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« YNMS: From Mt. Everest to Jarden, Texas (Pop: 9,261) | Main | Links Today. ANN DOWD Thursday! »
Tuesday
Jun162015

HBO’s LGBT History: In the Gloaming (1997)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions. This series is usually on Wednesday's but tomorrow Ann Dowd is in the house. Stay tuned! - Editor

Last week we looked at the earnest adaptation of one of the best-selling non-fiction account of the early years of the AIDS epidemic, And the Band Played On. It feels rather like a backhanded compliment to the well-meaning if sprawling film, but you should really watch it to see Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin, Ian McKellen, Swoosie Kurtz and Richard Gere doing their thing. This week, we’re still not done looking at the AIDS epidemic. You have to begin to wonder whether HBO knew there were other stories worth telling that included the LGBT community, but then AIDS really was seismic in the way it defined LGBT representation in the decade(s) that followed, so it’s hard to argue against its ubiquity.

But ubiquitous doesn't describe the next topic: Here we are with the moving directorial debut of a famous actor starring a six-time Oscar nominee, an Oscar winner, a future Oscar nominee, a startlet from a Hollywood dynasty, and a young actor who’d go on to become a Tony winner and then the star in a long-running successful medical drama, and it is almost impossible to find. This week we're talking In the Gloaming... 

In the Gloaming (1997)
Directed by: Christopher Reeve (yes, Superman himself!)
Written by: Will Scheffer (based on a New Yorker story by Alice Elliot Dark)
Starring: Glenn Close, Bridget Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert Sean Leonard, and David Strathairn.

In the Gloaming, adapted from Alice Elliot Dark’s short story of the same name focuses on Danny, a thirty-something gay man who returns to his family home to, as Goldberg’s nurse Myrna bluntly puts it, die. He spends his last months at home getting to know his mother, Janet (Close).

“You know, his T-cell count is so low no Dr Berman or anybody else can really save him. So he’s come home to die.”

The story may sound sentimental (and it is) but it is so quiet, so self-effacing and unassuming, that it never tilts into maudlin territory. Much of this is in the faithful adaptation of Dark’s writing, which is surprisingly heartbreaking given its economy. On the first page she notes that Danny “wasn’t cut out to be the brave one, the one who would inspire everybody to walk away from a visit with him feeling uplifted, shaking their heads in wonder. He had liked being the most handsome and missed it very much; he was not a good victim.” It’s that final clause that unlocks Danny’s vexed relationship with his current state, one which propels the little plot there is in the film. Indeed, divided as it is into vignettes during the “gloaming” (the time at dusk when “the whole world would look like the Highlands on a summer night”), the film functions more as a character study of Danny’s mother, Janet. We see her helplessly tend to her dying son, forgo her increasingly stale marriage with a man who can barely bring himself to face his son, and focus instead on craving those evening talks with Danny. From Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons to Damages, Close has always worked best in villainess mode, making great use of her cutting cheekbones and icy blond hair. That may be why I’m always so surprised when she plays these softened roles, instantly making me remember how aptly she can play them.

“Suddenly she realized, [Danny] had been the love of her life.” - Elliot Dark

This film, which is all about half-finished thoughts and half-started conversations, shines brightest when it features Danny and Janet just talking about movies. “What’s your favorite movie?” Danny asks, hoping to get to know his mother better during his last couple of months. “Oh, gosh there’s so many!” she says. “To tell you the truth, it keeps changing because it always depends on what kind of stories make sense to me at the time. You know, what stories speak to me.” She eventually caves and singles out E.T., a movie, she says about “lost childhood. So funny. So sad.” As Danny gets worse their relationship flourishes, returning them to the very happy childhood Reeve’s initial images offer us. The film even treats us to Glenn singing Danny a lullaby as they lay outside watching the night-sky, an inadvertent preview of the dulcet motherly tones Close would bring to Disney’s Tarzan a mere two years later.

Ultimately, in focusing on this mother/son relationship, one which has been culturally burdened with pathology (Janet’s daughter at one point frustratingly blurts out, "You know what your over-attentions did to him,” a tricky line the film leaves intentionally hanging, neither endorsing it nor outright disowning its implications), In the Gloaming shifts the conversation away from disease and bureaucracy and, much like Fierstein’s Tidy Endings, hones in on the struggles of those on the outskirts of the epidemic; the loved ones left behind who had no language and no practice in a grief that so squarely demanded more than tolerance, more than acceptance.

