Excuse of the Real

I've made a few documentaries before, and I like making them. Documentary material is usually more interesting than anything I could imagine and I don't have to be bothered with all the tiresome specifics of a fictional creation. Also, I can't be held responsible for material which purports to an actual reality. I am not personally implicated, and therefore can't be blamed. I call this the excuse of the real.

Like everyone else, I wanted to do something on AIDS, a close personal look at a guy dying. Wanting the work to be as effective a documentary as possible, that is, as visceral as possible, I would want to include my subject's death. In fact, the video would not be complete without his death.

So I set out in search of a subject.  These were my initial parameters: In order not to confuse or blur issues I wanted a white Anglophone homosexual male and, for added empathy, he should be under thirty. Due to budget restrictions, I would  prefer one who would die six to eight weeks after taping was to begin, yet be strong enough in the initial days of taping that I could get his basic life story in a couple day's of long interviews before settling down to watch whatever complications the guy has play themselves out.

What I had in mind seemed fairly simple, him talking about his childhood and adolescence, his emerging identity through a series of stories, personal remembrances, anecdotes, dreams.  So the audience would be constructing an image of him even as he himself crumbles away.

I would need some home movies, flickering super-8.  I would use these as visuals. If my subject didn't have any, another's could be used. Everyone's home movies are basically the same and it would simply be a matter of matching hair colour and body type.

This is something else I'd want to show:  the steady degradation of his body and mind. Medical charts would be included, reports on blood cells. I would want to provide a record of each lesion over time, a shifting map of epidermal sores.

This became my problem: as my search continued, I began imagining with increasing specificity the things I would like my subject to say and do. That is: the longer my search took, the more specific my criteria became, and the more specific my criteria, the more difficult, and therefore longer, my search. It seemed an unending spiral, two sets that might never overlap, or share any common points. And even if there were any specific points of juncture, how could I find the individual which would be at this point? My project risked degenerating into fiction.


Once I went to a party, far across the city and got drunk.  When it was time to go the subways had stopped, so I began walking. I knew the general direction home, miles across the night. I was very drunk, all those houses, all those streets. I came across a row of town houses under construction, the basements dug were out to be garages and I climbed down, the earth was hard and cool and I slept for twenty or thirty minutes, awoke and was thirsty, wanting a glass of water and to cup some in my palms and bring it to my face, splashing. I came to a street of large houses. I went around back to one and entered a side door, which should not have been left unlocked. I proceeded up the stairs. Dawn was approaching, a blue and grey light all shadow but I could see a man lying in bed and next to him, on the floor, a German shepherd which looked at me, wagging its tail. The man was facing away, he would not turn around. Is that you, he said. Have you come back to me?


[To see this video, click here.]