Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Enduring Legacy of Bill Sherwood's 'Parting Glances'

Had a rather magical time in Brooklyn last night introducing someone special to "Parting Glances," Bill Sherwood's seminal gay film shot in 1984 and released in 1986. Things started off on a rather disturbing note: When I emerged from the subway at the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center stop, the first words I heard were a large woman screaming, "You big-forehead faggot!!!!" Relieved to realize she wasn't talking to me -- apparently there was another one in the vicinity -- my friend and I beat a hasty retreat while she berated some guy in the middle of the street, perhaps over a parking space by the Burlington Coat Factory.

Away from the smackdown, we then had some incredible food at El Toro Taqueria before slipping into BAM for the main event. As longtime readers know, "Parting Glances" was my first real gay film and remains my all-time favorite. ("Making Love" came before it but doesn't really count, although it served another purpose ) I discovered it on home video after my best friend in Detroit, Mark, saw (and loved) it on one of his first gay dates back in '86, right before I came out as "bisexual." (!!!) I was fortunate enough to be at Lincoln Center for the unveiling of the restored version in 2007, so last night was in fact my second time seeing it on the big screen. What a joy. My date helped me understand why it's so special, pointing out on the trip back to the city that although it does have a romantic relationship in its purview, it's the other "gay" relationships -- with a hag, with an ex, with a straight woman you know through your partner's work, with a flirtatious twink you met -- that are the film's heart and make it unlike any other. My date later said:
Also worth noting that, despite treatments of the varying dynamics of coming-out experiences and degrees -- the record store twink mentioning he'd done it at what was then the relatively quite early age at 16 (Nick repeating the number for emphasis), Robert's ex-gf talking about how she'd already suspected, the boss still in a tacitly accepted beard arrangement -- none of the characters are grappling with self-loathing or the like, having come to terms with their sexuality already. It's a built-in "It Gets Better" message, which your still-adolescent self picked up on right away.
Later, a Facebook friend had a similar thought about the friendship angle, adding an important point:
It is wonderful, a film about gay lives, relationships (and not just romantic relationships), sex and HIV, and NOBODY dies.
Imagine being teenager in suburban Phoenix having grown up with the only gay people you knew of being Paul Lynde, Wayland Flowers and Charles Nelson Reilly ... and only learning about Rock Hudson when he died of AIDS -- then suddenly seeing these two handsome and healthy GWM living a completely normal life in New York City, with friends and jobs and without shame and alienation. It's hard to quantify just how monumental this was, but I'm so glad the film lives on thanks to the Outfest Legacy Project. While works like "The Normal Heart," "Longtime Companion" and "Angels in America" are profound and incredibly important, I'm happy "Parting Glances" exists as another small, less dramatic slice of life from gay history's darkest moment, If you haven't had the privilege of seeing "Parting Glances," Netflix is streaming it. Enjoy it before it disappears -- and be sure to let me know what you think.


Bill Carter said...

Parting Glances is my all-time favourite gay film. I saw it in Georgetown when it was first released. I went with a group of my close friends, none of whom survived the plague.

Did you know that Adam Nathan, who played the New Wave dreamboy, was prominently featured in Michael Jackson's Bad video? He had a couple of other film credits, then went on to lead what appears to be a rich and rewarding life. He has a blog, but it's pretty much inactive.

Edward said...

Saw this again for the first time since it came out - and very happy to say that it was just as good as I remember.

Henry Holland said...

I've seen this a couple of times and I love it. I think it's really a shame that the director and writer Bill Sherwood died before he could make another film. It's got a great soundtrack, I especially like the song that Nick does a video for We're Only In It For The Drugs. My gay film rankings:

1. Maurice
2. Trick with Christian Campbella and A.J. Pitoc
3. Parting Glances

retropian said...

Yes indeed, one of my favorite films as well. I do not remember when or where I first saw it, but it was in the 80's I'm sure. It has remained with me ever since. I watched it on Netflix just last year as it was the 30th anniversary of its filming. Quite a poignant nostalgia trip, but also humorous in a way: how did we get by without cell phones, or smart phones, the internet etc? I was 22 in 1984 and so it was a reminder of what life was like once upon a time.

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