To get things out of the way, this review is not for the series but for the documentary, and just like films of any genre, Gabriel Baur’s Glow shows us things that feel true even if one can argue for or against such truths. One of these truisms is that things stay the same but people don’t. Federico Emmanuel Pfaffen is a Swiss director, one of the obscure luminaries in the avant-garde Zurich theatre scene.
Pfaffen goes to one of his abandoned rehearsal places and some of the objects he left are still there. He has a professorial air, a change from his wunderkind days of the 1970s. And some of his actors are no longer around. One of those actors is Glow‘s main subject, Irene Staub, or Lady Shiva. She’s an actress, musician, and sex worker, and there’s an air of sadness while discussing her absence.
For the most part, Glow balances its depiction of Irene Staub’s life as a multi-hyphenate with that of interviewees like Pfaffen, who talk about things like euphoria before eventually circling back to Staub’s understanding of those concepts. They speak for her for obvious reasons, but they do so…glowingly. And not just because of how she charmed Catherine Deneuve, or how she called Helmut Newton out for his BS.
Glow, thankfully, has clips of Lady Shiva’s interviews so she can speak for herself, especially when it comes to her sex work. This is good because the film’s other interviewees are surprisingly retrograde. No, I’m not comfortable totally with how the film approaches sex work, but it’s rich enough of a text about that. The man interviewing her, who looks like musician Karl Lienert, tells her that he doesn’t know that world, which is indicative of such divisions even in certain scenes.
There are reasons why Glow‘s other subjects talk about Lady Shiva’s sex work they way they do, and it’s because they wanted her for themselves. We see this through archive footage and second hand interviews from Pfaffen and designers like Ursula Rodel. And viewers can feel her in photos where she has glam rock makeup. Every scene has romantic tensions like these. These photos reinforce the kind of hold she has on people even in a film that feels like a typical doc.
Every scene has its romantic tensions. It also has a tragic artistic figure, and Zurich’s just happens to be Lady Shiva. A film like Glow reminds its viewers a few things about artists like her. It subverts the idea that they have to make it big. She went places and ghosted bigger opportunities because she wanted to. But she still lives on within those who remember her and will tell everyone about her.
Watch Glow on OVID.