Singing and Dancing about AIDS
It has been at least 15 years since I watched “Zero Patience” and I watched it again today because of Arsenal Pulp’s recent publication of the book about it in their Queer Classic Movies series. It is not a classic but an interesting look at AIDS. Patient Zero was allegedly the man who brought AIDS to Canada and he suddenly reappears looking for old friends. He finds much more than he bargained for.
Sir Richard Burton, the noted Victorian sexologist, visited the fountain of youth and has managed to stay alive. Zero who had been dead for three years returns to clear his name for having been the man responsible for AIDS in Canada is pushed aside (as he should have been) and Burton is the only person who agrees to see him. Burton is anxious to use Zero’s story as the center of his exhibition, “Hall of Contagion” and the nineteenth century meets the morality of the twentieth century. When AIDS activists come forward things go wild.
There is nothing serious about this movie that deals with such a serious topic. It is a sensitive and at times romantic movie with a message but the flashiness and glitz make this not quite an educational film but an irreverent look at the terrible epidemic that claimed so many lives. The first time you see “Zero” you will probably be put off by it but after watching it a second time, you will get angry but you will like what you see.
The music is great and the dancing is fun in the bizarreness of this film. What there is not is subtlety. With bitter irony the film delivers an indictment and shows us aspects of gay culture. It is a product of that culture and it offends deliberately—it is a musical tragedy that like the disease itself is controversial. There are any truths about AIDS in the film and it is its originality that makes this film so interesting. Silence here does not equal death and while none of us are ready to sing and dance about AIDS, those in the film do and as they do, they send us a message that we should never forget.