Movie Review: Glow
Liz Cardoza

We enter a world of sepia tone, sultry brass, and an opening sequence that jumps between the different aspects of a woman who occupies jarringly different worlds. We are transported to 80’s Germany as punk rock, models, movie sets, actresses, paintings, and photographs give us a discordant whirlwind of context for a multifaceted woman. Glow is a documentary about this woman, Irene Staub, otherwise known as Lady Shiva, a person so in love with the world that she could not help but experience every possible adventure that it had to offer. The documentary features photo and video of Irene through the late 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s combined with modern interviews with her bandmates, significant others, friends, and directors. The jump from a collage of her work to the contemporary interviews, glosses entirely over Irene’s childhood – we seemingly will never know about her family nor what could have made her into such a larger than life figure. Instead, the stories of those who loved her show a void in their lives, one that Irene went above and beyond filling.

Glow focuses less on the story of Irene than her legacy and her impact upon her loved ones. Photos of her are used in a mock animation style and the locations of videos of her are revisited post-mortem, but there is never another actress used to portray her. The producers, Onix and Onfeatures films, seem to understand that the pointedly vivacious and over the top air about Irene created an unfillable role for anyone other than herself. The voice of Irene and of those telling her story are preserved through the subtitled translations so as to never sacrifice the narrative integrity of intonation. The variety of techniques used in the presentation of media simultaneously seem to recreate Lady Shiva and her mesmerizing traits while highlighting the absence that her early and unexplainable death created.

A challenge faced by the movie is how to portray Irene without favoring a facet of her life. This is a tall order when describing someone who went out of her way to create a facade as uncategorizable. While this feels like a lack of commitment to themes by the director at first, it becomes apparent that the inconsistent goals are simply an accurate representation of Irene Staub.

As the documentary depicts a bisexual woman in the 80’s, we see a personal and nostalgic view of the queer community throughout the times. The queer community entered is not defined by repression or other traditional narratives, but instead by individual stories of living fully and without regard for external pressure. Self-expression is a main point of exploration through the documentary, shown through the irreverence to gender norms as playful, flamboyant, and pointed.

Jealousy, love, doubt, and rebellion are deftly woven into the concepts of class, sex, love, and more. Womanhood is shown as a seductively fickle allyship of necessity in a man’s world and such a universal phenomenon that all ought to have a vested interest in the defiance of customs used to suppress. Clothing is shown as a social weapon of a notoriously beloved femme fatale. The body is shown as a thing of wonder and desire, with nudity being examined both sexually and purely admiringly. Irene’s endeavor into sex work is presented in a dichotomy of external perception and her refrain – ‘I’m selling my most valuable resource: my time”. In the eyes of her loved ones, it was one more decision by a force of nature who refused to have her life scripted. Glow did a wonderful job in portraying these matters in a raw and intimate discussion, rather than a sterilized footnote. The contemporary interviews were tastefully set against a backdrop of Irene’s own words to retain her ability to define her legacy.

The muse of Lady Shiva as a model, actress, and icon is a stark contrast to the insecurity of Irene.  The documentary starts with the public view of Irene, but as we get to know her better, her walls seemingly come down. Self-doubt humanizes a once imposing and undaunted woman. Her attempts to cross between worlds are made clear to have been in moments out of desperation for understanding. Ultimately, the mythical character portrayed in the beginning of the film becomes painfully real and multidimensional.

Gabriel Baur and crew did a beautiful job telling the story of Irene Staub. Glow is moving, disquieting, and captivating, much like Lady Shiva herself. The sense of discombobulation and lack of focus ultimately seem to be a wise reflection of her life. The use of her voice in telling her story makes for a moving piece of building one’s own legacy while having a chance for her peers to recount her zealous love of life and inclination for rebellion in search of meaning.

Rating: 90/100