Parting Glances

By Kopkind, Andrew | The Nation, March 8, 1986 | Go to article overview

Parting Glances


Kopkind, Andrew, The Nation


Parting Glances

The most difficult assignments in the cultural workplace is the task of transcendence, of moving beyond the restrictions of common consciouness to produce a work of art or drama or literature that is at the same time both of the culture and about it, that expresses both participation in a certain sensibility and perspective on it. No sword is stuck more securely in any stone. Time after time artists and writers strain mightily to achieve that transcendent authenticity and end up with little more than a piece of propaganda and special pleading on the one hand, or exploitation and condescension on the other. In the case of what indelicate ideologues used to call oppressed cultures, the material is often so informed by the oppression that any presentation reinforces the very values on which it presumes to comment. To enter into the debate about racism, say, or class privilege is to accept the most destructive terms of the debate for the sake of argument. A kind of artistic Godel's theorem works on contain the criticism of any situation within its own limits; the dog eats its own tail, the hand draws itself. Take film: from Guess Who's Coming to Dinner to The Color Purple, movies that set out to treat one or another problem of black oppression end up as part of that problem, in the former case by confirming racist myths of intermarriage, and in the latter by celebrating the most awful racial stereotypes even with the purpose of deploring them. There are many ways to judge the merit of a movie and other tests for success, but filmmakers (and film critics) must live with the infuriating fact that they can never escape the confines of the conflict they pose.

Parting Glances, a low-budget but high-minded feature set in New York's upscale gay community, runs snack up against the problem of trancendence. Writer-director Bill Sherwood depicts a day in the life of three young men connected on the personal level by bonds of love and romance, and on the social level by a common history of gay experience. Michael (Richard Ganoung) and Robert (John Bolger) are guppie lovers with a nice apartment on the Upper West Side, good bodies and a comfortable relationship six years long--attributes I've listed in the apparent order of importance. Nick (Steve Buscemi) was Michael's boyfriend once in that brief Camelot of postliberation madness, when the new gay consciousness was being created every day in the streets, every night in the dance halls, every summer on Fire Island. Now Nick is terminally ill; his specific syndrome is never mentioned by name in the movie, as it is understood but seldom spoken in the world there these characters now live. That is only one of many accurate details Sherwood supplies, some subtle and some obvious: the material fat woman (lesbian?) who oversees the downtown party scene and counsels and comforts the lovers; the sleazy queen (also fat) who holds court in his house on the Island and keeps a retinue in two with money and influence; the ambitious twinkie who plans to float horizontally into the upper reaches of gay society; the music (Bronski Beat and Brahms); the interior decoration; the clothes; the attitudes; the little disturbances; and, of course, the great fear.

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