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Larry Kramer turns 80 with 'Love & Anger' documentary

The HBO documentary

The HBO documentary "Larry Kramer: In Love and Anger" profiles the AIDS activist. Photo Credit: HBO Docs

Larry Kramer, the AIDS activist, author and playwright ("The Normal Heart"), turned 80 on Thursday. On Monday at 9 p.m., HBO celebrates this singular life with "Larry Kramer in Love and Anger," produced and directed by Jean Carlomusto, professor of Media Arts and Director of the Television Center at LIU Post in Brookville.

A New Hyde Park native, Carlomusto has been associated with Kramer for more than 30 years, beginning with the Gay Men's Health Crisis and then ACT UP (Kramer's breakaway group from GMHC). The film includes documentary footage Carlomusto collected over the years, including as video archivist for the GMHC, revealing a complex, angry, passionate, difficult and, above all, talented writer/activist who catalyzed an entire movement, and changed history.

I spoke with Carlomusto last week.

How's Kramer's health? (he's bedridden at the opening the film -- the result of a liver transplant and years of battling HIV).

He's doing great. I was in Provincetown with him a few days ago, and [friends] had a birthday dinner party for him, and after he blew out the candles on his cake, he looked up and yelled, '80 [expletive] years!' He's still got it. He's still fighting back.

How did you meet?

I was in the Gay Men's Health Crisis and worked there for seven years -- he started GMHC in 1981 and was the driving force. The story of "The Normal Heart" talks about this, which is actually a pretty clear historical description of what went down in the early days of AIDS. [But] when I came to GMHC, he was gone. He was still very much a subject of discussion there, and so when I heard he was organizing this protest at Wall Street that would later become the first action of ACT UP, I ran down there with my camera, and stayed with ACT UP until the early '90s.

You and HBO use the term "complex" to describe Kramer. Complex in what way?

He is complex, and I like complex subjects because in the complexities you find the truth, and oftentimes truth is complex. The truth here is he's a very shy and sensitive man. But he is also a rambunctious rabble rouser.

Not a contradiction?

That's why I really wanted to go into his childhood [in the film] where you can see the seeds of everything right there -- a mother who taught her sons they had a moral responsibility to make contributions to their community [but] also a father who saw nothing good in his son -- who liked theater, movies, singing. He called his son a sissy. [Kramer] learned to fight back against his father, to defend himself. . . . He proved his father wrong.

What's he doing now?

He's working on a number of projects [and] he's writing a screenplay for "The Normal Heart," part two -- it's more centered around ACT UP, and one of the things he wanted to investigate further [is] what happened -- how it became successful and how it turned on itself.


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