In my previous post, I alluded — again! — to one of the many sites of loss in Times Square. Pamela (Trini Alvarado) has awoken to find Nicky (Robin Johnson) gone. The shot reverses to reveal Pamela’s viewpoint: Nicky’s now-empty bed, and through the window behind it, the World Trade Center towers.
Contemporary analyses of Times Square frequently note that the film presages the loss of a city. This loss of buildings and neighbourhoods extends beyond “mere” architecture — as if architecture ever designates material structures alone — to a cultural geography that maps absence.
But the loss that I feel most sharply when I now watch the film can be evoked by a single image:
Nicky and Pammy’s blood oath, with Nicky’s assurance that she will not hurt Pammy, the drawing of (first) blood, the frenzied yet desperate calling of each others’ names, functions as a cinematic coding for loss of virginity / sexual activity. But it is the literal mingling of fluid in the blood oath that now makes me shiver: at the moment of filming, at Times’s Square‘s release (1979-80), New York City was about to become one of the epicenters of the AIDS epidemic. As Joseph F. Lovett’s remarkable documentary Gay Sex in the Seventies (2005) demonstrates, a culture was about to be devastated. Such an image could never be viewed innocently again.
In memory of those “not lost, but gone before,” on World AIDS Day.