Reframing Bodies (2009)

Book Review, HIV/AIDS, LGBT

Hallas, R. (2009). Reframing Bodies: AIDS, Bearing Witness, and the Queer Moving Image. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 319pp.

Reframing Bodies is an expansive study of queer AIDS media, examining trends in testimony and the AIDS film archive in the US and UK from the 1980s and 90s. Ranging from small-scale video activism to experimental art film, Hallas argues that AIDS film across genres has redefined forms of testimony through sound, movement and embodiment, and mise-en-scene. Most notably, the book establishes a precedent for the historical transition from gay cinephilia preceding the rise of consumerist film in the 1990s and the emergence of an archivist media ecology in the 2000s. The latter has (re)captured formative images of queer activism through new media practices – particularly through the use of online databases, streaming platforms, and large-scale Internet pirating practices that enable larger distribution both of narratives about AIDS testimony (and witnessing) and the political drive to change access/consumption practices of queer historical media.

Reframing Bodies, which was researched and published during the resurgence of AIDS activism narratives in the late 2000s and early 2010s – what cultural activist Ted Kerr and media scholar Dion Kagan call the “AIDS crisis revisitation movement” – presents a rigorous revisitation of the AIDS video archive that presents a baseline for rethinking the political potential and remaking of these works. It is appropriate not only for scholars interested in HIV/AIDS histories, with its intertextual readings of classic AIDS videos, but also for curious lay readers interested in gay and lesbian media practices, given the books accessible prose and willingness to welcome readers from many backgrounds into a diverse retelling of film histories across genres, narratives, and film styles.