Can you speak about how the film came about?
Yes. One day, the BBC called me out of the blue. This guy
named Adam Parker, who runs Blast Films, and John Weiser, who used to do
another series, were starting a new series. Their [original] series was very popular -- I forget what it was called -- and it had been going on for years, about
art. And, instead, they had decided to try this thing where the artist
actually collaborated on the film. So they called me out of the blue in
July '95, and I thought I had my own choice of co-directors. There's a
woman in London who's one of my closest friends and a great filmmaker, named Vivian Dick, and I thought it was going to be her and me. And then they
sent over Edmund Coulhart to meet me and it turned out that that was part
of the deal. So, it turned out to be different than what I thought. I thought I was going to really be co-directing with somebody from my own world.
Edmund is a perfectly nice person, but he's a straight, white man from Oxford and he had a more sensational view of our lifestyle, and he was much more interested in the seventies than any of us are.
Now I thought that was a really interesting part of the
film because historically it travels through the seventies, but then on to
more recent events, and I really appreciate that because things seem
Yeah. Well, we had to fight for that. You know, he wanted
a lot of seventies kind of nostalgia and I'm absolutely not a nostalgic
person. I mean, I think whatever time you're in, you have to live that
time and not be nostalgic about the past in that kind of way. Like this
revisionism of how fabulous it all was, you know . . .
Right. So you ended up shooting some, but not all, of
the interviews themselves . . .
Yeah. I shot the Hi 8 interviews. I shot the interview
with Gocho. Alone. I shot the interview with Sharon, with her girlfriend
in it. I shot the one with Greer where she's undressed and I'm playing
with her. Ric [Colon] and I shot [so much] . . . you know, we could have made a
13-hour movie, and that's the problem. We probably would have. I mean,
Edmund was very good at sort of constructing the text. You know,
he got all the text from interviewing me and then he wrote them. And he
was very, very good at organizing all of the material. Otherwise, Ric and
I would never have been able to do that. Ric Colon was the Assistant
Director. He's a riot. He was really passionate about working on it. He
came to London to help edit it and it wouldn't be any good without him
because it was a very problematic collaboration between me and the
I got all the tapes back that I shot, so someday I'll put out
another version. I had interviewed many, many of my friends with AIDS.
And the only part of that you see is the short interview with Hugh
Speers and a guy in the hospital named Michael Ratomski. But I had
done intensive interviews with other people like Frank Moore and Teiji
Fuiuhashi. I shot in Tokyo. I had shot a lot of Super 8; so had
Ric. I had shot some stuff of myself at home. In the 16mm interviews I'm
actually asking the questions and they're filming it.
Right. You can hear your voice. And that sort of
identifies you as there, being there.
But I don't know that it was necessary to bring the 16mm
crew over. I did not agree to all those night line shots of New York or to
something like Sharon riding around in a car in Times Square. It made no
sense to me. I was much more interested in, you know, the real dialogue
between me and these people. It seemed like it took something away to
bring in an outside crew, you know. Oh, and the stuff with Bruce -- I shot lots
and lots of stuff with Bruce in Maine with the boys he lived with. There's
this tiny excerpt of that.
But then they did this interview of Bruce on 16mm -- or we did -- in
some rundown hotel in Coney Island that didn't really make sense. They
were into all those kind of things that Europeans like.
Yeah. It's funny to figure out where people are when they're doing those interviews.
Well, Sharon's at home. Greer is at her best friend's home in New York.
And David's in your home, your place, right?
Yeah, but he used to live there, so it's not so
irrelevant. And Gocho is in my house because he lives in Paris.
There's also a lot of archival film in there as well, isn't there?
Right. And I shot all that when I was 18. I wanted to be
a filmmaker long before I wanted to be a photographer -- and I still do
want to be a filmmaker -- and I got a Super 8 camera when I was 16 or
17. I was very influenced by early Warhol and Jack Smith. So I would have
my friends sit in a room and take their clothes off and then zoom in and
out on them. And they were the most boring films ever. Then I
continued to shoot Super 8, like when we lived in Provincetown and when
we lived in Cambridge -- you know, me and David and Bruce and another guy
named Tommy and some of the queens. So you see some of that stuff of David
posing with his queens.
Well, what's interesting about that and the photographs is
to see the transitions people have gone through in terms of time, you know?
Yeah. My favorite thing about the film is that my work
does that. In my stills, they trace people's histories. I mean, I've
photographed David for 28 years, you know, since I met him. And I
photographed Sharon for 20 years since I met her. And the same with Bruce.
