AIDS and Its Metaphors

Ara H. Merjian on Last Address

Ira Sachs, Last Address, still from a color film, 8 minutes. Residence of Keith Haring.

IN THE AGE OF AIDS—its losses, its stigma, and the militant defiance that tried to stem these in turn—silence is a charged phenomenon. As the famous activist slogan has it, SILENCE = DEATH; an equation rendered a matter of fact by the government inaction that exacerbated an already rampant pandemic throughout the 1980s. In Ira Sachs’s eight-minute film, Last Address, however, silence evinces a different valence.

Here, in the string of poker-faced facades—the last residences of seventeen New York artists who died of AIDS between 1983 and 2007—the film invites reflection on the lingering absence of some of the city’s most dynamic cultural personalities. The barely discernible agitation of leaves against 542 LaGuardia Place and the chirps of a few birds are the only hints that the camera is rolling film, and not simply shooting a still image of Keith Haring’s old building. By contrast, the procession of cars along Bleecker Street offers up a less solemn memorial to the last address of Cookie Mueller and Ron Vawter. Charles Ludlam is evoked through the synecdochal image of his building’s doorway; to its glass the reflections of passersby lend an involuntary lyricism. Occasionally, the camera homes in on a seemingly fateful detail (a potted plant on a windowsill; the froth of leaves in the wind). In most instances, though, Sachs fixes his camera and lets the city run its fingers over the screen. Its unwitting indifference to the memory of these individuals constitutes the film’s most haunting melancholy.

Last Address, which premiered at this year’s Sundance and Berlin film festivals, represents Sachs’s return to the short format, which he pursued to great acclaim in his work Lady (1993). The film will play in conjunction with a public installation of photographs in the exterior windows of the Kimmel Center on LaGuardia Place (on view through the end of May), which offers further biographical information on the figures commemorated in Last Address.

Ira Sachs, Last Address, color film, 8 minutes.

On May 6, Ira Sachs’s Last Address will play every fifteen minutes from 6 to 8 PM at the Tisch School of the Arts on Broadway in New York. For more details, click here. The exhibition “Last Address” is on view at the Kimmel Center in New York through May 31.