Gilding the Lily: “The Glorias”

‘The Glorias’ (streaming on Amazon Prime Video; for sale on other platforms)
“Encountering new places and people can unsettle our assumptions”, Gloria Steinem wrote; being on the road “specifies,” preventing us from taking refuge in the familiar “generalities.” Under the direction of Julie Taymor, “The Glorias” never truly engages with this idea, skating along the contours of a long life that’s so eventful and accomplished that the end result comes across like a two-plus hour, slickly produced highlight reel. — Jennifer Szalai (Read the full review here.)

“I looked for what I call an ideograph, which is to take the entire concept of the story—a road movie, what is that? What is the road? What is the journey?—and I came up with the concept of a Greyhound bus, because that’s such an archetypal image for America about travel and moving city to city. So with that black-and-white imagery of the Greyhound bus, I could have a bus out of time. And those Glorias, either by themselves, or in twos and threes, or all four of them, are on this bus, forever going to Washington to march, forever going to the next speech about women’s rights.” — What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in The Glorias, Matthew Dessem for The Slate, Sept 30, 2020

Gloria Steinem is a feminist icon. Julie Taymor is a wonderful filmmaker. They collaborated on Taymor’s new film, The Glorias using Steinem’s book My Life On the Road as an outline. The novel focuses on the people Steinem met on her journey to found Ms. magazine and fight for the E. R. A. The movie uses some clever devices to make that journey more linear. There are four actresses portraying her at different ages: Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, and Ryan Kira Armstrong. They interact with each other to give encouragement and comfort to the other selves.

The journey is also writ large by having the characters ride on a Greyhound Bus; inside time is still and it’s black & white but the passing world is in color. There’s a big focus on Steinem’s parents and a reccuring motif of her father (a jazz hands performance by Timothy Hutton), a traveling salesman, passing in his car or sitting in a roadside diner. The biggest set piece is a whirling tornado from The Wizard of Oz — each actress was hung on wire before a green screen and each character gets to react to the adult Steinem being called a “sex object” by a tv interviewer.

Julie Taymor is known for her big productions and magic realism. She created the Broadway spectacle, The Lion King. And once you’ve hung a big name actress in front of a green screen, it’s not likely that you’d cut the scene. Taymor has said that this version, at 2 hours and 19 minutes is the film she wanted to make. Yet the story of Steinem’s life and her accomplishments are so extraordinary, why was there a need for all the bells and whistles? Taymor has such talent in her cast–it was a particular pleasure to see Bette Milder so aptly cast–that each break in the action was an interruption in character development and story. It seemed a shame to slip back in time or to join The Glorias as they discussed an aspect of her life.

It’s wonderful to have a film celebrating Gloria Steinem. She seems to be having quite the moment in the sun. There was the 2018 play, “Gloria: A Life” starring Christine Lahti and of course, the FX/Hulu limited series “Mrs. America” which Steinem feels didn’t do history justice.

Steinem: “Mrs America” is hopelessly wrong. I don’t think it’s necessarily on purpose, but it is just factually, historically wrong, because the Equal Rights Amendment was defeated by the insurance industry and other people who were profiting off women’s cheap labor. Phyllis Schlafly never changed one vote. I’m very disturbed that people may look at “Mrs. America” and feel that women are our own worst enemies. Because even when we disagree, we don’t have the power to be our own worst enemies.” Gloria Steinem calls ‘Mrs. America’ ‘hopelessly wrong.’ This play gets her life’s work right, Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2020

Brava to Julie Taymor for making the film she wanted. It will be a delight for those who can stream it at home with breaks for discussion, hopefully with one’s daughters. There are wonderful performances and if the dialogue leans toward campaign slogans, at least they’re ones that feminists like myself can believe in. So much has changed and so much still needs to be changed.

Drinks with Films rating: 3 glasses of champagne🍾 (out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s