Two films about queer love frame grief as both intimate and political.
Kris Kovick, in a photo distributed with Silas Howard’s What I Love About Dying.
When the photographer Peter Hujar died, in November 1987, David Wojnarowicz filmed his dead body lying in the hospital bed. Hujar had grown thin from AIDS: his broad, boyish cheekbones were sunken and covered in an ashy beard, and his clavicle pressed against the limp fabric of the hospital gown. Wojnarowicz panned his camera over the body only seconds after Hujar died, and in the footage, his face still bears the traces of life: his eyes are half closed, but his mouth hangs open, as if it’s about to groan. There’s a fragility to the images of Hujar’s body. The hand resting on the sheet seems strangely narrow; the skin is papery and impossibly brittle, like half-melted ice.
Wojnarowicz, a multimedia artist whose autobiographical, intensely intimate work aroused admiration and provoked right-wing censorship during his lifetime, had known he wanted to make a film about Hujar’s death. But he didn’t work on the movie at all before the event; the Super 8 camera only came out after the curtain was drawn back around Hujar’s body in the bed. In another five years, Wojnarowicz himself would die of AIDS, but not before creating some of his most arresting work, much of it conceived in response to the loss of Hujar. Even so, his film was never completed. What survives is a four-minute black-and-white reel, the footage of Hujar’s body intercut with swimming beluga whales at the Coney Island Aquarium—an unexpected juxtaposition, but one that Wojnarowicz felt was fated. In the days after Hujar’s death, he was obsessed with capturing the whales, finally managing to sneak in his Super 8. Grief has a way of provoking strange impulses. In his diaries, Wojnarowicz said that the light of the whales’ twirling white hides against the darkness of the water was one of the most beautiful images he could imagine. Read More