Larry Kramer: In Love and Anger

By Hans Pedersen, June 2015 Issue.

In 1995, just a generation ago, AIDS was the leading cause of death among Americans ages 25 to 44 – before medications became available to help treat the condition.

The new HBO documentary Larry Kramer: In Love and Anger by director Jean Carlomusto is a work about the onset of the epidemic that’s both illuminating and instructive is its documentation of the measures taken by activist and ACT-UP founder Larry Kramer to stop AIDS during the homophobic 1980s.

This amazing doc proves its points with archival footage, including incredible standard-def video gems of author and activist Vito Russo interviewing Kramer on an early ‘80s public access show.

It’s also a piercing reminder that President Ronald Reagan didn’t mention the word AIDS until six years after it appeared.

Carlomusto’s incendiary movie shows how the eighties were an era of inaction by some, and direct action by others. Kramer is highlighted as the first person in the community to set off alarm bells in the early days of the crisis, when he penned a fiery column in the New York Native, imploring gay men to stop having sex until it was clear what kind of disease was killing their friends.

From the creation of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to the activist group ACT-UP, hotheaded Kramer helped fight the Reagan administration’s lack of action as the epidemic grew worse.

Through interviews, the movie shows how Kramer called upon people to commit civil disobedience and channel their anger in a way that motivated the community. Scenes, including one of meetings where the activist cries out that a plague is happening, help demonstrate his strident calls to action.

The film also presents lots of internal opposition to Kramer within the LGBT community at the time; activists recall that he got frozen out of meetings with the mayor and that many opposed his histrionic words and methods. Others point out that his continued theatrics made headlines and evening newscasts, keeping the crisis in the spotlight.

Whether calling to hang the FDA in effigy and demanding they “get off their tushies” in news interviews, or shrieking “40 million people is a f__king plague!” Kramer produced apocalyptic public protests. Subjects of the movie argue that he created a space where calmer demands for more funding and resources to battle AIDS sounded levelheaded and reasonable by comparison.

What’s so revelatory is Kramer’s self-reflection in candid interviews: He admits he was “pushy and obnoxious” and wound up ostracizing people. But the creepiest aspect of this documentary is how clearly the federal government’s inaction during the AIDS battle was fueled by blatant homophobia.

Photos courtesy of

The movie emphasizes how Reagan never uttered the word AIDS until 1987, and subjects point out how the FDA bureaucracy held up the release of drugs to battle the disease. This was an era before community activists had any voice in groups like the National Institutes of Health, and Kramer is credited with helping change that.

Toward the end of the film, Kramer recalls how great it was when protease inhibitors finally became available – and laments how it took much longer than it should have. Additionally, he credits ACT-UP with helping cut the death rate of AIDS victims in half.

Carlomusto chronicles the history of these developments with tenderness and accuracy. Her film serves as a stark reminder, not only of the banality of evil, but the impact of how one person can help create change, and a group of people can impact the world.

This outstanding documentary, directed by someone who witnessed the crisis and forged a long friendship with Kramer over the years, is gut-wrenchingly truthful and engaging. Her portrait of the activist argues that thousands of people are alive today in part because of Kramer, and it’s hard to argue with that.

Larry Kramer: In Love and Anger hits Valley theatres June 29. For more information, visit

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