“TALES OF THE CITY”–brilliant

“Tales of the City”


Amos Lassen

Every once in a while I rewatch the screen translation of Armistad Maupin’s “Tales of the City”. Every time I watch it I am amazed at how good it is. For those of you who thought that “Queer as Folk” was the first TV series dealing with gay life, you have to have a look at the classical rendering of “Tales of the City”. It has great writing, great acting, memorable characters and a lot of things you would not expect to see on television.

It is an honest and unflinching look at the lives and romances of a group of characters who live the way they want without subscribing to the rules of society. Dealing with life in San Francisco in the 1970’s, we get a view of promiscuity and drug usage and all kinds of relationships and lives—gay, straight, bisexual and transgendered. The dialog is wonderful and when it is delivered by good actors, we get a stellar achievement which could easily have been a pornographic exploitation expose. But it is not, it is an absolutely wonderful mini series.

We have learned to be cautious when we hear that a great piece of fiction is being translated for the silver screen. “Tales of the City” translates beautifully, keeping all the excitement and integrity of the book upon which it is based. Maupin’s wonderful characters are transferred to the screen and become even more real to us. The pace and emotion of the written word are evident in the screen adaptation and the performances are absolutely incredible. Olympia Dukakis as Anna Madrigal exudes an air of mystery, Marco D’Amico gives a wonderful breath of life to Mouse and Laura Linney as Mary Ann Singleton is sublime. (I love that word).

The first time I saw “Tales of the City”. I found it riveting. I can’t remember ever being so engrossed in anything on television before. Watching it again last night, I felt the same way. The characters were written in such a realistic way and were portrayed brilliantly. The series brought life to a time and place that made you feel like you were there. It is if you and Armistad Maupin are in the same room and he is telling you the stories first hand.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the subject matter, let me give you a brief run through. Mary Ann Singleton comes to San Francesco from Cleveland on a vacation and falls in love with what she sees. A high school friend, Connie Bradshaw (Parker Posey) introduces her to the dating scene and Mary Ann decides to move to the city. She takes an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane, a complex owed and run by Anna Madrigal, who treats her tenants as if they are her children (she even tapes a joint onto the doors of the apartments). Among the other tenants are Mona Ramsey (Chloe Webb) who always seems to be in a drugged out state; Mona’s roommate, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver (D’Amico), who searches for love in some very interesting and far out places; and Brian Hawkins (Paul Gross), an ex-lawyer who is now a waiter and is always on the make.

Add Edgar Halcyon (Donald Moffat) who is dying but first meets Ms. Madrigal and woos her, his daughter DeDe (Barbara Garrick), whose marriage to Beauchamp Day (Thomas Gibson) is a sham. He has affairs with both men and women behind his wife’s back. There is also D’orothea (Cynthia Williams), a fashion model who is in some way connected to Mona and a mysterious new tenant, Norman Neal Williams (Stanley DeSantis), who has a romance with Mary Ann who discovers that he is connected to Ms. Madrigal in a strange way.

From these characters come the twists and turns and by the end of the three DVD series, lives are changed forever. Here is an ironic and very funny mini series that will hook you in the first five minutes as it addresses a pastiche of events and happenings which occur in a diverse neighborhood of California. Many of the main characters are gay but if you have ever found yourself looking for love in the big city, you will have no problem relating to what you see on the screen. There is nudity and sex but not in an offensive way—everything seems quite natural. Here is a beautiful way to spend a few hours and be completely entertained. What a wonderful series…and there is more to come.

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