Tag Archives: AIDS

A Virus Has No Morals (1986)

“Mother, what are you doing here? You were always a bit eccentric, but I didn’t realise that you were so perverse.”

A son meets his mother in a public toilet. Nurses on the graveyard shift throw the dice to see which AIDS patient will die next. A virologist uses dildos to demonstrate the effects of AIDS. This all happens in A Virus Has No Morals (AKA Ein Virus Kennt Keine Moral), Rosa von Praunheim’s satire about AIDS. A satire about AIDS!!!! Yes, you read that correctly. There are probably only a handful of directors who could pull this off successfully (John Waters leaps to mind). Rosa von Praunheim is a renegade German director who’s made a number of documentaries about AIDS, and his gay activism brought him death threats in his native Germany. Only someone with von Praunheim’s reputation as a fierce, unrelenting defender of gay rights could make this film and get away with it.

As its title suggests, A Virus Has No Morals argues that AIDS does not discriminate when it comes to infection (i.e. it’s not sent by some deity as a punishment). But when the film begins, we see several moral authorities who have various twisted beliefs about AIDS. The film’s moral authorities include: virologist, Dr. Blood, a therapist (Regina Rudnick) who believes that AIDS is psychosomatic, and a reporter (Eva Kurz) for the sleazy tabloid Purple Pages. Of course, their smug attitudes grant them a certain comfort. After all, if they are fine, upstanding, moral people, then they can’t have anything to worry about….

On the other side of the fence, in the face of infection, there are many who still think they are invulnerable–including a sauna owner (played by von Praunheim). He sees AIDS as detrimental to business, and he tries to dream up social events to encourage business.

By showing the entire spectrum of those involved one way or another with AIDS, von Praunheim illustrates the social dynamic of the disease. There are those who make money off of AIDS by sensationalizing it (the Purple Pagesreporter), and those who promise ‘cures’ (the therapist). Outraged by the “fascist medical regime,” a caring nurse forms a revolutionary group called AIDS (Angry, Sick, and Impotent Direct Action). Meanwhile as paranoia runs unchecked in the country, the Minister of Health draws up plans to start shipping AIDS patients to “ideal isolation” on an island for Quarantine. here AIDS patients will exist in a “post modern viral infection park,” with its own condom factory.

A Virus Has No Morals isn’t von Praunheim’s best film (my favourites are Neurosia and Anita: Dances of Vice), but it is typical von Praunheim fare–very colourful outrageous, and complete with a savage, riotous wit. Somehow, when I watch his films, I have the sensation that the situation is barely under control, but at the same time, it’s obvious that von Praunheim is having a great time making his films. Take for example, the sequences of von Praunheim’s version of Masque of the Red Death, scenes that are interjected into the middle of the film. It’s all von Praunheim madness and marvellous mayhem, and if you are a von Praunheim fan, you won’t mind a bit.

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Filed under German, Rosa von Praunheim

She Hate Me (2004)

“Drop your drawers and let’s get to work.”

When She Hate Me begins, John Henry “Jack” Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) is a corporate executive working for Progeia–a company that is developing an AIDS vaccine. The company scientist Herman Schiller (David Bennent) has an odd conversation with Jack, and then throws himself out of the window. Schiller’s suicide is connected with some shady business dealings at Progeia. Jack becomes a whistleblower and suddenly finds himself unemployed and the target of surveillance and investigation. With all of his accounts frozen, Jack is penniless. Then ex-girlfriend–now–lesbian Fatima (Kerry Washington) emerges and offers Jack $10,000 if he will impregnate both her and her partner. Jack at first resists but gives in. Soon Fatima is lining up lesbians who pay Jack $10,000 each for his services–it’s a “sideline occupation for an ever-changing economy.”

The first two-thirds of Spike Lee’s film She Hate Me is pure genius. Laced with political criticism of the Bush administration and of the capitalistic nature of American society that chews up and spits out individuals, Spike Lee explores Jack’s gradual marginalisation. As a corporate executive, Jack is ready to sacrifice any hopes of family to stay focused on his career. When he’s stripped on his career, he’s left with one only thing–his reproductive capability–but soon even that is divorced from any financial or parental responsibility. Jack is the ultimate sex object, and through hysterically funny scenes, Jack is reduced to “a cash cow.” With obvious allusions to the Enron scandal and the ethical practices of major pharmaceutical companies, Spike Lee skewers those he lampoons while layering societal criticism with some of the boldest comedy I’ve seen in ages.

