We Were Here
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Posted: Tue Sep 6 2011
Guy owned a popular flower stand. Eileen helped found the Haight Ashbury Women's Clinic. Daniel campaigned for an up-and-coming politician named Harvey Milk. Ed had just come to the Bay Area and come out of the closet. Paul, a hippie, hitchhiked across the U.S. They had all gravitated to San Francisco's mecca of gay culture, the Castro district ("The village you always wanted"), during the freewheelin' 1970s. And they'd all bear witness to the rise of a new disease around the end of that decade, one that would decimate a vibrant community for years to come.
A look back at the AIDS crisis from those who lived through it, We Were Here utilizes an invaluable archive of period pictures and news footage to trace how the Castro went from Edenic neighborhood to an epidemic frontline. But it's the testimonies that documentarians David Weissman (The Cockettes) and Bill Weber get from their quintet of talking heads that provide the most vivid portrait of the times, from the shock and dread of the early "gay cancer" years to the overwhelming grief (Daniel's breakdown over losing his lover isn't the only emotional point, simply the most devastating), followed by the community's coordinated response. It's far from a definitive statement---why does ACT UP, a seminal presence in SF, get such short shrift?---but this oral history provides a righteous cri de coeur for those who perished in the precocktail era. They were here, and the fact that they're no longer with us doesn't mean they should be forgotten.
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Author: David Fear