Since last September I’ve been having a blast programming and hosting a “New York City & the movies” series for the Fairfield Theatre Company’s monthly “Martini & a Movie” night.
Inspired by James Sanders’ wonderful book “Celluloid Skyline: New York and the Movies” and the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I agreed with FTC that it would be enlightening and entertaining to examine the way the great metropolis has been portrayed in films over the years.
Sanders writes about the two New Yorks that have been presented on screen for the past century: “The first is a real city, an urban agglomeration of millions. The second is a mythic city, so rich in memory and association and sense of place that to people everywhere it has come to seem real: the New York of such films such as ‘42nd Street,’ ‘Rear Window,’ ‘King Kong,’ ‘Dead End,’ ‘The Naked City,’ ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘Annie Hall,’ ‘Taxi Driver,’ and ‘Do the Right Thing.’ A dream city of the imagination, born of that most pervasive of dream media, the movies.”
So far, we’ve looked at screwball Manhattan comedies that were filmed in Hollywood (“Easy Living”), contemporary dramas shot on the streets of the city (“Heights”) and classics that mixed studio and location footage (“All About Eve”).
Movies have charted the great changes in New York City over the years, but they have also reflected the crises the city has faced from the Great Depression of the 1930s to the crime surge of the 1970s.
So, Tuesday night at 8 p.m. we’ll be screening a personal favorite, writer-director Bill Sherwood’s 1986 release “Parting Glances” which was the first American film to deal with the impact of AIDS on the gay community — Sherwood tackled the subject four years before the higher profile independent film “Longtime Companion” and seven years before the first major Hollywood release “Philadelphia.”
In many ways, “Parting Glances” remains the best film to deal with AIDS because the material is presented without the melodrama and the timidity that weakened “Philadelphia” (which seemed half-scared of its own subject matter). The gay relationship between Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas was antiseptic, and about half of the movie was devoted to the Denzel Washington lawyer character learning the error of his homophobic ways.
“Parting Glances” is set inside the Manhattan gay world in 1984-1985 — when the film was shot — so we get to see the terrible anxiety and the sudden lifestyle changes in the city before today’s long-term treatment regimens for HIV had been fully developed.
And yet, Bill Sherwood did not craft a heavy-handed movie, but a mix of drama and social comedy involving gay and straight friends who are weathering the crisis as best they can.
“Parting Glances” focuses on two men (played by John Bolger and Richard Ganoung) who have lived together for several years but are about to be separated by a job that will take one of them to Africa for many months.
Steve Buscemi (above, in his first major screen role) plays their friend, a popular rock musician who is in the first stages of AIDS. It is through this character and his relationship with the couple at the center of the film that we get a full treatment of the ramifications of the disease on one of the most vibrant and culturally significant minorities in Manhattan.
Sherwood keeps things surprisingly light as the story takes us to a raucous and very funny going away party thrown by a female artist pal (well played by Kathy Kinney several years before her gig on the Drew Carey situation comedy). AIDS is the univited guest at the party and in other scenes showing the very funny and very intelligent circle of people surrounding the three main characters.
“Parting Glances” is about good people finding a way through a terrible period. Tragically, the young writer-director Bill Sherwood did not live to make a second film — AIDS claimed him in 1990 at the age of 37.
(The screening of “Parting Glances” Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Fairfield Theatre Company is free and the doors will open at 7:30 p.m.)