Wel­come to the after-party

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

By J. MATTHEW COBB

Ran­dal Kleiser is as­so­ci­ated with some of the big­gest block­busters in cin­ema; the big­gest be­ing his very first fea­ture, 1978’s “Grease” — the golden com­edy mu­si­cal that Van­ity Fair re­cently dubbed the the big­gest movie mu­si­cal of the 20th cen­tury.

But in 1996, the famed film direc­tor de­cided to put the spot­light on a very in­ti­mate and per­sonal chap­ter in his life. In the com­edy-drama fea­ture “It’s My Party,” Kleiser used fic­tional names to il­lus­trate the heart­break­ing true story about his ex-lover, who learns of a dev­as­tat­ing AIDS di­ag­no­sis and traces his solemn march with death at a fam­ily-and-friends farewell party.

With Eric Roberts play­ing dy­ing ar­chi­tect Nick Stark, along with a star-stud­ded cast fea­tur­ing Olivia New­ton-John, Mar­garet Cho, Bron­son Pin­chot, Bruce Dav­i­son and Mar­lee Matlin, the film broke out at a time when very few stu­dios were green­light­ing films about LGBT char­ac­ters, espe­cially projects with a tighter fo­cus on the AIDS cri­sis. Re­ceiv­ing “two thumbs up” from renowned film crit­ics Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert, “It’s My Party” stands out as a vi­tal con­tri­bu­tion to LGBT cin­ema and brave sto­ry­telling.

Now cel­e­brat­ing its twen­ti­eth an­niver­sary, “It’s My Party” is draw­ing lots of re­newed in­ter­est from film lovers. Pro­gram­mers of At­lanta’s Out On Film fes­ti­val are also cel­e­brat­ing the big oc­ca­sion with a spe­cial screen­ing on Oc­to­ber 1 at the Land­mark Mid­town Art Cin­ema. Kleiser will be in at­ten­dance for a Q&A after the film and to re­ceive the fes­ti­val’s Icon Award. Gre­gory Har­ri­son, who plays the char­ac­ter of Bran­don Theis (Stark’s ex), will also be in at­ten­dance.

Be­fore his ap­pear­ance at Out on Film, Kleiser spoke with me by phone from his L.A. of­fice about the film, its legacy and the up­com­ing screen­ing.

How im­por­tant was it for you to tell this story?

Well, it was some­thing I had to do be­cause any­one who was at the party when it oc­curred was trans­formed by it...be­cause it was such an in­tense ex­pe­ri­ence. Some pho­to­graphs were taken there and I flew to Hawaii a few days after the event. A friend brought the pho­tos and showed them to me and I knew right then that I had to make a movie out of it.

There are a lot of emo­tion­ally charged con­tent in the film, but yet there are ac­tu­ally a num­ber of funny mo­ments fea­tured. Did you find it dif­fi­cult to in­te­grate the com­edy and drama?

Well yeah, I spent a lot of time on that. Openly gay writer-direc­tor Ran­dal Kleiser (l) and the cast of “It’s My Party” (above). (Cour­tesy pho­tos) Plus I had ac­tors who were good at com­edy — Mar­garet Cho and Bron­son Pin­chot, who were espe­cially good at it. I knew they could come with some things. They came up with some of their own di­a­logue and we did some im­prov dur­ing rehearsal, so that helped.

I won­der if this film, at least based on to­day’s terms, was noted as be­ing your com­ing out to Hol­ly­wood and to the world?

In a way. I never re­ally talked about my life, but peo­ple in the movie in­dus­try knew that I was gay. I just never re­ally an­nounced it. When they did a story on me in The Ad­vo­cate, it all came out be­cause it was such a per­sonal movie.

a lot of peo­ple who have loved ones suf­fer­ing with de­men­tia can def­i­nitely re­late to the PML an­gle.

You’re right. The film does res­onate with peo­ple who are deal­ing with de­men­tia and also with sui­cide, be­cause that’s now be­come le­gal in Amer­ica. About two weeks ago a woman had a farewell party and did the very same thing. She in­vited ev­ery­one and took her own life. It kinda mir­rors what hap­pened with what we did back then. Back then it was il­le­gal; now it’s le­gal.

You are set to re­ceive the Icon Award at the Out On Film fes­ti­val. How does it feel to be con­sid­ered an icon and to be hon­ored for your achieve­ments from your peers in the LGBT com­mu­nity?

It’s great be­cause when the movie first came out, gay peo­ple knew about it or saw it. It’s like a piece of gay his­tory, kinda doc­u­ment­ing a time in his­tory when there was no hope. When you had HIV back then, it was a death sen­tence. A lot of peo­ple to­day don’t real­ize that. Even with “Philadel­phia,” that movie didn’t doc­u­ment that there were so many peo­ple dy­ing of AIDS. And [the scene with] all of those peo­ple on the wall were real friends of ours. That was a way to pay trib­ute to them.

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