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‘Commitment to Life’ Review: Hollywood’s Impact on the AIDS Crisis

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Directed by: Jeffrey Schwarz

Featuring: Alison Arngrim, Karamo Brown, Melissa Rivers, Bruce Vilanch, Jeffery Katzenberg, Patrik-Ian Polk

Where to watch it? Currently playing at film festivals (including this year's Outfest). Check out more info on screenings here.

Intro: Commitment to Life Review

Commitment to Life is the latest documentary from director Jeffrey Schwarz, diving into the AIDS epidemic in Los Angeles and how APLA (AIDS Project Los Angeles) joined forces with a battalion of celebrities to combat it.

As a fan of Schwarz's previous works like Vito and I Am Divine, I was really looking forward to this film with high hopes. And it definitely delivers in some respects, giving us a detailed look into the AIDS crisis in LA and the efforts of APLA.

But, like any film, it also faces some challenges along the way. So, let's take a closer look at what works and what doesn't in Commitment to Life.

Unique Perspectives

The standout feature is its distinctive perspective, focusing on the heart of Hollywood. Interviews with people like Jewel Thais-Williams and Bruce Vilanch paint a vivid picture of the vibrant gay scene that thrived before AIDS. These memories are both captivating and touching.

Schwarz artfully shows the unwavering commitment of the APLA members as they confronted the initial cases of AIDS and witnessed the devastation caused by the disease. The interplay of talking head interviews and archival content weaves a compelling narrative, giving us a broad view of the unfolding events.

While it would have been awesome to explore gay life in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s in more depth, the film still strikes a good balance between context and diving into the crisis.

The Power of Celebrity

Commitment to Life brings together a star-studded lineup of figures who passionately advocated for the AIDS crisis. It also delves into the personal stories of famous actors like Rock Hudson and Brad Davis, who tragically lost their lives due to complications from the disease.  

One of the most touching moments in the film is when Brad Davis's widow, Susan Bluestein, opens up about her husband's emotional journey of keeping his diagnosis a secret. Brad feared that revealing his health condition would harm his ability to work and support his family.  

This moment is a real eye-opener because, until this point, the documentary had been applauding the show of support from celebrities towards the victims of the crisis. Brad Davis's story serves as a powerful reminder that despite public support from many in Hollywood for AIDS causes, some actions may have been performative. His decision not to disclose his status highlights the gap between public appearances and private realities.

The Legacy of Elizabeth Taylor

In a film about Hollywood, it's no surprise that Elizabeth Taylor's advocacy takes center stage. The documentary highlights her tireless dedication to raising awareness and funds for AIDS research and support.

Her involvement with the APLA cements her status as a genuine advocate and philanthropist. Through passionate speeches and heartfelt pleas, Taylor's impact on the APLA is undeniable.

Media Representation During the AIDS Crisis

The portrayal of AIDS and HIV on screen is mentioned, but it only touches the surface of this important topic. While it was significant to mention Philadelphia and its efforts to make the epidemic more accessible to mainstream audiences, other influential films and TV shows related to AIDS could have been explored further.

Hollywood played a pivotal role in shaping public perception during the crisis, and a more in-depth exploration of this subject would have been enlightening.

Beyond the Crisis

The documentary takes us beyond the darkest times of the AIDS epidemic, shining a light on the discovery of antiviral drug cocktails that brought hope and relief to those living with HIV. This medical breakthrough was a game-changer, significantly improving the lives of individuals with HIV and extending their life expectancy.

Also, examined is the connection between the AIDS epidemic and the LGBTQ+ rights movement. Highlighting how the crisis propelled the gay community to the forefront of social and political consciousness, especially in their push for marriage equality. It's mind-blowing to think that from such a painful experience, something positive and impactful could be achieved. It just goes to show the resilience and strength of a community facing adversity.

Reflections on Privilege

The film does recognize its own privilege and limitations, but it could have done more to explore the intersectionality within the AIDS epidemic. While it briefly touches on the experiences of communities of color through the Minority AIDS Project and Jewel’s Catch One, it doesn't delve as deep into these aspects as the main storyline.

This missed opportunity prevents the documentary from providing a fully inclusive account of the epidemic's significant impact on marginalized communities, which was often understated.

Final Thoughts: Commitment to Life Review

Commitment to Life fulfills its promises, presenting a revealing journey through Hollywood's impact on the AIDS crisis, where stories of stars intertwine with the struggle for survival, leaving audiences both informed and moved.

While it may not cover every aspect in detail, its poignant moments and eye-opening glimpses into history make it a compelling and informative film that deserves a watch.

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Jaime Blanson
Jaime Blanson
Jaime Blanson is a seasoned filmmaker and storytelling wizard on a mission to amplify Black LGBTQ+ representation in pop culture. When they're not busy crafting content, you'll find them on a hunt for fresh Funkos to add to their expanding collection or championing the continued relevance of Tumblr.
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