Monday, December 12, 2011

WE WERE HERE on PPV & VOD: Weissman-Weber doc explores the AIDS years in S.F.

The LGBT community, not to mention U.S. social history buffs, are lucky indeed to have a second first-rate documentary appear in a single year. After Making the Boys, which offered up the gay experience in America through the lens of Mart Crowley's seminal play, we now have WE WERE HERE, directed by David Weissman and co-directed by Bill Weber, which tracks the appearance of and then the destruction ravaged upon the gay community in San Francisco by AIDS. Even for those of us old enough to remember this whole experience, who lived through it, the statistics given in the film regarding AIDS deaths in the San Francisco area are still shocking.

Co-directors Weissman (shown at right) and Weber are content to give us a combination of talking heads and archival footage. But when the talk is as genuine, intelligent, moving and real as it is here, it is soon clear that we're in for something special. Those heads belong to some wonderful Bay Area people who prove a pleasure -- more like an honor -- to meet and hear, particularly a woman (young then, now nearing senior years) named Eileen Glutzer, shown below, then and now, who found herself losing so many friends during the onslaught that she became first a nurse and then a researcher. Ms Glutzer is so full of the milk of human kindness, you'll want to drink her dry.

We also hear from Ed Wolf (below -- then and now), a gay man who could never embrace the all-out sex-and-drugs lifestyle he saw around him daily. This may have saved his life; at the least it enabled him to work with the dying and to make their remaining time better. At one point all seven co-workers in his office proved infected. All are dead now, save one.

Another voice heard from belong to Daniel Goldstein, shown below, a long-time HIV-positive artist, who talks of losing not one lover but two, and almost every friend he had -- all the while trying to keep himself alive.

We relive the time of the AIDS quilt and Act Up, among other landmarks. We hear of how lesbians rallied to help the dying men, even though relations had seldom been (are they now?) all that friendly between the two groups. And because these reminiscences are so beautifully, movingly recounted, and also, I think, because they come from not the usual suspects -- those people we've seen in almost all the GLBT documentaries -- they take on a reality and strength that seem quite special. Some of what we hear is shocking, some is moving, funny, profound -- even now, after all that we've been through.

It's Guy Clark, above, the long-time owner of a San Francisco flower stand, who sums things up. "This tragedy taught us to be humble, to be honest, to love in spite of death -- and how to be considerate of another person."

We Were Here, inspiring and memorable, is also a kind of purgative -- one that all but the youngest or perhaps least other-oriented gays will find unmissable. It made its Pay-Per-View/On-Demand debut this past Friday, December 9 -- a move which will bring this treasure of a movie to a much wider audience that it could possibly find during its very limited theatrical run earlier this year.

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