Zero Patience

zero patience dvdIn 1993, before there was any real hope for survival from HIV and AIDS, Canadian filmmaker John Greyson created the spectacular indie musical Zero Patience. A little bit dorky, a lot sexy, a little Rocky Horror, a lot indie. A year later the musical Rent would premiere and the world would be captivated by Jonathan Larson’s rock opera based on La bohème. Yes Rent overshadowed Zero Patience, no doubt about it. But there is absolutely room for both in the canon of artists creatively expressing their reaction to the AIDS crisis. And here’s why they need to stand side by side. Rent although marketed as cutting edge actually follows a tried and true Broadway musical formula. Rent reached millions of theater goers worldwide creating empathy and compassion for people living with HIV and AIDS. Zero Patience is an indie film disguised as a musical. It focuses more on the gay male community and doesn’t shy away from controversial elements such as nudity, sex between men, and even a number with literal talking assholes. I’d call Zero Patience historical camp if I had to label its genre. Writer director John Greyson took a huge risk creating a film about AIDS with laughter and music during a time when there was still no hope for anyone who was HIV+. The drugs which would make the disease chronic had yet to be released. In ’93, the AIDS community continued to be cloaked in darkness and death. Greyson’s film focuses on the English explorer, Sir Richard Francis Burton who drank from the fountain of youth and now does taxidermy at Toronto’s Museum of Natural History. Patient Zero – the Canadian gay flight attendant who supposedly spread AIDS to North America appears as a ghost to Burton. The two journey from ignorance to exploitation to passion to truth and finally goodbye. AIDS activist Michael Callen makes a cameo as Miss HIV – the virus under a microscope swimming in Zero’s bloodstream in full drag. Callen died from AIDS the year the film was released. It’s hard to describe how necessary this film was in 1993. We all needed a laugh, we needed a break from the horror. But the film didn’t shy away from making political statements and supporting ACT-UP’s struggle for justice. A brilliant piece of history from one of Canada’s gifted filmmakers. I’d recommend all of Greyson’s work but Lilies is perhaps the only other film along with Proteus available on DVD. A wonderful addition to Reel Charlie’s 30 Days of Gay. 5 out of 5 for the classic madcap AIDS musical Zero Patience.

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