Saturday, July 08, 2006

Longtime Companion

The FlyOn Friday night I went from watching a documentary on 'The Fly' to a movie about men dropping like flies!

Longtime Companion is a film I found difficult to watch for all sorts of reasons, but it's a film that everyone SHOULD see, and it's good to see this FINALLY get a UK DVD release (out this Monday), albeit on a very bare bones £8.89 release.

I saw this when it was originally released in cinemas in 1990, a few years before the Hollywood-ised and, I think, inferior Philadelphia, and loved it. Somewhat naively, I'd chosen it as a 'date' movie viewing. Bill and I, who were together for 18 months, had been clubbing together for a few weeks and were just getting past the 'Are we an item or not?' stage of our relationship. It seems an odd choice for a date movie but I'd just started editing the newsletter I produced for the volunteers at 'The Mildmay Mission AIDS Hospice' in Hackney, and I needed material for the first issue. A review of the first 'movie about AIDS' seemed a good choice, given that it was getting mainstream reviews, albeit almost all of them criticising it for depicting mainly white middle-class homosexuals. Like suddenly it was a crime to be white and middle-class?!

I was very impressed with the film on original viewing, as was Bill who, for reasons that became clearer in discussions later that night, had been dreading having to sit through it. Those of us working as volunteers were constantly hearing about the rejection or family disassociations those who suffered from AIDS had experienced, and the movie portrays this realistically, together with the gay 'lifestyle' - at least the one lived by many of the middle class, gay, white males of the 80's - without being too 'in your face' the way so many of the sensationalised movies on similar subjects have been more recently. This was in the days before cocktail drugs and longer life expectancy, when AZT was the only drug available to help and the public at large were still very ignorant about the whole issue. One factor that helped persuade my date to attend (and, I suspect, the other gay men who seemed to make up the vast majority of the audience) was that the main character 'Michael', who takes on the role of the 'everyman' - the eyes of the viewer - and played by ex GQ model Michael Schoeffling, was very cute. It's somewhat depressing to discover some 15 years later that the 'Thank God - a REAL gay instead of a stereotype' character we all fell in love with stopped making films just after this, and that he now lives with his wife and two kids making and selling hand-crafted furniture in Pensylvania!

The film uses the device of giving us a single day for each year in the 80's, glimpsing into the lives of a small 'family' of gay friends: from the early rather hedonistic days when a new 'gay cancer' had just started being reported in the papers, to a point a decade later where the original group of seven or eight is diminished to three remaining members.

It's sad, funny and moving all at the same time. Given the subject matter you might expect this to be filed under 'depressing, but worthy' but it's anything but either of those things, which is why I like it so much. Admittedly f you don't weep at least once during this movie then you've got a heart of stone, but it's not a downbeat movie for all that, and it's beautifully scripted to tell its tale of a group of quite diverse characters in a concise and efficient 90 minutes. On original viewing, the ending was the only disappointment, but seen 15 years later it's the only 'uplifting' ending there could have been and what I originally saw as a weakness I now see as one of the film's greatest strengths. The sad thing is that this will mainly be seen as a movie about 'gays' when, in fact, it should be seen as a movie about humanity, and more particularly about 'family'.

The original viewing had a nasty sting in the tail for me personally (my 'date' of the time, and partner for the next 18 months, had something to tell me that evening). Bill passed away twelve years ago, and so watching it again is a curious mixture of watching the DVD itself, and remembering some good times tinged with sadness. Personal reminisces aside, it's a movie that should have been released on UK DVD long before now, if only so that more people can see it. It's good to see it here at last, and in a transfer that's been taken from a print in perfect condition! But the cover sucks - big time! - and it's hard to work out why the American DVD cover (and original movie poster) hasn't been used instead. Highly recommended!


Anonymous said...

i was 18 when i saw this movie on tv (1993) in greece.... and was deeply touched. i was struggling to accept my sexuality at the time.. and this film summurized everything i was feeling... anxious to have sex with men, to discover a "new " world, but also fear of disease etc

the ending of the film particularly blew me out:

i ve since believed that it s just unfair all these wonderful people to die just because they made love
... all of them reappearing for a moment in the film just sais it..

i want to believe that all aids victims didn t perish for nothing and when the cure comes, we ll all learn to love more .... love people ... love LIFE

Vasilis (32)

Anonymous said...

I agree...the ending made me cry. Post Mortem Bar really makes me choke up. It's also personal for me. My uncle died of AIDS in 1995, just MONTHS before better treatments came out.

What's amazing is how great an AIDS activist Bruce Davison went on to become after this. He seems like a great guy, and I want to meet him one day!