Page 21


MATT WUERKER AIDS. Tom Joslin and Mark Massi shared almost 22 years, and Silverlake Life is the video diary of the final months, after first Mark and then Tom were diagnosed with the devastating disease. It provides striking evidence of how AIDS both wastes the body and concentrates the mind. Before involuntary retirement, Tom was a professor of film, at Hampshire College and later the University of Southern California, whose most prominent student was Ken Burns. Peter Friedman was another, and, five months after his mentor’s death, Friedman flew back from France to accept a macabre legacy: responsibility for completing the film record that Joslin had been compiling. “Life wasn’t like the movies,” Tom tells us, but the professional cineaste lived and died on camera. He made abundant use of a super VHS camcorder to document the stages of his companion Mark’s fatal illness, as well as of his own more accelerated failure. When Friedman arrived at the Joslin/Massi house in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, Tom fading. He inherited 40 hours of footage and a compulsion to complete and edit the report. “Silverlake Life is a love story,” declares Friedman, who addresses the camera in a prologue and an epilogue to Joslin’ s footage. By the time our eyes arrive, it is a love that is largely purged of passion, and mendacity. “I don’t want to lie anymore,” explains Tom about his decision to admit his homosexuality, documented in an earlier film, Blackstar: Autobiography of a Close Friend, a clip of which is incorporated into Silverlake Life. Men who love men, even those who are open about their proclivities, are probably no more free of deceit than are heterosexual couples. “Love,” wrote E. M. Cioran, “is an agreement on the part of two people to overestimate each other.” The sex of the people seems irrelevant to the Romanian cynic. But a recognition of personal impermanence is a stringent solvent of frippery and fraud. Silverlake Life cleanses its frames in final candor. In the parting agony of two gay men, anyone can recognize the straight truth. Much of what we witness the proliferation of lesions on Mark’s dwindling torso, futile sessions with the doctor, an arduous walk through the park is excruciatingly banal. Mark and Tom become increasingly weary and frequently depressed. But, without sensationalizing or sentimentalizing what happens to these men, the film offers up the miracle of tedium transformed by clarity not least during the dreaded moment when, training the camera on Tom’s frail, spent corpse, Mark bids it adieu by singing “You Are My Sunshine.” The authentic measure of a mortal life might well be how it ends, but Silverlake Life reduces two lives to their departures, as though Abraham Lincoln could be summed up by a night at Ford’s Theater. A troubled visit to Tom’s family in New Hampshire’ hints at a life before HIV, before even Mark. It is endearing how much Tom and Mark define themselves through each other, but the film does not do enough to find an identity independent of the virus that was destroying what they were. Silverlake Life ignores most of four-and-a-half decades to offer a microscopic view of two embattled organisms. “If art has any message,” wrote the late Lawrence Durrell, “it must be this: to remind us that we are dying without having properly lived.” Silverlake Life is a fearsome slice of art. BOOKS & THE. CULTUE AIDS, Life and Art BY STEVEN O. KELLMAN SILVERLAKE LIFE: THE VIEW FROM HERE Directed by Tom Joslin and Peter Friedman MUCH OF BROADCASTING, like much of publishing, confuses worthiness with objec tivity, and objectivity with avoiding the appearance of any point of view. P.O.V., a weekly series of independent non-fiction films, flaunts the cubistic truth that every take has an angle, that every image is glimpsed from a particular vantage point. It rejects the tendency of broadcasts and articles to stand nowhere and probe nothing. Aired each summer by PBS, P.O.V. is potent counterprogramming to the costly froth that saturates theaters this time of year. Though PBS opens the sixth season of P.O.V. on June 15, Texas viewers should consult the schedules of local affiliates; San Antonio’s KLRN, for example, will begin the series on June 22, Austin’s KLRU on June 29. Six years is the tenure of a senatorial term, but P.O. V. has already accomplished more and spent less than has Jesse Helms in more than 20 years on Capitol Hill. One of the North Carolina Republican’s more ostentatious actions was an attempt to pull the plug on P.O. V. Helms affected such high dudgeon over Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied, a graphic study of gay black life that opened the 1991 edition, that he used it to try to bludgeon his colleagues into starving P.O. V. and public broadcasting in general into extinction. Both survive, sailing most smoothly when safe from prigs at their helms. Though not nearly as brazen as Tongues Untied, Silverlake Life, the film that inaugurates the current season, is also about gay life … and death. Yet it is hard to imagine anyone, even a tendentious Senator, taking offense or anything but a melancholy illustration of the human condition from this courageous film. Subtitled The View From Here, it is indeed cinema with a point of view, that of a devoted couple who are both dying of Steven G. Kellman teaches comparative literature at the University of Texas in San Antonio. 20 JUNE 18, 1993