Silverlake Life: The View from Here (1993)
★★★★ / ★★★★
When Tom Joslin and Mark Massi, partners for twenty-two years, were diagnosed with AIDS, Tom decided to record their experiences on video, from the unending appointments at the doctor’s to the every day happenings at home. I don’t know anyone nor have I met someone with AIDS. I’ve read about AIDS and seen photos in books and on websites, so I can talk about the disease, in a scientific way, as one would recite a list groceries with detachment. I’ve seen AIDS patients in movies based on fiction and nonfiction. While they allowed me to feel empathy for the characters because of their plight, not one of them prepared me to experience what this film had to impart. I was surprised in the way that the documentary began with acknowledging the fates of Tom and Mark then swiftly moved to Tom’s final Christmas with his family. It was appropriate that the initial focus was not on the disease but on the person who carried it. I was fascinated not only because Tom had AIDS but because he had something profound to say about his past, that he had an entire life before being diagnosed. When we see people who are dying, I think that it’s too easy to forget that. For instance, we were shown clips of Tom’s other film which involved him mentioning that, when he was young, he accidentally found correspondences under a rock written by two male lovers. Aware of his own sexuality, he–although it scared him a little bit–immediately felt like one of them so he wrote them a note. In return, he received dirty magazines for gay men which opened up a world of possibilities for him. Although none of it was reenacted, the images behind the voiceover were so vivid, it felt like I watched his experience unfold and felt his realization that since there were more people like him, he wasn’t alone in his struggle of having to hide who he was from his old-fashioned parents. The picture eventually focused on the disease and how it affected Tom and Mark’s bodies, their minds, as well as their relationship. They talked about their varying levels of pain openly, touched each other’s skin while examining possible new KS (Kaposi’s sarcoma) lesions and, despite it all, showed that they valued and loved one another. One of the most romantic moments involved a good night kiss between the duo. There were so many loving kisses exchanged in a span of less than ten seconds, I lost track of the number. But there were also moments when they didn’t get along, when the stresses were just too much to compartmentalize, from unplanned stopovers when they were supposed to be heading home to the sheer neglect of taking one’s medicine. The film challenged us, too. The one scene that stood out to me involved shirtless Mark swimming in a public pool. I was alarmed; my instinct jolted me into thinking that it wasn’t appropriate for him to be in the water at all because he could infect others. Upon closer inspection, I realized that there was no one around. Secondly, I already knew that the virus couldn’t survive for long outside of the body especially with all the chemicals in the pool. Still, I caught myself responding in such a way. I appreciated that scene because it showed my ignorance and the things that I need to work on. “Silverlake Life: The View from Here,” directed by Peter Friedman and Tom Joslin, takes an illness that feels so far away and puts it in front of our faces. For instance, seeing Tom’s skeletal frame during the late stages of AIDS will not be easy for anyone. The least we can do for ourselves is to look closely.