Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: All the Way Through Evening

All the Way Through Evening
Dir. Rohan Spong
Country: USA / Australia
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 70mins

There’s a scene in the charming, if somewhat overly polite, Australian drama The Sum of Us (1994) where the homophobic parents of a closeted gay man watch the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from the comfort of their plush sofas in suburbia. To their abject horror they see their son gyrating on a platform in barely any clothing amongst a sea of body oil, glitter, and high camp. The film may have primarily been about the father-son relationship between Jack Thompson and Russell Crowe, but that scene – especially in retrospect – plays like a perfect analogy for the very sudden way that gay culture was thrust upon the public by the Australian film industry in the early-to-mid 1990s. Two years earlier and Baz Luhrmann was high-kicking a renaissance in Australian cinema into overdrive with his flamboyant Strictly Ballroom, while the same year as The Sum of Us also brought with it the bus full of drag queens of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the return of ABBA-mania with Muriel’s Wedding.

For a moment it appeared as if this country’s boutique film industry was about to push gay cinema well and truly into the mainstream, picking up the lead of the American New Queer Cinema movement as well as the more sexually open elements of European filmmaking that trickled into local arthouses and onto video shelves. Like some grand ol’ coming out party on celluloid, these films were all being released on local and international screens – Priscilla even won an Academy Award! – at a time when the AIDS crisis of the 1980s was disappearing from the news, and the image of the fun-loving homosexual with wit and sass to spare plus ace dance moves to boot was de rigueur. As a gay Australian cinephile it’s hard not to bemoan the lack of such open filmmaking since – oh sure, gay characters are frequently seen on our screens in the background, but the culture has rarely been examined in such mainstream, accessible ways since, instead left to such hard-edged films as Head On (1998), Walking on Water (2002), and the recent Dead Europe (2012).

It’s no surprise then to discover that Melburnian director Rohan Spong has had to travel to America to make his documentaries on gay life. Before now Spong’s most notable title was T is For Teacher, a look at four transgendered teachers in American high schools, but with All the Way Through Evening, however, Spong has crafted a superbly delicate and altogether moving document of one woman’s crusade to allow the victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic to continue living. If not in body and soul, then through their work. An American production, but with some assistance from the Victorian AIDS Council and the Gay Men’s Health Centre, this “musical documentary”, as the credits call it, certainly deserves to be held in the same high regard as recent festival successes and award winners We Were Here (2011) and How to Survive a Plague (2012) for the impactful way it examines the HIV/AIDS crisis.

There is remarkably little to All the Way Through Evening and yet it feels as if it says so much. At a brisk 70 minutes, there isn’t far enough time to get into the back story of Mimi Stern-Wolfe and her “subjects”, but what Spong has assembles is still a loving ode to somebody who has tried to make a difference the best way she knows how. Mimi’s annual concert featuring the compositions of late acquaintances who died (predominantly in the ‘80s and ‘90s in the arts hub of the Lower East Side, Manhattan) sounds like a blessed event and ripe for a documentary telling. It’s amazing how seemingly every year a new documentary comes along telling a new angle to one of the worst pandemics of recent times. This film proves there is always something new to be said, and a new way to say it. That the music featured within this one is frequently soaring, poetic, and beautiful certainly helps.

Featuring the works of four predominant composers, none of which anybody this side of 9th Street, New York City, will have heard of, their songs and their music cut through the proceedings like glass. The stories of Kevin Oldham (died of AIDS in 1993, aged 33), Robert Chesley (died of AIDS in 1993, aged 50), Robert Savage (died of AIDS in 1993, aged 44), and Chris DeBlasio (died of AIDS in 1993, aged 34) will certainly leave audiences in a contemplative place, and that’s probably the perfect end result for this documentary. Releasing in local cinemas to coincide with World AIDS Day on 1 December, All the Way Through Evening is a perfect catalyst for remembrance. With this film now in existence the work of Stern-Wolfe will now always be imprinted in a way to be remembered. She admits to slowing down and who can blame her. In the twilight that her friends never got the chance to live, this woman has done more than enough to make her legacy as memorable as those of the men she has championed for the last two decades. All the Way Through Evening is a fitting tribute to her and a moving viewing experience. B+

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