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Saturday, January 04, 2003

DVD review: Circuit, directed by Dirk Shafer

Director Dirk Shafter offers a beautiful, glossy nightmare, with a dazzling soundtrack and wild camera angles. When John, played with perfect innocence and occasional disgust by Jonathan Wade-Drahos, suffers a gay-bashing at the hands of the very police force he serves on, he decides to move to L.A. and spend time with his gay cousin, Tad. Driving down the streets of L.A. and seeing openly gay men holding hands in public makes John smile. But then, when he arrives at Tad’s house, he receives his first glimpses of a party scene that can destroy relationships and lives.

Despite his attempts to the contrary, John soon becomes caught up in the drug culture of Circuits—huge weekend parties for gay men. Besides making an incredible amount of money for the organizers, these events often provide a setting for drug trafficking, often leading to unsafe sex. Considering that the events cater strictly to gay men, all of that leads to the spread of HIV. As one character ironically points out, the events sometimes promote themselves as fund-raisers for AIDS, or as places where condoms and safe-sex messages make their way to the gay male community.

I keep saying “gay male,” because lesbians are at much lower HIV risk than gay men, bi women, heterosexual men, or heterosexual women. Then again, I doubt most lesbians would support events so centered on youthful, physical perfection, or that most lesbians would endanger their bodies through steroid usage. In the culture depicted in this movie, steroids seem more like a requirement than an indulgence; each man must look like a young, beautiful Adonis, but with garish and absurdly expensive clothing that will make him cringe when (and if) he gets older. Of course, Shafer never makes it appear that all gay men like the circuit scene, but he shows how it can easily draw them in by the hundreds.

John has two tender, stabilizing relationships: one with his former girlfriend, and one with Tad’s former boyfriend. Unfortunately, the less healthy relationships threaten to destroy him. While focusing on that plot, the movie also focuses on Tad’s work as an amateur filmmaker who wants to make a documentary that exposes the dangers of the circuit scene. Even while filming interviews that show it at its worst, Tad still sees the scene’s appeals, and the surprisingly positive sides of it. Will the two men survive their party world? I won’t give that away, but I will say that the movie raises valid questions about a real scene with real allure and real dangers.

The acting needs more emotion at places, but Dirk Shafer does a great job weaving his tale through the music and images that attract certain gay men to the circuit.

One complaint about the DVD—a “play all” option always helps when offering a long list of deleted scenes or other features; hitting the remote every few seconds can get tiresome, even for people who usually commit channel surfing. Repeated viewings of this movie shouldn’t get tiresome, though. Shafer offers a controversial depiction of a segment of the gay male community, one that will probably receive more recognition as we examine the impact of the circuit scene on a group that already lost way too many people to drugs and AIDS.