In the highly acclaimed production of Brokeback Mountain, Rockyford Alberta doubles as Childress Texas (and a couple other places, but that’s another story). We visit the town’s rodeo grounds, which play an important part in the movie, to see what they look like today. Since the film was released less then a decade ago, in 2005, as would be expected not much has changed and the location today looks much the same as it did on-screen.
At this point in the movie it’s the mid-1960s. Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the two main characters in the film, and he has recently moved to Texas to work the rodeo circuit. At one event, in Childress (aka Rockyford), he meets his future wife Lureen (Anne Hathaway). She’s a barrel racer and during one run drops her hat, which is picked up by Jack, leading to an eventual meeting of the two.
Later in the film, they marry and have a son. It’s not always clear if Lureen is fully aware of of Jack’s sexual orientation, which is more bisexual then fully homosexual. Some will argue yes and some no. To me, it feels like she knows something is up, that Jack has another love, secretly, but perhaps she’s unaware it’s with another man. Other suggest that she knows everything and copes by hiding her feelings. In any case, the two remain together until Jack’s untimely death some years later.
Rockyford is located some 90km northeast of Calgary and has a population of around 300 souls. It was named for a nearby stream crossing. The town was founded with the coming of the Canadian Northern Railway (under the Alberta Midland charter) in 1913. That company was merged into the current Canadian National Railway system in the early 1920s. The line through here was abandoned a few years back, but strangely the tracks are still in place. I hear however, they’ll be pulled up soon.
The Rockford Rodeo was established in the 1950s and runs every July.
Childress Texas is far removed from this location, some 2600km according to Google, yet Rockyford does a good job of standing in for the former. After all, a rodeo ground is a rodeo ground. Childress is located in northwest Texas and has a population of some 6000. The town’s only theatre refused to play Brokeback Mountain when it came out, claiming the gay cowboy theme would offend many in the very church oriented town. That’s a bit narrow minded perhaps.
Barrel Racing is a fairly new sport in relation to others at the pro rodeo and was only in the 1940s when it appeared on the scene. It’s considered a “girls” event (hmm, more narrow mindedness) although that’s slowly changing and men are now participating at some venues. The rules are simple: run a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels and do it in the fasted time possible. It sounds easy, but it takes not a good rider and horse to do it successfully. They must run close to the barrels but if they knock one over there is a time penalty.
We found the Rockyford location by using our detective skills only. We did not know anything about where the rodeo scenes were shot and relied on plain old research to determine that. We use not any outside help nor did we refer to fan websites like findingbrokeback.com to help us along. That would be too easy.
The rodeo grounds seen here also doubled for those in Electra Texas (briefly). Downtown Rockyford also appears in the movie and it was made up to be Riverton Wyoming. These will become fodder for future Brokeback Mountain then and now reports.
I have to admit I was not terribly happy with how I lined up some of our “now” shots. After doing what must be hundreds of these, I’d expect better of myself. This only goes to show that now matter how good one thinks they are, they’ll now and then get buffaloed. Even if they are flawed in respects to that, we will still use them though. Telling the story is more important to us than any other factor and if the pictures are not perfectly spot on, who really cares. We do it to have fun.
Images from the movie are copyright Focus Features.
To see some other movie then and now posts, go here…
Brokeback Mountain then and now – Elk’s Lodge and Ennis’ apartment.
Superman 3 then and now – car and hydrant scene.
Silver Streak then and now – boarded up train station.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May, 2014.
Location: Rockyford, AB.