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Silverlake Life

Silverlake Life

Independent Filmmaker Tom Joslin and his longtime lover Mark Massi battle AIDS in the days before effective medication existed. Silverlake Life debuted in 1993 — a time when demonizing queerness was a bipartisan hobby, and the AIDS crisis was mainly discussed through statistics. The film, co-directed by Tom Joslin and Peter Friedman, is Joslin’s video diary, shot as he and his partner Mark Massi were dying of AIDS. The documentary won the Grand Jury prize at Sundance and the Los Angeles Film Critics Award, and the public television series POV broadcast it later that year, for which it won a Peabody Award. It remains a crucial record of daily life in the depths of the AIDS crisis. Most of Silverlake Life was shot after Joslin and Massi’s diagnoses, and Joslin documents with an obsession. He takes his camera to endless doctor visits, as they count lesions and smirk through New Age exorcisms. But he also films Massi doing laundry, in the pool, dancing in the living room. It’s a diary of the day-to-day struggles of posthumous life. Early on, they have a session with a couple’s counselor, which Joslin also records. Massi confesses that he can feel exhausted by Joslin, and he’s particularly worried that he keeps skipping his meds; sometimes he seems to be focused on filming above all else. Devastatingly soon, Joslin is in hospice. So Massi takes over most of the filming, capturing a stream of friends and family as they come to say their goodbyes. When Joslin dies, just moments later, Massi picks up the camera and points it at his body, recording even as he can’t stop wailing. He keeps filming as the coroner comes and gives him a death certificate, and as workers squeeze Joslin’s skeletal corpse into a body bag and take him away. Silverlake Life is singular. It captures the love and loss like few other films.

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