Chemsex

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Max Gogarty William Fairman

Starring

N/A

Anticipation.

A Vice Films film… Uh oh…

Enjoyment.

Riveting, unsentimental and always on the search for new angles.

In Retrospect.

A very strong piece of journalistic documentary.

Directors William Fairman and Max Gogarty deliver a vital exposé on a dangerous new trend within the gay community.

For documentary makers, having subjects cry on camera must be some kind of theoretical Holy Grail. Actually being able to then build a cogent film around those tears – to actually supply them with ample and rigorous context, to explore their meaning – is another matter entirely. Directors William Fairman and Max Gogarty achieve this feat with gusto in their dynamic and powerful work, Chemsex, which explores a dangerous new fashion trend within certain sectors of the gay community.

The title refers to a process by which gay men ingest hard drugs (often intravenously) prior to sexual trysts as a way to stimulate and prolong the orgasm. Though short-term gain is actually becoming long-term loss, as the entire subculture is revealed as one that is fuelled by glassy-eyed self-annihilation. Yet this is not an advocacy documentary, and it never once chides the hedonistic activities of its subjects, even though it does give ample room for the subjects to chide the activities themselves. And they do, often complemented with the
aforementioned tears.

We learn in graphic detail exactly what’s happening, how it’s being
perpetuated by social media (and how social media has even emojified things such as injections and HIV), we see a range of differing reactions to the pursuit, and those who have taken it upon themselves to tackle it. The manner in which the material is arranged keeps a dramatic sweep locked inside, as paralysing testimonies take strange twists, and character don’t merely form, but they develop.

There is one man who, very calmly and rationally, announces himself as an HIV denier, and has a handy email ready for anyone wanting to pick his brains regarding this controversial choice of personal status. It’s a vigorous piece of hard investigative journalism which is (just) formally daring enough to justify its existence as a film rather than an eye-opening longread.

Published 4 Dec 2015

Anticipation.

A Vice Films film… Uh oh…

Enjoyment.

Riveting, unsentimental and always on the search for new angles.

In Retrospect.

A very strong piece of journalistic documentary.

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