“Danny you know I have always accepted you.”

“Perhaps you have, but you’ve never participated.”

In moments like those, the film cut right through me, echoing many conversations I myself have had with my mother (or worse, ones I wish I could still have). The film is ultimately yet another story about a privileged white gay man whose illness is unburdened by issues of class and race, of rejection and homelessness, of medical bills and bureaucracy, but it's oh so touching in its insularity that I really wish it were more readily avaiable so we can talk more about it.

Fun Fact: Glenn was, obviously, nominated for her performance for every TV award she was eligible for, and I was awestruck discovering what a beautiful Emmy lineup for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special 1997 gave us. Alongside Close was Meryl Streep (...First Do No Harm), Helen Mirren (for Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgment), Stockard Channing (An Unexpected Family) and eventual winner Alfre Woodard (Miss Evers' Boys). It doesn’t get more early 90s actressy than that, no? [Bonus Emmy Stat: As of 2015, those five women have amassed 57 nominations and 15 (!!) wins among them. Can you guess (without looking it up!) who’s ahead in both wins and nominations?]

Next week: We finally break free of gay men as we look at "Gia," a biopic of supermodel Gia Marie Carangi which garnered Angelina Jolie rave reviews and her very first SAG award, surely priming her for her Oscar win the following year. You can watch it on Amazon Prime/HBO Go.

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Reader Comments (26)

Manuel: I know everyone's going to guess Meryl before looking it up but, if we're strictly talking TV, I'd guess Helen Mirren, actually. It took her a long time (too long) to get quality parts on a consistent basis in film (around 1988) and she's probably more comfortable working in TV because of having less of a soft spot for film when she's looking for work.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Not that I remember seeing her in much on TV (her appalling semi-story on True Blood notwithstanding) but my gut reaction was that Alfre would be the most nominated and most winning actress. She always strikes me as an Emmy default nominee (surely she got about 500 nominations for Hill Street Blues alone!?)

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

Manuel: And AFTER looking it up: I was actually close, because two of those five have four wins and I did guess the other one.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

If they're the same person, I would suspect it was Mirren, but if it's different Mirren for wins and Woodard (who is nominated for EVERYTHING) for nominations.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Can you guess (without looking it up!) who’s ahead in both wins and nominations?

Alfre Woodard. Black women excel outside the medium of film.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Manuel, this is a really engaging series. I remember when these films started appearing. Even then they were treated by the community (by which I mean the activist community, the gay press, people doing AIDS work) with mixed feelings.

On one hand any mainstream attention to AIDS, which was even in '97 still stigmatized and misunderstood, was considered a small victory, a way to shift public perception.

On the other, it was clear that these stories were sanitized, focused on "victims," narrow in their representation, and apolitical. There was much stronger work being done on stage and among independent filmmakers -- for at least a decade at this point -- but it was still mostly marginalized. I mean, it took "The Normal Heart" 25 years to make it from the stage to HBO.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Clearly Alfre Woodard, she is nominated for everything and typically only does TV. Meryl has only won two from my knowledge (Holocaust and Angels in America) and rarely does TV, Mirren probably won at least once, for Prime Suspect most likely since they submitted it in miniseries if I remember? Stockard Channing probably won for West Wing, but I'm not too familiar with her TV work. Close won for Damages.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Where'd you get 25 wins from?

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterteppo2

I'm guessing 25 was typo for 15. Mirren at 4, Streep at 2, Close at 3, Channing at 2, and Woodard at 4.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Manuel, this was such a lovely writeup. I would love to find this gem.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I'm sort of with SanFran Cinema on recalling the tension between the "mainstreaming" of gay issues and the urgency with which we were grateful for any depictions--even those with privileged white gay men (who else could afford the best AIDS care, in order to teach the audience about it?). AndI love that Manuel captures how those tensions are already in the movie, how it makes the viewer ache even as it, or because it, tiptoes around so much. Most movies either avoided gay child-parent relations or treated them pretty glibly (1996's The Birdcage's and 1997's In and Out), and Manuel reminds me why I treasured this movie: for the ambiguity at the heart between Janet and Danny, which is, as he points out, still so relevant. Thanks for this, Manuel!

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

John T. I blame the humidity in NY and my own sticky fingers! It IS 15! [amended on the post now] Which, isn't anything to balk at. Them actresses are awards magnets! And they all have such great odds. I mean, improbably, this remains the only Emmy race Meryl has lost!

