Some of you are probably wondering if I'm ever going to shut up about my cat or the film "Parting Glances." Larry will probably be around for another 15-20 years, but last night's premiere party for the restored version of Bill Sherwood's seminal 1986 film about a gay couple's impending separation and their close-knit group of friends in mid-'80s Manhattan might be hard to top.
With Richard Wall and Matt Rettenmund, left, and with Yolande Bavan and Kathy Kinney
As I've come to discover, I was far from the only young gay man whose life was greatly touched by this slice-of-life gay film. (Newfest board member Josh Rosenzweig told me his quest for love has been forever tainted by his lifelong search to find his own Robert!) But what might make my experience slightly different is that it was actually part of an "introduction to being gay" video double feature. You see, my childhood best friend in Michigan (we met in sixth grade camp under a tree avoiding the dodge ball competition of the day) was the first of our big group of friends to finally take the plunge and come out of the closet. (Eventually, every single guy we knew came out and 25-plus years later I still get e-mails from peripheral friends who have come across my blog coming out to me!) I'll never forget that phone call from Mark during the holidays in 1986. We were both 19 and while I knew something had to give, the second he said the words I felt sick and realized life as I knew it was never going to be the same. If it had been a made-for-TV movie I would have, "Me, too!" and we'd have gotten together and had a nice long talk followed by a big hug. But alas life is rarely like a movie and it would be another six months or so before I could process what was happening. Still, by the time I was heading back to Detroit (from Phoenix) for my annual pilgrimage "home" for the summer, I was at least finally ready to admit to Mark that I was "bi." (Cue the laugh track. Like you didn't try that for awhile, too.) At the beginning of that summer (1987) I had gone to London with a friend and then on to Paris to attend the French Open. (I met a 16-year-old kid named Andre Agassi, and Steffi Graf won her first Grand Slam title that year.) Being away from Arizona and in big cities I was beginning to notice guys noticing me, but I was still not ready and would panic whenever I felt like something gay was gong on. When I finally got to Detroit later in the summer it my first experience being around an openly gay guy, period (he just happened to be my best friend). And it was the first time I was allowed to be open about who I was (even if 50 percent of my thoughts were supposedly on gettin' me some pussy).
The first thing Mark did was pop in his videocassette of "Parting Glances." He told me how it was the greatest film he'd ever seen and how it had helped him understand what it meant to be a gay man. From the opening scene with the young men going back to their apartment and rolling around on the bed together I was mesmerized. I couldn't get over how everybody was so comfortable being who they were. No one was "coming out" to anyone. No mothers were crying. No one was apologizing for who they were. I instantly saw myself in the Michael character and was completely smitten with his boyfriend, the Robert character (who wasn't?). No sooner had we finished the film Mark pulled out this letter he'd gotten from Richard Ganoung, aka Michael. Mark had written to him to tell him how much the film had helped him with his coming out ordeal and he'd actually gotten a handwritten response (Can you imagine?!!). For the first time since I could remember I felt like everything was going to be OK.
But the evening didn't stop there. Although "Parting Glances" wasn't shy about depicting affection between the two male lovers (remember the shower scene?), it was a mainstream -- albeit low-budget -- movie, after all. So most of what you saw was implied. Next up on Mark's double feature? "Powertool," Jeff Stryker's 1986 prison classic. While young men and porn might normally go together like peanut butter and jelly, for a young gay guy whose life had been completely sheltered like mine was, the idea of seeing two guys have sex was more than just titillating -- it was like having a preview of the brave new world. How do men have sex, anyway? What exactly goes on? The second Mark popped the tape in and this blond, curly haired guy named Johnny Davenport (NSFWish photo here) got down to business with his cellmate, Michael Gere, all of my questions were answered -- and then some.
(Call it a fetish, but to this day John Davenport (above) -- who is by
all most measures not my "type" -- still makes me weak in the knees and makes me feel like I'm 20 years old again.)
The only way finally meeting Richard Ganoung, John Bolger, Kathy Kinney ("Joan") , Yolande Bavan ("Betty") and the irrespressible Richard Wall ("Douglas") and getting to learn a bunch of new information about the creators of this life-changing film tonight could have been more of a thrill would have been if Johnny D. had been waiting in my bed for me when I got home. It was truly a night to remember ...
(Bonus points to the first person besides Matt who identifies this posts headline!)