Silverlake Life began as a film diary by Tom Joslin, a man dying of AIDS along with his partner, Mark Massi. A student of Joslin’s, Peter Friedman, agreed to complete the project if Joslin became too ill to work, or died. The result is a compelling (and rare) cinema verite study of what life with AIDS in the early 1990s was sometimes like.
Mindblowing moments include Mark’s wistful retelling of his doctor’s description of cerebral toxoplasmosis as a legion of tiny bats slowly eating your brain from the stem base up. In another scene, a hotel manager asks Tom to put his shirt back on if he’s going to swim in the pool, as his dozens of angry KS lesions are unsettling the other guests. As the movie progresses, Mark becomes increasingly sick, and is bedridden, shockingly emaciated and semi-comatose for most of the third act.
Elsewhere, Mark attempts to do some basic grocery shopping, but has to return to his car to rest, exhausted after attempting to pick up a plastic pot. Later, he becomes furious with hunger and frustration as he waits for Tom to return from an errand, and prepare him his dinner.
Scenes from Tom’s earlier documentaries show the younger couple courting each other, and dancing in hilarious early-1970s hairstyles and clothing. Tom’s parents try to talk about their son’s life, approaching death, and sexuality, and some of the scenes with Tom’s conflicted father are especially interesting.
There is so much value in Silverlake Life and it is one of few films that documents the visceral, psychological and emotional impact of AIDS calmly and comprehensively.
Silverlake Life is heartfelt and devastating.
Director: Peter Friedman, Tom Joslin
Stars: Tom Joslin, Mark Massi
Available on DVD - order here