The Queer Film Classics series from Arsenal Pulp Press has made an indelible stamp on readers. Of the 21 books planned, nine have been released since 2009. It’s an innovative collection of accessible monographs, with the authors investigating 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, there are three new books in the collection this spring.
Susan Knabe and Wendy Gay Pearson’s literary exploration of John Greyson’s 1993 film Zero Patience is one of those three. (The others are 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 with “a John Greyson Movie Musical” tagline. Debunking the myth of Patient Zero – the Québécois flight attendant infamously portrayed in Randy Shilts’ book And The Band Played On as bringing AIDS to North America – the multilayered and post-modernist film blends remarkably catchy musical numbers and unexpected comic relief with substantial political and social commentary.
Knabe and Pearson posit that the film is a pioneer for its time because it doesn’t portray AIDS as melodrama, as all other cinematic examples did until then. Philadelphia, for example, shared a US release date with Zero Patience, leading to many comparative reviews. The authors also explain how the condemnation of anti-sex hysteria in favour of safer sex practices and education was so crucial in Zero Patience, and that similar messages are clearly nowhere to be found in Philadelphia.
But the authors – like their Queer Film Classics comrades before them – do not simply give us a guided tour of Zero Patience or the fascinating external narrative that comes with its release. They use the opportunity for multiple discussions, whether thoughtfully and concisely exploring the history of AIDS activism and community, or generally taking on Canadian queer filmmaking and Greyson’s considerable contributions to it. In just more than 160 pages, the authors offer an extensive and approachable piece of work that goes well beyond simply acting as a companion to Greyson’s film.
A Queer Film Classic
Susan Knabe and Wendy Gay
Fri, March 30, 6pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox
350 King St W, Toronto
Below is a video interview with John Greyson. Below that is a video piece on the so-called Zero Patient, a Canadian airline attended made infamous in Randy Shilts’ book, And The Band Played On.