She Hate Me is full of terrific supporting roles–such as Don Angelo Bonasera (John Turturro)–watch for his imitation of Marlon Brando playing the Godfather–it’s amazing. Woody Harrelson plays Progeia CEO Leland Powell–ever ready with the next BS story to give to the eager media. The parking garage Watergate fantasy scene will go down in film history as one of the most imaginative scenes ever made. Unfortunately, She Hate Me begins to be mired down with excessive, clumsy heavy-handed preachy scenes that detract from the film’s overall style. The plot is too loose and too muddled, but I can forgive director Spike Lee a great deal when rating She Hate Me. This thought-provoking film is well worth watching.

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The Line of Beauty (2006)

 “Didn’t I promise to safeguard your morals or something?”

Based on the Alan Hollinghurst novel, the BBC television series The Line Of Beauty unfolds through the eyes of Nick Guest (Dan Stevens). Nick, a middle class student studying Henry James at Oxford, is invited by his friend Toby Fedden (Oliver Coleman) to stay at his family’s posh home in London’s Notting Hill. Nick is swept away by the Feddens’ prestige and affluence, and as he becomes enamored with the family, he’s seduced by money, power, and sex into the moral void that surrounds the Feddens. Ultimately this is a tale of the 80–Thatcher’s Britain, the corruption of the wealthy set, racism, homophobia, classism, and the sceptre of AIDS.

Gradually Nick is absorbed into the Fedden home and becomes a permanent fixture. Although the Feddens on the surface appear to be a glamourous family, their elegant lifestyle, antique stuffed home, and perfect manners shield a great deal of ugliness. While Nick is ostensibly treated as ‘one of the family,’ there’s always an implication that he has a social role to play. As a personable, unattached gay male, he makes up the difference at dinner parties by escorting single women, and he’s also expected to be a caretaker of hostile lithium-plied daughter, Cat (Hayley Atwell). Gerald Fedden (Tim McInnerny) is a prominent Tory M.P. who’s slated for a glittering career in the party. Pompous, hard, and ambitious, he hides these traits with a blustery joviality and a true talent to diffuse even the most explosive situation. Mrs. Fedden, Rachel (Alice Krige) is the perfect politician’s wife–elegant, poised, but also content to stay in the background, and if there’s anything ugly in her life, she copes by ignoring it.

While everyone knows Nick is gay, it’s a subject that’s largely ignored and never discussed. Nick has a relationship with a lower class, bicycle riding black man, Leo (Don Gilet), and also with Wani Ouradi (Alex Wyndam), the Lebanese heir to a gigantic fortune. Wani, like most of the gay men in the Fedden’s filthy rich set, is firmly in the closet, and he accepts the fact that he leads a risky double life. With Wani’s money and influence, Nick establishes a glossy magazine and even toys with a film script for The Spoils of Poynton.

Nick is an amazingly hollow character, and it’s no accident that he’s a Henry James scholar. Nick, as the outside observer of the wealthy set, is the perfect Jamesian character. As a hanger on of the smug, self-satisfied filthy rich, he’s half in love with the power and affluence of the upper crust, and he’s also an observer of their troubling, tainted and poisoned morality. One of James’s themes is that love is often in competition with power and aesthetic beauty. In The Line of Beauty power is the overriding element in all relationships, and this is something Nick–a class outsider–fails to realize until the very end.

Directed by Saul Dibb, with a spectacular cast, stellar acting, and marvelous sets, The Line of Beauty exceeded my expectations. While on one level, it explores Nick’s moral dilemma as he navigates life with the decadent, rich and powerful set, on another level, the plot is heavily influenced by the master, Henry James. It was delightful for this James fan to drink in the themes and the moral dilemma of Nick–a man who basically knows he should make a moral stand but subsumes his morality to the affluence and power of those who use him–and in some cases–even despise him.

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Filed under British television