Activism | AIDS/HIV | David France | Film | Larry Kramer | New York

'How To Survive A Plague' Gets Big Review; Filmmaker David France Talks History: VIDEO

Frank Bruni, former New York Times restaurant critic and current all-purpose NYT essayist, today published an excellent review of How To Survive a Plague, the new David France documentary which chronicles the worst days of the AIDS epidemic, particularly as it unfolded in New York, and particularly as seen from the vantage point of ACT UP and its spin-off, TAG. From the review:

[I expected] to cry, and cry I did: at the hollowed faces of people whittled to almost nothing by a disease with an ugly arc; at the panicked voices of demonstrators who knew that no matter how quickly research progressed, it wouldn’t be fleet enough to save people they loved; at the breadth and beauty and horror of the AIDS quilt ...

I expected to be angry. Here, too, I wasn’t disappointed. The words of a physician on the front lines in the early days reminded me that “when people died in the hospital, they used to put them in black trash bags.” Many politicians mustered little more than contempt for AIDS sufferers. “There’s nothing ‘gay’ about these people, engaging in incredibly offensive and revolting conduct,” snarled Senator Jesse Helms ...

But, Bruni reports, there's a lot of beauty and heroism and hope here, too:

While the movie vividly chronicles the wages of bigotry and neglect, it even more vividly chronicles how much society can budge when the people exhorting it to are united and determined and smart and right. 

... 25 years ago, a tribe in desperate trouble did something that religious conservatives who can get their minds out of people’s crotches should in fact admire. It elected self-reliance over self-pity, tapping its own reserves of intellect, ingenuity and grit to make sure its members were cared for.

Take a look at the review, and watch David France talk about his film AFTER THE JUMP ...


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  1. incredibly excited to see this doc.

    and a big Thank You to the men and women who fought and screamed and risked massive public disfavor (and worse) to bring attention to this disease.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Mar 18, 2012 3:09:35 PM

  2. i'm always reminded of Ryan White, and how during his very-public struggles not only with the disease but the stigmas attached to it, stood in solidarity with the gay community.

    he and his family vehemently rejected the label of him as an "innocent victim of AIDS" - as if "those sexually active gays" who got it were deserving of it. it's a stance and a truth and a lesson that i wish more people today, gay men included, would understand and embody.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Mar 18, 2012 3:55:11 PM

  3. Kudos to the people at Sundance for seeing the potential of this film. Can't wait to see it.

    Posted by: Oliver | Mar 18, 2012 4:59:10 PM

  4. Didn't a spokesperson for the Jesse Helms Center in North Carolina say something around 3-4 years ago about how Jesse Helms was a supporter of gay people? It was a preposterous attempt to re-write history -- to pretend that this guy wasn't a monster.

    Maybe some day someone will do a documentary about the popular culture backdrop onto which ACT UP did its bold and essential work. I think younger people today would be shocked by how bad things were -- about how widespread and acceptable hatred of gay people was.

    Some of the perpetrators, like Eddie Murphy, The Beastie Boys, and Andrew Dice Clay, are still around.

    Posted by: Was there | Mar 18, 2012 6:38:23 PM

  5. and some of the perpetrators found redemption.

    Jesse Helms died an unrepentant bigot. Not all guilty parties continue their legacies of shame.

    numerous productions of The Normal Heart have been popping up, NYC and Toronto just had two notably stellar productions - and you'll all be delighted to know that Toronto high school groups were brought in to see the show and have discussions with the cast. it was indeed an eye-opener to most of them. but they were eagerly receptive.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Mar 18, 2012 7:00:23 PM

  6. I applaud anything that helps bring attention to the history of the AIDS epidemic and the direct action of ACT UP [not "Act Up" as the article strangely spells it]. But Mr. Bruni displays yet again why when it comes to being a “gay opinion writer” he should go back to his job as the Times’ restaurant critic. I’m sure he can analyze the heck out of Chez Whatever’s crème brulee perfectly, but his reach to understand gay history exceeds his hack's grasp. His claim that contemporary great attention to same-sex marriage, bullying of gay teenagers, and the Clementi-Ravi trial is the result of ACT UP “advancing the acceptance of gay people” is simultaneously a distortion of the facts, contradictory, and insult to decades of activism before AIDS. These issues have advanced because GAY people forced them there AGAINST the will of the majority of straight people. And if they accepted us so much in response to ACT UP protests why are we still having to fight for these things twenty+ years later?

    As for his assertion that there “are still politicians like Helms out there, but not as many”—where’s he been in the last few years? Mykonos? Sitges? Trapped in Martha Stewart's pantry? Mr. Bruni, meet Mr. Santorum, Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Perry, Mr. Romney, Ms. Bachmann, Mr. Cain, Mr. Boehner, Mr. McCain, Mr. Pence, Mr. DeMint, Mr. Huckabee, Mr. Hunter, Mr. McKeon ad nauseum

    The real lesson from ACT UP's ferosity and successes [though you'd never know it from his ability to connect the past with the present in FUNCTIONAL ways] is that we would be far more equal today had Gay, Inc., not run from, even discouraged and mocked direct action. [And they still are.] As for Mr. Bruni, he first needs to Grow Up. Perhaps he should try being an actual gay activist for awhile before he does anymore pontificating about it. [Feel free to bring cupcakes.]

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Mar 18, 2012 7:50:33 PM

  7. I was first a resident and later an attending physician at Beth Israel in NY. Never, I repeat never, were dead bodies placed in trash bags at Beth Israel.

    This physician should identify the hospital where this occurred.

    Posted by: Putney | Mar 19, 2012 1:27:03 AM

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