“Last Call” / Publicity photo

‘Last Call’ Docuseries Looks at NYC Serial Killer, 96-Hour Opera Festival Includes Queer Voices

Told in four powerful parts, the HBO docuseries, “Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York” looks at the murders of four gay men in the 1990s. Its creators are Anthony Caronna and Howard Gertler.
According to Gertler, HBO sent him Elon Green’s book, “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York,” which the series is based on, and asked if there might be a show there.
“In addition to be a gripping read, there was an opportunity to illuminate and talk about the nature of violence against queer people during that time period and the nature of anti-violence that was required to combat it,” Gertler told Georgia Voice. “The lives of the victims we knew were quite complex and there were questions of who got justice and who did not get justice during that time period that were fascinating. These are hard questions, but the story organically allowed us to have them in a format that is really popular now.”
He was looking for a filmmaker and sat down one night with Caronna. Over dinner, Caronna realized another company had asked him to direct it and he was not interested. He loved the book, but was not interested in doing true crime at all.
“I was also nervous about re-victimizing the queer community with the stories in the book,” Caronna said. But Gertler eventually convinced him.
The 1990s were a different time, when gay men couldn’t be as open as they can now. AIDS had also entered the community.
“AIDS exacerbated the violence that was happening, but there was also a lack of understanding about the queer community,” Caronna said. “Everything was pushed down to Christoper Street, and for many people it was open season on the queers down there. I think that obviously AIDS affected it, but [the community] was looked at as a diseased population and a lack of understanding of who we are, which made violence rise and made all the things we explore with the NYPD in our show also happen.”
In a few of the episodes, the filmmakers lean into the fact that the NYPD was not as helpful as it needed to be. It was only around the time of the fourth victim that the NYPD joined the fight.
It was also a time when gay men had to be closeted.
“The closet was obviously a part of the lives of the men we covered, except for Michael,” Caronna said. “ADP talked about that a lot in interviews. People in the closet don’t necessarily want to give up information on themselves or the people they are with. Obviously we’re not blaming us as a community, but it perpetuates this cycle of not wanting to talk about the violence and the violence continuing and people not being caught. I think the police did a really horrible job of making queer people comfortable and making them feel secure in talking about the violence. They were not talking in a caring, understanding way. They were met with aggression and complete misunderstanding.”
The Atlanta Opera’s upcoming annual 96-Hour Opera Festival always tries to highlight underrepresented voices in opera. Some of the contestants this year are queer: David Davila and Mo Holmes. In the competition, five teams of two are given four days to complete a 10-minute opera. Each team gets a pianist and a singer and the winning team receives a $10,000 prize and a commission to write a chamber opera for the Atlanta Opera. The topics for this year were distributed in April.
Holmes is a Black queer Southern playwright and dramaturg who has been interesting in expanding into opera.
“I am interested in scale in general as a writer and I like the theatrical heightened scale of I, and the big voices,” she said. “I like the idea of writing about everyday people, but giving it grandeur.”
Holmes’ opera, “The Binya and the Comya” is about an elder from the sea island community off Georgia and South Carolina. She is a weaver who is passing along her legacy to an AI-powered robot.
Being queer is a big part of Holmes’ artmaking.
“Imagining a future where queer people and POC can see themselves is a big part of my writing,” she said.
Queer representation and Latino representation is important to Davila, who will be working with George Tsz-Kwan Lam, a composer also interested in queer representation. Their project is titled, “Vimeo or Mimeo.” The premise is that an artist has created an AI duplicate of himself. The world is coming to an end and he wants to use his last minutes to make sure his duplicate can create art with other AIs.
“Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York” is now on HBO and streaming on Max
The 96-Hour Opera Project will take place June 17 at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at Morehouse College.