Saturday, November 09, 2013

"Dallas Buyers Club" recalls my own iving in Dallas in the 1980s

Dallas Buyers Club” (directed by Jean –Marc Vallee) takes place in the mid and late 1980s, when I was living in Dallas and dealing with the tragic practical aspect (friends dying) and political (some draconian anti-gay state laws proposed by vitriolic right wing elements like the “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS”.  I volunteered as a “buddy” (more like an assistant buddy) with the Oak Lawn Counseling Center.  I heard about alternative treatments in the many information forums and sessions, but I never saw anything like what is shown in this film.
Matthew McConaughey reportedly shed forty pounds to play the electrician and rodeo rider Ron Woodruf, who looks emaciated as the film begins (with a workplace accident).  Apparently he was infected by heterosexual promiscuity, and is quite vociferous in his use of anti-gay slurs in the hospital. But when he can’t get AZT even though he has the money without going through a protocol that he doesn’t have time for, he allies with another patient, a drag queen Rayon (Jared Leto), and sets up an import “buyers club” to get alternative medications from Mexico, which he distributes from an old garden Oak Cliff apartment. 
Both actors had to transform their bodies.  Leto (“Nemo Nobody”)  is shaved even down to the underarms, and McConaughey looks waxed just by the disease.  There is a scene where Rayon gives Ron a massage on the very bald calf for a cramp.  It is not erotic. 
Although Ron appears to have pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in many scenes, he is physically up and down, sometimes showing surprising energy in his good days, enough to continue his assertive and physically confrontational manner.  One of the PWA’s I assisted looked like Ron, and had surprising energy at times despite his ghost-like appearance. I didn't believe it when the doctor told Ron that he had just 30 days to live.  Doctors didn't do that with people who were ambulatory. 
The film was actually shot in New Orleans.  Downtown Dallas is shown as a backdrop, but then there are inaccuracies.  There are no oil wells right in Dallas, and no high western mountains for at least 400 miles to the west. 

The official site is here (for Focus Features, Truth, and Voltage).
The film points out that Woodruf survived seven years, largely on alternative medications like Peptide T.  The film mentions some fictitious papers;  the “New York Citizen” of the film was actually Charles Ortleb’s “The New York Native”, to which I subscribed by mail.  Ortleb was big on alternate therapies and other virus and conspiracy theories, like ASFV.
I saw this film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA before a moderate Saturday afternoon crowd.
I started hearing about AIDS while living in Dallas in 1982.  I remember meeting Dr. James Curran from the CDC at an information forum and I corresponded with him by mail in the hostile political climate.  By 1983, there was a lot of publicity.  In the workplace, there were lots of gay men and no one contracted the disease at work for several years.  Yet, I recall going into the restroom and another worker would say, “Bill, let me use your toothbrush.  Oh, don’t worry, you won’t give me AIDS”.  Yes, in those days, people actually said things like that, and you needed a thick skin. 

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