Arsenal Pulp Press’s “Queer Film Classics” series has already made an indelible stamp on readers in the past few years, with six of a planned 21 books being released since 2009. An innovative collection of accessible monographs, the books investigate some of the most influential films by or about queer people. Edited by two of Canada’s leading queer film critics – Thomas Waugh and Matthew Hays – the series is adding three new books to the collection this month.
Susan Knabe and Wendy Gay Pearson’s literary exploration of John Greyson’s “Zero Patience” marks one of the noted three (the others being Greg Youmans’ look at the Mariposa collective’s “Word is Out” and Will Aitken’s take on Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice).
Set against the backdrop of the 1980s AIDS crisis, “Zero Patience” was released to considerable controversy (and the tagline “a John Greyson Movie Musical”) back in 1993. Debunkng the myth of “Patient Zero” – the Quebecois flight attendant infamously blamed for bringing AIDS to North America in Randy Shilts’ book “And The Band Played On” — the multi-layered and post-modernist film blends remarkably catchy musical numbers and unexpected comic relief with substantial political and social commentary.
Knabe and Pearson note how was pioneering the film was in the simple fact that it didn’t portray AIDS as melodrama, which all cinematic examples had thus far (most notably “Philadelphia,” which the book notes shared a release date with “Patience” in the US – leading to many a comparative review). They also explain how crucial it was in its essential condemnation of anti-sex hysteria in favor of safer sex practices and education (which clearly was nowhere to be seen in “Philadelphia” either).
But the authors – like their “Queer Film Classics” comrades before them – do not simply give us a guided tour of “Patience” in itself or the fascinating external narrative that came with its release. They utilize the opportunity for multiple discussions, whether thoughtfully and concisely exploring the history of AIDS activism and community, or taking on Canadian queer filmmaking in general (and Greyson’s considerable contributions to it). In just over 160 pages, they offer such an extensive and approachable piece of work that goes well beyond simply acting as a companion to Greyson’s film.
The book will launch tonight at 6pm on the 2nd floor of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, followed by a screening of “Zero Patience.” The event kicks off a week-long retrospective of Greyson’s work at both the Lightbox and the AGO’s Jackman Hall.