❉ Eoghan Lyng reviews Arthur J. Bressan’s trailblazing AIDS drama, out now on VOD.
“The two leads are remarkable, intertwining in their different roles as mentor and student. Its historical status merits Buddies an important release, but it’s the acting that makes this 1985 release a joyous watch.”
Ignorance comes in many forms. The coronavirus has led to undue racism on the London tube. The divisions between Unionist and Nationalist Irishman hinge on their misunderstandings of Ulster. And then there’s one of the Father Ted writers, spewing their nonsense from their Twitter sandbox on a matter they clearly are unqualified to discuss. So it was for Buddies, the first AIDS based film, an elegy for a deadly virus that betrayed the ignorance many in the eighties held. David Bennett (David Satcher) is one such person, a twenty something year old volunteer, whose services/acts to AIDS patient Robert (Geoff Edholm) belies the ambivalent, fearful attitudes in the LGBT community towards their brethren suffering from the disease.
Buddies and the equally morbid An Early Frost captured the virus of ignorance among their depictions of AIDS. The latter was much more popular with viewers, stealing viewerships from the art-house cinemas for critical plaudits. The Washington Post thought An Early Frost “the most important TV movie of the year.” Buddies didn’t merit that type of attention, but it did ignite the lightning that funnelled the thunder by beating Frost‘s release date. Buddies, a September 1985 release, has the claim that it was the first film that so openly dealt with AIDS. Sadly, director Arthur J Bressan Jr (Pleasure Beach) succumbed to the disease, as did Edholm, the victims of a harrowing infection that claimed Freddie Mercury, Rock Hudson, Denholm Elliott and Anthony Perkins. In one of their more admirable moves, the Bond series toned down the copulations of the Roger Moore era when Timothy Dalton handled the Walther PPK.
The AIDS epidemic proved an education, and Buddies is an educative manual, broadening David’s understanding of the “gay disease”. His first visit proves his most cautious, robed as he is in a mask. The impasto of past videos shows Robert as the headstrong, able bodied charmer he ought to be remembered as. Instead, David only has to turn from the television the hospital bed holds to find his subject/friend withering further and further into sickness. Both men are the products of a homophobic environment, yet only one has the privilege of seeing a society bettering itself. Together, they sneak some gay porn into the hospital, a scene that feels more tasteful than how it is written.
It’s one of many aspects that date the film, and Buddies is unquestionably an eighties film in style, language, aesthetic and feel. Measured against the much more impressively directed Philadelphia (1993), Buddies isn’t a powerhouse drama that could be viewed outside of art-house theatres. And yet the two leads are remarkable, intertwining in their different roles as mentor and student. Its historical status merits Buddies an important release, but it’s the acting that makes this 1985 release a joyous watch. It’s an understanding, an education and a tribute to all those men and women who suffered under this awful disease. It also teaches us about another illness that lingers so tellingly behind us all; ignorance.
❉ Digitally restored, ‘BUDDIES’ is available on DVD, Blu-Ray & VOD now from Peccadillo Pictures.
❉ Launched in 2000, Peccadillo Pictures is an award-winning UK film distributor of Art House, Gay & Lesbian and World Cinema titles with an impressive collection of films from across the world. As well as bringing an array of films to cinemas across the UK and Ireland, Peccadillo provides film viewing on a variety of platforms, from online, video on demand, iTunes, Blu-ray and DVD.
❉ A regular contributor to We Are Cult, Eoghan Lyng’s writing has also appeared in New Sounds, Record Collector, CultureSonar, Punk Noir Magazine, DMovies, Phacemag and other titles. Follow him on Twitter. Visit his homepage.