Monday, June 22, 2015

"Larry Kramer in Love and Anger": the early days of the anti-AIDS activist's career are the most interesting

Larry Kramer in Love and Anger”, directed by Jean Caromusto, is a biography of the famous writer and AIDS activist (Wiki).  He is still alive at age 79 and back home in Connecticut with his new husband, to whom he was married while still in the hospital, where the film opens. He was very ill for a while after a liver transplant related to past Hepatitis B, and became HIV positive himself but never developed AIDS opportunistic infections before the time that more effective medications (protease inhibitors) became available.
The HBO film could be viewed as a companion to “How to Survive a Plague” (June 24 2012) by David France, where the history is presented that the development of protease inhibitors would not have happened without ACT UP, which Kramer organized.

But this film concentrates, of course, much more on Kramer himself.  Very early, he is shown screaming that “GRID” (before AIDS had a name) is a “plague” and that it is ignored because of who the “victims” are (with epithets).  He helps organize the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and gets kicked out. He moves to London for a while and pens “The Normal Heart” (May 28, 2014). He then organizes ACT UP.

The most interesting part of the film may be the early portion, where Larry reports being seen as a “sissy” by his dad when compared to his older brother Arthur. He becomes a “writer”, and unlike me, writes primarily at first about others more different from himself, and he does also build the ability to motivate and organize or galvanize people.  He got a couple of major films made: his adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love” which I think I saw (the male wrestling scene), and them Frank Capra’s “Lost Horizon” from James Hilton’s novel, not artistically important, but what other people wanted. That made him financially secure.
The film discusses his 1978 novel “Faggots” and showed scenes from Fire Island.  I remember taking the LIRR, then the ferry, eating at The Pines and walking to Cherry Grove. I thought I would see an image of myself in the footage. I remember also seeing the 1973 off-broadway musical “The Faggot” by David Carmines.  Kramer was one of the first writers to question the 1970s idea of bathhouse sex as a political statement (as in the indie film "Gay Sex in the 70s"). 
Kramer would later write “Just Say No”, “Reports from the Holocaust” and “The Destiny of Me”, and finally the pseudo—novel “The American People: A History”.

 I moved to Dallas at the start of 1979, partly out of a personal circumstance that would ironically foreshadow AIDS. By 1980, people knew something was “wrong”. I first heard about Kaposi’s Sarcoma in early 1982, and in later 1982 I actually met James Curran at a meeting in Dallas where AIDS got its name. I became notorious for my letter-writing campaign to CDC and various politicians regarding an attempt by the right wing (“Dallas Doctors Against AIDS”) to enact a very draconian anti-gay law in Texas trying to ban gays from everything (let alone the military – yet by 1993 things would improve enough that lifting the military ban became a credible idea).
My life narrative differs from Larry’s in that I had another “career” in computer programming for financial security.  I didn’t have to be able to sell what I wrote and I had little incentive to “organize people”.

The film shows images of early Kaposi's Sarcoma patients, including Kenny Ramsauer (story), who was featured by Geraldo Rivera on ABC 20-20 in 1983, along with "healed" (sometimes with scarring) lesions on patients treated with protease inhibitors.  KS was particularly dreaded because of the importance of body image in the gay male community. It is now known to be connected to an unusual herpes virus that gets activated sometimes when cellular immunity is deficient. 

The official site is here

I saw the film at AFI Docs at the AFI theater in Silver Spring. The director is also a history professor. One of the questions led to his being characterized as a “conservative”.

The title can also be spelled “Larry Kramer in Love & Anger”.

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