just knockin' at my door. ...(Unintelligible) midnight. And my baby's
walkin' through the door, layin' on the couch, she whispered to me
(unintelligible). Oh, she was fine. ...(Unintelligible). Tell me you're
mine. Tell me you're mine. She told me she's mine. ...(Unintelligible).
G-L-O-R-I-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi. G-L-O-R-I-A.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Gloria.

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) G-L-O-R-I-A.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Gloria.

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) G-L-O-R-I-A.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Gloria.

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) G-L-O-R-I-A.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Gloria.

GROSS: The track from Patti Smith's newly reissued album "Horses." Our
interview was recorded in June 1996. A few months before that, she published
a book of poems dedicated to her late friend and former roommate, the
photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. He became one of the most controversial
artists of his generation, famous for his photographs of nudes in erotic and
sadomasochistic poses. Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 42.

In April of 1996, I asked Patti Smith about the black-and-white photo that
Mapplethorpe took for the cover of her first album, "Horses," which is also on
the cover of the new reissue. She's wearing black pants, a man's white shirt
with an undone skinny black tie hanging down from her neck. Her jacket is
slung across her shoulder.

What was it like to be photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe?

Ms. SMITH: Well, I was his first model, so when we were younger, he followed
me around continuously with a cheap Polaroid camera, and I got to a point
where I'd start hiding 'cause I don't want to be photographed anymore. But I
always actually enjoyed being photographed by Robert. It was always quick,
simple, very little direction, very natural. Until the end of his life, we
always did our work together very quickly in natural light. And being
photographed by Robert not just for myself, but other models said the same
thing. There exists between him and his model trust, and I always felt
working with Robert the trust of our friendship. We trusted each other as
people. We cared about each other as people. And so when we worked together
we extended that same care into our work. I wanted his work to be good. He
wanted to present me in the best light. So that's what I mostly think about
is that element of trust.

GROSS: He took the photograph, perhaps the most famous photograph of you that
was on the cover of your album "Horses," I think, in 1975 in which you're
wearing a kind of oversized white shirt, an undone tie with like a suit jacket
slung over your shoulder. Tell us how that photograph came about.

Ms. SMITH: Well, we wanted to take the cover, and Robert knew where he wanted
to take it. It was up in Sam Wagstaff's apartment in New York City, which was
a very white room, and he--there was a triangle of light that used to come
through a window, and he was extremely interested in photographing that
triangle. And we went up there, and I remember the light started changing and
he wanted us to hurry up and we had to run. We couldn't get a cab and we had
to run as fast as we could because he could really feel the light changing.

And in terms of my clothing, it was just my usual clothes. I used to like--I
really wanted to have a Baudelarian type of look. I wanted a black and white
sort of a mixture of just how I was and a little 19th century feel in it. But
in the end, the final photograph, which some people have made quite a bit of,
a particular pose or stance in the photograph, was really a tribute to Frank
Sinatra. The Frank Sinatra...

GROSS: The Capital years.

Ms. SMITH: Well, no, actually he did a movie--I think it as called--oh, man,
I don't think it was "Pal Joey." It was "The Joe Louis Story," and Joe Lewis
was a singer that got in trouble with the mob and got his throat cut, and he
wound up a comedian. I don't know if you remember that, but...

GROSS: Yeah, it's the movie that "All The Way" comes from. "The Joker is
Wild" I think is the name of it.

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, that's it.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. SMITH: Yeah, that's it, "The Joker is Wild," appropriate title. The
last scene of it, Frank Sinatra's walking alone down a dark street with a
lantern. There's a lantern-lit street, and he's sort of philosophically
talking to himself in a pane of glass, and he slings his coat over his
shoulder and, you know, philosophically walks into the city's sunset. But I
always thought it was cool the way he slung his coat over his shoulder. So
that was the only--there was only a couple of photographs in that particular
shooting like that, but that was the one Robert picked, the Frank Sinatra

GROSS: Patti Smith, recorded in 1996. Her 1975 album "Horses" has just been
reissued and it features the cover photo by Mapplethorpe that we were
discussing. We'll hear more from Patti Smith after a break. This is FRESH


GROSS: Patti Smith's first album, "Horses," has just been reissued in a new
30th anniversary edition. Let's get back to the interview I recorded with her
in June 1996.

