Rating: (5 out of 5) Friday, 10/24/2008, 9:15 PM Feature presentation, $10 at AFI Silver
EVERY QUEER GENERATION has its cultural touchstones. For some of our older generations it was films such as The Boys in the Band. For the younger, it’s Will & Grace. For those of us in between, the Gen Xer’s who grew up as the doors had closed on one gay world and were still opening on another, it was films like Parting Glances. Newly restored, the groundbreaking movie returns to the screen for Reel Affirmations and proves that while it is certainly dated in many ways, it hasn’t lost its emotional punch.
During the early years of the AIDS epidemic in New York, Michael and Robert are living the lives of an upwardly mobile gay couple. But Robert’s job is taking him to Africa for two years and Michael has to find a way to cope with that, as well as the sickness of his best friend, Nick (Steve Buscemi, stellar in his first big on-screen role).
Told over the course of the 24-hours before Robert’s scheduled departure, Parting Glances is a compact and loving look at a particular gay milieu that at the time was under fire from all sides. The characters aren’t presented as emotionally stunted freaks like Boys in the Band or murderous freaks like Cruising — they’re presented as human and flawed and deserving of love.
That may seem less remarkable more than two decades later, but at the time it was a rather audacious thing to do — and an affirming one for those of use who managed clandestine videotape viewings in rural and suburban America.
Buscemi, naturally, steals any scene he’s in — even, somehow, when he’s alone — with his acerbic and wry take on Nick’s acceptance of fate. Most of the other performances are equally as apt — the few flat notes are quickly overcome.
Writer-director Bill Sherwood died in 1986 at the age of 38, leaving Parting Glances as his only film. His death was a loss for a gay generation that could have used a few more affirming touchstones, but his film stands as a legacy of which we can all be proud.
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