Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘AIDS’

120 Battements Par Minute *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th January, 2018

A9BAF350-A708-41A5-98C6-EE75ACE2BC48The 1990s were a terrifying time to have AIDS, when no medication had yet been invented to hold the HIV virus in check. One watched dear, young friends slowly die, often reduced to a skeleton, pockmarked with Kaposi’s Sarcoma and in great pain. Some accepted their fate with resignation, while others organised and campaigned, demanding  governments and health authorities do more to publicise the risks of unsafe sex and the life-saving potential of condoms, and lobbying pharmaceutical companies to speed up the release results of their drug trials. That is the context of Robin Campillo’s remarkable film 120 Battements par Minute, which starts in documentary style filming imagined group meetings of Act Up Paris in a college lecture theatre, discussing tactics such as public die-ins, the invasion of medical seminars using fake blood bombs and participation in Gay Pride. Gradually the different characters involved emerge as individual personalities, from nervous new members with the virus to the mother of a 16-year-old infected through contaminated blood, before homing in on two young men who form a relationship: handsome Nathan (Artaud Valois), who has managed to stay HIV-negative despite sexual contact with at least one infected partner, and the boyish Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), who probably contracted the virus when he was seduced at school by a married teacher. Nathan stands by Sean as the latter’s condition worsens; Campillo’s sensitive handling of the intimacy between them as death approaches is heart-wrenching. Perez Biscayart’s performance is nuanced and powerful, as he changes from being a sometimes angry young man into an increasingly helpless physical being. The film brilliantly conveys the solidarity between the protagonists as well as the atmosphere of the age. Long sections are without dialogue, as we watch them enjoying a disco or going to the beach, and there are numerous pertinent small details, like the alarm clock that goes off at 2am, to prompt Sean to take his pills (which in the early days of only palliative treatment had to be taken every few hours, exactly on time, to have any effect). Though well over two hours long, the film keeps one engrossed and well deserved the Grand Prix that it was awarded at Cannes.


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Behind the Candelabra

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 20th June, 2013

Michael Douglas as LiberaceI loathed Liberace, though I confess that when I was a teenager I succumbed to a morbid fascination and always watched him on TV when I saw he was coming on. I hated the way he played the piano, despite his obvious dexterity. His over-the-top costumes made me squirm, all the more so when the peroxide-blonde ladies of a certain age in the casino audience in Las Vegas cooed and drooled in appreciation. And most of all, I despised him for the way that he not only publicly denied his sexual orientation, but even sued a British publication for saying he was gay. Of course I was saddened when he died of an AIDS-related illness (though nowhere near as much as when the same thing happened earlier to Rock Hudson). But it was only this evening, watching Steven Soderbergh’s extraordinary film, Behind the Candelabra, that I felt some sympathy, even compassion, for the outrageous showman. The story of the film is based on the true life relationship that he had with an initially naive, animal-loving young man who was wowed by Liberace’s talent and fame, moved in with him and his many dogs and who, despite his bisexuality, becomes Liberace’s near-marital partner, until the relationship disintegrates under the pianist’s control freakery and the young man’s insecurity. Michael Douglas’s performance as Liberace is simply astonishing, far more than just an impersonation (though that it is): it is a brilliant interpretation of the complex man and his own demons, some appeased by his hanging on to his Catholic faith despite his sex life, his love of ‘adult entertainment’ and the apron-strings of his domineering mother. Matt Damon as his acolyte-turned-lover has a more difficult task, but captures well the confusion and internal contradictions of a person of limited intellectual or emotional maturity who finds himself well out of his depth. Absolutely a film to go to see, whatever you thought of the old charlatan Liberace in real life.

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20 Years of Abuja

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th July, 2011

For the past week, I have been at a Leadership Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, which has attracted an extraordinary range of Ministers (past and present, including several former Heads of Government), academics and religious figures, particularly from Africa but in fact from all over the world — as well as the odd entertainer, such as the singer Patti Boulaye, who is here promoting the work she does on AIDS with children in Africa. I’ll be writing about some of the discussions we’ve had elsewhere, but I want to highlight here the host city itself: one I have often mentioned in my lectures at SOAS — as a planned capital, built from scratch, like Brasilia — but had never actually visited before. This year it is celebrating its 20th anniversary as federal capital, which is a convenient milestone at which to pause and reflect. Building began in the 1970s, at the height of Nigeria’s oil bonanza, but that subsequently stalled, and the construction is still continuing, far from complete. Many high-level civil servants and foreign diplomatic staff reportedly used to go back to Lagos (the former capital and by far the country’s largest city) at weekends, as they found Abuja to be so boring. But these days there are more facilities and it is actually rather a green and pleasant place, with a nicer climate, fewer traffic jams and a much lower rate of criminality than Lagos. There are few “OMG, wow!” buildings than in Brasilia, but the main mosque is rather fine and stands out against the skyline. I visited the National Christian Centre, which is an immense non-denominational church, which I imagine must be quite impressive when thronged. Here, as all over Nigeria, religion is taken very seriously, and the number of different churches is dizying.


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