Browsing: Thirty Years of HIV, Part II

May – June, 2011

All a Novelist Needs: Colm Tóibín on Henry James Edited by Susan M. Griffin
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When I first heard that Tóibín had written a novel about Henry James, I wondered why. We already had five volumes of the Leon Edel biography. What could fiction add to fact? The answer was a portrait of loneliness. This was an audacious thing to do; there was a certain chutzpah about The Master. Now comes All a Novelist Needs, a collection of book reviews and essays by Tóibín that reflects his deep immersion in the considerable literature by and about James.

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THE OPENING PORTION of We Were Here, David Weissman and Bill Weber’s new documentary about the early years of AIDS in San Francisco, is one of surprising humor, even celebration. Using on-screen recollections of the film’s interview subjects interspersed with archival photography and snippets of the era’s popular music, the film reminds us of the creative energy and sexual exuberance that thrived in San Francisco, particularly in the Castro neighborhood, in the mid-to-late 1970’s. And this upbeat opening is reprised in the film’s wonderfully affirmative conclusion. Between these end points, however, is a sad and sobering look at the ruthlessness with which AIDS ravaged the city’s gay community.

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Michael Jackson: The Magic, the Madness, the Whole Story, 1958-2009 by J. Randy Taraborrelli
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SOME 700 PAGES into this comprehensive and even-handed biography of Michael Jackson, author J. Randy Taraborrelli remarks that the King of Pop would have paid a million dollars for a good night’s sleep. In the wake of his first child molestation scandal in 1994, Jackson worried that his image had been irrevocably tarnished, and there began a fatal descent into insomnia and substance abuse.

Given the details of his sudden death at fifty-he stopped breathing on June 25, 2009, due to an overdose of propofol, an anesthetic so powerful it’s known as “Milk of Amnesia” among surgeons-Jackson’s desperate search for the big sleep takes on an eerily gothic resonance.

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THE GREAT FILMMAKER Jean-Luc Godard said somewhere that art is not a reflection of reality; it is the reality of that reflection. That being the case, to judge by the feature films coming out of the Sundance Film Festival this past January, it seems that GLBT youths are finding cinema to be the outlet with which to express the oppression of living in the closet and the freedom of coming out, both as individuals and as artists.

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Mary Ann in Autumn: A Tales of the City Novel by Armistead Maupin
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THREE YEARS AGO, with his novel Michael Tolliver Lives, Armistead Maupin returned to his much-admired “Tales of the City” series after a nearly twenty-year hiatus. It was a welcome homecoming for Maupin’s many fans …

In the latest novel in the series, Mary Ann in Autumn, Maupin picks up the story of Mary Ann Singleton.

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IN THE END, what is most poignant about Undertow, a new film by Javier Fuentes Leon, is the plight of the ghost. In the small fishing village in Peru where this remarkable film takes place, the boyfriends are able to walk down the street holding hands only after one of them has died-and is therefore invisible to everyone but his lover.

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The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhood by Glen Retief
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THE HISTORY of gay male literature in South Africa is select, and almost entirely white. To this reviewer, the grace and insight of its finest exemplar, Mark Behr’s novel Embrace, is now equaled by The Jack Bank.

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THE CREATION of new drugs to treat HIV/AIDS has just about run its course. The next generation of therapies will involve modulating the body’s own immune system to better control the infection, and modifying its cells to make them more resistant to continued assault by the virus. The most advanced example of this line of research was recently presented at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, held in Boston. It is the world’s premier meeting on HIV science.

The study involved just six patients, but it demonstrated the proof of concept that it is possible to change the DNA of a person’s CD4+T cells so that they no longer express the CCR5 molecule that the virus uses to enter cells. The modified immune cells can be put back into a patient and they appear to thrive for at least three months and counting. Just how long they might last and how well they function has yet to be determined.

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Double Play: The Hidden Passions behind the Double Assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk by Mike Weiss
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Mike Weiss was a reporter at the trial of Dan White, the city supervisor who killed Harvey Milk along with Mayor George Moscone. After being interviewed by Randy Shilts, he decided to turn his notes into a book. Double Play was first published in 1984 with the subtitle “The San Francisco City Hall Killings.” This choice of words was deliberate. Dan White confessed to the shootings, but as a result of a successful “diminished capacity” defense, he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, not murder. White was given an amazingly light sentence and served only five years in prison. Less than two years after his release, he committed suicide.

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