A discussion between friends, informed but informal, eager for exchange and hoping to contribute to a discussion, practically unedited. We probably missed many reference points but as soon as we stopped talking I realised the most obvious one is 120 BPM. You can nonetheless follow up discussions on that truly great film here:
How did I miss Fast Trip, Long Drop when it came out?Sara Diamond, listed as an executive producer was then a friend of mine. And indeed I knew several of the people listed in the credits. Perhaps it´s because at the time I was moving through Montreal, Vancouver, Norwich and was then in Coventry, where I´d moved to, partly hoping to escape some of what the film deals with, without then realising there was no escape.
Seeing it now, it seems to me no work better evokes the structure of feeling of the struggles over HIV/AIDS, what it felt like to come out at a time when gay identities seemed inextricable from AIDS in public discourse. In fact that´s how this work begins. Bordowitz finds out he´s HIV positive, then comes out to his parents as gay, then comes out as HIV later. The exploration is a personal one. He talks about his father who died young and whom he never knew after the age of four. The music of the film is all mournful klezmer. He talks about his family´s roots in the schtetels of the Ukraine, and how typhoid often attacked, wiping off entire sectors of the population, ie that the unjustness experienced by the generation, my generation, who came out and came into HIV/AIDS was not so unique.
He asks the questions we all asked then: how to remain hopeful in the face of increasing loss. How to avoid or escape the overarching presence of death? Will our future be about just watching each other die? How to reconcile the ´fact that I´m going to die with the daily monotony of my life’; Isn´t this a crisis for all of us…why is it my burden and responsibility? Some of these questions are questions that will affect all of us as we get older, and time and history are actively discussed in the work. But these questions take on a particular urgency in the work because it´s of a time before the introduction of retrovirals, when life expectancy for people with HIV was shortened, concentrated.
I was moved by Bordowitz´intelligent articulacy, by his youthful beauty, by the way historical footage is interspersed with role-playing, autobiography, interviews. It´s a work full of mourning and militancy. It´s my youth. And it moves me to see all those young faces at the demonstrations, enjoying themselves and reminding me that, whilst death was all around, there was still fun, and joy, and sex…and without denying the deterioration, helplessness, death, and lots and lots of tears.
Bordowitz talks to a female friend with terminal cancer, notes that a car could run one over tomorrow, that nothing is set. Indeed he is still with us. I´m far from an objective spectator. I was moved even by those stilted moments so typical of the video art of the time and which I used to then hate. I can´t think of a work that better evokes what young gay men of a certain age in those years thought about and felt.
The film can be seen in the link at the very top. Some of you might also be interested in this lovely obituary of Douglas Crimp by Greg Bordowitz, which also arises from and connects to this period.
Thanks to Gary Needham for bringing it to my attention,
I didn’t know Anthony Rapp had written a memoir until a friend recommended it to me the other day, for which I’m grateful. I was interested in reading it because I wanted to know what kind of man it was that broke the Kevin Spacey story. It turns out he’s the kind of actor for whom it was important to be out quite early on (from when he was a teenager to his mother; and from the early nineties, when he was in his early twenties, to the world at large) and who somewhat made his career out of being so: until, possibly, the new Star Trek: Discovery, Rent remains what he’s best known for.
Much of the book is concerned with family acceptance, with community service in New York, with trying to do the right thing whilst his Mom is dying of cancer and he’s enjoying his biggest triumph on Broadway in Rent. The AIDS crisis which is the subject of Rent is layered onto the cancer his mother is dying from; art illuminating and helping make life and its loss bearable. The bohemians of the musical, and the busy and glamorous life he’s leading in New York always put in tension with what’s happening back home in Illinois. His attempts to find love and not be alone is also played against the very large and relatively oppressive extended family which nonetheless is present to varying degrees in order to help and to ritualise important moments.
Reading the book, one can see why there might be a soupçon of ressentiment from an actor who takes all the risks of being out during the height of the AIDS crisis (Rapp goes right from an AIDS memorial service to his audition for Rent) to one who arguably, by not being so, went on to greater and greater fame. Rapp recounts an anecdote of going out with an actor and breaking up with him because he wouldn’t accompany him on the red carpet thus marking himself as a ‘gay partner’ due to his career.
An interesting and illuminating theatrical memoir from a sincere, sensitive and well-intentioned person that, as is expected of anyone whose star gets a chance to shine in the Great White Way, is somewhat self-absorbed and self-indulgent and relatively unfocussed on any subject that isn’t himself. I’m very glad to have read it.