An intelligent and astonishingly sunny documentary, LIVING PROOF examines a diverse group of Americans living with AIDS.
Kermit Cole's LIVING PROOF was born out of a photo project conceived by George DeSipio, who had AIDS, and photographer Carolyn Jones. DeSipio's motivation was personal: dismayed by the gloom with which the subject of AIDS and people with the AIDS virus were portrayed, he wanted to document the process of living with the disease, rather than the all too familiar process of dying from it. Jones and DeSipio assembled a cross-section of people with AIDS, and the resulting photographs were exhibited at New York City's World Trade Center. Filmmaker Kermit Cole documented the process of taking
the photographs, and LIVING PROOF is the result.
The film's foremost purposes are to educate and inspire. Purposely downplaying the usual HIV suspects--gay white men, and black and Hispanic junkies--LIVING PROOF gives voice to a wide range of men and women, some of them radically different from the stock media images of AIDS "victims." There are athletes, drag queens, and blue-collar suburbanites, painters and children, poets and carpenters, policemen, gay activists and designers, hispanic women, straight white men and black homosexuals. Cole captures most of his subjects at Jones's airy studio as they're preparing to be photographed,
but follows others into their homes and daily environs. Though most of the subjects sit for informal interviews and address the camera directly, Cole sometimes captures them talking unself-consciously amongst themselves, trading information about new and alternative treatments or just gossiping about one another and their families and friends. A gay men's swim team provides a particularly potent image of health and vitality that seems entirely at odds with images of deformity, sickness, debilitation, and misery we associate with AIDS--and that is precisely the point of DeSipio and Jones'
exhibition, as well as Cole's film.
Inevitably, there is a certain sameness to what LIVING PROOF's subjects have to say about their illness, and some of it verges on platitudinous piety. "I don't have a lot of time to waste," one of them says. "None of us do, really, but I'm just reminded of it every day." This is dreadfully close to "We can all get hit by a bus on the way to work," but it's hard to dismiss it as cliche when it's coming from the mouth of someone who's been under the wheels. "Pain and suffering is life," says the film's most charismatic interviewee, a handsome young gay man named Ross Johnson. "Misery is a choice. I can choose not to be miserable." Johnson, one of the swimmers, radiates good sense and physical well being, though he was desperately ill during filming; LIVING PROOF's one concession to the harsh reality of the fatality of AIDS is the scene of Johnson's memorial service. It's a good choice; cynics may be tempted to dismiss the film after an hour of hearing fairly attractive people reflect that sickness made them reassess their lives, strengthen their relationships with the people they love, and rethink their careers. There's the woman who, after a lifetime of drug addiction,
cleaned up so she could spend her remaining years raising her small son; or the man who left a conventional job to become a woodworker because it was what he had always secretly wanted to do. It's almost impossible not to applaud them, and hope that some miracle will intervene and let them live. Because Cole--like Jones--chooses to make his subjects look as good as possible, it's not hard to imagine that they have more time left than they do.
Johnson's death is a bit of a slap in the face after viewers have come to know him as a down-to-earth cheerleader for the idea of living positively, but it's a necessary slap. LIVING PROOF's message isn't that AIDS doesn't kill, or that anyone is ever happy to learn that he or she has it. It's that life is never what you expect and it's sometimes far worse, but ordinary people can find extraordinary strength when they're faced with difficult circumstances. This is not an original thought, but it's a true one, and LIVING PROOF puts it across in a manner that's neither forced nor
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: An intelligent and astonishingly sunny documentary, LIVING PROOF examines a diverse group of Americans living with AIDS. Kermit Cole's LIVING PROOF was born out of a photo project conceived by George DeSipio, who had AIDS, and photographer Carolyn Jones.… (more)