serving in silence: the margarethe cammermeyer story
TV Movie, 1995, 3 stars
Directed: Jeff Bleckner
Written: Alison Cross
Sometimes courage is measured in just how much you have to lose. Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer had already risked her life in Vietnam, so one could ask, what was there left to be afraid of? Well, sometimes living with the consequences of just being honest about who you are is tougher than facing death.
Margarethe Cammermeyer had a lot to lose; her decorated military career, her sons, her father, her relationship, even her dignity. Yet she stood her ground and the character that results in this movie (played with as much aplomb as Glenn Close could muster, which was a lot) is really appealing.
For those of you that don't know, Colonel Margarethe (Grethe) Cammermeyer was, at the time she came out, the highest ranking officer ever to be discharged from the US military for being gay. She fought the discharge in the military and civilian courts, and was eventually reinstated. Colonel Cammermeyer's struggle contributed enormously to gaining more rights for gays and lesbians in the US military, and she continues to speak on the subject around the United States.
This story of one woman's courage to stand up and not be intimidated by the might of the military machine deserved much more than an 85-minute telemovie. Her life makes for an extraordinary tale. This film had some real Hollywood might behind it, in front and behind the camera, most importantly Glenn Close, Judy Davis and Barbra Streisand, enough clout one would think to get a film like this to the big screen with a bigger budget.
However, I guess you could argue that projects like this get seen by a lot more people on TV than they would if they were cinema releases, simply because of the limited distribution potential of lesbian film. It is also because of the popularity and achievement of TV movies like this that other lesbian related TV projects such as A Girl Thing and If These Walls Could Talk 2 could get off the ground.
The teleplay was penned by Alison Cross who seems to specialise in stories about women fighting male dominated bureaucracies (she also wrote the TV movies Roe vs Wade and With Hostile Intent, about abortion rights and sexual harassment in the police force respectively).
Something I really loved about Serving in Silence was that it explored relationships between women in their mid-to-late forties. While film appears to be the medium that represents younger lesbians, most of the portrayals of older lesbians seem to come from TV. Also, this deals with a woman who discovers her lesbianism later in life after having children and having to cope with coming out to them. There are more of these women out there than film and TV seems to think, and I was so happy to see at least one story about this make it to the screen.
Can you feel the "But..." coming?
Here we've got an amazing story to tell, an accomplished screenwriter and a talented cast, so what went wrong? I guess I have to be petty here and say that while the reach of television may have helped bring this story to more people, the sacrifices that had to be made to accomodate the medium frustrated the hell out of me.
For instance, the chemistry was there between Glenn Close and Judy Davis, but it was so annoying that the script didn't allow them to explore it. I'm not saying I wanted sex, but the film seemed to always picture them sitting on opposite sides of the room, or with other people, or just kidding around like best friends. A bit more soul in the romance would have made things much more enjoyable.
Also, the ending was way too abrupt. I was really happy with all the earlier family sequences, they really fleshed out the character and tugged at the heartstrings, but I was just getting into the whole cheering and "Yay, sock it to 'em" excitement of her court battles, and then boom, it's over. Roll credits. I was left with this feeling of "hey, did some idiot edit out the ending?" The voiceover at the end was a "telling not showing" moment, and didn't come close to compensating for the abruptness.
This highlights yet another restriction of TV. The time limitations really restrict how much material you can explore, and this film chose to concentrate more on her coming out and anguish with her family rather than on the court battle itself, the results of which I guess are probably the most common knowledge element of her life story.
Unfortunately, when I saw the story I knew nothing about her. I didn't even know who she was - it could have been fiction for all I knew. To their credit, the film was actually made before the end of the highest level court proceedings and appeals (which Cammermeyer won!), so it would have been limited what they could show, but I still can't shake this feeling that it was missing something important.
So, a little more feeling between the women, and a bit more detail to the end and I would have been a very satisfied customer. As it is, I keep remembering this film as the one that will probably have broader mainstream appeal than most other lesbian films, precisely because the things I wanted more of were missing.
(Fan Trailer below!)