Behind Every Good Man / Dottie Gets Spanked / Parting Glances
- This is a past program
Part of the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s Pioneers of Queer Cinema screening series. Register at cinema.ucla.edu to attend this in-theater screening.
Preservation funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation on behalf of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project
Behind Every Good Man
Produced several years before the historic Stonewall Uprising for LGBTQ+ rights, director Nikolai Ursin’s gently-activist short provides an illuminating glimpse into the life of an African American man who openly lives part of his life as a woman. In strong contrast to the stereotypically negative depictions of transgender people as seen through the lens of Hollywood at the time, the protagonist of Ursin’s independent film is rendered as stable, hopeful and determined.
Stylistically, filmmaker Ursin (1942-1990) artfully blurs elements of cinéma vérité documentary and subtle dramatization to bring his unnamed lead’s deeply personal aspirations and meditations on love and acceptance to light. The resulting intimate portrait, possibly one of the earliest to honestly document a Black, gender-fluid person on film, serves as a rare cultural artifact at the intersection between transgender life and African American life in the U.S. at the mid-century. Significantly, the film also provides cinema and LGBTQ+ scholars with a previously unavailable bridge to later companion works, such as Shirley Clarke's landmark documentary Portrait of Jason (1967) and the problematic, but essential pseudo-scientific study of a group of trans women, Queens at Heart (1967).
Behind Every Good Man is an important early work in a body of notable productions to which Ursin contributed. Following the completion of a master’s degree in film at the University of California, Los Angeles, Ursin went on to create a number of collaborations with his partner, acclaimed video artist Norman Yonemoto, including Second Campaign (1969), which documents the legacy of student unrest and protests in Berkeley the 1960s, and the independent feature Garage Sale (1976), which starred drag performer Goldie Glitters. Ursin also served as editor on the local Emmy Award-winning television documentary, The Age of Ballyhoo (1973), which was directed by noted film preservationist David Shepard. Nick Ursin passed away in 1990 at age 48.
16mm, b&w, 8 min. Director: Nikolai Ursin. Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Preservation funded by the Sundance Institute
Dottie Gets Spanked
From the indelible avant-garde biopic, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) to the unsettling AIDS-allegory Safe (1995) and beyond, writer-director Todd Haynes (b. 1961) has created a distinctive body of work that fuses psychological character studies and social commentary with highly-stylized form. A pioneer of the New Queer Cinema movement with an acclaimed canon that includes Poison (1991), Far From Heaven (2002) and Carol (2015), Haynes has consistently produced deeply introspective explorations of the intersections between alienation and belonging, especially as related to queer life in often hostile environments.
One such personal work is Haynes’ semi-autobiographical period short, Dottie Gets Spanked (1993). Produced by his longtime partner Christine Vachon (and Lauren Zalaznick) with funding from the Independent Television Service (ITVS) for PBS’ TV Families series, the gently comedic work concerns the awakening of identity within a “six-and-three-quarter-year-old” suburban boy named Stevie. Based in part on Haynes’ own childhood visit to a Hollywood studio to watch icon Lucille Ball rehearse on set, Dottie traces Stevie’s preoccupation with a 1950s-style TV comedy and its zany red-headed star. A pint-sized, soft-spoken soul in saddle shoes, Stevie is resolute in his fandom of “The Dottie Show,” despite increasingly disapproving gestures from his father and classmates. A series of surrealistic dream sequences form the heart of the film, where Stevie’s sitcom obsessions collide with taboo desires to illuminate an inner-dawning of his orientation.
Movingly, Haynes re-positions Stevie’s self-realization of his queerness from the subconscious squarely into the harsh domestic space of the waking world, one in which the child intuitively recognizes his persona as a treasure to be protected and preserved. In 1995, Chicago Reader hailed the bittersweet telefilm as a “hauntingly mordant deconstruction of 1950s television and family life, which trenchantly depicts both in terms of hierarchical power relations and unexpected transformations.”
DCP, color, 30 min. Director: Todd Haynes. Screenwriter: Todd Haynes. With: J. Evan Bonifant, Barbara Garrick, Julie Halston, Adam Arkin.
Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Preservation funded by The Andrew J. Kuehn Jr. Foundation and Outfest
Parting Glances is a love story of friendship and romance, old and new; it is also an AIDS narrative, one of the first, to celebrate those living and struggling with the disease, where fear and tragedy are not ignored on-screen, but are also not required as the cinematic climax. The film tracks its characters across a 24-hour period: Michael (Richard Ganoung) and Robert (John Bolger) are struggling through the routine of bourgeoise coupledom; Michael worries over ex-boyfriend and best friend Nick’s HIV diagnosis; and Nick (Steve Buscemi) grapples with feeling very much alive, while knowing that sickness and death are imminent. Set in a long-ago funky and hip New York City, where nothing is a surprise and everything is possible, this film is a joyous comedic romp made buoyant by a charming and, at the time, unknown cast, including Kathy Kinney in her first on-screen performance.
Parting Glances was Bill Sherwood’s directorial debut and his last film. The filmmaker died of AIDS-related causes in 1990 at the age of 37. Sherwood’s legacy shines bright here in his rejection of what would become Hollywood’s familiar approach of playing into sentimentalized storylines and characterizations of gay men as their community faced the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Instead, the filmmaker recasts “difference” as ordinary where ex-lovers throw tantrums, smash plates and laugh over practical jokes; couples fall into bed during the middle of the day; and friends enjoy each other, with pranks and parties, as they struggle with the inevitability of death as a distance existential crisis and a lurking reality in the near future.
—Maya Montañez Smukler
35mm, color, 90 min. Director: Bill Sherwood. Screenwriter: Bill Sherwood. With: Richard Ganoung, John Bolger, Steve Buscemi, Adam Nathan, Kathy Kinney.
Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.