I've blogged and retro-reviewed the seminal gay film Parting Glances before, and was ecstatic to hear that it had been chosen by the Legacy Project of Outfest and UCLA as the first film to be fully restored. Yes, it's only 20 years old, but that's decrepit in movie years—you'd be surprised how many not-so-old films are impossible to see in anything but a visibly degraded state.
The big news is that a sterling new print of Parting Glances will have its East Coast premiere at Lincoln Center (The Film Society Of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St., New York, NY) on October 29 in a benefit for NewFest and Outfest.
I'm proud to say I'm listed as one of the hosts. Come say hello and we can exchange not only parting glances, but lingering stares.
Buy tickets at NewFest.org.
If you cough up $100 (or approximately what this indie was made for to begin with), you can attend a 6:30 p.m. pre-ception in the Frieda And Rory Furman Gallery At Lincoln Center along with seeing the film at 7:30 p.m. (followed by a Q&A!) and a 9:30 p.m. reception back at the Furman Gallery.
Original cast members Richard Ganoung, John Bolger (yes, he's related to Ray Bolger, who knew???), Kathy Kinney and Steve Buscemi are scheduled to appear—seeing them reunited in the flesh will be like...what if Nick had survived as a PWA all these years? A little queer bird tells me that Richard Wall, everyone's favorite too-too party guest, might be there as well!
I heard about Parting Glances when I arrived in Chicago as a freshman at The University Of Chicago. It played at The Fine Arts Theatre on South Michigan Avenue, but I was too scared to go. (My first in-the-theater gay flick was Maurice and I was petrified that everyone KNEW why I was THERE, much like how Maurice believed a doctor could tell he was gay by looking at his penis.) Later, Parting Glances was screened on video by my college's gay group. I hated that group but was desperate to see it, so I made the journey on the bus after hours to get to the scene, plunked down on a folding chair and had a completely transcendant experience that made me feel more connected to a huge world of other people like/unlike/related to myself, in spite of sitting around a bunch of those same kinds of people with whom I inexplicably wanted nothing to do. Greener grass, and all. But the film touched me deeply at a time when I would have been grateful for even a little shallow touching.
My original review of Parting Glances, written for Outrate as linked above, follows in its entirety after the jump. Please come see the film if you're in NYC. I expect it to be a lot of fun. Unless I don't get to say hi to or meet any of the four or five stars, in which case you can witness a host having a trés embarrassing meltdown..."I neeever dine in a restaurant with less than two stars!"
Review by Matthew Rettenmund
Widely regarded the best "gay film" ever made, Parting Glances holds up almost 20 years after its release thanks to the inscrutably accurate vision suggested by its title. In the same way that a good-bye glance between friends - or a furtive look back over the shoulder between gay men - can impart volumes, this 90-minute indie still feels like it knows all there is to know about the gay experience. It communicates this understanding through knowing vignettes that unfold while following a simple narrative peopled with the resonant real-life archetypes from which so many other films draw watered-down stock characters.
Writer/directed Bill Sherwood died of AIDS at 37 in 1990. This was his only film credit, thus serving as a parting glance at his own uncanny ear for dialogue, eye for social constructs and skill as a filmmaker.
The film takes place in New York at a time when AIDS was in its infancy, but not so early on that it had not already created a new language and a new social order where monogamous gay couples were neither merely admirably proper nor charmingly old-fashioned, but also damn lucky.
One such pair includes the film's central character, Michael (Richard Ganoung), a fastidious book editor charged with shaping up an "SM/sci fi/porno" manuscript. Michael's frustration with the overwhelming task of making something out of nothing is an adroit parallel with his relationship. Though Michael in his fussiness is a clear precursor to Will Truman, unlike the less fun half of "Will & Grace", he has a demonstrable sex drive, still enjoying a twice-a-day routine with his "Ken-doll" boyfriend, Robert (John Bolger, the great-nephew of Ray Bolger of The Wizard of Oz fame). If Robert only had a brain...or a heart...but he has all the other parts in spades. Refreshingly, Michael and Robert do not have an idyllic existence - Michael is a bit of a pill who's hung up on his AIDS-infected ex-boyfriend Nick (played with mesmerizing authority by Steve Buscemi) and Robert is a self-absorbed careerist.
Ganoung and Bolger have a fun, believable rapport and their exchanges are laced with a tension that is sometimes erotic, sometimes endearing and sometimes seems to communicate that they're essentially mismatched as life partners. In short, they could be the couple next door.
The film peeks at roughly 24 hours in the lives of Michael and Robert, a time when their relationship seems to be winding down because Robert is being transferred to Africa (where AIDS was born...coincidentally?). The couple's agenda includes a dinner at Robert's boss Cecil's (Patrick Tull) home and an engagement that will turn out to be a surprise going-away party.
