Parting Glances

Pioneers of Queer Cinema

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Parting Glances is a love story of friendship and romance, old and new; it is also an AIDS narrative, one of the first, to celebrate those living and struggling with the disease, where fear and tragedy are not ignored on-screen, but are also not required as the cinematic climax. The film tracks its characters across a 24-hour period: Michael (Richard Ganoung) and Robert (John Bolger) are struggling through the routine of bourgeoise coupledom; Michael worries over ex-boyfriend and best friend Nick’s HIV diagnosis; and Nick (Steve Buscemi) grapples with feeling very much alive, while knowing that sickness and death are imminent. Set in a long-ago funky and hip New York City, where nothing is a surprise and everything is possible, this film is a joyous comedic romp made buoyant by a charming and, at the time, unknown cast, including Kathy Kinney in her first on-screen performance.

Parting Glances was Bill Sherwood’s directorial debut and his last film. The filmmaker died of AIDS-related causes in 1990 at the age of 37. Sherwood’s legacy shines bright here in his rejection of what would become Hollywood’s familiar approach of playing into sentimentalized storylines and characterizations of gay men as their community faced the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Instead, the filmmaker recasts “difference” as ordinary where ex-lovers throw tantrums, smash plates and laugh over practical jokes; couples fall into bed during the middle of the day; and friends enjoy each other, with pranks and parties, as they struggle with the inevitability of death as a distance existential crisis and a lurking reality in the near future. —Maya Montañez Smukler (Bill Sherwood, USA, 1986, 90 min.)

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive

Preceded by:

Dottie Gets Spanked

From the indelible avant-garde biopic, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) to the unsettling AIDS-allegory Safe (1995) and beyond, writer-director Todd Haynes (b. 1961) has created a distinctive body of work that fuses psychological character studies and social commentary with highly-stylized form. A pioneer of the New Queer Cinema movement with an acclaimed canon that includes Poison (1991), Far From Heaven (2002) and Carol (2015), Haynes has consistently produced deeply introspective explorations of the intersections between alienation and belonging, especially as related to queer life in often hostile environments.

One such personal work is Haynes’ semi-autobiographical period short, Dottie Gets Spanked (1993). Produced by his longtime partner Christine Vachon (and Lauren Zalaznick) with funding from the Independent Television Service (ITVS) for PBS’ TV Families series, the gently comedic work concerns the awakening of identity within a “six-and-three-quarter-year-old” suburban boy named Stevie. Based in part on Haynes’ own childhood visit to a Hollywood studio to watch icon Lucille Ball rehearse on set, Dottie traces Stevie’s preoccupation with a 1950s-style TV comedy and its zany red-headed star. A pint-sized, soft-spoken soul in saddle shoes, Stevie is resolute in his fandom of “The Dottie Show,” despite increasingly disapproving gestures from his father and classmates. A series of surrealistic dream sequences form the heart of the film, where Stevie’s sitcom obsessions collide with taboo desires to illuminate an inner-dawning of his orientation.

Movingly, Haynes re-positions Stevie’s self-realization of his queerness from the subconscious squarely into the harsh domestic space of the waking world, one in which the child intuitively recognizes his persona as a treasure to be protected and preserved. In 1995, Chicago Reader hailed the bittersweet telefilm as a “hauntingly mordant deconstruction of 1950s television and family life, which trenchantly depicts both in terms of hierarchical power relations and unexpected transformations.” —Mark Quigley (Todd Haynes, USA, 1993, 30 min.)

Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive

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