I've known him for 22 or 23 years. And Greer I knew 18 years or
something. It's all about making a record of people's real lives. But the thing I really liked about the film is that you can hear them speak.
So the people who are familiar with my work sort of feel
that they're familiar with these people, but then suddenly these people
become more three-dimensional.
The thing that I don't like is the stuff that was set up, like I do do
slide shows for my friends at home, but everyone doesn't sit on one side of
the room, all kind of stuff like that. And then, you know, Sharon does
sing at Barroco's, but it doesn't look like that. Everyone's not sitting
at the same table. You know, I don't like falsifying reality at all.
Yeah, that was a funny shot of you in that. I don't know.
You looked startled or something. That was the one shot that looked really
. . .
Well, you looked . . . it's funny how you look a little bit
self-conscious . . .
. . . and you never look that way in the other shots.
I mean . . . there was another element there that I hadn't seen and that was odd to see.
And then I would not have included the self-portrait at
the end. That's a piece that I do, but . . . I thought it
would have been much stronger to just end with Bruce.
Mm-hm. Mm-hm. It seems like throughout the film, there
are slide shows, but the slide selection and ordering of slides, per se,
would that be representative of a typical slide show?
I did those for the film. The early black and white sequence of drag queens is part of a bigger show on drag. The series with Gio and Gocho and the Cookie, some of those are from an already existing slide show about AIDS called "Trio Till the End of Time." And then the self-portrait show is part of a larger show I do. But my major slide show is "The Ballad," which is much more complex than that and there are like 750 images that are shown.
I thought this was so selective.
These were more specific and more linear than "The Ballad"
is. When they asked me to make the film with them, I wasn't going to give
them "The Ballad." A lot of the music changed, a couple of the pieces of
the music from "The Ballad," which I had a bit of a problem with. But I've
been doing "The Ballad" for 15 years and I didn't really want
to use the same music in the film. But, you know, in some cases that
was the only thing that worked. One of my favorite parts of the film is of
the credits rolling with Patti Smith singing about how all our friends are
And also Greer, especially the stuff I shot of Greer alone
talking about, you know, having gotten busted and being in a lock-up with
other women and the nature of the trannie . . . Well,
that was Greer in that conversation.
Yeah. I was sorry to hear about Greer. When you were
thinking about the structure of the piece -- or maybe this was
imposed on you -- did you think of it so linearly in that you started
out with your childhood?
No, no, no. That was the BBC.
Do you think that it works in the piece? Because I do.
I do. I don't like my voice-over. I was very badly
directed on that, and I was nervous and, for me, that's the worst part of
the film, my voice-over. I would have rather have said less and
been directed by somebody or, you know, said it to a friend or something.
So, that's my problem with it, my major problem, you know.
Right. Well, it sounds like the problems are the things
that step out of the way from how you usually work.
Yeah. It was a very problematic collaboration between me
and the co-director. I mean I'd like it on the record that it's not
totally my film because it's not my final edit. The BBC had the final edit
and I didn't . . . so that's why I haven't promoted the film all over the
world. It's not exactly the way I would have made it. I say that when I
show it at film festivals. I mean, it's not disclaiming the whole film or
else I wouldn't be talking to you . . .
No, I know . . . I know.
But there are definitely edits that I didn't agree with.
But I don't have problems with those slide shows. I mean, I like them.
They're not what my slide show is but it's something else.
But they work in this context, I think.
Yeah. I like the mixture of Hi 8 and 16mm and the Super 8.
But a lot of the 16mm, like I said, we didn't need it. I think the
interaction with those people alone -- without a crew -- on Hi 8, with just me
shooting, it's more successful than these ones that are more, you
know, with the whole crew and the lights and all.
There's a way in which your work is really interesting in how
it resembles other people's family snapshots, and photo albums, their films
of each other. And there is that kind of playfulness between you and
everybody else. And then that's taken away. In those moments of the 16mm
interviews it becomes really stylized and formalized.
So, but maybe for some audiences, it will help.
Yeah, maybe for TV.
Maybe it'll help them enter into it in a different way.
Well, thanks a lot, Nan. Anything else you'd like to add?
The most important thing about this film to me is that unlike slide shows,
you can't update them, and that everybody's life has changed so much since
that film. Greer is dead. David broke up with his boyfriend. Sharon and her
girlfriend broke up. Both David and Sharon have lost about forty
pounds. Bruce is back on drugs. There's no way to update it, so it seems
like historical fact, where it was only true for that year.
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