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David France's haunting, Oscar-nominated documentary is an uneven but impactful experience on this new DVD edition....
MPI / 109 Minutes / 2012 / Unrated / Street Date: February 26, 2013
Cloaked in dirty video scuzz, How to Survive a Plague utilizes its lo-fi visual sensibilities to hammer home it s myriad of terrors that unfortunately would not be out of place in a horror film. Plague is not a comprehensive work – it doesn’t throw its net as wide as, say, Randy Shilt’s And the Band Played On – but its cross-section representation of a world decimated by a new disease is nonetheless hideously engrossing: a couple decades on, it’s hard to believe what we’re seeing actually happened.
What riled this writer during a second viewing of the film were its political moments. From neighborhood sit-ins to full-on Washington, D.C. protests, what I found frustrating was the woeful inaction of pretty much anyone with the power to do anything about treatment sitting on his hands. Presidents Reagan, H.W. Bush, and even Clinton seem to just want the issue to disappear, to be swept under the rug – they each do anything in their power to sidestep anything AIDS-related (at least as its presented in David France’s movie.
As a statement of just how tumultuous and scary a time the early days of the AIDS epidemic was, How to Survive a Plague is a fascinating and heartbreaking endeavor. It’s not a perfect documentary – France hits many of his same points over and over again, with dwindling emotional results – but with its camcorder hiss, How to Survive a Plague puts a face on a time in our history that many high-ranking officials wanted to go away.