Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Keep The Lights On (2012): Cracked Relationship

Keep the Lights On (2012)
dir: Ira Sachs

In my review of Weekend, I lamented that I wanted more mature queer films that didn't reflect my life. I wated ones that told a story of somewhere I wouldn't go. Ostensibly, I was hoping for quality genre films, or other sorts of films that weren't just generic gay characters falling in love. In actuality, I love the type of movie that Keep the Lights On actually represents. The Leaving Las Vegas / Lifetime Original Movie obsessive relationship ruined by drugs genre romance that dictates the beginning, middle, and end of a relationship that exists, but that I would never actually be a part of.

When I say that the relationship actually exists, Keep the Lights On is the emotional braindump of Ira Sachs, who fictionalized his own relationship with Bill Clegg. And, to be fair, Clegg wrote about his own life in the memoir, Portrait of a Young Addict. For his part, Ira Sachs has faith and devotion to the relationship still, and it shows through his sensitivity to the subject matter at hand.

What Keep the Lights On focuses on is the creeping influences of drugs and infidelity to a multi-year homosexual relationship between Erik (the Ira Sachs character) and Paul (the Bill Clegg character). Paul and Erik meet over a NYC party line in 1998, where Paul is recreationally smoking dope and introducing Paul to drugs as well. Both being successful white gay men, they fall into a relationship.

By 2000, the edges are already starting to show. Paul disappears for long periods of time. Erik catches him on the party line again while he's out of town. Erik finds Paul passed out in the middle of the hall. They conduct an intervention. Paul goes to rehab.

But that isn't the end, and these two people keep orbiting each other. Obsession. Addiction. AIDS. Life. For another 6 years, they run in and out of each other's lives. Until the end.

Where Weekend felt like Generic Gay Life 101, Keep the Lights On is a very specific movie exploring what it means to actually love somebody who is possibly one of the worst possible people that you could be around, and that could be around you. Sachs is trying to explore, on screen, what it meant for him to love an addict and how hard it was to figure out what the right thing to do was, nevertheless to do those things.

My main concern with Keep the Lights On is that Erik isn't a saint. Sure, he's not the drug addict and the catalyst of all the bad actions in the film. But, Erik's possible enabling in the first two years is glossed over, heavily. Frequently, throughout the film, Erik is shown as the martyr for his love. Even when he's being humiliated in a hotel room, or taking revenge drugs, he is shown as nothing but compassionate.

Keep the Lights On actually does address a huge lifestyle problem in the gay community: crack and speed. While this is also called party and play, or pnp, this is currently seen as a major component in the current rise of HIV among gay youth in the population. But, Keep the Lights On doesn't turn into an after school special suggesting that the addict will spin into a hellish descent, a la Requiem for a Dream. Instead, Sachs keeps things melancholy, and creates a lament for a relationship that was ruined by a chemical.

With Keep the Lights On, a move towards mainstream filmmaking, as well as quality filmmaking, is still apparent, as with Weekend. But, what it presents is a move to reinclude the lost danger that queer cinema had when the LGBTQ community was on the edges in the 70s, 80s, and even into the 90s. The edginess of films like Taxi Zum Klo or The Living End or even Mala Noche have made way for more mainstream acceptability, and the community is finally coming back to be able to tell the stories that may not be acceptable in the hetero mainstream.

Still, Ira Sachs created a heady, romantic, lamenting for a relationship that he has been trying to get over. In doing so, he also created a siren call for the community at large. The drugs that have taken over several aspects of the community. But, largely, Keep the Lights On is a well-made relationship drama which laments the way that drugs affects people's lives.

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