Now that I have a copy (though, as you see from the screenshots, not a particularly good one), I wish I could host a screening so we could all keep talking about Glenn, and the burden of representation that these "early" AIDS films had to and continue to bear.

June 16, 2015 | Registered CommenterManuel Betancourt

I own an old VCR tape of this that I picked up used and am so glad I did since it is nearly impossible to find now.

The most important thing that can be said about it is GLENN CLOSE, GLENN CLOSE, GLENN CLOSE!! Everybody else does fine work and Reeve's direction is solid but she is the one who makes the film live. The discussions she and RSL have at the gloaming time weave a spell and though the film is very short because of Glenn you feel you learn so much about this woman.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Glenn Close is so good in this movie. I love her when she plays deranged bitches but also in roles like this one or in Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

It's on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVDBd4nejIA&list=PLCA3D7F30AF2A65D3

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

I barely remember watching this, but I think it was the first work from Christopher Reeve after his accident.

It had a gorgeous White Colonial home, I believe, and the cinematography was lovely, since it was entirely shot at "Magic Time". Otherwise, I'm pretty sure I liked it, and could relate to it.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

This made me wish I could find some of Joanne Woodward's Emmy nominated roles more easily...

Sybil
See How She Runs
Crisis at Central High
Do You Remember Love
Blind Spot
Breathing Lessons
Empire Falls

She won for "See How She Runs," and "Do You Remember Love." Neither available on DVD!!!!

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

I have an old VHS copy, which I haven't watched in years. I remember it as a touching film, with Glenn being fantastic - though I remember the 'dream scene' where Robert Sean Leonard is in a 30s B&W dance number to be particularly jarring

@forever1267 your right - my recollection from articles written at the time, was that Reeve directed the movie from another room via monitors, because of the noise of his respirator made it impossible to be in the same room

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered Commentermatt

Where did you watch this, Manuel? I don't see it on DVD, Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, or I-Tunes. I won't judge you if you watched it by . . . other means. Just tell us so we can do the same. :-)

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKT

Manuel, I was totally come to that screening ;) You ever think about hosting a film series?

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

It's been ages since I've seen this, but two of the scenes that stick out in my memory are Fonda's bitter exchange with Close (I remember loving Fonda's performances at the time), and Strathairn's weepy final moment with Close, which I remember being very touching.

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

KT. I did have to resort to /other/ means (I now have a very frayed digital copy, which is, I think, the same copy that is up on YouTube; see Santy C.'s link above).

San FranCinema: I hadn't thought about it in earnest but feel it could be fun! It'd have to be an NYC affair and I'd definitely need a bigger place (my apt is tiny though it could be cozy film series!) Haha. Now you got me thinking...

June 17, 2015 | Registered CommenterManuel Betancourt

"Can you guess (without looking it up!) who’s ahead in both wins and nominations?"

From what I remember:
Stockard Channing: 2 Emmy Wins (both in the same year)
Glenn Close: 3 Emmy Wins
Helen Mirren: 4 Emmy Wins
Meryl Streep: 2 Emmy Wins
Alfre Woodard: 4 Emmy Wins

I do not know who has more nominations but I think Alfre Woodard.

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterHarmodio

Following up Harmodio's wins tally, the Emmy noms for these amazing ladies are:

Glenn Close: 14 nominations
Stockard Channing: 13 nominations
Alfre Woodard: 17 nominations
Helen Mirren: 11 nominations
Meryl Streep: 3 nominations

Also interesting how Glenn Close has 2 nominations as a producer for Sarah, Plain and Tall and Serving in Silence. After a tremendous 80's, her 90's was much slower in cinema so she chose to flex her star on TV and on Broadway. Her career is so fascinating I really hope she wins a competitive Oscar one day.

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTink

Manuel, do a test run series in NY and then come to SF and we'll get you set up here.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

Thank you so much for this post. I have always been intrigued by this film, since i saw it on a list of Glenn Close's Emmy nominated performances. When i read your post it made me want to watch it so bad that i looked really hard, and finally, miraculously found a copy of it on an obscure streaming platform...

As i love Glenn, i obviously loved the film. I was just a little bit frustrated by the pilot-like length of it. There's such a cast here, you wish you could see a lot more of everybody (especially Bridget Fonda and Whoopi Goldberg). But i will always remember it for its gorgeous, suspended moments of mother and son conversations.

November 8, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClément@Paris

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