Remembering Richard Glatzer: How Still Alice was his salvation
Still Alice is an extraordinary film made under extraordinary circumstances, by an extraordinary man, Richard Glatzer. Tim Robey remembers his late friend
Richard Glatzer, who has died of motor neurone disease aged 63, was in physical decline throughout the shoot of his final and now most widely seen film, Still Alice. That picture is a small marvel, made with an unmistakably personal touch. Narrating the story of an early-onset Alzheimer's sufferer became a means for Richard, along with his husband and co-director Wash Westmoreland, to grapple conceptually with the stage-by-stage shutdown of Richard's own body.
When Julianne Moore collected her long-overdue (and richly deserved) Best Actress Oscar for the film - an achievement most directors would happily crown their careers with -she mentioned in her speech that "Richard's health" had prevented him being able to attend.
The directors held a viewing party in Richard's hospital room instead. It must have been doubly poignant that at the very ceremony where their film was celebrated, Eddie Redmayne also won Best Actor for playing Stephen Hawking, the world's most famous sufferer of MND (known in America as ALS) in The Theory of Everything. That film is the story of a half-century's unexpected survival against that illness, but that's sadly not Richard's story, or anything like a typical one. He was diagnosed as recently as 2011.
He already had a great career behind him, as a leading light of the New Queer Cinema movement in the '90s, and had collaborated with Westmoreland on the cult gay-porn drama The Fluffer (2001) and the lovely Latino coming-of-age indie Quinceañera (2006), which won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. But the best, remarkably, was yet to come.
Introduced some six years ago by mutual friends, Richard and I last met in person in the summer of 2011, which would have been back at the very onset of his condition. He was a little infirm, no more. I came to visit and remember having tea in the shady, bowered garden of the house he and Wash shared in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.
He was excited about being given the green light on a long-cherished project - a biopic of Errol Flynn called The Last of Robin Hood, which he would end up making with Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon and Dakota Fanning in 2013. It was respectfully received, but never granted an especially wide release, in the cut-throat marketplace for low-budget American independent film.
Still Alice, though, was special, and a special kind of challenge. Richard's partner, Wash, calls it their salvation: writing the film, casting it, and getting it before the cameras gave them a funnel for their energies and hopes in the last year or so, as the prognosis for Richard's future started to look bleaker and bleaker. By the time of shooting, his speech function had gone entirely, and he was only able to communicate and give direction using an app on his iPad.
Julianne Moore talks of how he instructed her as much with the kindness in his eyes as the words he was typing, and that's a detail that feels entirely true to life.
All who knew him would attest that Richard was a particularly compassionate person, with an artist's welcoming soul.
His loss is tragic -naturally to Wash and their families above anyone else, but to filmdom at large, too.