13 AUGUST 1994, Page 32


Zero Patience (18', selected cinemas)

Silly buggers

Mark Steyn

Society,' says John Greyson, writer/director of Zero Patience, 'has never been comfy with buttholes, especially queer buttholes.' Au contraire, society seems more comfy with queer buttholes than many queers: listen to Call Nick Ross whenever Ian McKellen or some other dignified spokesperson for the 'gay community' turns up to discuss non-discriminatory legislation only to find himself under siege from a Mid- dle England preoccupied by the tensile defi- ciencies of the rectal lining and other detailed rebuttals of details re buttholes. Queerly enough, it's the gay lobby which seems sheepish about what is, in fact, homo- sexuality's defining act and which has evad- ed the issue by persuading health officials to promote a false equivalence between all forms of sexual activity. `Use a condom each and every time you make love,' Elizabeth Taylor advises. Every time, Liz?

Pressure groups still complain that Hol- lywood doesn't promote positive images of gays, but put the question the other way: when was the last time Hollywood promot- ed a negative gay image? In American movies and television shows, the gays are always the nicest guys, the most civilised, the most supportive; in Northern Exposure, they're the most normal: an acceptable face, if not yet an acceptable butthole. If you subscribe to this butter-wouldn't-melt- in-his-butt school of homosexuality, then Philadelphia is a triumph: Tom Hanks has been in a monogamous — indeed, to all intents and purposes, chaste — relation- ship with Antonio Banderas for years, but is struck down because of one moment of weakness in the back row of a porno house a decade earlier.

As a case study, this is so untypical as to be worthless. How about, say, Derek Jar- man? In a stable, permanent relationship yet cruising on Hampstead Heath most nights until almost the end of his life. Or Edmund White, telling BBC2 viewers of the 'beauty' of fleeting, anonymous sex — even the brief encounter which fatally infected him. You wonder whether White isn't confusing anal sex with banal sex: the media routinely deride the five-times-a- knight magnates bimboing away the small hours in trashy nightclubs, but The Late Show quietly accepts the need of gay artists and intellectuals to writhe around under glistening oiled Adonises in the so-called `fuck rooms' of Seventies bath-houses. The great Aids movie will be the one that attempts to show a mainstream audience what's 'beautiful' about such couplings (or triplings).

Zero Patience, the first Canadian Aids musical in motion picture history, is also the first film to suggest that the polite gay consensus cannot hold: there's a scene at an Aids activists' meeting at which every- one agrees, crossing and uncrossing their legs with the precision of Radio City Rock- ettes, except for one fellow who wonders why being HIV-positive means being so damned positive the whole time. Nominally, it's the story of Victorian adventurer Sir Richard Burton, now apparently a Toronto taxidermist, and Patient Zero, a fiction- alised version of the promiscuous Montreal air steward who supposedly introduced Aids to North America. But the characters are little more than ciphers for points of view, and both dialogue and lyrics are mostly facts and assertions. At its worst moments, it plods; at other times, it looks like a series of droll public health announcements designed to cheer up those most concerned — especially when an air hostess on PWA (i.e. People With Aids) instructs her passengers in the 'Empower- ment Drill'. But, number by number, though handicapped by a dull composer, Greyson does what few other gay activists have been prepared to do: he shows how Aids orthodoxy has, in fact, no facts.

So Miss HIV — played by a Streisand drag queen — complains that, with no sci- entific evidence, she's been fingered as the sole cause of Aids; an African green mon- key sings about being credited with spread- ing Aids to human beings — again, it's unproven. Even Zero himself: if he brought Aids to America, how come they've found people who died with Aids symptoms back in the Sixties? For all the camping about, Greyson recognises that homosexuals ought to be questioning themselves rather than, as The Band Played On did, blaming easy but irrelevant targets like Ronald Rea- gan. The big number is the singing butt- holes — Burton's and Zero's, side by side in bed. It was time to let them speak (or sing) for themselves,' says Greyson. Zero's butt denies it's a symbol; it's just an ass- hole. But, intentionally or not, Greyson's hit on the aptest of metaphors: for too long, the Aids industry has been talking through its arse.