A nightmarish clash comes to life in this devastating montage of inflamed voices, their rage infusing the very grain of ’80s videography. Here is Jesse Helms, railing in Congress against the “offensive and revolting behavior” of gay people. Here is playwright Larry Kramer, erupting out of his slow burn in an ACT UP meeting with biblical fury (“Plague! We are in the middle of a plague!”). And throughout are the pink-triangled young people, hounding Bill Clinton on the campaign trail, chaining themselves to buildings, crying, dying and—most impressively—learning.
Befitting his no-nonsense reputation as a longtime NYC print journalist, director David France shapes it all into a self-filmed chronicle of AIDS activism, pitched at a dramatic wail. (For a movement predicated on speaking out, his strategy makes poetic sense.) How to Survive a Plague occasionally taps the personal, as individuals like frontline warrior Bob Rafsky grow frailer with each passing birthday party. But the true value of the film is universal: These kids study the knotty viral science, pressure doctors into taking daring, inventive steps and make their cause a global emblem. It forces you to wonder why we can’t have two “greatest generations.” Every fighter, whatever the cause, is expected to attend.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf