Hourlong, down-and-dirty DV-shot docu “Rock Bottom” follows seven gay men in New York City over a two-year period as they struggle with crystal meth addiction, responsible for an alarming spike in the spread of HIV. Helmer Jay Corcoran examines the growing “crystal sex” phenomenon where it breeds — the bathhouses, locker rooms, porn sets and bedrooms of those for whom sex is inseparable from meth use. Improbably opening theatrically at Gotham’s Quad Cinema, this remarkably candid, X-ratable cautionary tale is amassing some positive critical buzz on its way to more video-friendly venues.
In no way judgmental, Corcoran allows his subjects to explain, with varying degrees of self-knowledge and denial, the peculiar allure of crystal meth, particularly to those who are HIV-positive and are dealing with the fastidious maintenance, limitations and anxieties occasioned by the virus. They describe the rush of empowerment and the liberation of libido that lets them enjoy sex without thought or precaution. The drug may also, as they ruefully admit, eventually make them incapable of sex, or take nine hours to reach orgasm, or ignore the blatant signs of gonorrhea (described by one user in ghoulish detail), or even secretly glory in the spread of AIDS.
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All of the subjects showcased here are or have been endeavoring to get clean. Corcoran catches up with each of them at varying stages of addiction, sobriety and backsliding. Since sex is a trigger for crystal meth addicts, of all the men interviewed, only a playwright who has been clean for five years has been able to reintegrate sex back into his sober life. In earlier stages, others are forced to radically alter their behavior or abstain entirely for a year in order to kick the habit.
The interviewees prove fascinating in their diversity; Corcoran maintains an intimacy and even suspense within the men’s wry confessionals. Blessedly brief interviews with health-care professionals ring hollow by comparison.
Docu succeeds surprisingly well in illuminating the fearsome grip of crystal meth, which, in giving users a false feeling of invincibility, is undoing years of careful HIV control.
Tech credits are suitably primitive in this zero-budget DV-shot expose, though the docu’s sound quality is particularly rough in patches.