- April 9, 2018
It emerged as a dark rumour, rapidly became a reality that was followed by messages of doom carved in funereal stone. AIDS was here and with it came despair, panic, mistrust… an era of fear and oppression. The good news of Wolfenden and a newfound emancipation was swept away by a deadly virus that no one knew anything about.
The new film from France, 120 BPM, charts the emergence of Act Up Paris, the fearless activist campaigning group in a time when fear was king, charts that moment in time when there seemed little hope and what little hope there was seemed to be being withheld by the pharmaceutical giants of the time.
The truth was that people were dying, men and women, gay and straight – and dying in misery and pain. It all seems a distant memory now, with the advent of drug regimes that work in giving those with HIV healthy lives. What was a killer is now a manageable menace and progress is still being made.
I sat through the film in silence. It is relentlessly distressing, there is no light-hearted humour, none of the cinematic tricks that we saw in the film Pride, no laughter – or at least no laughter from the audience – even when we saw those few moments of love and joy that the film clearly has.
What I had seen left me bereft of any ability to do much more than sit and absorb
And this is a film that straddles two ideas, the horror of those early days and the strength of love that overcame that horror, even in death.
I watched in silence knowing that after the screening there was to be a Q&A session with three excellent speakers. I met them before the screening and talked with them about what the film stood for and what it might achieve. But at the end of the film, as the credits rolled in the semi gloom, I scuttled furtively away. Much as I wanted to listen to them talk, what I had seen left me bereft of any ability to do much more that quietly absorb.
120 beats per minute, the heart rate that was so much a part of that exuberant, hedonistic dance scene, the rhythm of the soundtrack to those defining years, stopped so many dead. A heartbeat that was so readily stopped by the onslaught of a disease that know no boundaries, showed no respect or mercy.
What’s changed? So much, new drugs, drugs that work, lives once one hold renewed – for some. But for how long? The world changes fast. Across the Atlantic a new right wing regime jeopardises gay rights, we are pulling out of a Europe where queer rights have made huge leaps and a broader world where in some countries AIDS is still a major issue and gay rights non-existant. 120 BPM is a flagship of how far we have come but also a warning that there is still no room for complacency.