Larry Kramer was a shy boy who became a fiery agent of change.
Almost from the beginning of his career, he took no prisoners, doing things that no one else had the guts to do. In 1969, while working in the film industry, Kramer was nominated for an Oscar — he had written the screenplay for director Ken Russell's jaw-droppingly erotic, envelope-pushing romantic drama “Women in Love.” The film's wrestling scene, in which actors Alan Bates and Oliver Reed rolled around fully nude in front of a fireplace, shocked audiences at the time.
Kramer didn't stop there. His 1978 novel “Faggots” was a no-holds-barred condemnation of the rampant hedonism and promiscuity among gay men. It was a lifestyle the openly gay author was quite familiar with, living as he did in New York City. At the time, he was vilified for writing “Faggots,” a book that is now considered a classic in the annals of gay literature.
It was the AIDS crisis that brought Kramer his greatest fame. It was not the fame he wanted. AIDS was first noticed in 1981, when a chillingly unforgettable headline in the New York Times announced: "Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals."
Within a short period of time, thousands and thousands of gay men died horribly painful deaths from the disease now known as AIDS. Most were under 50, and many were much younger. An entire generation of gay men was decimated while the administration of then-President Ronald Reagan knowingly looked the other way.
"It's a disease that affects niggers, spics and faggots," Kramer said in a 1980s television interview, as he explained why the government was ignoring the crisis. That still-shocking clip is seen in “Larry Kramer: In Love and Anger,” Jean Carlomusto's new documentary about Kramer's life, career,and one-of-a-kind activism. Carlomusto's film premieres at 9 p.m. June 29 on HBO.
The film follows Kramer's life as a child, his years in Hollywood and his emergence as the loud, angry activist who rallied the troops as the AIDS crisis escalated.
"It's a plague! A FUCKING PLAGUE!" he screams in another clip shown in the film.
"What would we have done without him?" asked Carlomusto, speaking to PGN from her home in New York. "Larry taught us how to harness the anger for the movement."
The film shows Kramer as he co-founds ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, the radical group of AIDS activists who stood up to the government. Many ACT UP members joined the fight even as they faced their own deaths.
"Why are we kissing this president's ass?" Kramer asked at an AIDS era rally.
"He amplified the call," recalled Carlomusto, who's known Kramer since the 1980s. She acknowledged that many of the people who once vilified Kramer for his anger, bitterness and colorful language now admit he was right.
"People are starting to appreciate his history," she said. "He's not a saint, he's complex, but a hero. I made the film because I want people to appreciate him while he's still alive."
As the film shows, Kramer almost died in 2013. At age 78, he endured a grueling liver transplant which was necessitated by his own decades-long battle against HIV. Viewers might be shocked to see an emaciated Kramer lying in his hospital bed while old friend Carlomusto puts another blanket on him.
"It's very hard to see you like this, Larry," she said.
"Like many people, I was in awe of him," Carlomusto told PGN. "He was not one of my closest friends but I would talk to him, we'd email. I wish his close friend Roger MacFrarlane was still alive."
MacFarlane (1955-2009) was a well-known gay and AIDS activist who worked with Kramer at Gay Men's Health Crisis, the advocacy group, hotline and clinic that was founded in order to help combat the crisis.
Carlomusto also talked about Kramer's book “Faggots.”
"It was a situation he had lived first-hand," she said. "It was a satire of what was going on. It's a funny book, but everyone knew who he was writing about. He told secrets."
Kramer, now 79, has recovered from the liver transplant and is doing well, according to Carlomusto.
"He's still at it, even after coming close to death," she said. "He showed everyone how fearless he is. He hasn't wavered."
“Larry Kramer: In Love and Anger,” will air on HBO throughtout July. It will also be available for viewing at HBO On Demand and http://www.hbo.com.