The Best and The Worst of ARC – AIDS Related Cinema

This was originally posted on Pretty Queer on July 3rd, 2011

See it here

Today, on the 30th anniversary of the now famous/infamous New York Times article, “Rare Cancer Seen In 41 Homosexuals”, announcing the beginning of what would become the AIDS crisis, I offer you a list of my most favorite and my least favorite translations of this disease into narrative form.

AIDS is like the best plot device ever for the lazy screen writer.  The conflict for the protagonist is at once external (discrimination) and internal (disease) which makes it easy for a lazy writer to lean on. For the audience, it is exciting, and implies at least one salacious sex scene.  Straight audiences can watch with a sense of lurid pity and feel like they are really educating themselves, while gay people are mandated by Paragraph 498, section B of the homo code to watch all AIDS films.   In tribute to the style of Diseased Pariah News, I made myself watch, and review,  10 AIDS movies in 10 days.  Here are the results – 5 good, 5 bad, bad ones first cuz I love to hate.  Please note: I would have watched RENT just to trash it – after reading Stagestruck by Sarah Schulman – but honestly, I watched a trailer and it was like AIDS Glee and I couldn’t deal.

The Bad:

Philadelphia

I don’t care if it was your Wizard of Oz — the first thing you saw that showed homos in an even somewhat sympathetic light — this movie sucks fucking balls.  First, there is the obvious choad-factor of theoretically telling the story of a karposi sarcoma ridden Tom Hanks, when it actually is all about Denzel Washington sanitizing his hands obsessively until he attains the profound state where he actually wants to DO HIS JOB AS A LAWYER AND MAKE MONEY WINNING A CASE.  What a hero!   Then: It’s factually incorrect!  AIDS isn’t gonna make your hair turn white or make you dance like an insane person to some boring ass opera.  Actually, strike that, probably neither were complications from the virus.  It was probably the trauma of being married to the sexually frigid Antonio Banderas.  If we have to endure homosexual pathos in cinema, at least let there be a sex scene.

24th Day

I wonder if whatever sanctimonious weasel wrote this screen play ever thought : “I’m being really inconsiderate by creating this piece of work which is pretty much a piéce de (AIDS phobe) résistance”.  And if he did, if he then shrugged his shoulders and was like: “Whatevs…” The synopsis: Straight dude kidnaps and tortures his gay experiment from several years past because he thinks that gay dude gave him HIV.

Solo con mi pareja

False HIV positive test result used as hetero dark romantic comedy plot device. Too soon?

And the Band Played On

Randy Shiltz is like the Chaz Bono of poz gay dudes in the 80’s.  He kept in the closet till it was convenient, then ran his mouth to the world for a pat on the back.  Everything he said got interpreted by mainstream America as the solid gold word of the gay community, while thousands of faggots scrambled desperately to distance themselves from him.

So, anyway, he wrote this book, which was brought to the big screen, about how HIV through North America by one slutty airline attendant and how we should close all the bathhouses and sex cinemas because they are bastions of venereal disease.  Do you know what happens when such establishments close?  Gay dudes still fuck.  In bushes, bedrooms, bathrooms, bar establishments, and a whole bunch of other places.  Places where they are far less likely to have protected sex away from the prying eyes of others or where anal sex might be more convenient than it is in a cinema seat.  What a fucking champion.  I’m glad that Times Square turning into a soulless Disney strip mall ended the AIDS crisis.

3 Needles

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really watch this movie.  I endured the trailer and read the wikipedia entry, but that alone made me so peevish I knew there wasn’t enough klonopin in the world to get me through this shit show.  Apart from having two unnecessary gang rapes, it also tells the tale: HIV transmission is caused by people being fucked up and greedy (but god forgives them anyway).

The movie is composed of three stories, each plot located in a different country–the US one involves a hetero porn actor who suspects he has HIV, so he steals blood from his dying father to pass blood tests, which would totally fly under the radar of usual laboratory protocol.  Eventually his mom finds out he’s a gigolo and makes him stop.  Then, of course, she injects herself with his blood to get insurance money. At the end they are living high off the horse with HIV, eating at some fancy ass restaurant, when one of his former co-workers informs him that he infected her and 8 others because of his lust for porn money.  You know, just your average AIDS story!

And, the Good:

Parting Glances

Did you know that you could have a boner for Steve Buscemi?  Maybe this movie is so good because it was made in 1984, when wasn’t time enough for AIDS to be a trope.  And that is the time period that it’s about, 80’s art fag decadence – with an undertow of panic.  But this movie has an honest current of sweetness that is uplifting.  It’s about a pair of exboyfriends-cum-friends, one of which is dying –- but instead of silent hand holding moments it’s full of crashing plates, fucking with rich fire island gays, and mockery of the art scene. One of the only movies about a queer with AIDS who doesn’t die at the end of the film.

Todo Sobre mi Madre (All About My Mother)

I feel a little weird about putting this Almodóvar film on here, because it’s not about AIDS really – it’s about women.  But really, that is part of why it’s so incredible.  For there to be a poz trans women character who is being searched for as the parent of the main characters dead son, and the future son of a nun who she impregnated and left HIV+, and have that not be the be all and end all of the plot is pretty phenomenal.  This film is a big win, perfectly weaving through a hundred difficult-to-grasp moments.

Zero Patience

John Greyson is a fucking genius.  You kind of have to take drugs to get the full affect of his movies, except for I did that with Fig Trees and now all I remember is an albino squirrel with red eyes yammering at me.  But, anyhow, Zero Patience is about that slutty airline steward from the And the Band Played On coming back as a ghost and witnessing the reaction of ACT-UP folks to an attempt by Sir Francis Burton to create an exploitative museum exhibit about patient zero.  Burton is the only one who can see the zero, the ghost, and so they try to use each other to tell the story they each want to go into the world.  Did I mention that it was a musical?  With singing buttholes?  Michael Callen as Ms. HIV?  Druggggggs.

Sex Positive

The story of Richard Berkowitz – who was the co-author of one of the first safe sex pamphlets – How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach – written before GRID/AIDS was connected to HIV.  He was a hustler and a no shit taking activist, and at a time when people where very confused and resistant he said what he had to say, very loudly.  Some of the things he said, and believed, are not things that I agree with – but it doesn’t really matter.  His character and conviction, not to use a truism, make me feel like this is the life story of family, of the family I want to have.  People that I wish we celebrated today, instead of shutting them out while AIDS non-profit megalomaniacs suck all the air out of the room.

We Were Here

A San Francisco centered movie revolving around the stories of 5 different people who experienced the center of the AIDS crisis in different ways – as caregivers or community members or poz folks themselves.  In the Castro theatre the emotional collective consciousness was spell binding.  This kind of holy silence, while people listened to stories that ripped your heart out or gave you yours back.  There was this boy wearing a leather jacket sitting next to me and as he started to cry the jacket started creaking, I put my hand out and, even though we’d never met before, he took it.

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