Movie: Longtime Companion
Release Date: October 11, 1990
Director: Norman Rene
Starring: Campbell Scott, Bruce Davison, Stephen Caffrey, Patrick Cassidy, Brain Cousins, John Dossett, Mark Lamos, Dermot Mulroney, Mary-Louise Parker, Michael Schoeffling, Robert Joy.
Tag Lines: “Never before had their friendships mattered so much.”
Relevance: The first movie I remember seeing that dealt with AIDS was the made for television movie ‘An Early Frost’ starring Aiden Quinn, Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara in 1985. This groundbreaking film conveyed the prejudices surrounding AIDS at the time and was nominated for fourteen Emmy Awards, winning three. Astonishingly, it wasn’t until four years later, in 1989, did the first wide-release theatrical film about the disease open in theaters. ‘Longtime Companion’ dove even further into AIDS and grappled with the gay community’s heroic and devastating battle against the epidemic. It was groundbreaking, heartbreaking and a movie that has hauntingly stayed with me for decades.
AIDS was a very taboo topic in the early 1980’s and one of those diseases that was so misinterpreted that it was difficult to decipher between what was fact and what was fiction. I of course knew what AIDS and HIV meant, but being a teenage boy in suburban Pennsylvania, it seemed more of a distant problem than one that would and could enter my world. Three things changed the way I looked at the disease and planted a seed in me that grew to true activism years later.
I really didn’t pay that much attention to AIDS until I saw the aforementioned ‘An Early Frost,’ which perked my ears up a bit more to its existence. Soon afterwards, Ryan White’s battle with the disease hit national news. One statement he said during that time which always struck a chord with me was “I’m just like everyone else with AIDS, no matter how I got it.” He was a brave kid who only wanted to be a kid, but he reluctantly became a hero. Then there was Madonna. Thankfully that lady entered my life and was brave enough to speak out about the disease at a time when the President of the United States wouldn’t even say its name. I was a fan of hers since 1983 and when she spoke, I listened. I have many things to thank her for, but lighting a fire under my ass about standing up for those who can’t regardless of what others think is one of the most important lessons she ever taught me.
In October of 1990, I was in the middle of my first semester of my Sophomore year in college. Being in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, it was rare that I knew any new movie opening in theaters unless it was a huge blockbuster. ‘Longtime Companion’ was nowhere near a blockbuster and flew way under my radar. By the time I had heard about it, sometime in January of 1991 thanks to its Golden Globe nomination for Bruce Davison’s performance, the film was long out of theaters. After seeing Mr. Davison win the Golden Globe and receive an Academy Award nomination, the movie quickly jumped to the top of my must see list. From the clips during the award ceremonies and its trailer, I knew it was going to be a movie I needed to see.
I rented the movie sometime on my summer break in 1991 and watched it alone one hot summer afternoon. It was gut-wrenching, brilliantly told and beautifully acted and left me in a puddle of tears by time the credits were rolling. I was floored by how wonderful the movie was and even more flabbergasted about the stories that were told about what the gay community endured during the 1980’s. And more importantly, why did it take until the end of that decade to tell their stories? I was sad, but also very angry. I then became a man on a mission.
I recommended ‘Longtime Companion’ to absolutely everyone I knew. I watched it a few times again with friends and family, always trying to start discussions about the disease and the gay community. I was successful at times and at times I was not. But I tried my damnedest. I myself at the time was living as a straight man, but I had numerous gay and lesbian friends at home and school. I absorbed and learned as much as I could from all of them. I needed to educate myself on not only their lifestyle, but their hardships and what I could do as a straight man to help them.
I didn’t officially come out as gay until the middle of 1998. Those years in between 1993, the year I left college along with a majority of my gay friends, and 1998 were some of my loneliest and darkest times. I still considered myself an ally of the gay community, still donated when I could to AIDS research, but did so more quietly. Without the comfort of those friends around me I felt isolated and became fearful of what others might think, forgetting what Madonna had taught me. Hindsight would tell me I was just figuring out my sexual identity, but at the time I was clueless. I was afraid. I was alone.
One of the first things my mom said to me when I told her I was gay was that she was afraid that I was going to die from AIDS. Even in 1998, ignorance about the disease was alive and well. We talked, a lot, from everything about sex, religion, AIDS and Madonna and I told her to watch some movies. ‘Longtime Companion’ was one of the films I recommended. I had recently re-watched it again shortly after coming out. I don’t know if my mom ever did watch that movie, but I do know that coming out to her broadened our relationship from mother and son to friends. She didn’t fully understand things all the time, but she was always willing to listen. And listen she did.
Sometimes movies are more than just movies and ‘Longtime Companion’ is one such film. I have watched this movie through the eyes of a straight ally and I have watched it as an openly gay man. I have watched it as a man whose friends have died from this terrible disease. I have watched it for research for roles I have played on the stage. And I have watched it to be reminded of how brave everyday men and women can be in life when the world is pitted against them. Movies sometimes transcend into moments, visions, ideas and movements. I will always be thankful for that. I will always be thankful for ‘Longtime Companion.’
Today’s Thoughts: I knew today would be a Kleenex kind of a day. However, I didn’t realize that it would be a whole box of Kleenex kind of day. Watching ‘Longtime Companion’ has always been emotional for me, but today was even more so than usual. But I made it through. Barely.
Despite it making me weep, the movie is as entertaining and beautiful as ever. Its direction, story and especially its all star ensemble are incredible to witness. Campbell Scott, Stephen Caffrey, Dermot Mulroney, Mary-Louise Parker and Michael Schoeffling all do a wonderful job portraying these characters, but Bruce Davison stands out a bit above the rest. His performance as David is beautiful, emotional and understated and really is breathtaking. It is no surprise that he received numerous awards and nominations for it.
As one might guess from knowing its subject, the movie has many emotional scenes. I teared up many times while watching it today. However, there was something in the final scene today that made me literally lose my shit. As soon as I heard the song “Post Mortem Ball” by Zane Campbell start I was a blubbering idiot. It’s a scene that is meant to be both sad yet reaffirming, and that just made me cry even harder. It took me awhile to compose myself. Luckily I was alone when I watched it.
‘Longtime Companion’ is a brilliant must-see film. It is often forgotten, but it shouldn’t be. It is triumphant on many levels and is an important film for both the gay and straight communities. Just watch it near some tissues.
“And we’ll go down to the post-mortem bar and catch up on the years that have passed between us.
And we’ll tell our stories. Do you remember when the world was just like a carnival opening up? If I could have one more day with you the way it used to be. All the things I should’ve said would pour out of me.”
Awards: Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Bruce Davison (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, Bruce Davison (winner), Film Independent Award for Best Supporting Male, BRuce Davison (winner), Los Angeles Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor, Bruce Davison (nomination), National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor, Bruce Davison (winner), New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, Bruce Davison (winner).
Ways to Watch: YouTube, DVD Availability.