[dropcap]I[/dropcap]s there love in anger? Or anger in love? The answer might just be a resounding “yes,” in both cases, especially when individuals find themselves in crises, left with no other choice but to act up in love, and also anger, in order to save lives—their own, as well as the lives of others.
During the early years of the AIDS pandemic, silence did equal death. In order to survive this crisis or, as Larry Kramer calls it, this “plague,” people needed a leader, a powerful voice to rise above the noise and despair, in love and anger. And that voice was, and to some extent continues to be, Larry Kramer’s.
The co-founder of GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) and ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), Larry Kramer needs no introduction. And yet, we get to see him—the activist, artist, and also the person—in a fresh and intimate way, in Larry Kramer In Love & Anger, a new HBO documentary directed by Jean Carlomusto. In Love & Anger weaves together Kramer’s life story inside, and also outside the AIDS activism movement—from his childhood and teenage years marked by his relationship with his family, and also with his brother in particular, to a present-day, frail yet still fighting activist, and his remarkable work in between, a work that still goes on.
Snippets of film footage, and photographs from a “then” and “now” fight against HIV/AIDS, and also of Kramer’s own fight are juxtaposed in In Love & Anger to bring into focus a much sharper, and also a more candid portrait of a person many consider a living legend. Interviews with NIH’s Anthony Fauci, and co-founder of the SILENCE = DEATH collective, Avram Finkelstein, among others, add different perspectives to the already complex portrait of Kramer, and also to a portrait of the eighties’ epidemic. “People were slipping through our fingers like grains of sand. There wasn’t a day that went by when somebody didn’t die,” Finkelstein says in a footage included in the documentary, describing the state of urgency of those days, an urgency few seemed to acknowledge. “The world of science didn’t get it. They got it, because it was affecting them,” Fauci is shown commenting on the AIDS activists who took the fight into their own hands, when very few others would stand and fight for, and with, them.
Loud, unafraid to call the early AIDS epidemic “an intentional genocide,” pushy, and enraged, Larry Kramer was the person to unite people in anger, when they needed it most. Considered by many to be the father of ACT UP, Larry Kramer is also known for his AIDS activism throughout the epidemic. His 2004 book The Tragedy of Today’s Gays [A&U, June 2005] addresses the (then) current state of HIV/AIDS, and offers a wake-up call that is as timely today as it was a decade ago.
In Love & Anger also includes scenes from The Normal Heart, the play and movie penned by Kramer, as well as much more recent personal moments from the activist’s life. One of those moments stands out by showing an ailing and frail Larry Kramer on his hospital bed, marrying his longtime partner, David Webster, taking many viewers back to a similar scene from The Normal Heart. (Kramer, who is living with HIV, has had ongoing complications due to liver damage, even after a successful transplant.)
But Kramer is not quite done fighting. He continues to write. “Not enough of us are proud enough of being gay,” Larry Kramer says, commenting on his writing a new book on American history, and perhaps hinting at new reasons to continue the fight. His book The American People saw print earlier this year.
In Love & Anger doesn’t only tell Larry Kramer’s story or that of AIDS, through the eyes of the activist and of those who have joined his fight over the years. In Love & Anger tells a story of determination and passion for survival, and for life.
Larry Kramer In Love & Anger debuted this June, on HBO.
Alina Oswald is Arts Editor of A&U.