Restored from its original negative and digitised for rerelease to tie in with World Aids Day at the beginning of this month, this drama from 1985 – pretty much the first of its kind – offers a moving reminder of a time that seems both immensely far away and like yesterday.
The stripped-down storyline focuses on two characters, with others appearing behind shower curtains or overheard on a phone. David, a young print industry worker (he’s offended when called a “word processor”, which just goes to show how much terms have shifted), is gay and lives in New York with his boyfriend, Steve, and regularly checks in with his supportive parents, especially his loving mom. However, he’s not politically active and wouldn’t even go to Gay Day, the precursor of Pride marches, lest such behaviour might frighten the heterosexual horses around him.
Spurred to do something to help as the HIV epidemic starts to mow down people in the city and beyond, he signs up to be a buddy to those with Aids, a condition that at this time was essentially a death sentence. He’s assigned to Robert (Geoff Edholm), a one-time Adonis who is slowly fading away in a hospital, alone, broke and frightened, having been cast out by his parents when he came out years before, dumped by his lover and still pining for the love of his life who’s back on the other coast, unable to visit. Through a series of sometimes slightly stilted but nevertheless resonant conversations about anger, identity politics and activism, David gets his consciousness raised.
It’s sad to learn that both the writer-director-producer Arthur J Bressan Jr and actor Edholm both died from HIV-related illness not long after this was made; and the tragedy depicted, amped up by the sawing strings on the soundtrack (the score by Jeffrey Olmstead is great), will reduce many viewers to teary puddles. But there’s joy here as well, not least in the audaciously frank scene where David smuggles in an expensive VCR (“You can watch anything whenever you want!”) so he and Robert can watch some gay porn together. Those were the days.
• Buddies is released in the UK on 6 December.
Source: The Guardian