Now I know when you were young, you were a Jehovah's Witness for several
years. Was that religion of your parents or something that you joined

Ms. SMITH: My mother's religion. I was a Jehovah's Witness till I was about
12. And in those days, Jehovah's Witnesses were stricter about one's pursuits
outside of being a Witness. And I decided I wanted to be an artist. I went
to the Philadelphia Museum of Art with my father and saw art in person and
immediately wanted to become a painter. And some of my desires sort of
collided with their teachings. So I made the choice. I left the Witnesses to
become an artist. I think they are much more benevolent and more
understanding a group right now, but at that time, they--I didn't get any
sympathy or encouragement for that kind of way of life. So--my drive to be an
artist was extremely strong as a 12- or 13-year-old, and...

GROSS: Now did you try other organized religions, or was that the end of
organized religion for you for some time?

Ms. SMITH: No, I looked in--I thought of--for a while, I wanted to be Jewish,
but I think that was my Anne Frank period. I didn't realize that you just
can't be--you know, you don't turn Jewish. Well, I had great sympathy. I
mean, when I grew up, you know, in the late '50s and early '60s, there was,
you know--of course, a lot of information came out about the Holocaust and
there were trials and things. And I felt devastated about that as a young
girl. And I got very interested in the Jewish faith, but I never really--I
think once I left my first organized religion, I found, as I checked each one
out, that really wasn't for me. I just say my prayers and continue my
studies, but I basically--for me, I don't really prescribe or need a religion.
What's important to me is my communication with what I perceive to be God.

GROSS: Now what a lot of people might find confusing or paradoxical is, on
the one hand, this kind of spiritual inclination you've had since childhood
and never stopped having, and at the same time, your art is the kind of art a
lot of people would describe as blasphemous.

Ms. SMITH: Well, I think blasphemy is just a form of exploring. You know,
it's just, you know, youthful, exuberant manner of exploring the whole
concept. I think I've often found the people that are the most blasphemous or
often wind up to be the truest believers because they've taken the time
actually to question, pull things apart, be angry and then either submit or,
you know, find certain answers. A lot of people misconstrued, for instance,
the statement `Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine.'

GROSS: Right.

Ms. SMITH: People constantly came up to me and said, `You're an atheist.
You don't believe in Jesus.' And I said, `Obviously, I believe in him.' I've
stated, you know, I've made a statement, you know, which--you know, I'm saying
that, you know, the concept of Jesus I believe in. I just wanted the
freedom--I wanted to be free of him. I was 20 years old when I wrote that,
and it was sort of my youthful manifesto. In other words, I didn't want to--I
guess I didn't want to be good, you know, and I didn't want to--but I didn't
want him to have to worry about me or I didn't want him taking responsibility
for my wrongdoings or my youthful explorations. I wanted to be free. So it's
really a statement about freedom.

GROSS: Patti Smith, recorded in June 1996. Her first album "Horses" has just
been reissued in the 30th anniversary edition that includes a 2005 concert
version of songs from the CD. Here's a song from that concert.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) The wall is high, the black barn, the baby in my arms
in swaddling clothes. Got no soul. The sky will split, the planets will
shift. Oh, the jade will drop and existence will stop. the sky is fallin'.
I don't mind. I don't mind. ...(Unintelligible) calling on you. Oh, no.
Honey, I say it again, this electric world and its see wishes of mine. He's
like ...(unintelligible). And I feel like ...(unintelligible) Joan of Arc
(unintelligible) looking up at me. Oh, baby, I remember when you were born.
It was dark and the storm, ...(unintelligible) my belly. And the
(unintelligible) gas, and ...(unintelligible) match in the ...(unintelligible)
the flash in the sky split and the planets ...(unintelligible).

GROSS: Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new film "Brokeback Mountain."
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


"Brokeback Mountain" is the story of two cowboys who conduct a furtive affair
over two decades. It's based on a short story by Annie Proulx and is directed
by Ang Lee, whose other films include "The Ice Storm," "Sense and Sensibility"
and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Film critic David Edelstein has a


"Brokeback Mountain" is Marlboro men in love, and I'm not being flip. OK, I'm
not being just flip. Ang Lee's films often focus on the tension between
people's formal roles, those ritualized, culturally mandated poses that feel
compelled to strike, and the passions under the surface that struggle to break
through. So here you have two, well, Marlboro men, guys with slim hips and
dungarees and cowboy hats pulled low, leaning against pickups, smoking
cigarettes and trading monosyllables, if that, suitable for framing. But in
the course of an early 1960s summer, herding sheep on an isolated Wyoming
mountain, they find themselves growing closer and closer, and yes, on
Brokeback Mountain, they make the beast with two broken backs.