Prior to the dreaded dinner, Michael pops into his favorite record store to pick up some opera LPs for Nick. He is embarrassed and pleased to be hit on by Peter (Adam Nathan), a twink-in-heat whose flirtations earn him an invite to Robert's going-away party. Asking this stranger and possible future trick to his lover's farewell party is Michael's way of telling himself he will be all right without Robert - or is it his way of showing Peter firsthand why it would never work out between them?
But before the party is the dinner, and this feast is starved for honesty, attended as it is by four pretenders: Michael is faking cordiality, Robert is keeping the secret that he engineered his own transfer, Cecil's wife Betty (Yolande Bavan) is keeping from her husband the fact that Michael and Robert are a couple and not just a couple of roommates and eccentric Cecil is hiding from his wife that he's well aware of who's bonking who - and has in fact for years been bonking boys, exotic locals in exotic locales such as Nairobi and Beirut.
Ironically, it is the cock-cuckolded Betty who utters the film's central theme, that people are blind to things they don't wish to see. Despite her equally wise belief that in every couple one is kissed and one does the kissing, she is oblivious to her own partner's proclivities. Michael pities her ignorance, but he gets a rude awakening to his own tunnel vision when Robert rather coolly informs him that his transfer was his own doing - his new title will be "liaison officer" even though he is deliberately tossing aside his own lengthy liaison with Michael.
If he is disconnected from his lover, then Michael's deep connection with Nick is the core of why the film succeeds - they have a palpable chemistry in their Felix and Oscar way and their utter devotion to each other is shown rather than explained through touches like Michael's parroting of Nick's fuck-the-establishment observations and Nick's willingness to try opera on for size simply because it comes recommended by Michael.
Nick is a no-nonsense New Yorker, a New Wave rocker (he's not a punk...a punk wouldn't sit around monitoring MTV for his latest video) who's got $100,000+ in the bank according to his trendy video will, a Keith Haring on his wall and HIV in his bloodstream. He's a surprising success in life who radiates an equal amount of surprise that his life is going to be cut short due to a disease he couldn't have seen coming. Clued in to the joke that is life, Nick enjoys ignoring doctor's orders, smoking, drinking and eating as if he were healthy - or as if his time is running out and may as well be spent happy. This vitality serves to liven up Michael's outlook even as it reminds him, time and again, that Nick is the only man he's ever truly loved. His confession of this fact to Nick comes in the film's most touching exchange, one so deeply felt and expressed it's worth the price of the DVD alone.
Michael and Nick's bond is further memorably illustrated in a Kenneth Anger-like flashback to a recent childish prank played by them on boorish Douglas (Richard Wall), the auteur of the cheesy book Michael is attempting to edit, at his Fire Island home. It is a risky choice that pays off in its haunting portrait of the two men as conspiratorial boys. One of the secrets of why Sherwood's depiction of gay men rings so true is his capturing of our tendency to refuse to abandon youthful whimsy even as we crash into adulthood.
The party is the most impressive aspect of the film technically (Sherwood also served as editor), a series of rapid exchanges that culminate in multiple rewarding character developments. Whereas most movies that show New York parties (or, especially, downtown art shows and plays), tend to make them farcically loopy, the party scenes in Parting Glances provide glimpses into gay social life (especially in the period) that ring compellingly true. With the same scruffy charm of Desperately Seeking Susan, the party - hosted by fag hag royale/artist Joan (Kathy Kinney) - becomes a collection of social interactions that range from hilarious to heart-tugging.
Most importantly, Nick and Peter confront each other playfully on the stairwell in what can only be described as a juxtaposition of both the old (well...28 is old if you're gay, right?) and the young (20 is young no matter who you are)...and the old and the new. Peter is like Nick in reverse - he even resembles a younger, cuter, healthy Nick with his haircut and slight frame. He represents a possible diversion for Michael or a new direction altogether, and his presence can not be written off as mere window dressing. Nick himself is Michael's past - but he, too, may also be a new future.
The party also leads to a crisis for Michael and Robert when Michael overhears his boyfriend hypocritically advising a female friend to stick with her relationship even as he is hurtling ever closer to a safari away from his own. The rift is deepened when Robert stays out late boozing and dancing shirtless with his pals. (If you're going to have a soap opera veteran like Bolger in a movie, you might as well liquor him up and strip him down occasionally, right?)
The struggle between the lovers is never fully resolved despite a twist ending involving a last-minute change of plans and a highly manipulative gesture by Nick to test Michael's feelings, but even in its abrupt, untidy, but ultimately positive ending, Parting Glances never veers from reality and never second-guesses its lack of easy dramatic devices.
The movie is not perfect in every regard, though it has been called a perfect movie - the two sentiments are not mutually exclusive. The acting does have an amateurish quality to it, but I would argue that it actually heightens the almost documentary feel of many of the scenes. Ganoung and Bolger settle into highly charismatic performances and Steve Buscemi and Kathy Kinney deserve retro Oscars for the best work of their careers so far. The entire cast should be reunited by a gay glossy a la Vanity Fair's reassemblings of the lineups of film classics...because that's what Parting Glances is, a film classic.