Zero Patience (2003): John Greyson’s Canadian Musical about AIDS (LGBTQ, Gay)

The Canadian-produced Zero Patience is a movie musical about AIDS, taking its title from Patient Zero, the nickname given to the French-Canadian flight attendant (Gaëtan Dugas) presumed to have been the first known gay man to spread the HIV virus in America.

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Narratively, Zero Patience tells a fictional story about a romance between Patient Zero and Victorian sexologist and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton (John Robinson), who’s 170 year old.

Dugas, known as Patient Zero, was the target of blame in the 1980’s in large measure because of Randy Shilts’s American television film docudrama, And the Band Played On (1987), a history of the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Having discovered the Fountain of Youth, in 1892, Burton, now working as curator of the Museum of Natural History, is anxious to add Patient Zero to his Hall of Contagion. He comes up with the idea of featuring AIDS and the Patient Zero hypothesis.

Structurally, the movie combines elements of street theatre, direct address to the audience and political speeches.

Some of the numbers are passable, such as “Pop a Boner,” a rousing rundown of bathhouse etiquette, or “The Butthole Duet,” which features a pair of singing sphincters discussing anal intercourse.

Rude and crude (by design), Zero Patience boldly thumbs its nose at the specter of death. But ultimately, the movie’s originality and buoyant gaiety are marred by its muddled plot and poor acting.

Zero Patience opened to mixed reviews but went on to win a number of prestigious Canadian film awards.

The film has been the subject of critical attention in the context of both queer theory and is considered an early sampler of the New Queer Cinema movement