Jake Gylenhaal and Heath Ledger play the cowboys. Gylenhaal's Jack Twist is
the more extroverted one, the one whose romantic interest is more visible.
Ledger's Ennis Del Mar is the quintessential Westerner of few words, and the
words he says are not always audible. He has a cowboy lockjaw that's
sometimes annoying but also weirdly affecting. Ledger's is the Oscar bait
performance. He really transforms himself into a straight-jacketed soul. In
an early exchange between Ennis and Jake, everything is brooding subtext.

(Soundbite from "Brokeback Mountain")

Mr. JAKE GYLENHAAL: (As Jack Twist) You gonna do this again next summer?

Mr. HEATH LEDGER: (As Ennis Del Mar) Well, maybe not. Like I said, me and
Alma's getting married in November, so we're trying to get something on the
ranch, I guess. You?

Mr. GYLENHAAL: (As Jack Twist) Might go up to my daddy's place and give him
a hand through the winter. I'm gonna be back if farming don't get me.

Mr. LEDGER: (As Ennis Del Mar) So I guess I'll see you around, huh?

Mr. GYLENHAAL: (As Jack Twist) Yeah.

EDELSTEIN: What does Brokeback Mountain, the place, symbolize? It's the
natural world in which society's strictures fall away. And in the view of Lee
and screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, these men can be true to
their own natures. Lee and his cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, give us vast
mountain backdrops full of mysterious plains, huge cumulus clouds, slashes of
lightning in the far distance and hailstones the size of apples. When Ennis
and Jake return, as they must, to civilization, they live amid squat,
faceless, prefab buildings set far apart from one another. And the flat
landscapes mirror their flat-lined emotions. They take wives. Michelle
Williams as Ennis' high school sweetheart Alma, and Anne Hathaway as a kind of
wealthy Texas rodeo queen who's the perfect trophy for an up-and-comer like
Jake. But these are passionless unions. And Ennis' drift into unemployment
and alcoholism is relentless. Despite the physical distance between them,
Jake and Ennis come together again and again and head back to Brokeback
Mountain, aware that if they're caught, they could be lynched by men with less
than liberal notions of masculinity.

Cartman on "South Park" famously dismissed independent movies as, quote, "gay
cowboys eating pudding." I have no idea where the pudding thing came from,
but "Brokeback Mountain" could use a little more of it, by which I mean more
mess and flesh and sweat. Ang Lee's formalism is so extreme that it's often
laughable, and the sex is hushed. It's treated as a holy union. Gay love has
never been so sacred. On the other hand, Lee treats the wives as either
sexless drudges or lacquered mannequins. As distant as I felt from the film,
there were people around me weeping uncontrollably at the end: gay men, some
of them, and a few women affected by the spectacle of cowboys in tears. I did
find the movie more powerful in retrospect, when the tone and images and
emotions lingered beyond all that elevated Oscar-worthiness. And there were
moments in "Brokeback Mountain" when Lee deconstructed the cowboy persona so
completely that he made me wonder, `Are most cowboys, like, totally gay?'

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "King of the Road")

Unidentified Man and Unidentified Woman: (Singing in harmony) Trailers for
sale or rent. Rooms to let, 50 cents. No phone, no pool, no pets. I ain't
got no cigarettes. Ah, but two hours of pushing broom buys an 8-by-12
four-bit room.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


'Monuments to the Unthinkable' explores how nations can memorialize their atrocities

In How the Word Is Passed, author Clint Smith explored U.S. sites that deal with the legacy of slavery. Now, in The Atlantic, he writes about German memorials to the Holocaust.


Journalist Maria Ressa explains 'How to Stand Up to a Dictator'

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist faced criminal charges in the Philippines after her news site's reporting angered government officials. How to Stand Up to a Dictator is her new memoir.


Maureen Corrigan's favorite books of the year: 10 disparate reads for a hectic 2022

Some years, my best books list falls into a pattern: like a year that's dominated by dystopian fiction or stand-out memoirs. But, as perhaps befits this hectic year, the best books I read in 2022 sprawl all over the place in subject and form. Here are 10 superb titles from 2022:

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue