He would’ve scoffed at the next verb: we “met” on ILX in the summer or fall of 2005, sparring over Michael Haneke films but most explicitly about Brokeback Mountain. Smitten for extracurricular reasons, I put aside the movie’s flaws. With Bill, he could scoff at you for many things: sentimentality; the folly of praising anyone you met online as a “friend”; fawning over repressed gay romances played by actors who weren’t Dennis Quaid and Jeff Bridges. Bill called me out on them. His love affair with film was inspiring and a burr: thanks to Bill, I knew I had to find this silent John Ford or that Abbot & Costello comedy. I could never surpass him for a one-sentence quip, which adduced his stand-up ambitions. Impressed, I asked him if he wanted to write for Stylus Magazine, for which I served as an editor. After a Robert Altman retrospective, he showed his command of a prose style he’d spent twenty years honing: every review showed no slackening, quite the contrary; he knew this was his moment, though if you reminded him he’d tell you to fuck off. He wrote for Slant Magazine for several years, each review demonstrating his wit and erudition, going as far as one could go in those days of paid or feebly paid movie journalism.
I can hear his death’s-head cackle when we met in person, twelve years after ILX sparrin’, in Miami, for a baseball tournament. Bill wasn’t the kind of person who asked questions about your personal life, or, indeed, any questions. He was always on. Yet after several hours of eating and drinking I exploited what I loved about him after a dozen years’ acquaintance. I called him a cynic to his face and he said “Fuck you” and laughed. He knew. He was a sentimentalist. He was pissed off the world wasn’t as good as he wanted it to be. A Catholic in the best sense, he presented without your permission a dialectical grace: fight tooth and nail over fundamental principles and bullshit; offer words of comfort you wouldn’t think are possible.
Essential to understanding Bill was his coming of age in every sense at the dawn of the Reagan era. The Democratic Party he read about and experienced — the union-strong FDR coalition — was in its death throes. Then AIDS happened. There’s no way around the fact that he came across as a irascible curmudgeon because he grew tired of having to repeat himself as the consequences of those death throes and Reagan’s influence spiraled past the GOP and into younger Dems and liberals. That’s why I keep coming back to my definition of a cynic: a closet sentimentalist frustrated by the stubbornness with which life doesn’t match one’s ideals. Lord knows we fought in person and on this board: we shared a sensibility but not taste. But I know he respected and loved me, and part of those things means annoyance that I couldn’t see things his way.
To his immense credit, Bill’s passion for film and baseball kept him alive in every sense until his body couldn’t anymore. When I last saw him in July 2019, he asked if I’d seen The Love Parade, Ernest Lubitsch’s 1930 musical starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. I hadn’t. He scoffed — not because he had something on me, but because he knew I could do better. I should’ve watched it by now. A genuine radical, Bill loathed what moviegoing and the Democratic Party had become; he accepted no compromises because in the New York City in which he lived compromises got you killed: with AIDS, the cops, or Clinton-inspired austerity Democrats. Living under these circumstances means you take shit from no one, not least a bony-assed Cuban-American dude who defended Brokeback Mountain. But cynics are sentimentalists because they want their friends to meet what they’re capable of; Bill wanted it for me, for everyone who knew him, and he was humble enough to accept he could accept a little grace too.