There is a vein of unconditional tenderness which runs throughout directors David Weissman and Bill Weber’s documentary built upon the recollections of those who lived through the early days of San Francisco’s AIDS crisis which saw almost sixteen thousand people die in the space of a few years. Using a minimalist music score and loads of snapshots, home movies, and television spots for emphasis, they give their amiable talking heads all the time they need as they reminisce about life at ground zero. From the drifter turned activist to the florist who supplied free funeral sprays to those who couldn’t afford to pay, and from the artist who lost every friend he had to the heterosexual nurse who cared for the dying at S.F. General’s notorious ward 5B, these stories offer a deeply personal account of the triumphs and tragedies faced by the gay community as it struggled to care for its own even as governments and pharmaceutical companies dragged their feet. At times heartbreaking to see candid photos of young men ravaged by HIV against an endless backdrop of obituaries, at other times fiercely proud as men and women, gay and straight, take to the streets for loud protests or silent vigils. Whether you test positive or negative there is no mistaking the tremendous impact that period of time had on our collective psyche, and as someone who lost a partner to AIDS back at the height of the epidemic I found myself having to hit the pause button more than once as one person’s memory pricked several of my own. A sobering memorial (or history lesson for the new generation) shot through with compassion, love, and even a good laugh or two—one man recalls his deathly ill friend trying to decide whether or not it was worth buying the extra large pack of Costco toilet paper! Tears and smiles then, in perfect harmony.
Plagues are communicable diseases, so the best communicators in a culture are the ones who are taken first. They take the young, the beautiful, the strong, the smart, the rich and the well-connected and leave behind the old, the infants, the isolated, the deformed, the ugly, those with mental health issues.
Thus any plague will hollow out a culture from the center. When the die-off approaches 50% of the general population of a culture, the culture itself will begin to die.
This happens in plague after plague. With the diseases that killed off American Indian cultures, one of the biggest casualty of smallpox was actually the Indian languages. Enough people survived to repopulate, but what they knew about was different from what came before.
We have the same problem with the AIDS crisis. The complaint of Septum is valid. He is indeed lonely. To be a living gay man over 50 in America in 2013 is a sign that during the seventies there was something wrong, something that didn't allow that man to connect fully with a proud emerging gay culture that was centered on random physical acts.
So what do we do? Well, we build another world. We work to institutionalize long-lasting gay relationships. Maybe not for ourselves, but for our children.
One thing that's fairly easy to do is to pray to the gay saints for comfort. (It's a two-way street: praying to them as a gay man allows them to exist as gay saints) They are St. Sebastian, Mother Theresa, and Saint Matthew Shepherd who was martyred in Wyoming on a barbed-wire fence in 1998.
Try praying to them. It might give you comfort.
I realized I was gay at age 15 in 1980. Almost immediately, I began to hear news reports about the gay cancer and my fear grew over the years. In 1986, at age 21, I finally had the courage to come out as a gay man. When I was 23, I wrestled with my fear and I became a Volunteer Buddy with AIDS Calgary, when there was no cocktail and guys died in 6-18 months. This movie is the first time I have felt that my pain was given a proper voice. It was so awful to see these beautiful young men die. I felt so helpless as I watched my peers randomly plucked from round about me. As one of the men states in the movie, I was sure that it was only a matter of years before the entire gay community would be obliterated by HIV/AIDS. This movie helped me finally realize that part of the reason I am lonely today is because so many openly gay men my age died in the 80's and 90's. Many of the gay men my age today were deep in the closet or in straight marraiges in the 80's and 90's and I find it difficult to relate to them. This movie has validated my feelings as one of the un-infected who was not un-affected. Thank you.
This documentary about the early days of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco focuses on five people who were there. Two gripes: why do SanFran queens always "insist" that they are the center of the gay world? And how does that ugly guy get all those gorgeous lovers?
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