Waiting for the Moon: Godmilow’s Lebsian Romance between Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas

A handsome but uncompelling lesbian romance, Waiting for the Moon aims to depict the complex relationship between Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. Toklas announces in the beginning: “There are facts and there are ideas. Gertrude never talked about the facts. Ideas were much more interesting.”

Almost contemptuous of facts, the film opts for a soft approach in depicting the gifted writer-migr and her longtime companion (Stein died in 1946; Toklas in 1967).

Screenwriter Mark Magill offers snatches of a few days in 1936, out of order, as an illustration of the spirit of Stein’s “Cubist” writings. Exploring the 40-year affair–“one of the most successful relationships of this century”–Jill Godmilow wanted to experiment with “art, history and film,” aiming for “a Steinian film” in form and content. Waiting For the Moon was meant to be a radical, post-modern film that breaks away from Hollywood traditions; instead, it was just pretentious and inept.

The women picnic and cavort with their friends, Hemingway, Picasso, French poet Guiluame Apollinaire. Apollinaire died years before the movie’s time frame, but he’s portrayed in good health, even fathering a baby whom the two women adopt. The script takes liberties with dates to promote a narrative that is full of allusions, but whose central characters remain elusive. It’s a shallow exploration: Questions are raised but not answered; much is suggested, nothing is explained

Though they have been living together for decades, Gertrude and Alice still feel each other out. They come off as companionable women, sharing jokes, spats, reconciliations. But neither actress is able to develop a character out of the casual banter. Set in 1936–Stein and Toklas would have been around 60 years old–but in the film, they are played as thirtysomething, with Linda Bassett’s Stein much prettier than her dour character actually was.

Toklas, the personal secretary and demanding friend, emerges as the more intriguing figure. The grave note underlying the light dialogue is Stein’s terminal illness–Toklas is distressed that Stein does not allow herself to be properly comforted. “Why is it so hard for you to appreciate me” Toklans asks.

There are only a few pleasing scenes–a picnic during which the women and their friends join in on “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine,” Stein’s favorite song. But most scenes are feeble, such as the one showing a drunken Hemingway in a bordello. Turning maudlin in a later scene, Hemingway tells Stein that Toklas is a saint, which is a deviation from the way he described her in his story, “A Moveable Feast.”

Under Godmilow’s lethargic direction, the film drifts along, with the camera taking long rests on faces. There’s no exploration of Stein’s mind and no disclosures of the women’s relationship. One longs for some prurience, intimations about their lives, but there are only hints.