Our Darkest Hour

Went with a small posse of brothers to the THT screening of We Were Here, a new documentary film by David Weissman, the guy who made that genius film about the Cockettes I was so in love with all those years ago.

It’s a film I always wanted to watch – paying tribute to that terrible period in the 80s where the plague descended on the gay community. Literally, like a Biblical plague, people dropping dead in their thousands from an unseen, inexplicable, remorseless disease that killed and mutilated a specific population.

WE WERE HERE (trailer) from David Weissman on Vimeo.

There were so many moments when I welled up. Mostly when the massed faces were shown, or when mass solidarity happened. But one phrase from one of the talking heads really stayed with me. He has lost not one but two partners to the disease and he is left, for the first time suicidal: “All my friends were dead… there just didn’t seem much to stop me checking out.” I imagined for a moment how it would be if all my friends – all the surrogate brothers and family that my gay friends represent – were dying all around me and i was the only one left.

More than 15.000 people died at the height of the epidemic in just the Bay Area. All in the space of four or five years.

What was most moving and most thought provoking was the transformative solidarity and spirit that arose in that carnage. A real community of care – not just of promiscuous fun – emerged and the gay community showed dignity and strength. I wonder whether that strength is still there or now dispersed into a more particulate community?

Most young gay men I know socialise on line, have sex on line and hang out with a heterogenous crowd that is certainly not the one Weissman shows on the Castro in 1977.

We are more mainstream now and have less need for ghettos – but I wonder how an internet generation would deal with the awful trauma of the AIDS epidemic. Has the momentous soul we showed back then become dispersed into the world or has it just faded away?

I left the film feeling more proud of being gay than usual. I missed the horror by a generation but I am immeasurably proud of the gay men and women who passed through it on my behalf. This is the first proper history I’ve seen.


  1. We Were Here | Geoff Coupe's Blog

    November 16, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    […] tip of the hat to Alistair Appleton over at Do Bhuddists Watch Telly for his post on the Documentary We Were Here by David Weissman. The film tells the history of the early 1980s […]

  2. Brian

    November 20, 2011 at 11:38 am

    A subject much too close to home my dear Alistair,

    I had just moved to the Bay Area in the early 80’s to open my first restaurant. I thought I got out alive and was spared the epidemic, but in 1995 I became so ill I was given 3 months to live. All of 90 pounds and at this point running a large company with 3 restaurants of my own and president of 70 more.

    I was sent to see a doctor at SF General who was working with Magic Johnson’s doctors on the very first “cocktail” approach. The standard AZT did little to stop the dying process, only prolong the inevitable.

    If I had lived anywhere else I might have perished and had I not been a wealthy man I would have never been able to afford the cocktail prescribed. Insurance wouldn’t pay for the experimental regime at the time which was extremely expensive. They saved my life, but I had to slowly relinquish my work duties and eventually take an early retirement at a young age.

    With only a few good years I then got cancer and lost my tongue. After being sliced, diced, micro-waved and poisoned with chemo I spent 2 1/2 years on a feeding tube and had to learn to eat and speak all over again. I was told I had a 30% chance of survival…at this point all I could say was…Bring it on, I don’t go down easily (no pun intended.)

    I’ve watched many friends fall from AIDS and I wonder why I’m still here once a proud productive member of society, now a sad shell of a man with no defined purpose. Oddly with all my business and life experiences to impart to others, I’m am only seen as the sick old man with cancer, a throwaway. Having AIDS is no picnic, but manageable today. However, cancer in my opinion is far more devastating…be thankful for your good health.

    Peace B

  3. Julian

    November 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    As a gay dude myself, and after living through the propaganda about ‘HIV/AIDS’–yes i very much rejmember them ads ont telly!! And also gettin hints from GPs I went to with various ailments, and they would say it like this: ‘is there anything you are worried about’–I FELT, SENSED, something was not right, and this was way before I got online. Well I researched and found it is a fukin scam!! And when I tried to debate about this at one of the biggest gay online forums Justusboys about two years ago, I was almost instantly attacked, banned, and the thread was locked!! Because you see I was questioning the HIV causes AIDS thing, and trying to open the debate and introduce alternative views WHICH DO VERY EXIST! But they would have none of it. I was amazed how gay people who must very well know what shits the State can be (by the way did you see the great drama about Turing last night, and what they did to HIM? I hope you do an article about it?) that this complete acceptance of this HIV/AIDS myth seems very strange to me, and also remember it does not only affect gay people but millions of BLACK people….hmmmmmmmmmmm!!

  4. Bob

    December 3, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    thank you for another wonderful post. it reminded me of scott peck’s theory on group dynamics where he talks about the stages groups go through – from being a pseudo-community, to chaos, to emptiness and finally to true community… the catalyst usually being some form of trauma experienced by a community such as during the blitz and the blitz spirit… and the barriers that need to be overcome to get there – particularly prejudice and misunderstanding. i didn’t live through the period you talked about but can really see how that would have brought the gay community together, coupled with the need to fight for a voice in a heterosexual world. i feel like that sense of community no longer exists as the gay community has become increasingly more complex and diversified. i feel like i catch glimpses of that ‘momentous soul’ from time to time within the community but also see how prejudice and discrimination is increasing within it as a result of greater sub-grouping…

  5. Katie

    December 10, 2011 at 12:56 am

    The momentous soul shown back then hasnt disappeared. I was around and working in the AIDS field in London then, and realised that if you really really believe in something, a cause, or whatever, you CAN change things.
    Back then, in the early days of THT and Lighthouse, the gay community were absolutely wonderful in their fundraising etc. Even tho it was envied by so many other health groups, it was purely down to the passion of so many people who were affected by AIDS in different ways, who got the whole show on the road.

Leave a Reply