I figured World AIDS day was as good a day as any to start my Gay Movie posts. And what better film to start with than Longtime Companion.
The first time I saw this film I was 21 and in college. My soul mate was a gay man and friends and acquaintances were either getting sick and dying or disappearing off our radar. It took me some time to realize they too were probably part of that group.
I’d gobbled up An Early Frost (more about that in a later post) when it came out, but after that, there was very little talk (or filming) about AIDS. In fact, the films where gay men were portrayed in a more or less realistic light were few and far between (feel free to contradict me!).
Back to the film at hand.
Longtime Companion is very much an ensemble piece chronicling the lives of two groups of gay men, one in LA and one in NYC from the first mentions of “The Gay Cancer” through Kaposi Sarcoma, Pneumocystis Carinii pneumonia and “I suppose we can’t even kiss anymore” hysteria to some sort of plateau where the group is divided into those who are dead or dying and those who seemed to have miraculously survived. The ending isn’t entirely positive, since they were only then finding medication that actually helped prolong lives and people who were infected were still wasting away and dying (Freddie Mercury died almost two years after this film was released!)
The highlights of the movie for me were plenty. From all those men waking up in bed together (how times have progressed… Back then, this portrayal was a highlight!) and simply leading their average lives, to Fuzzy (Tour of Duty’s Stephen Caffrey) doing an Dreamgirls lipsync were all great.
I remember rewinding (VHS, remember that?) the two kisses over and over again, because you just didn’t see two men simply kissing in movies then, at least not with all the body language saying they were very much into each other. Even now, I still think those kisses are pretty hot, although we’ve seen a lot of that since.
The scene everyone talks about, of course, is the one that got Bruce Davison his Oscar nomination, and it is a particularly gripping scene.
Mark Lamos’ Sean is in bed, looking sweaty and emaciated, unable to see and unable to speak. His hands are tied to the bed and he’s wearing a diaper. His lover David (role of Bruce Davison) with the help or a care person, changes his diaper and the soaked bedsheets underneath. They do this clearly with practiced ease and seemingly without emotion. And then the carer leaves and David sits next to Sean and takes his hand. His voice is soothing and calm and he tells Sean “It’s okay. You can go. Just let it go.”
The power of the scene is that it’s played with very little overt emotion, but you can hear the kindness in David’s voice (yes, Bruce earned that nom!) and you know that David is telling Sean that it’s okay to stop struggling, that it’s time to die.
What makes this movie so fantastic for me is after that scene, I’m sitting there sobbing and then the next scene is Willy (a very young and dashing Campbell Scott) and Lisa (an always quirky Mary-Louise Parker) picking out the clothes Sean will be buried in and coming across the man’s elaborate torch singer dresses and “Big, Bee Lily hats”. They start reminiscing about Sean in better times and within no time, they are laughing, like at an Irish wake. You too can’t help laughing, with tears still clinging to your face from the scene before, but you don’t feel bad about it. It’s all part of life and death.
Do you have great memories about this film? Please share!
More gay cinema coming soon…