The homosexuals in the text: The men of "Parting Glances" (1986)

Bill Sherwood’s Parting Glances (1986) strikes me as not so much a charming and spirited gay love story (though it is that, too) as a portrait of what we might call the gay male scene—which is to say that, in its panoramic taking-in of the punks, queens, dykes, twinks, hipsters, jet-setters, muscle gods, art fags, and straight hangers-on that make up Sherwood’s version of gay New York in the mid-80s, a Proustian enterprise with inflections of Robert Altman, it is less invested in appropriating the narrative conventions of a marriage plot (ultimately pre-occupied with the question who will end up with whom?) than in conveying a sense of a particular social environment in which a vast array of bodies mingle, brush up against one another, advance, retreat.  Parting Glances is almost a Linnean classification of gay male body types as they correspond to gay male social types: the rounded, pink body of the soft-spoken, sharp-tongued, sexually undesirable Edith Piaf queen; the fashionable, well-toned but not over-muscular, slightly smug, slightly banal body of the gay urban professional, compared bitchily by one of his acquaintances to that of a Ken doll; the pretty body of the puppyish, gold-digging college freshman, who moves confidently through crowds as if protected within the invisible bubble of his own sexual precocity; the sallow, wiry body of the punk rocker, whose sallowness and wiriness may not, in fact, be the visual evidence of his impending death from AIDS but rather the sign of his willful refusal to fall in line with the gay male body fascists who would appear to be warding off infection in their very obsession with their own musculature; and, finally, the non-descript, overgrown-teenager’s body of the Jewish intellectual—the image of the gay man as dork.  In encouraging, even requiring us to read, understand, and classify these bodies—to cruise them, look them up and down, eat them up with our eyes, take up some and discard others—Parting Glances makes gay men of all of those who watch it.  

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