November 29, 2018 at 10:12 am EST | by Brian T. Carney
First feature about AIDS to be screened after restoration
Buddies film, gay news, Washington Blade

David Schachter and Geoff Edholm in ‘Buddies.’ (Photo courtesy Frameline Distribution)

‘Buddies’

 

Thursday, Dec. 6

 

HRC Screening Room

 

1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.

 

$12 ($25 VIP)

 

thedccenter.org/events

On Thursday, Dec. 6, in observance of World AIDS Day, Reel Affirmations will screen the historic AIDS drama “Buddies,” the first feature film about the AIDS crisis.

Released in Sept., 1985 (days before President Ronald Reagan finally said the word “AIDS” in public), “Buddies” is a timeless portrayal of a crucial period in modern LGBT history. 

The film tracks the growing friendship between David Bennett (David Schachter) and Robert Willow (Geoff Edholm). David is a 25 year-old “guppie” (gay yuppie) who has volunteered to be a buddy to an AIDS patient. He is assigned to Robert (Geoff Edholm), a 32-year-old politically impassioned gardener transplanted from California to Manhattan.

David is a freelance typesetter who lives with his lover Steve and has a great relationship with his supportive parents. Robert has been abandoned by his family and friends.

Much of the action unfolds in Robert’s hospital room and David’s loft apartment. David and Robert are the only characters seen onscreen; the other characters are only heard as off-screen voices. The world of the movie is also expanded by David’s voiceover readings from the diary he starts keeping when he becomes Robert’s buddy. His diary is the one place where he can tell the truth and write down all the things he’s too nice to say to others.

“Buddies” was written, directed, edited and produced by the pioneering gay indie filmmaker Arthur J. Bressan Jr. on a budget of $27,000. The screenplay is tightly written with realistic dialogue and natural rhythms. A master director, Bressan moves the action forward at a comfortable pace, letting each scene develop at its own speed without lingering too long. The modulations between comedy and drama are well-crafted.

The decision to keep the secondary characters offscreen pays off very well. It undoubtedly helped Bressan to keep his production costs down, but since most of the other characters are associated with David, it also highlights Robert’s growing isolation.

Bressan also makes a bold and effective choice by beginning (and ending) the movie with a slow pan down a computer printout of patients who have died of AIDS. The scroll lasts almost two minutes and it’s a brutal reminder of the horrors of the early days of the epidemic.

Working with the New York Salon String Quartet and concert pianist Eric Houston, Olmsted’s lovely score beautifully wraps itself protectively around the shifting emotions of the characters.

The acting is also superb. Edholm deftly captures Robert’s fiery passion, romantic regrets and the slow failure of his body. Schachter delicately captures David’s grudging respect for Robert and his gradual awakening from bystander to activist. It’s somewhat depressing that David’s excuses for his inaction sound rather likes today’s declarations of “I’m not political.”

“Buddies” was Bressan’s last film (he died of AIDS in 1987). The movie was out of circulation until earlier this year when the Bressan Project, in collaboration with Frameline Distribution and Vinegar Syndrome, released a splendid restoration. It’s currently the only Bressan film available to the public.

Bressan’s remarkable legacy as a queer filmmaker included adult films, shorts, narrative features and documentaries. The Bressan Project (bressanproject.wixsite.com/website) is dedicated to preserving and promoting Bressan’s work, including “Passing Strange (1974),” a hard-core coming-out story; “Gay USA (1977),” a documentary about the gay Pride events that began in response to Anita Bryant and her attack on the nascent gay rights movement; and “Abuse (1982),” a powerful drama about a teenage boy struggle against his abusive parents. 

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2018. All rights reserved.