RADIANT CIRCUS went to the UK premiere of Lisa D’Apolito’s new documentary LOVE, GILDA at the Phoenix Cinema (09 DEC 2018). The film was introduced by the director and followed by a Q&A with Rebecca Nicole Williams, aka The Celluloid Sorceress. Here’s our writeup.
dir. Lisa D’Apolito (USA, 2018).
There comes a time when you realise how much you’ve forgotten. Shortly after, there comes another time when you realise how much that really matters. As the film and television industry (slowly…) attempts to rectify imbalances by realising more creative projects by, with and about women, are we also in danger of losing sight of women’s work that has already been made? Perhaps comedy too has an archive issue, as if making us laugh gets easily overlooked in the annals of achievement. That one of Gilda Radner’s major legacies is the North American cancer club network that provides respite for patients of the same disease that killed her, is perhaps telling of our fading appreciation of a performer who was once rerouting Mardi Gras parades due to her rockstar status.
Lisa D’Apolito’s film gives great account of Radner’s origins, from her perceived fatness as a child (or rather, her mother’s struggle with her daughter’s weight, a battle that would be passed on through eating disorders in Radner’s adult life) to her close relationship with her second Mum (“My best friend is 53 years older than me”), the live-in nanny who covered the gaps when Dad was “working”, and Mum was off “doing whatever”.
Born into a wealthy family, Radner’s isn’t a rags to riches tale, but the explosion of her career seems to have been underscored by a sometimes isolating need to cling onto domesticity. A serial dater in college, Radner’s significant adult relationships saw her fail to complete her studies and distanced her from colleagues, friends and family. Her second husband, Gene Wilder, is credited, rather begrudgingly, with ‘merely’ making her eat.
Throughout LOVE, GILDA the comedian’s beauty shines though, although she claimed her comedy came as compensation for not being born with the same “gift” as other girls. What is also clear is her fierce courage and total confidence as a performer. Fascinating archival accounts show how she swerved from “serving coffee” in early male-dominated SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skits, to singlehandedly resolving unfunny sketches with her brazen physicality. This ability to hold our focus also led to filling a Broadway theatre with a one woman show that had a large supporting cast but left her missing being part of an ensemble.
There’s a beautiful score by Miriam Cutler, and readings by more recent SNL cast members reveal their considerable debt. We also get generous amounts of Radner’s own voice, carefully rescued and restored, where possible, from the available archive. The film’s title comes from Radner’s fond sign-off in her frequent letters to loved ones; a posthumous ‘poke’, reminding us of a life brimming with creative energy.
In discussion after the film, D’Apolito revealed how the endless hunt for archival material finally produced more than 30 unopened boxes containing a whole family’s history. Even with such treasures, it took the eagle eyes of a friend to find the essential needle – a VHS of Radner at the time of her cancer treatments – in the “10 copies of every magazine she’d been in” haystack.
Piecing together participants for the documentary was another careful process, gently building support from the people that knew and loved a family member, friend and collaborator. A filmed ‘phone message from Gilda’s brother, Michael, gave the UK premiere added blessing.
Audience questions took up the rallying cry to celebrate Radner’s career and legacy: where can her early radio shows be heard? what chance is there of a UK cancer club? Perhaps RADIANT CIRCUS has already travelled too far with The Celluloid Sorceress, but Nikki’s vocal enthusiasm for ANIMALYMPICS – an 80s animation where Radner voices all the female roles – has started the spread of an infectious itch…
… and that’s the meat of it!
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- Find LOVE, GILDA (2018) on IMDb and follow the film on Twitter.
- The Celluloid Sorceress’s season WE LOVE GILDA! follows at the Phoenix Cinema in early 2019: GILDA LIVE (06 JAN 14:00); HANKY PANKY 35mm (27 JAN 14:00); THE WOMAN IN RED 35mm (10 FEB 14:00); and, HAUNTED HONEYMOON 35mm (24 FEB 14:00). All screenings will be introduced by Rebecca Nicole Williams.
- Be The Sorceress’s friend on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.